No build-your-own pizza? No visit from me, then. Not that I would patronize any Tomaso's establishment after the gag-worthy meal I had last time.
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There was already action at the southeast corner of Camelback and 32nd Street. Between Tomaso's, Tarbell's, and Sportsman's Fine Wines, there's plenty here to attract food and wine lovers, and accordingly, the parking lot's always packed.
But the arrival of a new addition — Tommy V's Osteria Pizzeria — has really energized the place, with a relaxed atmosphere and reasonably priced, down-to-earth Italian food that makes perfect sense in these tight-budget times. Clearly, they're aiming to become a favorite neighborhood haunt.
It's such a smart idea.
3225 E. Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Region: East Phoenix
Tommy V's is a casual spin-off of Tomaso's, the longstanding upscale Italian restaurant founded by Tomaso Maggiore. When the space next door to Tomaso's flagship location became available, Maggiore recruited chef Matt Alleshouse, formerly of Wright's at the Biltmore, to develop a pizzeria. They opened almost two months ago.
We all know Phoenix has a lust for pizza, and that's evident when you walk into Tommy V's. The pizza-eating crowd here spans the spectrum from young couples on dates to tables of grandpas laughing it up over a few pies and a few beers. It also seems to be popular with families who have little kids in tow.
While Tomaso's exudes a kind of quiet reserve — it's a white-tablecloth kind of place, and you can't see in from the outside — Tommy V's is vibrant, noisy, and welcoming, with large front windows that reveal a bustling dining room. I think people are attracted to that. (Lately, though, Tommy V's seems so downright busy that a couple of benches outside are in order. When there's a wait, there's nowhere to go.)
The focal point of the dining room is the big wood-burning oven and the brightly lit open kitchen, which segues into a bar with counter seating. (Expect the game to be on TV if you sit there.) Lots of red brick and dark wood give it a warm, comfortable vibe, and the random assortment of artwork — old photos, Italian movie posters, an enormous mural depicting Maggiore at various ages — is just what you'd expect from an old-school Italian joint.
Accordingly, the food is not trendy. However, Alleshouse has given a contemporary flair to some of the dishes without sacrificing accessibility.
Nine different combinations of toppings constitute the pizza menu; there's no build-your-own option and no substitutions. They come in one large "personal pizza" size, suitable for a healthy appetite.
The crust was lightly crisp and distinctly not bubbly, unlike so many other gourmet pizzerias in town. Right now, I think Tommy's needs to perfect the level of char — on one visit, half of the pizza was blackened, and on another visit, there wasn't the slightest whiff of smokiness to it. But I've been there several times now, and over the course of those meals, the crust was generally fine.
Wild mushroom pizza, with lots of porcini, shiitake and cremini mushrooms, and scallions in a creamy ooze of melted fontina and mozzarella, got an aromatic boost from some truffle oil. Another pie was a juxtaposition of sweet and pungent, with fresh figs and fig-balsamic playing off the moody flavor of Gorgonzola. Some prosciutto and fresh arugula brought it all together. Pancetta and Gorgonzola pizza worked a different dynamic, with mozzarella to balance out the blue cheese, and more emphasis on salty, crispy pancetta. Arugula also kept it light.
"Let's Meat" was a celebration of savory protein to sink your teeth into — salami, sausage, and pancetta, with tomatoes, scallions, and mozzarella as well. Meanwhile, the classic pizza margherita caught my attention with its "D.O.P" description. In Italy, Denominazione di Origine Protetta certification guarantees provenance and a stringent level of quality for certain ingredients. Here, they create the Italian flag-inspired dish with San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and fior di latte mozzarella, with shreds of fresh basil on top.
Tuna tartare was the only appetizer that didn't win me over. The treatment was interesting (onions, capers, avocado, and sesame lime vinaigrette), but it couldn't disguise the fishy flavor (not something you want from raw tuna). On the flip side, citrus anchovies were tender, salty little slivers, teamed with oven-dried tomatoes, olives, baby greens, and herb oil — mouthwatering, indeed.
It's hard to reinvent the wheel with Caprese salad, but this one wasn't the typical version. It combined tiny mozzarella balls, blobs of creamy burrata, and yellow heirloom tomatoes with a drizzle of olive oil and some garlic chips. Also interesting was the panzanella salad, which contained bigger chunks of bread than you usually see in the traditional tumble of tomatoes, olives, onions, and vinaigrette. Thinly sliced bresaola, served with frisée, watercress, Gorgonzola, and horseradish olive oil, was flavorful, if a bit chewy.
I sampled a few pastas that were on par with the pizza, if not better — specifically, the Florentine gnocchi. "Amazing" is the word that keeps coming to mind when I think about biting into one of these delicate little clouds, made from potatoes, ricotta, and spinach. The sage butter sauce was so fragrant, and the gnocchi texture so light that I think I moaned every time I ate one.
Thin, tender ribbons of homemade tagliatelle were very good with juicy chunks of osso buco, fava beans, and shards of pecorino. But in comparison, the simple four-cheese ravioli was undistinguished, and pedestrian at best.
Just for variety's sake, I tried some of the signature plates as well — nothing topped the gnocchi, but a plate of plump grilled sausage, fingerling potatoes and red peppers tossed in red sauce was flavorful, while breaded garlic shrimp Caprese was the shrimp equivalent of ordinary chicken Parm, slathered in sauce and melted mozzarella. Nothing exciting.
But as far as entrée salads go, the pulled herb-roasted chicken was great — a toss of chicken pieces, radicchio, endive, capers, tomatoes, olives, pistachios, and creamy herb dressing, all heaped on large leaves of Bibb lettuce. Surprisingly filling for a salad.
Nobody's breaking new ground with the desserts here — I tasted a decent cheesecake, a cocoa-dusted chocolate gelato "truffle," and a Neapolitan sampler of Berto's gelato — although they were on par with what you'd find at countless other casual pizzerias.
For folks in the neighborhood, Tommy V's undoubtedly hits the sweet spot for affordable food in a family-friendly setting — a timeless formula for success.