Jack Litsky and his wife Toby decided to become vegans when they turned 50 last year for health reasons, and to stick to their meat-and-dairy-free diet, they often bring their own whole grain pasta to restaurants when dining out.
But the Litskys' picky preferences ended up getting them into a price dispute with a restaurant owner, even involving the police.
The Litskys have worked out a system in which they call ahead to make sure the restaurant can accommodate them, and offer cooking instructions on cards to give to the chef with their order.
And often, they bring their own pasta, because even some noodles labeled as 100 percent whole grain aren't as advertised.
"What they do typically is give us a discount," Jack Litsky told the New Jersey Star-Ledger. "If a pasta dish is $15, they will charge us $11 or $12 because we brought our own. We don’t ask for a discount but they usually give one."
The couple said they visited the Monticello at Red Bank Italian restaurant twice without any problems, charged $12 each both times.
The third trip, on a Saturday night in February, didn't go as smoothly.
Jack Litsky said he handed the waitress the instruction cards and the pasta, but the dishes came back with a smaller portion, as if only half the box had been used, and they were charged $24 each for the privilege.
Litsky said he spoke with the manager and then the owner, who explained that a custom meal on Saturday would cost more. He said he offered to pay $18 each -- the menu had pasta dishes from $17 to $24 -- and the owner, Caterin Giambalzo refused.
Then, Giambalzo called the police, who told Litsky he would have to pay the bill or be arrested for theft of services. Litsky paid the whole bill on his American Express, and later disputed the charge with the credit card company.
Giambalzo, for her part, said things went down quite differently.
She recalls offering to sell each dish for $20, but would not honor a $50 off Restaurant.com coupon the Litskys tried to use, which she said is not valid with custom dishes.
"We don’t even have $12 pasta on the lunch menu," she said.
Giambalzo said she planned to dispute the dispute, but ultimately agreed to refund $12, bringing the pasta dish charges to $18 each.
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