Rex in Norridge serving up Italian dishes
Sub sandwiches are only a few of the items offered at Rex Italian Foods. Anthony Pinello, co-owner, prepares an order. | Joe Cyganowski~For Sun-Times Media
NAME: Rex Italian Foods
ADDRESS: 4431 N. Harlem Ave.
CONTACT: (708) 457-0177; rexitalianfoods.net
Updated: July 1, 2012 11:33AM
Rex Italian Foods, Inc. is many things to many people, which is a large part of its success.
A person can walk into Rex’s and sit down to a plate of pasta primavera for dinner. Or, they can drop in during their lunch break to pick up a sub sandwich. Maybe they just need a bottle of olive oil for the meal they’re making later or they just need a homemade cookie for the ride home.
The most recent incarnation of Rex, on North Harlem Avenue in Norridge, has been offering these diverse options fsince 1993. But they’re doing it with many of the same recipes that got the Italian eatery off the ground more than 40 years ago.
The first Rex was started by the Cinquino brothers on Chicago’s west side and later moved to the northwest side, near Harlem and Foster. It changed hands a couple of times before the Pinello family bought it in the 1990s.
Anthony Pinello is one of co-owners today. His former business managed Rex’s when it was at Harlem and Foster.
The original owners, Pinello said, came from Italy on a ship called the Rex.
“They named their business in honor of that boat,” he said. “We still hold the values that the original owners had, to have quality products at reasonable prices. Our mentality is the same, as far as that goes.”
Indeed, the Pinellos subscribed to the logic that if something works, don’t mess with it. It’s why so many of the original Rex recipes that were passed on the Pinellos remain the same.
“We make the sausage the same way they did back in the 60 and 70s,” he said, adding the seasonings haven’t changed nor has the ratio of seasonings to meat. “We stuff it by hand still and that kind of stuff.”
This, Pinello added, is what the latest Rex was built on.
Rex means king in Latin, but Pinello is too modest to say Rex Italian Foods is the king of all Italian food. However, he knows he’s on to something good with a deli/restaurant/catering business/grocery store.
“We don’t want to be that arrogant, to say we’re king of Italian food,” he laughed. “That being said, I think that we have really found our niche.”
He added, “Our concept is very unique. You want to come in for half a pound of salami, you can do that. Or turkey breast and a loaf of bread, we have that for you. At the same time, if you want to dine in for lunch and have a nice sub with chips and a drink, we can be your go to stop for lunch. If you want a hot meal for lunch, you can have, say, lasagna. If you want to carry out and feed the whole family, you can do that, too.”
The deli, which includes a hot case where a person can order lasagna, mostaccioli, spaghetti and the like, is a significant part of Rex’s business.
“We do have the deli case that has all the salads, but the salads are really like a side to something else,” he said. “Our hot case is really what shines.”
The meat lasagna, cannolis and schiacciatas are the most popular items ordered at Rex, but, really, the deli makes the combinations of items ordered for a meal limitless.
And, of course, the quality is what keeps the customers coming back.
“When you eat it,” Pinello said, “you notice.”