Dedicated chowhounds know that the area on North Avenu, just west of Harlem Avenue comprises some of the most fertile eating around. From the zeppoli popping Claudio to the white bread bbq of Russells, you have a range of tastes and experiences. Hell, even high-end foodie snobs have a place, the tea emporium, Todd and Holland. Mostly, it is known as the home of the, "shut the door" beef emporium (and best smelling restuarant ever) Johnnies.
But Johnnies has nary a table inside. The counter affords you the chance to bump into people moving down the line. Winter is not Johnnies best friend. If you are in the area and looking for a few other options, here is a quick report.
Massa is smack in the middle of the resturant row on North Avenue. I have commented many times on their superior espresso and gelato, but I do not think I have talked about their hot fare. Massa offers a limited menu. A few pizzas, grilled pannini, a stuffed artichoke, sometimes baked clams that is about it. Oh, and their signature panzerotti, which take the fried dough thing and fills it with cheese and other stuff. The kids always want the fried pizza. Me, I never approach Massa wanting anything. Nothing on the menu ever really calls out to me. Good sounding dishes tend to have one or two ingredients that I do not want (or even like). Yet, at the end of the day, I am usually happy with what I get.
Massa makes one of the best tuna sandwiches around--maybe worth my top ten. The only mayo comes afterward and this keeps the sandwich light. Massa uses especially good bread that crisps well in their pannini. The closest to their bread, amazingly enough, is Tortas USA. The panzerotti area as good as you would expect from fried dough oozing cheese. The pizzas wander a bit because of their ingedients. For instance, the pie we had the other night featured a showering of canned/sliced black olives, the rubber ones. I wish we said just leave them off. The stuffed artichoke failed miserable last time, but has been good before. Regardless of the time of year, some of the best ice cream in town awaits those who finish their dinner.
Speaking of bread, I got to append slightly my previous appendation of Capri. Capri is a little deli on the River Forest side of North Avenue that serves some great subs. Well, sometimes mearly good subs. You see Capri stashes two versions of sub roll in their old time wooden box. If they grab the wrong roll, which I think they do more often, the sub will sit in an airy, less than ideal setting. Get the right roll, fresh, crisp, balanced between soft and firm, and you are free and clear. Just a warning.
The coolest thing about a Capri sub is that it can be whatever you want it to be, assuming the ingredients are somewhere in the store. Want the aged provolone, ask. A bit of genoa salami, ask. These are not pre-packaged/pre-measured subs. They custom build them to your needs. A bit more info on Capri is in attached link.