BEST GOURMET PIZZA 2006 | Cibo | Food & Drink | Phoenix
Jacob Tyler Dunn
For our money and, more important, our time waiting for a table the best gourmet pizza in this burg is put out by Cibo, whose owners Karen and Tony Martingilio were wise enough to have imported young pizza maestro Guido Saccone from the town of Caserta, near the birthplace of pizza in Naples. Saccone used to make hundreds of pies a day in his brother's pizzeria back home, and his knowledge and expertise produce a superior pie here, with a light, thin crust that's never salty, and always refreshing, whether it's topped by mozzarella and spicy Italian salami as in the Diavolo; prosciutto cotto, mushrooms, artichokes and black olives, as in the Capricossa; or any of the other options. For lunch, you can't go wrong with one of Saccone's oven-fired saltimbocca sammies, and on the dessert tip, the sweet, warm crepes are magnfico. No lie: Saccone's pies will make you sigh, with a minimum wait, F.Y.I.
Meagan Simmons
Considering the mind-boggling assortment of exotic toppings out there, you could, in theory, eat pizza every day of the week. But even mediocre pizza can pass for something decent when it's heaped with sausage or pepperoni or some other overpowering taste. The true test of good pizza is embodied in the humble, unadorned slice, a beguiling blend of crust, sauce and cheese. (Seems simple, but looks can be deceiving, as many unfortunate eaters have discovered.) Meanwhile, the plain slice at Gus's is deliciously addictive a thin, chewy crust with a touch of crispness on the bottom, covered in a light layer of almost-sweet tomato sauce and a blanket of melted mozzarella. It's as good as what you'd get in the Big Apple, and it's love at first bite.
Sure, there are plenty of places to get a plate of pasta in town, but few can reproduce that old-timey, Brooklyn-style pizzeria feel and flavor, which is why Redendo's remains our preferred corner Italian joint in the Valley. Chef Anthony Redendo is a Culinary Institute of America grad who hails from back East, so he knows his garlic knots, meatballs, calzones, eggplant parmigiana, chocolate chip cannoli, and all that other glorious goombah grub, the kinda stuff Tony Soprano gobbles on a regular basis. Moreover, thanks to satellite radio, you'll be listening to Italian crooners like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett on the box. The place is full of WWII and '40s memorabilia, repros of beer ads and World Series posters from that time, photos of WWII fighter planes, pics of Frankie, and stills from Hogan's Heroes. What a freakin' cool place! Even the restrooms are made to look like "latrines." Folks in Fountain Hills are a lucky bunch, indeed.
Molly Smith
How good are the handmade pastas at Marcellino's? So good we'd eat 'em off the men's room floor of a Chevron station, capisce? Marcellino Verzino is the real deal, a true Italian, who's owned and operated award-winning restaurants in both Rome and NYC. It's in Rome that he met his beautiful, vivacious partner-for-life, Sima, who runs the front of the house, while Marcellino busies himself with his artistry in the kitchen. Sure, if the guy wanted to, he might be able to get away with using a superlative pre-made pasta, but where's the joy in that for an old farm boy who still enjoys making things from scratch? So there's saffron linguini, porcini-infused fettuccine, potato gnocchi, fettuccine that's black from squid ink, and so on. There's more to the menu than pasta, like the calves' liver flambed with cognac, and scaloppine in a Gorgonzola sauce. But they don't call Marcellino the prince of pasta for nothing, bucko, so pasta is what we want from this Roman emperor of edibles.
When we first stepped foot through the glamorous doors of Drinkwater's City Hall, we knew we'd entered a sensual realm. This swanky steak house oozes sexy luxury, from softly illuminated glass panels and black leather seating to live music and dim, red-tinted lighting. There's a lengthy list of wines to perk up your taste buds, and lots of appetizers to get you in the mood for sizzling hot meat stellar chop salad, savory French onion soup, delicate sauted sea scallops, and that ultimate aphrodisiac, oysters on the half shell. You could be naughty and order the jumbo lobster tail or pork chop, but why not give in to the pleasures of red meat? After all, it's the main item of worship here. Entrees like the NY Strip and the bone-in filet (Drinkwater's specialty) are served juicy and slicked with butter, still sizzling on plates heated to 400 degrees. Even before your first bite, the incredibly rich smell will go straight to the pleasure center in your brain. Yep, you'll be completely seduced and we bet you'll be back for more.
We go to Katz's Deli not just because it's the best deli in town, but because it serves the most amazingly tasty, most authentic matzo brei we've ever shoveled into our piehole. The balance of matzo to egg is perfect, and the serving is large enough that we can eat the first half with salt (kosher, of course) and the rest with syrup, just like we like it. If we're there past breakfast, we always order the chopped liver, because we've learned the hard way that Katz's is the closest to New York-style chopped liver smooth and slightly peppery that we're going to find out west. The corned beef is also right on the money, and we order potato knishes to go because they're always the freshest in town. All these East Coast delicacies are served to us at a pleather tuck-and-roll booth in a room that hasn't been updated in decades not since someone put up all that wood paneling and those framed photos of local celebs chowing down. Even without the seal of approval provided by a photo of Wallace and Ladmo eating latkes, we'd make Katz's our first stop for deli food every time.
Tony's has been thriving in Sunnyslope since the late 1970s no easy feat, considering that chains like Yellow Mart, the Dolly Madison Bakery, and even Dunkin' Donuts packed up and left the area long ago. Owned and operated by the Abramo family (whose late patriarch, Anthony Abramo, emigrated from Italy), Tony's has always been the one-stop-shopping place for people who want to make real Italian meals with only the finest imported ingredients. The shelves of the deli are crammed full of pastas, sauces, cheeses, and seasonings you won't find anywhere else in Phoenix (there's even a section for imported chocolates). If you don't feel like buying all the ingredients for that ravioli recipe, Tony's has a full-service deli and kitchen, too, with hot pasta dishes made to order, and scrumptious sandwiches that are good to go, not to mention the best homemade cannoli in town. Oh, okay, we'll mention it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. We know it takes more than slammin' barbecue sauce to garner award-winning 'cue. That's why this 20-year-old joint with its huge portions and reasonable prices is our favorite grub spot. The succulent sauce a vinegar-based Tennessee-style blend of ketchup, sugar, liquid smoke, mustard, lemon juice, and secret spices is definitely off the hook, but its purpose is to bring out the juicy cuts of meat and not to cover up some below-grade stuff. Pork ribs and chicken dinners, each served with your choice of two sides such as Cowbro beans, coleslaw, potato salad, corn, or tossed salad, will most definitely tickle taste buds. You may kill a tree with all the napkins you use, but the face-stuffing mess is definitely worth it.


Restaurant 28

Restaurant 28 serves up pretty good 'cue even if you don't hail from the Old North State. But if you're a homesick Tar Heel in search of the vinegary-spicy shredded pork that you were raised believing was the only kind of barbecue in the world, then you'll think you're in hog heaven once you cross the threshold of this tiny establishment. Actually, you'll have to ask for your barbecue "Carolina style," to get the good stuff. Otherwise, N.C. expat George Miller will serve you a sweet, tomatoey version that's from the western part of the state, mainly because he's found that most people don't cotton to traditional Carolina 'cue unless they're from back home. And don't worry; Miller's got hushpuppies, collard greens, chitlins, red beans and rice, red Kool-Aid to wash it down with, and Nutty Buddy pie for dessert. Someone crank up the James Taylor. We're gone to Carolina, son.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
The name sounds prim and proper, but Mrs. White's Golden Rule Cafe is all about guilty pleasures. We figure that's what's kept this restaurant in business for 42 years. Where else can you go for such perfectly crisp, golden fried catfish, savory Southern fried chicken, or thick, sizzling pork chops? This is the place to get your Dixie fix, right down to the buttery cornbread and homemade lemonade. All the dinners are only $8.80, a number you'll soon have memorized after a meal here it's scrawled in black marker all over the walls of this tiny spot, along with the full rundown of crave-worthy dishes and sides, like tender, smoky black-eyed peas or melt-in-your-mouth candied yams. Come prepared with a big appetite, and maybe make time for a mid-afternoon food-coma nap, too. Because at Mrs. White's, even if you're stuffed, you'll definitely want to clean your plate.

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