Wednesday, September 28, 2016
IF YOU GO
Where: Italian Village
Address: 440 Boardman-Poland Road, Boardman
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Saturday, noon to midnight; Sunday, noon to 8 p.m.
Signature dishes: Pasta Fagioli and Baked Rigatoni
When you approach The Italian Village, you might think you are walking into an ordinary pizza shop. Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with pizza shops. Growing up our neighborhood establishments were mainstays of family dining. But when we walked into Eugene’s place, the first thing that stood out was the floor-to-ceiling photos of family; his Italian immigrant ancestors.
Our introductory discussion with Eugene to set up this feature was a bit terse. “Who are you, and what do you want to do?” A response much akin to the welcome knock of an IRS agent. Fortunately we were able to set up a visit and have an opportunity to sit down with Eugene to talk about his family, who immigrated to America in 1921, and his storied history in the food business.
After running a larger establishment in New Castle for 20 years, Eugene decided to retire in 2011. That was short-lived as in 2013 he opted to take a space on Route 224 across from The Shops at Boardman Park. Eugene explained that his concept was to put together a smaller place that featured house-made Italian food with delivery service. The Italian Village has sit-down dining, takeout and delivery of every menu item.
Of course, we agreed to sample anything and everything. Eugene perused the menu, and after some thought, gave a shout to the back on what to bring out for us. Our meal began by sampling a plethora of the Italian Villages appetizers.
First up was Calamari con Pepperoncino. Rings of calamari are first soaked in milk for 6 hours. When an order comes in, these rings, along with banana peppers, are coated in flour, fried and served with their house-made marinara sauce. The calamari were crispy and tender. The fried peppers gave a nice kick to the dish. A little twist on a classic. A great starter.
Our next app was Greens and Beans. This takes blanched fresh spinach that is saut ed with garlic, olive oil, great northern beans and spices. The finished product is on the drier side rather than soupy. The dish had just enough garlic flavor to compliment the soft spinach and the savory beans. The addition of a pinch of red pepper flakes gave it a slight spice. A solid offering.
As admitted carb lovers, the next two appetizers were right in our sweet spot. Mozzarella-Covered Garlic Knots and Pepperoni Rolls. Both dishes are made with fresh made dough. The garlic knots are covered with a generous amount of cheese and served with marinara. While we loved everything about this, our favorite part was the cheese on the edges that was browned and crisp. These did not last long on the table.
We moved on to the pepperoni rolls. Again, the dough was superb. Sometimes you get pepperoni rolls and they are all bread with very little filling. These were the exact opposite. They are filled with salty pepperoni and savory melted cheese then brushed with garlic butter. Dipping in the marinara made for a perfect dish.
Next appeared a duo of soups. We first sampled the Wedding Soup. A Youngstown classic, this is the marriage of house-made chicken broth, beef meatballs, shredded chicken, vegetables and pastina. Always a comforting dish and this version was no different. The second taste was Pasta Fagioli made with Orecchiette pasta and great northern beans in a rich tomato-based broth. Both soups were hearty and delicious.
The Italian Village offers various pasta options including a “build your own.” We opted to try one of their Signature Pastas, the Baked Rigatoni. As Eugene explained, this is basically a deconstructed lasagna. He takes whipped ricotta, garlic and parsley and binds this together with an egg. This is mixed with rigatoni and marinara sauce then topped with mozzarella cheese and baked. You have a choice of either a marinara or Bolognese sauce. We opted for the marinara. This entr e is the definition of comfort food. Al dente pasta, creamy ricotta, melted mozzarella and a nice red sauce.
Our carb loading continued with slices of two types of pizza. The Home Street is a Brier Hill-style topped with sauce, red roasted bell peppers, fresh garlic, oregano and grated parmesan cheese. The crust is a thick and chewy texture, and the house roasted red peppers were the perfect topping. The second slice was a NY-style, featuring a thin crust, creamy ricotta and fresh tomato slices. We had the opportunity to meet Donato Bassi, the gentleman who hand-tossed our pies that evening. That just added to the authenticity of the product.
Just as in any Italian home, we were well-fed and thought the meal was over. That’s when Eugene showed up at the table with a large bowl of Zeppolis covered in powdered sugar, strawberries and chocolate sauce. Zeppolis are essentially fried dough. We remember our own respective mothers making these for us when we were kids. A sweet ending to a wonderful meal.
The Italian Village is certainly more than a pizza shop. Tasty house-made staples that you expect in our area, served up by a hardworking man surrounded by family, from floor to ceiling.
If you have a favorite place, please send us a note to email@example.com and tell us where we should go.