A sandwich for a five-spot has become a rarity in this town. Most lunch joints, especially those of the sweeter-than-Jesus-smoothie strain, hawk their breaded wares for a fiver and a fistful of change, a price that pretends to be reasonable until tax and beverage crank up in the bill. Then the grand total tips over the $7 mark — a tally that results in two missing Abe Lincolns rather than one.
Fortunately, places like Elia’s Pizza Café are still around. Submerged below Huntington Avenue on a block between Northeastern’s Marino Center and the Museum of Fine Arts, Elia’s is a subterranean student space with fake plants, 10 or so booths, and an odd assortment of mirrors and crooked, framed prints. But the décor, or lack thereof, isn’t Elia’s draw. It’s the half-dozen specials (chicken patties, veggie burger, or cheeseburger with fries for $3.50), the sandwich-type offerings that range from $3.75 (small meatball sub) to $5 (chicken Caesar roll-up), and the menu with 80-plus choices (25 different subs, 23 roll-up variations, 22 pizza toppings, plus calzones, salads, clubs, and pasta dinners) that keeps ’em coming back for more.
Since Elia’s pizza is part of its namesake, it’s no surprise that the slick, medium-crusted slices are scrumptious. Layered with stringy cheese, soft dough, and slurpy-sweet tomato sauce, two gooey pieces with a can of soda cost a mere $2.99. The boneless chicken tenders are tasty too: they’re steaming hot, crispy on the outside, moist on the inside, and swimming in barbecue sauce. A small portion ($4.95) is large enough for two people to share.
But while the pie and tenders are definitely good deals, the pita roll-ups are a steal. Eat wisely, and one roll-up could suffice for two meals: stuffed tightly with your choice of grilled veggies, grape leaves, falafel, tabouleh, hummus, chicken, or steak, each is about the size of an adult’s forearm. The chicken and hummus combo ($5) mixes tender, just-off-the-grill chicken chunks with lettuce, tomato, and a generous helping of lumpy, dribbly, lemony hummus. The gyro isn’t quite as spectacular — the lamb slivers look microwaved — but its minty yogurt sauce is unexpectedly creamy. For dessert, there’s vanilla or chocolate soft-serve frozen yogurt ($3 with one topping), both of which can be blended with a mess of toppings — including butterscotch, melon, grape, Cracklin’ Oat Bran, Kit Kat, and Twix bars.
Although it takes about 10 minutes to process each made-to-order meal, Elia’s cheap grub is worth the wait. Besides, it’s nice to find a place where you won’t be overcharged for a wrap with a ridiculous, neo-hippie name.
Elia’s Pizza Cafe, located at 405 Huntington Avenue, in Boston, is open daily, from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. Call (617) 369-9996.