Lunch Money: Cafe del Mondo
You won't find much that's actually Italian in Italian Village.
Yes, the neighborhood that got its name from St. John the Baptist Italian Catholic Church boasts some Italianate architecture. And it's a perfectly charming part of town, only you might be disappointed if you're expecting the copious spaghetti-and-cannoli spots found in neighborhoods like NYC's Little Italy (or the sausage hauses and backeries of our own German Village).
But there is one place to find pizza, pasta, antipasto and other Italian favorites. It's a lovely little Italian-style bistro and cafe open weekdays for breakfast and lunch.
Cafe del Mondo sits on the very edge of Italian Village, in an industrial-looking building sandwiched between Fourth Street and I-670. (Indeed, it started out as a supplier of imported foods before adding the restaurant angle).
A neat little covered patio is carved out of the building's front wall, making the cafe very enjoyable as an al-fresco lunch spot - though it'd be even better if it weren't for those aforementioned heavily trafficked streets.
Inside, there are cheery white lights strung from the ceiling, glazed orange stucco walls, painted concrete floors and black lacquer tables with cool vintage chairs that look like they came out of a '60s-era cubicle.
Along the perimeter, a selection of imported Italian groceries like vinegars and olive oils and kitchen gadgets (espresso machines and panini presses) are offered up for sale. In fine European fashion, soccer was playing on TV when I had lunch there last week.
Stromboli of the Day, $8.25
The menu itself is on the small side, with some salads and panini sandwiches. But that's OK because there's also an always-changing selection of daily specials - pizzas, calzones, strombolis and pastas made with creative combinations of ingredients.
I picked the Stromboli of that Day, which happened to be a sausage-and-peppers variety. The thick slice was stuffed with chunks of Italian sausage, flavorful roasted red and green peppers and a bit of velvety smooth cheese.
The dough surrounding everything in this Italian turnover was perfectly chewy, with a nicely crisped exterior coated in a delicious everything-bagel-type sprinkling of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, cornmeal and melted asiago. A small cup of chunky, sweet marinara sauce with a hint of basil was provided for dipping.
This lunch special comes with a better than average mixed-greens salad with some peppery arugula, chunks of tomatoes, banana peppers, red onions and big black and green olives, all tossed in a vinaigrette.
There's also chips! Not necessary, but I ate them anyway.
Stromboli of the Day: $8.25
Tax & Tip: $1.55
Cafe del Mondo
659 N. Fourth St., Italian Village