Sunday, December 19, 2010

Benvenuti da Andreoli Italian Grocer

Sometimes the stars align. This was one of those nights.

We were nearing the end of our two-week stay in the Phoenix area and were meeting Chuck’s Aunt Evie, Cousin Raina (right in photo), and Raina’s husband Jesse (left) for dinner. After the inevitable “Where should we go?” discussion, Chuck and I suggested Andreoli Italian Grocer, which is one of our favorite restaurants in Phoenix. No. Correct that. It is our favorite restaurant in Phoenix.

In our blog on December 28, 2009, we told you about Andreoli’s owner, Giovanni Scorzo, his philosophy of food, his culinary history, and how he named his current restaurant after his mother whose maiden name was Andreoli.

New Times Phoenix named Andreoli as the 2010 “Best Corner Italian Restaurant” and described it as: “Part Italian deli and part casual Italian eatery, Andreoli Italian Grocer does double duty with panache. Owner Giovanni Scorzo has stocked the shelves and deli counter with plenty of tempting imported goods, but better yet, he's crafted an impressive selection of housemade breads, cheeses, salami, and sausage, so you know your panino is as fresh as can be. Memorable antipasti and salads, such as fried potatoes and leeks, marinated grilled calamari, bresaola with shaved Parmesan and arugula, and creamy homemade mozzarella with tomato and basil are fun to nibble on any time of day (join the regular crowd of Italians in the lively dining room), while daily specials like vitello tonnato and handmade pastas are perfect for a casual but substantial dinner.”

We all approached the menu with the same philosophy. Order a lot of plates and share. From the permanent menu of fourteen sandwiches, seven appetizers, and seven salads and the blackboard list of soups, pastas, and entrée plates, we chose a varied range of appetizers and main courses.

First to come to the table were the Maresciallo (antipasto tray), the Zia Rosino (fresh greens and tomatoes with an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing), and the Fratelli d’Italia (fresh mozzarella, cherry tomato halves, and fresh basil dressed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar).

I really enjoy Andreoli’s basic salad, because the dressing has a light and subtle flavor and the greens aren’t so drenched with the dressing that they wilt before you are finished eating. Again, a perfect example of the “less is more” school of food prep.

Since fresh mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes are one of my all time favorite food com-binations, I also found this completely delicious. The creamy cheese was a perfect contrast for the somewhat acid tomatoes. And who doesn’t love fresh basil?

The antipasto tray included (clockwise from left) a spicy pepperoni, a somewhat spicy soprassata, cubes of mild cheese, and a product I had never eaten—cutaletto (far right). According to salumicuredmeats.-com, culatello “is one of the most prestigious of salumi made in Italy. It is nearly impossible to find in the US…Culatello is made from the back leg of the pig and then only the rear part of the leg, freed from the bone and skin.... Culatello is so very different from Prosciutto—its flavor is more intense, its texture creamier, its coloring more beautiful and varied.” Mr. Scorzo cures his own culatello—just one more indication of his commitment to excellence.

Now the rest of the plates arrived and the table really became crowded. No trip to Andreoli would be complete without an order of the Patatine Fritti—potatoes cut french fry-style and fried in extra virgin olive oil with leek strips. Chuck is not a fan of carmelized onions, but he loves the milder, toasty, and sweet taste of these leeks. The menu refers to this dish as Italian french fries. No. McDonald’s serves french fries. Andreoli serves Patatine Fritti.

From the blackboard list, we ordered a salad of mixed greens and grilled eggplant. The greens were dressed with the same olive oil and balsamic dressing and were surrounded by pieces of tender and smoky eggplant. I am not an eggplant lover, but I could learn to love this version.

Next was the Calamarelli del Sacrestano or grilled calamari. In New Times Phoenix, Chow Bella lists their grilled calamari appetizer as number 37 on the list of 100 Best Dishes in the Greater Phoenix area. “Fried calamari is one of this city's most clichéd appetizers, and yet, I often order it, hoping for the holy grail. It's hard to find calamari truly done right. Even harder to find, though, is calamari that's not even fried. Ever had it grilled? Perhaps this preparation isn't as popular as the fried kind because it forces you to accept the reality that you're eating squid, and not a crispy batter-dipped ring of mystery meat. If you can handle that, tentacles and all, then head to Andreoli for the insanely good grilled calamari. Lightly marinated and slicked with a touch of good olive oil, these tasty sea critters are barely charred for a faintly smoky flavor and surprisingly tender texture. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice on top and dig in. Yum.”

I couldn’t have said it any better. When the calamari is gone, you are left with a pool of olive oil and balsamic vinegar that has been flavored by the smoky grilled squid. Perfect as a dipping sauce for the restaurant’s homemade crusty bread.

And now for the three main courses. (You thought we were finished?) First from the permanent menu was the Saparito—a sandwich on crusty Italian bread with prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, avocado, tomato, extra virgin olive oil, and oregano. This is what a sandwich becomes in the hands of a master. Creamy, salty, tart, and crunchy in each bite.

Next was an item from the specials board—Pesce Misto alia Brace. A large meaty swordfish steak was grilled with just a touch of olive oil and surrounded by shrimp and grilled calamari. Another example of the “less is more” concept, the fresh and sweet taste of the fish and seafood prevailed.

The final entrée, also from the specials, was an order of Polenta Fritta con Luganica. Luganica is a fresh pork sausage which is sweet (not spicy), long, thin and coiled and harkens back to the ancient days of Lucania (now Basilicata and Campania). The plate contained three long pieces of sausage covered with a semi-thick tomato sauce and accom-panied by two slices of polenta that had been sautéed in olive oil. The corn meal for the polenta was of a coarser texture than Southern grits and this allowed for a crisp and crunchy outer shell. This was another of those simple, rustic, and totally soul satisfying dishes that the Italians so easily prepare.

So after all of that, who would want dessert? Two of us (Chuck and Evie) did, so Chuck and I went over to the pastry case to check out the choices. Along with meringues and pistachio cake was a large tray of struffoli—Neapolitan deep-fried balls of dough dipped in honey and about the size of marbles that are crunchy on the outside and light inside. Unfortunately, they had been mixed with candied orange peel, and I can’t eat oranges.

So we settled (no sacrifice here) on three cannolis and three chocolate truffle cookies. The light and crisp cannoli shells were filled with a sweet mixture with a mascarpone cheese base and then dusted with cinnamon. The cookies had a rich chocolate truffle filling sandwiched between two chocolate hazelnut cookies. Remember that only two of the five of us wanted dessert? Guess how much was left over? Nothing.

Special thanks to Mr. Scorzo’s daughter (we didn’t get her name), who was both staffing the order counter and acting as server that night. Her friendly personality and quiet efficiency enhanced what was to be a special evening.

What could be better than an evening spent with family over good food? Only doing it again upon our return to Phoenix. This was a totally 5.0 Addie evening.

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