Depending on where you live in the Valley, a visit to Osteria might feel like something of an odyssey. To get there, drive past the fraying orange groves on McKellips Road, past the sun-blanched hangars of Falcon Field, until you reach the northeastern edges of Mesa. Drive any farther east and you’ll hit the Superstition Mountains.
Until recently, this part of Mesa was better known for its active senior-living communities than for its dining scene. Osteria, a new Italian restaurant from local restaurateurs Jeff and Alec-Lauren Golzio and chef Tony Snyder, is changing that.
The restaurant occupies a spacious corner lot inside a strip mall near the intersection of McKellips and Recker Road. In many ways, Osteria looks and feels like the kind of modern Italian neighborhood restaurant that’s fashionable in metro Phoenix these days. It’s got the requisite high, exposed ceilings, and a wall of artfully exposed brick. An ornate-looking espresso machine, bright as polished silver, sits at the edge of the restaurant’s bar. A long counter overlooks the restaurant’s open kitchen, whose centerpiece is a bright red, domed wood-burning oven.
Osteria, kind of like the genre of Italian eatery that it’s named after, is friendly and unpretentious. Classic rock plays softly over house speakers, and the service is as upbeat as the music. Better still, Osteria packs some real culinary muscle.
Pretty much everything, you’ll note, is made from scratch. Chef Snyder, most recently at the helm of the kitchen at Bourbon Steak at The Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, previously cooked at Rancho Pinot and the now-defunct Forge Pizzeria at the Union in Biltmore Fashion Park. Osteria ties together Snyder’s disparate influences, and he brings a pronounced farm-to-table ethos to Osteria’s straightforward menu of antipasti, pastas, salads, and pizzas.
The result is a restaurant that feels modern and ambitious, while remaining faithful to the virtues of honest, simple Italian cooking.
You’ll note that the wine list is well-rounded and approachable, with most glasses hovering around the $10 mark. There’s complimentary bread service, which involves thick-cut slices of Osteria’s house-made ciabatta served with a bowl of good olive oil. Thick and spongy, with a nice hard crust and the barest sour tang, the bread is irresistible.
Grilled octopus with crispy fingerling potatoes, one of the chef’s signature starters, is wonderful. Snyder marinates tentacles overnight in a homemade Calabrian chile paste, braises them in the morning for about two hours, and then finishes them on the grill. It’s one of the most tender and flavorful renditions you’ll find around town.
Wood-fired meatballs, meanwhile, are exceptionally succulent. Served in a cast-iron pan bubbling with a dense, sweet tomato sauce and roasted garlic cream, the dish is pure comfort food indulgence.
A seasonal salad of creamy homemade burrata feels engineered to set off every pleasure receptor in your brain. The soft, milky cheese is served with peach slices — the fruit is hand-picked locally every day — and drizzled sparingly with saba, grape must cooked down to a viscous, balsamic-like syrup. The whole thing is dusted with a flurry of toasted breadcrumbs, a delicious touch.
We Phoenicians are so blessed with top-notch Neapolitan-style pizzerias that it can be tempting to pass over newer options. Osteria will probably not replace your favorite, but the thin, chewy, elegantly hewn pies at Osteria are worth your attention. Snyder lets his dough ferment for two days, allowing it to develop flavor and elasticity. His pies are slightly airy, with gently charred, thin crusts and slightly floppy centers.
A highlight is the Salsiccia, topped with mushrooms, red onions, and a sweetly spicy homemade fennel sausage. The Bianco — slicked with a creamy-salty blend of mozzarella, provolone, ricotta, and gorgonzola, and lightly drizzled with chile oil — is unabashedly rich and delicious. A well-prepared Margherita pizza, as any classic pizza aficionado can attest to, is a thing of beauty. The one at Osteria demonstrates mastery of flavor and form. The mozzarella and basil are evenly distributed, and every slice delivers the delicious, sweet-tangy notes of San Marzano tomatoes reduced to a thick, tantalizing slurry.
Expect entrees to change with the seasons. Currently, there are only two on the Osteria menu: half a roasted chicken with a very buttery, slightly lumpy polenta, and a Niman Ranch flank steak with a creamy risotto. Both are quite good, but they feel more like diversions on the way to the main attraction.
What’s the main attraction at Osteria? Fresh pasta.
Don’t miss the campanelle — the frilly, bell-shaped pasta is deliciously light, and it’s paired with a bright, intensely flavored pesto of coarsely chopped basil and fresh lemon. Tagliatelle, served with a meaty, fragrant Bolognese sauce, has a satisfyingly eggy bite. A bowl of silky ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta, topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and pistachio crumbles, is wonderfully salty and rich. Food doesn’t get much more comforting than this.
It’s worth leaving room for dessert, especially for the homemade ricotta cheesecake. The thick cake is remarkably light and smooth, deriving most of its sweetness recently from a summery compote of mixed berries.
Osteria might not be reinventing the wheel in any way. But it features the work of a chef who is putting his own stamp on traditional Italian cooking, bringing to it a sharp modern sensibility and penchant for optimal ingredients. It’s a winning formula that’s well worth the drive — be it long or short — to northeast Mesa.
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5609 East McKellips Road, Mesa
Thursday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Monday through Wednesday 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Grilled octopus $17
Burrata with peaches $12
Campanelle pasta $17
Salsiccia pizza $17