Between its striking green awning and its bold red door, Pat’s Italian BBQ is hard to miss. The restaurant is an anomaly in the overwhelmingly residential Armour Square area of Bridgeport, but co-owners Lulu and Lana Alsad see this as a blessing. They chose this location, just two blocks from U.S. Cellular Field, due to the area’s refreshingly close-knit community.
However, Armour Square is a tough place to run a restaurant year-round, they admit–most commercial eateries in the vicinity have a schedule that remarkably resembles the White Sox season. But with Pat’s they want to prove to locals that it’s possible to sustain a restaurant that’s both delicious and open full-time.
Pat’s is indiscriminate: it appeals to college students picking up coffee, working people looking for a quick lunch, and neighborhood kids who just got their allowance. As I ate, a gaggle of 8-year-old boys came in counting their change and clamoring for sodas and a couple of slices of cheese pizza. When I saw how Pat’s treated the young diners, it became obvious why they can claim some of their best customers as kids.
Pat, the man for whom the restaurant is named, engaged the boys in conversation about basketball and talked trades and stats as they waited for their slices to cook. When one kid had difficulty balancing his pizza and his soda, an employee helped to wrap the food tighter before waving the boys out: “Be careful! It’s hot!”
At Pat’s, the pizza is downright cheap. You can get a large slice of cheese for $2, made exclusively with fresh ingredients. Pepperoni and sausage pieces cost $2.25–an entire pie, just $10.50. Even their meatball sandwiches and hotdog/fries combos are priced low, since Lulu and Lana understand that, in this economy, a neighborhood restaurant must respect the financial limitations of the everyman.
Yet, like any proud craftsman, Pat is committed to his work. The Italian beef, sausage, and meatballs are made from scratch in the restaurant by Pat himself using a family recipe, complete with a heralded secret ingredient. Pat’s buys vegetables fresh daily.
This attention to detail is clear in the taste–the first bite of a hot cheese pizza slice is warm, welcoming, and satisfying. Sinking into the slice yields a mouthful of hot, delicious cheese. The crust has just the right amount of crunch, and the sauce is full and rich with tomato flavor. If the pizza has one fault, it’s that it’s wrapped up–even when hot–in paper and foil, so when you unwrap your fresh-out-of-the-oven slice, the cheese tends to clump to the wax paper. If you choose to piece the cheese clumps back onto the pizza it may be a little uneven, but once you take your first bite, you’re not likely to care.
The stenciled menu serves as the visual centerpiece of the tiny dining area–a space probably not meant to accommodate crowds. Nearby hangs a small map of Italy. The sounds of the small kitchen fall in sync with the tune of a radio belting out Green Day and Linkin Park. The restaurant has only just passed its two-month anniversary, but the owners have big plans for expansion in the summer with a sidewalk cafÃ© and wider variety of menu options, including Italian ice.
Even as a vegetarian, and someone with a shaky grasp of Americana, I can recognize that this is it. Pizza. Community. Music. Come blue skies and warmer weather, Pat’s will be a haven for sweaty young children and their older counterparts, lingering over coffee and the simple hearty fare, perhaps finding a willing ear in Lulu or Lana, or discussing sports with Pat.
Pat’s Italian BBQ, 308 W. 33rd St. Monday-Friday, 11am-9pm; Saturday, noon-9pm. (312)528-0204.