-By John Lynds
Italian Express on the corner of Sumner and Cottage Streets in East Boston seems to be on a roll. After celebrating the opening of the restaurant’s outdoor dining patio and receiving several honors from www.CitySearch.com during their annual Best of Boston contest, the local Italian kitchen was recently featured on the Phantom Gourmet.
The segment, which aired two weeks ago and rebroadcasted Sunday featured Italian Expresses homemade meatballs and huge portions.
The Phantom Gourmet named Italian Express a Phantom Gourmet “Phantastic Meal Deal”.
“It was a great honor to be featured on the show,” said Jim Iannuzzi who owns Italian Express with Jonathan Harker. “I think it showed the restaurant just as it is…a fun place to come in and have a good homemade meal for a reasonable price.”
Last summer, Mayor Thomas Menino helped Italian Express cut a ribbon on the restaurant’s new outdoor patio.
“We have a 30-seat patio for our customers to enjoy during the summer months,” said Iannuzzi.
Hundreds of residents and fans of Italian Express turned out for the block party that helped heighten the restaurants profile in the area.
Italian Express also celebrated the fact you can also enjoy your favorite wine or beer at the pizzeria.
Italian Express was able to secure a beer and wine license from the city and has been a boost to Iannuzzi and Harker’s business.
Now with license in hand and outdoor seating, Iannuzzi said he’s seen an increase in business and the return of customers.
“I think a lot of people liked the food but weren’t coming back because they could go somewhere else and have similar food but with a glass of wine or beer,” he said. “People like to go out and unwind with some good food and some good wine and now we are able to provide that.”
Italian Express now has 20 bottles of different wines (named Best of Boston in fact) and 16 different beers.
“We have wines from all over the world, one beer on tap and selection of other bottled beers,” said Iannuzzi.
After a trip around Italy researching food and pizza Iannuzzi and Harker came back from the sunny peninsular with new recipes and a new restaurant in Jeffries Point.
Italian Express, the place that began and gained its fame under Victor Grillo on Maverick Street, moved to Orient Heights under Iannuzzi and came back after a brief hiatus to 336 Sumner Street (the place that once housed the popular greasy spoon Dozzi’s).
While it’s a no frills, dress up or dress down family pizzeria, the entire building has been attractively transformed with new walls, floors, lightening and kitchen. Italian Express’s makeover has kept the charm and coziness of a neighborhood joint but is more sophisticated than its predecessor.
Iannuzzi and Harker traveled around Italy to find the best recipe for pizza and settled on the popular pies being slung out of a small restaurant in Pisa. There Iannuzzi and Harker were schooled on how to make the dough, sauce and what types of cheese to use. The result is a 14” thin crust pizza topped with a slow cooked, sweet tomato sauce and 100 percent whole milk, low moisture mozzarella cheese.
The real secret’s in the cheese. The whole milk mozzarella is less greasy than most other pies out there and while it may drive up Iannuzzi and Harker’s cost a bit, they say its worth it when they see a smile on a customer’s face when they take their first bite.
“All pizza are made to order,” said Iannuzzi. “There are a lot of pizzerias in East Boston but we want to be one of the best.”
The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Monday to Saturday and while its been busy with its addition of pizza, Italian Express has always been known locally for its affordable meals and heaping portions.
“It’s a place you can come down to, have a nice meal with your entire family for an affordable price,” said Harker.
The tables are close together but this charming intimacy gives the restaurant the feel of eating at your Nonni’s house rather than a restaurant, and that’s sort of the point of Italian Express,
There’s even a picture of Iannuzzi’s grandmother cooking a Sunday gravy.
“She’s watching over me,” said Ianuzzi. “The first thing I did when I started remodeling was hand Nonni’s picture on the wall.”