Thursday, April 1, 2010

Having Lunch at Andreoli . . .

is like eating in an Italian country kitchen.

Giovanni Scorzo, chef and proprietor of Andreoli Italian Grocer, was born in Calabria and grew up in Liguria in the northwestern part of Italy. Like his mother, whose maiden name was Andreoli, he became a chef and worked in a variety of Italian regions—Liguria, Tuscany and Calabria—until moving to the U.S. in 1985. He owned and operated restaurants in Santa Fe and San Francisco before settling in what is called “The Valley of the Sun.”

His hands-on approach to food means no short cuts; Scorzo makes all his own bread, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, pastries, such as cannolis and tiramisu, and even chocolates by hand. He's also a world class butcher (note the cleaver hanging overhead just behind the counter), so the sausage and salami are homemade as well.

You place your order at the glass deli counter which is filled with meats, cheeses, marinated olives, and tiny fish imported from Calabria. At the end of the case, there's a display of cookies and sfogliatelle (an Italian pastry), sprinkled with powdered sugar.

You can chose to eat at umbrella tables on the outdoor patio. While I am always enthusiastic about al fresco dining, we were drawn to the warm and cozy indoor dining area which is shared with the gourmet Italian market. The packages of imported pastas, lentils, olive oils, and vinegars are displayed on antique hutches and bookcases. Some of the furniture used for display dates back to the 1800’s.

Inside, you eat at heavy, rustic wood tables, and one of the tables has an interesting “bench” outfitted with cushions serving as a chair (on the left in the photo on the left).

The restaurant was only half occupied when we arrived, but shortly thereafter all seven indoor tables were filled. On one wall was a large screen TV playing the Mexico City edition of Sports Center with the anchor talking about soccer in Spanish. At the table to my right was what appeared to be a three generation family—all speaking Italian. (Always a good indication of an Italian restaurant’s authenticity.)

There is both a standard menu that explains the delicious-sounding sandwiches, appetizers, and salads and a chalk board list above the deli counter announcing the daily specials—mostly pastas. That day the specials included the classic Italian soup, pasta fagioli, along with dishes made with veal, gnocchi, ravioli, and fettuccini.

We decided to share two sandwiches and one dessert. The first sandwich, the Saporito, was a chewy and crisp crusted Italian roll filled with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, avocado, fresh tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh oregano. This was a very good sandwich, and the various elements made for a harmonious meal. Even the avocado worked, and this was my first experience with the combination of prosciutto and avocado.

But if the Saporito was a winner, the Campoini del Mondo hit the ball out of the park. Take a piece of focaccia that is made with so much olive oil that, when baked, has such a thin and crisp crust that you would think the bread had been fried. Slice the bread horizontally and layer it with milky fresh homemade mozzarella and grape tomato halves. Then, top this with basil chiffonade. You instantly taste summer.

With each sandwich came a small side salad of baby greens that had been ever so lightly dressed with good olive oil mixed with just enough balsamic vinegar to lighten the oil.

From the dessert case, I chose the most decadent and fattening item. Super thin layers of a phylo-like pastry were filled with a sweet whipped cream that contained a plethora of chopped semi sweet chocolate pieces. It was the slightly bitter chocolate that kept this dessert from being overly rich.

What could be better than a meal of good bread, homemade cheese, imported Italian meat, fresh veggies, and a heavenly dessert? I can’t think of anything and give this small and warm deli restaurant 5.0 Addies. (By the way, I left with two of Andreoli’s homemade hard Italian sausages.)

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