First Taste

Leoni's Focaccia in Scottsdale Proves Fresh Bread and Solid Ingredients Make For Excellent Sandwiches

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Leoni's Focaccia
Location: 7116 East Mercer Lane, Scottsdale
Open: About a month
Eats: Italian sandwiches
Price: $10+/person

Sandwiches are sacred. Whether we're talking about the perfect Cubano, Philly cheesesteak, or bahn mi, it would seem just about everyone can agree a well-made sandwich is a beautiful thing. And if you happen to a fan of a classic Italian sandwich served on freshly made bread, then there's certainly beauty to be found at Leoni's Focaccia in Scottsdale. 

This new restaurant, located near the intersection of Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard, comes from the duo behind downtown's The Breadfruit — though specifically it comes from Danielle Leoni, the Italian-born chef for whom this new lunch spot takes its name. Valley residents may know her best for her bright Caribbean cuisine, which she inherited from husband and The Breadfruit co-owner Dwyane Allen, but at this second restaurant, Leoni turns inward and showcases her own Italian roots.

The menu is simple: six pre-set sandwiches, a salad, and a selection of cookies. And interestingly, the restaurant doesn't claim to make anything in-house save for the desserts and, of course, the focaccia bread. Instead, it advertises the fact that the owners source the best meats and cheese from across the Atlantic, where, presumably, people know much more about making top-quality mortadella and olive tapenade.

Of the two sandwiches we tried our favorite was the #6, a simple albacore tuna sandwich that perfectly walked the link between being the familiar classic you so often found in your elementary school lunchbox and something distinctly elevated and special. The tuna was creamy and fishy (not a tuna salad trying to a fancier, healthier version of itself) and came layered with salty Pecorino Romano, fat slices of tomato, and a fistful of bitter arugula. Together, these made for the kind of sandwich you can't put down until the entire thing has disappeared, at which point it finally dawns on you how delicious it was — on top of the fact that you probably want more.  

The #2 was only slightly less satisfying, made with thin sheets of prosciutto cotto (basically Italian cooked ham, not the dry-cured stuff you might be envisioning) and fontina cheese. If you're looking for a heavy American ham and cheese sammie, then turn back now, because this is Italy through and through. Lettuce, tomato, and red onion round out the mix, along with a perfect spread of mayo and mustard to give the light and simple combination a familiar touch.

Other options on the regular menu include soppressata, capicola, and ricotta; mortadella, gorgonzola, and sun-dried tomato; and the inescapable tomato, basil, and mozzarella combo. No matter which you chose, it'd be hard to go wrong since the focaccia — the bread being the all-important foundation of any good sandwich — is such a solid offering. Leoni's version is not the thick-crusted, heavily salted version you find most often in the United States, but rather a fluffy bread with thin and delicate crust. A dusting of salt adorns its golden exterior, shining under a layer of rich olive oil. 

So, not everyone will want to go out of the their way for such a simple pleasure as a well-made sandwich. After all, you could by freshly made bread and imported Italian meat and cheese, and build your very own sandwich from the comfort of your home. But you have to admit, half the fun of enjoying such a sandwich is knowing that someone else made it for you. And for that, Leoni's Focaccia is an ideal destination. 

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria