The Sterling Street to Paisley Avenue block along King Street West hasn’t had much luck lately. A string of rapid store openings and closures – Westdale Café, The Green Grocers, DLR’s second storefront, to name a few – has left me with a sense of trepidation whenever a new business sets up shop.
The Express Italian Eatery is one such restaurant to recently make an appearance on the block and try its chances. The casual dining house is the second location for the Hamilton business, which opened a branch in Westdale this spring following success at the Stoney Creek location.
On my Tuesday evening visit with a friend, the restaurant was very quiet - we were the only customers for the majority of our meal. This led to awkward hovering by well-meaning but slightly too present servers. While attentive service is desired compared to restaurants where you have to practically chase down your waiter or waitress to get what you need, the Express experience was a little uncomfortable and stifling.
The food, however, made the visit worthwhile.
We started with the Arugala Pizza. With a garlic and oil base instead of tomato sauce, and toppings that included pancetta, red onions, Asiago cheese and of course, arugala, it was bursting with full-bodied flavour. What really stood out was the crust. Sweet and savoury and paper thin, the crust has the look and feel more of pastry than dough. At $14 it’s The Express’ priciest pizza - but it’s worth it.
We followed the pizza with its other traditional sibling, the calzone. The Margherita Calzone, which will run you $13, was less impressive. The dough was fluffy and flavourless – a far cry from the light, crisp pizza crust that we’d just enjoyed. The insides, a mix of tomatoes, onions, cheese and garlic, weren’t bad. But they weren’t remarkably good, either. And the tomato dipping sauce that accompanied it was lacklustre.
The atmosphere of the restaurant was a strong point, however. The open concept set up, dark wood furnishings and comfortable-chic interiors made for a relaxed setting. It was a nice change from the Westdale standbys – the Bean Bar and Snooty Fox, etc. – that I frequent but have tired of.
Go for the pizza and stay for the ambiance. It’s definitely worth a try. Yet I still can’t help but wonder how long it’ll last.