For a quick taste of Italy, take a trip to Giuseppe’s Express in Pismo Beach.
The Express originally got its start right behind its big sister restaurant — Giuseppe’s Cucina Italiana on Price Street — before moving to a separate location a bit farther down the street. About eight years ago, it moved to its current spot, nestled kitty-corner from the Cucina.
Despite its tiny footprint, there’s a lot going on at the Express. Behind the scenes, it serves as the production bakery not only for itself, but also Giuseppe’s Cucina and Palazzo Giuseppe’s in San Luis Obispo. All three are owned and operated by Joe DiFronzo (aka Giuseppe), who launched the Cucina in 1988 from a business plan he worked up while attending Cal Poly.
As for Giuseppe’s Express, it mirrors DiFronzo’s own childhood in the San Fernando Valley.
“I grew up in the Italian deli business,” he said, specifically in four such establishments still run by his uncles. “(Giuseppe’s Express) is just like those, a place where you can stop on the way home and pick up a few groceries, some fresh bread, some pasta, braciole, homemade sausage, a can of artichokes, maybe some provolone.”
Indeed, the shelves and menus of Giuseppe’s Express pack in a lot of possibilities, whether you want to eat there, grab something to go, or make something in your own kitchen. Just a glance around all the imported pastas, Italian condiments and local olive oils on the dry goods shelves will inspire the home cook or even present some good gift ideas.
Equally tempting are the refrigerated cases with all the pre-made entrées, salads and desserts — including several flavors of refreshing gelatos.
There’s everything from lasagna to stromboli (turnovers filled with meats and cheeses), from house-made minestrone to deli salads such as antipasto or curry chicken, from lemon bars to cannoli pastries. In addition, there’s a wide array of imported and Boar’s Head cured meats and cheeses that can be custom sliced for platters and/or sandwiches.
Of course, Giuseppe’s Express serves up several of its own sandwiches as well. Among the hot options are spicy pastrami, eggplant or chicken Parmigiana, and grilled chicken Florentine with spinach, red pepper aioli, sun-dried tomato and pepper Jack cheese. For cold sandwiches, choose from house roasted beef with horseradish aioli, a caprese with avocado, or the Giuseppe’s Italian Hero with mortadella, capicolla, Genoa salami and provolone cheese.
As you’d expect, the Express menu also features pasta and pizza. Among the pasta plates are spaghetti and meatballs “made grandmother’s way,” rigatoni with peppers and housemade sausage, and bucatini Bolognese — a thick, hollow spaghetti-like pasta served with a slow-cooked meat ragu sauce.
For the Sicilian (thick crust) or Neapolitan (thin crust) pizza, make up your own from about 20 toppings, or choose from Giuseppe’s creations. The usual suspects include pepperoni, formaggio (cheese) and Margherita (tomato, mozzarella, basil and olive oil), or you can opt for salsicca (housemade sausage with mushrooms), gorgonzola with caramelized onions, or the Diavolo with spicy peppers, artisan pepperoni and olives.
“It’s all just simple Italian food with honest ingredients,” said DiFronzo, who grows some of the produce for the restaurants on his own Edna Valley farm. “We just want to do what we do well, and I have a great team (at all the restaurants). I never thought I’d be here 26 years later, but without all of them, I wouldn’t be here. I can’t do all this by myself.”