Portland’s evolution into a foodie town is both an exciting and welcome revelation. Our city is home to many great restaurants, and we are becoming widely known for our creative cuisine. Indeed, food and the creative culture it fosters are fast becoming key economic drivers in our transitional economy.

But at a time when we celebrate the latest and greatest and hurry to crown the newest celebrity chef, it’s OK to pause and remember the old standbys.

One of them is Pizza Villa, which has operated for generations on Congress Street, just down from Maine Medical Center. It’s a stately old brick building on the corner of Valley and Congress streets. The windows are full of neon, matching the warm and friendly neighborhood feeling that exists inside.

The Villa, as it is popularly known, has been family-owned since 1965. I became aware of it in 1983, when I first moved to town. I was playing on a company softball team, and we gathered there after our games for pizza and beer.

All these years later, Pizza Villa remains a popular gathering spot for the sporting crowd. I know tons of hockey players who still go there after their games at the Portland Ice Arena nearby, and the Villa is great before and after games at Hadlock Field and the Portland Expo.

But let’s not sell the Villa short as simply a sports bar. It is one, for sure, and you can see plenty of evidence of its popularity with sports fans on a Sunday afternoon. But it is also a family-friendly restaurant with a wide-ranging menu of pasta and Italian dishes. It’s a clean, cozy restaurant with excellent booth service while also a convenient place for take-out.

Beyond pizza, there is a full range of sandwiches (hot and cold) and calzones, and a decent selection of salads, soups and various pasta dishes.

Last weekend, after a long day of work outside in damp, chilly weather, I ordered a 10-inch pepperoni pizza ($6.99) and a large chicken Parmesan sandwich ($6.99).

The woman who took my order told me it would be ready in 10 minutes, which was less time than it took for me to drive from my home in South Portland to pick it up. When I arrived, my order was ready and waiting.

The restaurant was full, and the bar was humming. There was college football on TV, as well as the Bruins’ pregame show. Had I not made a commitment to bring the food home, I might have been tempted to eat it all myself at the bar with a beer or three.

But I took it home.

The chicken sub served as comfort food. I was chilled, and needed something warm and filling. The sub roll was toasted and chewy. The marinara sauce had a tangy bite, and the chicken was tender. I appreciated the stringy melted cheese and the fact that the roll held up to my devouring appetite. The sub didn’t fall apart on me. The chicken and sauce stayed inside the bun, intact. It was delicious.

the time I finished the sub, I hardly had room for pizza. (Duh). But I ate a few pieces anyway. I liked the 10-inch size, because there was little waste. The crust was crisp but not overdone. The pepperoni was generously apportioned, and the cheese and sauce tasted fresh.

I was pleased with my meal. I always am when I go to the Villa. I’ve always liked this place, for going on 30 years now. It’s a great neighborhood joint that has held its own in this impressive foodie town. 

The Features staff of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram anonymously samples meals for about $7.


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