By Kathleen Vanesian
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By Heather Hoch
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By Robrt L. Pela
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If you're hungry for dessert--and that's a good bet--Pasta Brioni's sweets are worth hanging around for. The homemade tiramisu is light on coffee flavor, but very rich and creamy. The peach sorbet is light and refreshing. And the hazelnut ice cream is a knockout. (It's not homemade, said the waiter, but the kitchen wouldn't tell him where it came from.) The espresso is wretched.
Good as it is, Pasta Brioni is competing in a tough market. The quality and setting are pretty much there. Let's hope the proprietors add value to the mix.
Poma's Ristorante & Deli, 11056 North Saguaro, Fountain Hills, 837-2222. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
4416 N. Miller Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Region: Central Scottsdale
My kids always find the drive out Shea Boulevard to Fountain Hills very educational. That's because my wife and I teach them new words on every trip: "Look what they're doing to the #*@%*! desert," we moan, each time we pass the acres of new development.
Fortunately, a stop at Poma's ends the aggravation, at least temporarily.
The place shamelessly revels in most of the Italian-restaurant-decor cliches: Chianti in wicker baskets on the table, piped-in music from the homeland ("Santa Lucia," "Come Back to Sorrento"), a mural of an Italian village and a red, white and green color scheme that recalls the old-country flag.
It's also got some touches other Italian restaurants don't, like a great view of nearby Four Peaks, delightfully frigid air conditioning and copies of the trade magazine Pizza Today in the bathroom. Poma's is uncommonly kid-friendly, too: The waitress even offered to hold one couple's squirmy infant while they ate.
The food is friendly, too. Unlike Pasta Brioni, Poma's knows its Italian-restaurant niche: basic fare, big portions, low prices.
You could start off with an appetizer, like fried calamari or battered zucchini. But there's no compelling reason to, because dinners all come with soup or salad. The minestrone is pedestrian, but the greenery, mixed with tomato, olives and cheese, works just fine, especially if you take intermittent nibbles on the loaf of homemade bread.
Pasta dishes are uncomplicatedly satisfying. Linguini with baby clams is a winner: oily, clammy, winy and tinged with fresh basil. Fettuccine with pesto also conveys an ethnic punch, a mound of pasta zipped up by a flavorful sauce heavy with the scent of garlic and pine nuts. Baked spaghetti is a sure-fire kid-pleaser, right-out-of-the-oven crisp and bubbling with a layer of cheese. And while the gnocchi--potato-flour dumplings--aren't quite as ethereally light as they are at the Valley's fanciest pasta palaces, Poma's $6.95 tag makes additional criticism seem churlish.
Eggplant parmigiana is also well-fashioned, slabs of eggplant layered with cheese and smothered in a marinara sauce that tastes like someone's mother might have been stirring it for hours. A side of spaghetti makes this a good menu choice, especially if your appetite is bigger than your bank account.
Pizza is another low-cost option. The toppings aren't fancy--you won't see goat cheese or Thai barbecued chicken here. But the pizza foundations--crust, cheese, sauce--are all effective. In its original form, though, the cheese calzone lacks Little Italy authenticity--instead of two cheeses, it comes with either mozzarella or ricotta. But for an additional 95 cents, you can set the calzone right and get both. And once you do, I don't think there'll be many complaints.
Stick to the in-house desserts. Zeppole are a streets-of-New York treat that you rarely find in the desert Southwest. They're fresh, hot little balls of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar. Bet you can't eat just one. And the cannoli, filled with sweetened ricotta cheese and chocolate chips, will take the edge off the desert destruction you'll be seeing again on your drive back into town.
Poma's charms alone may not be sufficient to lure you all the way out to the fringes of the Valley. But if you find yourself out this way, Poma's makes it easy to find an excuse to extend your stay.
Poma's Ristorante & Deli: