Amaro Pizzeria and Vino Lounge in Cave Creek

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We blogged a couple weeks back about Amaro Pizzeria and Vino Lounge opening in Cave Creek, and even brought you a first look of the posh new digs. The new restaurant smell still hasn't worn off at this locally owned joint. But the smell of wood-fired ovens and fresh-baked bread is also heavy in the air.

Amaro is definitely not your mom and pop's pizza shop. It is a chic, urban eatery that doubles as a swanky lounge with free flowing vino. And would you expect anything less from owners Tagan Dering and Frank Vairo, seasoned veterans who helped launch Kazimierz World Wine Bar and the Estate House?

It may be a bit of a trek for us CenPho residents, but the opening of Amaro helps to fill an artisan pizzeria void in the North Valley. Cave Creek now proudly boasts its own version of The Parlor, Cibo, or La Bocca. A chic, urban pizzeria and wine bar with a swanky atmosphere well suited to a first date, a classy work happy hour, or a gathering of friends and family over good wine and even better pizza.

(more mouth-watering pictures and the menu break-down after the jump)

Cowboy Ciao chef alum, Bernie Kantak, also served as a consultant in helping plan the menu. So northern residents needn't pine any longer for the delicious flavors of his famous chop salad. The Kantak Chop is on the menu with the same colorful, mouth-watering combination of smoked salmon, dried sweet corn, black currents, pepitas, asiago cheese, couscous, tomatoes, arugula, and pesto buttermilk dressing.

Chances are, if you inadvertently find yourself in Cave Creek (it's happened to the best of us), you might want to fortify yourself with provisions before making the long trek back to the valley. (And maybe indulge with just a bit of wine.)

Amaro makes it easy to do so, with antipasto starters like pane caprese, a new twist on an old favorite. Tasty toasted foccacia cubes, pulled mozzarella balls, and garlicky tomatoes tossed in a balsamic pesto sauce. Or try one of their filling meatballs, hand-rolled from a trio of ground veal, pork and beef, and smothered with fresh marinara sauce that would make your grandmama proud. As with just about anything, a sliver of freshly shaven parmesan makes it even better.

If you're craving a slice of thin-crust pizza pie, the Dolce Arrabiatta is a definite winner, topped with caramelized onions, spicy sausage, basil and plenty of ooey gooey cheese. Look to the Diavolo for a spicy take on the traditional pepperoni pie, or the Tomato Spinach for a veggie-packed slice.

Creative pasta combinations and plenty of hearty entrees are also on the menu, but the outstanding Buccatini Bolognese notwithstanding, the selections weren't anything remarkable. Chicken parm and plenty of pasta options are available for the Italian food traditionalists out there, but we would much prefer to double up on the appetizers, drool-worthy salads, and pizzas.

Whatever you choose, don't forget to leave room for dessert. The caramel-topped panna cotta and tiramisu were silky and rich heaven-sent delights. Sweet-tooth satisfying and totally worth the calories.

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