Welcome to the 2018 edition of The Essentials, our catalog of indispensable and quintessential Phoenix food and drink. From now until May, we'll be sharing 50 dishes, drinks, and food experiences that make up the culinary backbone (and personality) of metro Phoenix. This list is highly eclectic, mixing classics with newer and lesser-known favorites. But all The Essentials have one thing in common: We think they're required eating (and drinking) in metro Phoenix.
48: Grilled Squid and other specialties at Andreoli Italian Grocer.
At Andreoli Italian Grocer in Scottsdale, blocks of torrone, a nougat made from sugar, almond, and egg white, are as big as bricks. All kinds of delicacies quicken your heartbeat from inside the display case: pistachio cake, fresh-made mozzarella, San Danielle prosciutto, al taglio pizza, cheeses, olives, and so on. Choosing what to walk away with isn't easy. You're almost happy there's a line, buying you time to decide.
The place is half market, half restaurant. Those familiar with Italian markets here and abroad will learn that this one is different. Some selections are on the quirky side.
Andreoli carries wild onions preserved in oil. The shelves are filled with off-brand Neapolitan 00 flours, high-end anchovy jars, and even jars of the little-known spicy fish condiments popular in Italy's extreme south.
That's where chef and proprietor Giovanni Scorzo was born. He was born in Calabria, the southernmost region of peninsular Italy, a poor region that doesn't attract many tourists (or Italians). Calabrian flavors can be seen at Andreoli's in some of the more arcane canned offerings, and in Scorzo's use of ingredients like spicy chiles and bottarga (mullet roe) in prepared food.
The southern Italian influence is strong at Andreoli's: arancini (fried rice balls), orecchiette (ear-shaped pasta), rustic tomato sauces, pastries like sfogliatella, and simple grilled seafood dishes.
But the northern Italian presence can be tasted, too. Scorzo has spent time in Tuscany (just north) and Liguria (farther north). He has cooked a bistecca Fiorentina special, a massive cut of meat popular in Florence, Italy's most famous steak by a long shot. He plates a heap of the northern air-cured beef bresaola. He cooks risotto, a northern dish, and even recently featured one with squid and squid ink.
A lot of restaurants feature mashups of northern and southern Italian. What's different about Andreoli's is that Scorzo's selection of dishes is fresh and purposeful. He isn't coasting along with inertia, hazarding a bunch of preparations onto one menu based on a generic idea of what Italian food is. He knows Italian cuisine very well, and has cherry-picked his favorite dishes to cook, serve, and eat.
The best thing I have eaten at Andreoli's is grilled calamari. Squid is easy to cook, but hard to cook well. Scorzo manages to get an ultralight char on the outside, with just a scintilla of carbonic bitterness coming through. The pieces are soft with some thickness and a just chew. They have beautiful color, which strongly hints at just how masterfully the calamari has been prepared. A bright sauce of olive oil and parsley jolts the squid and sends your mind to distant beaches. This squid is a stunner.
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The only downside to Andreoli's is that prices are high, and downright baffling in some circumstances. A small bag of 00 flour costs $10. Comparable flours at the best New York City Italian markets cost a good deal less. At Andreoli's, tool-shaped chocolates cost $45 a pound. Seriously? Those are wagyu prices.
If you can get over the price — or limit yourself to a handful of items — Andreoli is a great place. You can linger out in the sun with olives, cheese, and a porchetta sandwich. You can snag chocolate-dipped torrone, a slab of Pecorino, and house-shaped mushroom ravioli for the road.
Scottsdale is lucky to have a quality Italian market, one that isn't afraid to break the mold.
Andreoli Italian Grocer. 8880 East Via Linda, Scottsdale; 480-614-1980
Monday to Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Sunday.