Lilly’s Gourmet Pasta Express in Mission Hill is the sole survivor of a failed franchise attempt — and it’s more than good enough to stick around.
LILLY’S GOURMET PASTA EXPRESS
The Everett-based parent company, which produces high-quality pastas, opened a select few locations in places such as New Haven, Londonderry, N.H., and Pittsburgh. There was even a spot by Fenway Park. One-by-one, they all closed, with an Allston site serving as the latest casualty, quietly shutting its doors earlier this month.
“The pasta is awesome, it’s just the people that run them. They have no business being in the restaurant business,” says Matthew Postal, 34, a fiery restaurant veteran who opened the Mission Hill outpost in May 2010 and briefly tried to resuscitate the failing Allston branch before selling it to the final owner. “I’ve been in this business. I know what I’ve gotten myself into.”
Postal is correct about at least one thing. The pasta is indeed awesome and it’s likely you’ve encountered it before at one of the hundreds of area restaurants and supermarkets that offer it.
A usual offering at the Mission Hill spot — and one of the best — is Buffalo chicken ravioli ($10.99), originally intended as a deep-fried appetizer tossed in Buffalo sauce. But Postal turned it into an entree, simmering the chicken-filled ravioli in an Alfredo sauce with a shot of Buffalo, then topping it with chunky blue cheese and scallions. The final product is a standout, though Lilly’s also offers the fried appetizer ($6.99), served over lettuce. It tastes great, but has a similar consistency to a boneless chicken tender.
Lobster ravioli ($15.99), bathed in a sweet, pink crab-cream sauce, is pumped full of meat, ballooning the already-oversize pasta. While it’s the most expensive entree on the menu, customers definitely get their money’s worth in seafood.
Two other dishes served in cream sauces, Cajun chicken and shrimp ($13.99) and spaghetti alla carbonara ($11.99), are equally good. The Cajun pasta, which Postal says is the most popular dish on the menu, isn’t too hot, thanks to the Alfredo sauce balancing out the spice. The carbonara is true to the classic dish, with pan-seared chicken carrying a slightly peppery flavor.
Customers can order off the regular menu of favorites or create their own dishes. For assistance, various pastas are actually glued to a hanging board, so you can see which variety you’d like to order and pair it with meats, vegetables, and sauces. The build-your-own pasta that Postal recommends to all newcomers is an odd mix of rigatoni with sausage and mushrooms in the crab-cream sauce. “I know it’s a weird combination but it’s so good,” he says.
While the place serves sandwiches like the steak bomb ($7.99) and a turkey club ($6.99), it’s really pasta that’s the main feature. And you can buy different shapes starting at $3.99 a pound. The owner likes to slap bags of rigatoni and fettucine on the counter to show customers how fresh they are.
The one drawback to this Lilly’s is its size. It’s a cozy spot of about 500 square feet and offers only six stools under a sliver of counter space. And it doesn’t have a liquor license, so it’s not likely to be a date destination. There’s no doubt that it’s primarily take-out, and Postal embraces this, offering free delivery to the Longwood Medical area and nearby universities.
Regardless of the tiny footprint, word about the good food has spread through the neighborhood. There’s often a line out the door, particularly in the afternoons.
This Lilly’s isn’t going anywhere.