By Damien DiPaola — Photographed by Jazz Martin
Fast food in Italy and fast food in the good ‘ole USA are two complete opposite terms and philosophies. In Italy you get some of the best food you’ll ever eat at the “Auto Grill” on the Italian Super Highways, the Auto Strada. On our highways we have gut busting, heart attack food. Italians take all their food seriously, whether it’s a pizza or a Bistecca Fiorentina.
The menu at Express consists of 17 Panini, an even mix of vegetarian, meat, and seafood. All Panini cost $6.99. They are all large, well made, and very fresh. What a deal! There are six large salads to choose from, with choices such as Garden and Caprese, priced $4.95–$6.95. Crispy, gooey, and saucy Pizza’s are always the answer to quell those hunger pangs. The Calzones are just as solid as the pizza and made with the same good, yeasty dough and top shelf fillings. What Italian joint would be complete without pasta? Express’ pasta dishes are what may bring you in initially and justifiably so. All pasta dishes are served exclusively with DeCecco penne.
I recently stopped into Express for a quick lunch in the North End. As in Italy, I went up to the counter and gave my order to one of the cooks. I then proceeded to the cashier and got my drink, paid and was given my receipt. My friends were seated, thus securing us a table during a very busy late lunch, around 2:30. Express has seating for around 50. Tables and chairs are big enough and comfortable, we didn’t feel mashed in. After a few minutes our food came out. The boys and I were ready for some good old-fashioned real Italian fast eats.
My favorite panini are the following; The original “Panino” made with thinly sliced, melt on your tongue Parma Prosciutto, fresh homemade mozzarella, chopped ripe tomatoes, basil and evoo.
The “Panino Lady” is made without the Prosciutto, but is just as good. This could well be the best real “Panino” you will ever eat, this side of Napoli. For the purists in us, the “Chicken Panino” is the comfort Chicken Parm, so well made, with excellent bright red tomato sauce and Parmigiano, not weighed down by a pound of mozzarella. Delicious.
The “Spinaci Calzone” made with spinach, mozzarella, evoo, and a little garlic, makes one feel that they are at least eating a healthy calzone. It tastes like the calzone my mom used to make, and hers were the best.
We go into Express at least twice a week. Each visit one of us always gets pizza. The pizza is very well crafted. Pizza really is easy, it doesn’t involve genius. Then why do so many places screw up a damn pizza? Four simple rules of pizza: good dough (with proper salt and yeast), high quality tomato sauce, the best grade of mozzarella, and the “pizzaiolo.” Express delivers on all four counts. Cooked evenly, crispy and chewy at the same time, fragrant, satisfying; it’s a good pizza.
I have sampled every pasta dish on this menu. Healthy, heaping portions of renowned DeCecco married with delicious ingredients and sauces. The prices, range from $9.95 – $12.95. Pomodoro Pasta is your good old pasta with tomato sauce. Brilliantly red from the San Marzano tomatoes and floral with basil essence, this is a soul satisfying dish. “Amatriciana” was made in my home once a week, by my father or my Roman brother-in-law. Express executes an Amatriciana with the best of them, deliciously sweet, mildly smoky, aromatic, orgasmic, good pasta. This is the Rolls Royce of pasta dishes. And I do believe that Express may be one of the few places that you can get a gigantic square of well-prepared “Mom’s Lasagna.” Many layers of pasta, ricotta, savory meat sauce and mozzarella cheese account for mouthfuls of rich flavor. This is not for you if you are counting calories.
Located in the North End, Express appropriately delivers the Italian Fast Food experience to our own Little Italy. We are all looking for fast, good and reasonably priced meals. It’s tough sometimes to get all of that, especially these days. Restaurateur Frank DePasquale brings the same “A” game to this casual eatery as he does to his more upscale locations, and it shows. The staff is friendly and courteous. With the variety, ambiance and value Express has to offer, it’s on the fast track to becoming one of your favorites.