Overall impression: Italio borrowed a page from Subway and Chipotle Mexican Grill when it came up with its create-your-own, cafeteria-line-style system of ordering pasta bowls, salad bowls and wraps. But instead of submarine sandwiches or burritos, Italio's focus is Italian — America's favorite ethnic food. With the price of a meal well under $10, it's a fast way to feed yourself or your family.
Ambience: The dining room is charming, with walls of white brick and an assortment of regular and high-top tables. The real focus, however, is the assembly-line production area. Behind the glass divider is a gleaming, stainless-steel counter of the ingredients customers use to build their meals. Much thought has gone into everything from graphic design to packaging.
Entree excellence: The menu is presented in four steps. Choose a pasta bowl, piadina wrap or salad. You then have seven entrees to choice from: sauteed zucchini and portabello mushrooms ($6.68); grilled lemon-herb chicken ($6.98); balsamic-herb grilled sirloin ($6.98); pan-seared Italian sausage ($6.98); beef and pork meatballs in basil pomodoro ($6.98); crispy, Italian-seasoned, all-white chicken ($6.98); and shrimp grilled in fresh parsley and lemon gremolata ($8.98).
There are three hot sauces, three kids of cold pesto and four cold dressings. The final step has you choosing fresh vegetables, cheeses and such Italio favorites as chickpeas, hot-cherry-pepper relish and roasted garlic. Italio's ingredients are sophisticated enough that you don't feel as if you're at a typical smorgasbord. The so-called artisan alfredo sauce is made with aged Parmesan, fresh cream and garlic. The spicy prima rosa sauce is fresh and has a nice kick from the hot-cherry-pepper relish.
My biggest quibbles? White or whole-wheat spaghetti were the only offerings. How difficult would it be to offer linguine or penne, as well? I also found the wrap part of the piadina inedible. It tasted like cardboard. I only ate the fillings I had chosen: Italian sausage, spicy prima rosa, basil, black olives, sauteed peppers and onions, and Parmesan.
Side issues: Italio has kept the menu simple, but a handful of side dishes are available. A very good calamari misto ($4.98) features fried squid rings with hot cherry peppers dusted with cheese and served with lemon-herb vinaigrette in a paper cone. Italio sticks ($1.98) are made with cheese, pepperoni or spinach and artichoke. They're doughy and warm and perfect for kids.
Sweet! Cannoli chips ($2.98), served with a side of the cream normally used to fill cannoli shells, were the only dessert option. They weren't bad.
Liquid assets: Along with San Pellegrino sodas ($2.70) and bottled water ($2.70), check out the beer and wine selection.
Service: Friendly and efficient. The staff goes out of its way to help you create your meal. If you're not creative in the kitchen, let them suggest some standard recipes.
1658 N. Federal Hwy, Boca Raton
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily
Reservations: Not accepted
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Moderate
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Boosters, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot