How far would you drive for a good sandwich?
If you’re familiar already with the formidable work that chef Matt Pilato is doing at LAMP Pizzeria, a neighborhood parlor nestled among the scenic desert peaks and million-dollar homes of far-north Scottsdale, the answer might be: pretty damn far.
If you’ve never heard of LAMP Pizzeria, though, and you don’t already spend your free time navigating the wide, smooth roads of north Scottsdale, a trip to LAMP Café might seem like kind of a hard sell. The cafe is about a 40-minute drive from downtown Phoenix, accessible mostly to diners with dependable transportation and a mild sense of determination. It’s a highly appealing and drive-worthy spot, though, especially if you have a strong predisposition toward things like obsessively honed, fresh-made bread and high-quality Italian salumi.
As you have probably inferred by now, LAMP Cafe is the sister restaurant to Matt and Lindsay Pilato’s LAMP Pizzeria, which has been recognized for its expansive selection of Neapolitan-inspired and artfully composed pizzas.
The cafe, which opened next door to the pizzeria last fall at the La Mirada Shopping Center, offers the same level of sophistication that diners have come to expect from LAMP Pizzeria. This time around, the menu consists mostly of sandwiches and salads, as well as noteworthy signature breads like mignulata, a Sicilian stuffed bread that’s long been a popular starter at the pizzeria.
A pasta menu is currently in the works, too, I was told on a recent visit, which seems almost certain to add another layer of incentive to those considering a visit to the small but swelling LAMP empire in Scottsdale.
For now, though, the cafe menu is dominated by sandwiches, which may not sound particularly exciting at first. In the age of wheat belly diets and gluten-free baking, though, there is something slightly thrilling and nearly subversive about eating and enjoying fresh bread, especially in its full glutinous expression (for the record, there’s a gluten-free bread option available as well).
The bread at LAMP Café is a marvel — a cross between focaccia and ciabatta that’s conspicuously fresh, spongy yet firm, and vaguely suggestive of the flavor of good-quality olive oil. It’s shaped into sturdy yet relatively thin loaves, then sliced and filled with things like crispy pepperoni, house-made Sicilian sausage, and various cured meats.
The restaurant itself feels as unassuming as the menu, sparsely decorated with a crisp, all-white interior that’s accented by a dark, wood-paneled bar. The cafe is a boxy prism of light during the day, then becomes a quiet, softly lit rendezvous spot in the evening. Strings of Edison bulbs hang loosely across the main dining room, and simple farmhouse-inspired seating evokes somebody’s Italian country villa.
Before getting lost in the sandwich menu, you’ll probably want to start with the most distinctive LAMP starter, the mignulata, a highly regional, southern Italian stuffed bread that’s made with pizza dough. The bread is layered with meats and vegetables, seasoned intensely with pepper and olive oil, then rolled up and baked until it develops a gold-brown shell. It’s sliced and served as crispy-savory pinwheels.
An order includes three slices, which is ideal because there are three house varieties and you probably want to try them all: the Classic, made with sausage, cauliflower, and pecorino; the Villager, made with house sausage, pecorino, peas, and potatoes; and the Cordelia, essentially the Villager with the addition of speck.
All three offer pure, comforting indulgence — slightly crackly and crisp on the outside, soft and lush on the inside. The Cordelia, heightened with the salty-smoky speck, is particularly wonderful.
There are several other fine starters, including a rough-chop pesto that’s slightly chunky and intensely flavorful. A warm goat cheese marinara dip features the restaurant’s fresh, slightly tangy tomato sauce, which melds beautifully with the ultra-creamy, soft cheese.
There are two very good soup offerings, including a lovely roasted mushroom barley soup, which is the sort of thing your primary care physician wants you to eat for lunch, but which is rarely as appetizing as it is here. It achieves a meaty intensity, thanks to the roasted mushrooms.
A roasted tomato soup is more indulgent, garnished with big flakes of fresh aged Gouda and homemade croutons. The hunks of bread are almost as good as the soup itself. You can try to stop yourself from dipping your sandwich right into your bowl of tomato soup, but no one is really looking anyway, so why deprive yourself of that simple joy?
The heart of the menu is the dozen or so sandwich options. If you have no clear-cut aversions to specific ingredients or dressings, figuring out which one to order might be the toughest choice you make all day.
Standouts include the Agrodolce, available with your choice of homemade sausage or Felino salami. The sausage version yields a sturdy sandwich with a thick and well-seasoned sausage patty, its natural savoriness heightened with a very good, richly sweet red onion agrodolce.
The Angelina with zucchini cakes is a vegetarian’s dream, layered with meaty zucchini patties, a thick cap of fresh mozzarella, and a handful of fresh spinach. The whole sandwich is perfumed with a lovely basil aioli.
The Meyer is one of the meatier offerings, layered with grilled slices of meatballs, its flavors amplified by a simple olive salad and some sharp provolone. Probably the most comforting sandwich on the menu is the eggplant Parmesan, which is stacked generously with golden-brown slices of the eggy, sumptuously cheesy eggplant slices.
All sandwiches are served with a whimsical-looking goat cheese-stuffed peppadew pepper, plus your choice of side, with options that include a simple house salad dressed in a bright, extra-tart white balsamic vinaigrette.
There’s also a very good white bean salad, spiced up with chopped rounds of jalapeños. The barley feta salad, though, is the thing to get — it’s full of tantalizing, fresh texture, thanks to a scattering of finely diced onions and peppers, and the barley plays exceptionally well against the salty feta.
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For dessert, there’s homemade cannoli. The crisp, fresh flute arrives pleasantly engorged with thick, sweet cream filling. It’s a very good cannoli, and not quite as cloying as the other house-made dessert: a Nutella peanut butter pie that is reminiscent of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
You may as well stick to the cannoli, which you can order boxed and ready to go, if you wish. It makes for a good snack on the drive back home.
8900 East Pinnacle Peak Road, #B1, Scottsdale
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; closed Monday
Agrodolce sandwich $12.50
Eggplant Parmesan sandwich $11