Now That's Italian!
Just because Phoenix doesn't have a Little Italy doesn't mean there aren't plenty of Italians here. You just have to know where to look. A few months ago, when I was researching a story about Arlecchino Gelateria ("The Big Chill," May 3), I was pleasantly surprised to see so many native Italians congregated at the tiny storefront their accents were unmistakable. They'd come from all over the Valley for a taste of the Old Country. But where are all the Italians the rest of the time? What else do they fill up on besides gelato?
Now I know. They're chowing down at Andreoli's Italian Grocer.
"I think 75, 80 percent of the customers are from Italy. If you come on a Friday or Saturday, you can see a lot of them so many you wonder if you're in Italy," says owner Giovanni Scorzo. "That's what I want."
It's true. In business just three months in a somewhat hard-to-find spot near Fry's, across Via Linda from Swaddee Thai Andreoli's Italian Grocer is already doing a brisk business in sandwiches, salads, antipasti, and all kinds of imported specialty items. Americanized Italian food is everywhere, but if you're hungry for something authentic, you need to try this place. Chances are, you'll hear the melodic sounds of the Italian language coming from the table right next to yours.
Scorzo was born in southern Italy, in Calabria, and grew up in Liguria, in the northwest. Like his mother, whose maiden name was Andreoli, he became a chef, and worked in various parts of the country until moving to the U.S. in 1985. He lived in Santa Fe and San Francisco before settling in the Valley, where he opened Leccabaffi in North Scottsdale. He sold the restaurant three years ago.
"I don't want to deal with waiters and busboys anymore," says Scorzo. "Here, I get direct with the customers. If something's wrong, then I know." From cooking to serving, he does it all, with some help from his wife, daughter, and a few other employees.
His hands-on approach means no short cuts; Scorzo makes all his own bread and pastries, cannoli, tiramisu, mozzarella, ricotta, and even chocolates. Daily specials might include fresh pasta or, perhaps, a seasonal dish like vitello tonnato (chilled veal in a caper-studded tuna sauce). He's a butcher, too, so the sausage and salami are housemade as well.
The glass deli counter is filled with meats, cheeses, marinated olives, and tiny fish in a bright red sauce. At the end of the case, there's a tempting display of cookies and golden sfogliatelle, sprinkled with powdered sugar. Just beyond the register, you can see right back into the kitchen, where cutlery and old-fashioned butcher tools hang from a rack. Scorzo says one of his knives originally belonged to legendary chef Paul Bocuse, and his set of copper pots and pans were handed down from his great-grandmother.
Around the store, there are other vintage touches. Packages of crackers and jars of preserves are displayed on a handsome wooden hutch, and parked among the tables and chairs, there's an old cart filled with packages of lentils, bags of farina, and bottles of olive oil. Some of the furniture dates back to the 1800s, says Scorzo. With a laugh, he adds, "A lot of people say, 'Can you decorate my house?'"
As long as he makes food this good, Scorzo doesn't have to worry about a second career as a decorator.
I could eat one of Andreoli's panini every day. The ones I tried over the course of a few visits came on really great rolls that were crusty on the outside, doughy on the inside, and sometimes lightly toasted. The panino bocca di rosa was exemplary, filled with soft chunks of eggplant in a delicate tomato sauce. Instead of being smothered in cheese, it had just a subtle amount of melted mozzarella and parmigiano. The del tirolo was also nicely balanced thick, but not too thick, with layers of thinly sliced speck (smoked prosciutto), ripe tomato, arugula, and pesto. Same goes with the amount of salami in the panino alla caz tuoi, topped with tomatoes, lightly caramelized onions, and provolone cheese.
None of Andreoli's flavors hit me over the head. Instead, they were refined, emphasizing freshness and high-quality ingredients. Homemade sausage, topped with sautéed peppers and onions, was mild and meaty, not at all greasy. The panino in porchetta contained nothing but a heap of moist roasted pork, lightly flavored with garlic, fennel, and black pepper. And the schiacciata du terún mozzarella, tomato, and basil on homemade focaccia was no run-of-the-mill caprese sandwich. The cheese was creamy and snowy white, drizzled with top-notch olive oil; the bread was fragrant and flavorful. Eating it, I thought to myself, "Finally, Pane Bianco has some competition."
Beyond the sandwiches, there are plenty of salads and antipasti. I loved the cool, pristine buffalo mozzarella, served in a racquetball-sized scoop with basil, tomato, and olive oil, as well as the impressive bresaola pink, paper-thin pieces of cured beef draped over a pile of arugula. Offered with half a lemon and some shaved pecorino, it was surprisingly refreshing. Another summery dish was the grilled calamari, which weren't remotely chewy, just plump, succulent, and swimming in a pool of tangy marinade.
Some items did veer into the realm of richness, namely the generous portion of french fries with crispy, fried leeks (my friends and I couldn't get enough of them) and a fat, fluffy slice of pizzetta, vecchi tempi (moist, foccacia-style pizza topped with tomato and parmigiano). Both were delicious.
Scorzo says he'll soon roll out a new menu, with some additions as well as a few tweaks to some of the current items. It won't be drastic, he assures me.
"Some of these things," he says, "if I got rid of them, people would kill me."
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