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Credit: Shannon Cornman

I like a nice plate of pasta.

Well, if I’m being honest, I love a giant bowl of pasta covered in rich, creamy sauce, topped off with meatballs or seared shrimp, or just a mountain of Parmesan cheese. Daddy needs his carbs.

Which is why your mother and I want to talk to you about Italia Express. (That’s right: For the purposes of this review, I’m your new dad. Now go clean your room.)

Son/daughter, Italia Express is a restaurant that serves Italian cuisine. Why did it leave the “n” off their name? No one knows. And no one cares, because it serves ridiculously inexpensive food that tastes like it should cost a good deal more.

The Gamberi Marinara ($9.99 lunch, $10.99 dinner) is a good example. A heaping pile of linguine tossed with a bold, flavorful marinara. Lots of basil. Lots of garlic. And on top: six large, perfectly cooked shrimp. This dish was satisfying in so many ways, not the least of which was it being enough food to make another meal the next day.

Newly added, maybe even seasonal, is the chicken basilico ($7.99). Thin, whole-wheat pasta noodles are tossed with white wine, mushrooms and pan-seared chicken breast. While not nearly so striking as the marinara, this was full of an earthy flavor I really enjoyed. The chicken could have used a bit more seasoning for my tastes, but I’d still get this again.

The ziti ($6.99 lunch, $8.99 dinner) is an honorable mention. The pasta was fine and the creamy tomato sauce rich and creamy, but it lacked the Italian flavor for which I hoped. Plus, the cheese on top formed an impenetrable shield. Not a bad dish, really, but it pales in comparison to others on the menu.

You certainly wouldn’t want the ziti after eating the tomato and spinach calzone ($5.99), which is packed to the gills with veggies and giant dollops of ricotta cheese. The crust is superior — buttery, crisp — although I wish it all had been mixed together a little more. There were a few ricotta-only bites, which isn’t so bad now that I think of it.

And
have you ever heard of this “pizza” stuff? Because Italia Express has
it, and it’s quite good. The extreme pepperoni has, as you might expect,
a lot of pepperoni on it. The chicken prosciutto Alfredo pizza is
absolutely decadent and extremely rich. And the veggie pizza is covered
in vegetables. What unites them all? A delicate, buttery crust that’s
made in-house daily. (Prices and sizes available vary between
locations.)

There are
hard lessons your mother and I won’t always be here to teach you. And
one of them is that the chicken Parmesan sandwich ($5.99) is a bit of a
letdown. The crispy chicken and warm red sauce don’t quite translate
from inside the hoagie bun. You’re much better off getting a plate of
spaghetti with marinara ($6.99 at lunch) and some cheese bread to
collect any leftover sauce.

Italia
Express does a lot of things well and all for very reasonable rates. I
don’t quite understand why there are different prices and websites for
two locations in the same city, but I also don’t care that much. So long
as I can keep getting big bowls of delicious pasta, I think this family
will be just fine.

Now, go do your homework!

Oklahoma
Gazette’s restaurant review policy is to highlight the positive
aspects, and include constructive criticism regarding food, ambience or
service when appropriate.

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