The Oak Lawn Pizza Wars: Italia Express Is Ready For Battle
"You guys are going to beat the shit out of Zini's." It wasn't the most professional thing to come out of my mouth at a restaurant. I initially regretted the slip, but then I didn't. The order taker told me everyone who came to her counter said the same thing. "I'm starting to feel a little bad for them," she told me.
See Also: Italia Express Coming Soon to Oak Lawn
"Well don't, their pizza is terrible," I offered.
I walked into Italia Express with the worst possible expectations. A chain restaurant with a clichéd and dorky logo landed in Oak Lawn and I imagined bad shopping mall pizza à la Sbarro. The dining room was packed, though, and well after the lunch rush too. Italia Express had a little bit of a buzz to it.
My slice was weighed down with cheese and pepperoni but it had a delicate crispness. The cornicione was tough, bland and inedible, but a thin layer of well-browned crust covered the entire bottom of the slice with a quiet crunch like the thinnest layer of ice on top of yesterday's snow under your boot. I was compelled enough by the texture I ordered a second just to make sure it wasn't a fluke. It wasn't.
I don't think the crust will hold up in a delivery box, but fresh out of the oven it has it's merits and compared to Zini's across the street, Italia's pizza tastes like 'za from the shopping malls of the heavens. It's good, bad pizza.
On my way out I noticed the 700 Lavazza adverts peppered all over the walls and windows and was subliminally forced to order an espresso. Marco manned the massive, copper monster behind the counter, and he asked me if I wanted chocolate or caramel or whipped cream in my coffee.
I told him no. I wanted a straight-up, no-bullshit coffee like they serve all over Italy, so Marco asked me if I spoke Italian, which I don't. Marco worked the machine, looking over his shoulder and asking me if I wanted it Italian style in his Italian accent. I must have looked confused.
"It means short," he told me holding up his thumb and forefinger close together to indicate something very small. I nodded. It was a nice espresso, served in porcelain instead of paper.
I wanted to grab a take out menu, but they were all gone. Everyone in the neighborhood was taking them by the handful according to the girl who took my money. I looked out the small take out window that faces Cedar Springs Road and wondered what this place is like on a Friday night, and how bad Zini's sales had declined as everyone shifted their focus to the new kid in town. I wondered how long Italia Express' dining room would stay this busy.
Pizza wars in Oak Lawn... It's on.
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.