Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“You'll Instantly Feel…

as though you've been transported to Little Italy in New York City.” (Theresa Cano at So she describes Romanelli’s and goes on to say: “Heck, you feel like you're in Italy.
Or at least like you're from Italy; there are so many little Italian themed signs, shirts and other trinkets at this place that as soon
as you walk in the door you can't help but feel like you've got a little Italian blood in you even if you don't.”

“For more than 25 years, this family-owned deli has been serving such specialties as homemade Italian-sausage subs and pasta dishes such as lasagna. Romanelli's cases are filled with imported salami, pepperoni, ham and other traditional meats and cheeses. This also is the place to buy freshly baked Italian bread” (The Arizona Republic).

While our metro-Phoenix favorite restaurant—Andreoli Italian Grocer—does carry a modest supply of Italian food stuffs, their inventory pales in comparison to Romanelli’s. Romanelli’s shelves groan under the weight of vegetable colored and flavored pastas,

canned and jarred sauces, and delectable looking cookies.

And cheeses and cured meats hang from hooks behind the deli cases.

But in addition to being an Italian grocery store, Romanelli’s also serves as a local sandwich shop with more than thirty hot and cold subs and sandwich offerings along with pasta dinners and salads. “…There are a few tables by the meat counter if you can't wait to eat your meal at your home or office, which we suspect many cannot do. Though you may have to make the waddling walk of shame after you devour your food…” (Theresa Cano at On the day of our visit, many of the tables had been shoved together and a group of ten to twelve gentlemen were loudly enjoying lunch.

I had come for one thing only—Romanelli’s Italian Beef sandwich which was described by Katrinka at as being “the best Italian Beef in Arizona, it has that good Chicago Italian Beef flavor…. If they would just make a good Italian poor boy (sub to those who don't know any better) with all Italian deli meats…”

My heart wanted to order the ten-inch Italian Beef, but my head told me to stick with the six-incher.
The problem with leftovers here is that the juices in which the beef have been cooked soak into the bread and a long holding time would result in a soggy mess. This was—other than my own—one of the better versions of this Chicago classic. In fact, a sign near the front door stated that the Italian beef came from Chicago. The meat was thinly sliced and carried the flavor of the Italian herbs used in the cooking process. And I had my choice of hot or sweet peppers and, of course, chose the hot. The peppers were really a form of Chicago giardiniara or pickled relish. You can find giardiniara in most grocery stores and the mix usually includes carrots and cauliflower. Here the giardiniara was mostly peppers (I saw a few of the infamously hot sport peppers that are a garnish for a Chicago-style hot dog) with some celery for filler.

Chuck ordered the Supersub—a half pound of ham, capicolla, pepperoni, and cheese covered with about two inches of shredded lettuce.
The major complaint—other than the excess of roll—was that the cold cuts were cut too thick. In a really good sub, the meats are sliced so thin as to be almost shaved.

I ordered a side of macaroni salad and Chuck a side of potato salad. Neither knocked our socks off.

As we were leaving, I noticed a display of bright blue bottles sitting on one of the shelves and was immediately transported back to my teenage years. As I have mentioned before, I spent a couple of years working as a waitress at Rastrelli’s, a pizza, pasta, and sandwich restaurant in my hometown of Clinton, Iowa. And if you went back into the kitchen, there you would find a bottle of Brioschi on one of the shelves.

“The company’s origins date back to 1880 when Achille Antonio Brioschi…began the small-scale production of the so-called effervescente Brioschi: a powder, which, when dissolved in water, produced a refreshing drink. It was not a medicine, nor was it marketed as one, although the idea for it derived from effervescent products based on magnesium citrate which had originated in the UK. The business grew and the product found various export markets…. In 1907, the business was transformed into the company Achille Brioschi & C. The popular, analgesic cachet Brioschi…was introduced in 1911…. Brioschi is an antacid which uses sodium bicarbonate and tartaric acid as its active agents. It is known for the distinctive blue bottle in which it comes and the fizzing action it exhibits when used. The Brioschi pellets…are put in cool water to effervesce which is then drunk to relieve the ache of heartburn…. It appears to have an ‘Alka-Seltzer like’ reaction when placed in water, but does not contain aspirin” (

Have I given too much information again?

Even though Andreoli has a much shorter sandwich menu, both Chuck and I agree that it will remain our “go to” place for great Italian sandwiches. Romanelli’s was OK—just OK—and earns a 3.0 Addie rating.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"’This is a Landmark in Paradise Valley,"

…he said. "Can you imagine the travesty of tearing down a landmark?" ( The speaker was Paul Greenwald, co-owner of a furniture store in the Borgata in Scottsdale. This “upscale shopping landmark on the border of Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, has been sold to a local homebuilder with plans to redevelop the site into a luxury condominium community” (

“The Borgata is designed to feel like the Tuscan Village of San Gimignano complete with cobblestone walkways, fountains and an open-air setting. The shops are upscale/expensive” (

The complex is arranged around a central courtyard, and we, along with Evie, Bev, Jeanie, and sometimes Raina, have spent some very pleasant Friday afternoons sitting in the courtyard, listening to music, perusing the farmers market stands, and generally just chillin’. Those afternoons will be no more..

But the Borgata is also home to our favorite pizzeria in the Phoenix area—Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana. As described on their website, Pomo
“creates the truly authentic pizza experience utilizing the same simple methods that were practiced for hundreds of years in Napoli, Italy, where pizza was born and perfected. Pomo’s Pizza is produced according to the Neapolitan tradition where each pizza is a unique piece of art.

“At ‘Pomo Pizzeria we combine the slow levitation method to produce our home-made dough, all natural ingredients, and the Blast-Cooking process of our wood burning oven to lock in flavors, natural aroma and moisture….Two Italian Pizzaiuolo Masters make our genuine Neapolitan pizza dough….Our pizza is made from slow-rising sourdough with a minimum of 24 hours in the rising process. The dough is then formed by hand and is no more than 3mm thick….The pizza is baked for 60–90 seconds at 500° C (950° F) in our wood-burning brick oven, with hand made bricks from Santa Maria, pressed bricks from Salerno named Turf Stones, in a “Biscotto” oven from Sorrento, and Vesuvius volcanic sand imported from Napoli. This 6000-pound oven was built in Napoli by a 3rd generation craftsman pizza builder and shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to create our oak and pecan-wood fire” (

Now this may seem to be “much ado about nothing,” but to die-hard pizza aficionados like us, it results in the perfect pizza. So where will we go on future metro-Phoenix visits? Well, we learned from our server that the owner plans to reopen somewhere within a mile of so of this location.
While they probably won’t be able to salvage the giant mural of (what I presume is) a street scene in Naples with the dominating figure of a buxom woman riding a scooter, the oven will be making the journey to the new location, and we suggested that they make a street parade of the oven’s trip to its new home.

We started with my favorite pizza—the classic Regina Magherita. “In June 1889, to honor the Queen consort of Italy, Margherita of Savoy, the Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created the ‘Pizza Margherita’, a pizza garnished with tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil, to represent the colors of the Italian flag” (
The standard ingredients are tomatoes San Marzano, Fior di Latte (fresh cow’s milk mozzarella), Parmigiano Reggiano, fresh basil, and extra virgin olive oil. But we asked that the pizza come without the parmigiano.

Our second pizza was the Delicata with fior di latte, bresaola cured beef, fresh arugula, shaved parmigiano reggiano, and basil. Again we asked for an alteration—the substitution of prosciutto for the bresaola.

Both were delicious and both had plenty of the black crust “bubbles” that help to define a true VPN pizza cooked in a wood-fired brick oven. But of the two, the Magherita was my favorite. There is something about the pure flavor of crushed tomatoes that need no real embellishment contrasted with the creamy fresh cheese that makes me believe that we are in Italy.

One nice touch was the bottle of red pepper flake infused olive oil on the table. Once you got to the outer crust, you could pour some of this oil on your plate and dip the crust into it. Wonderful.

We finished by sharing a slice of Torta Nutella, a flour-less chocolate cake with Nutella cream mousse, and chocolate ganache.
“Nutella…is a combination of roasted hazelnuts, skim milk, and cocoa with a creamy consistency and a chocolate taste with a hint of roasted nut flavor. Nutella is to Italians what peanut butter is to Americans…. In Germany, Nutella is a favorite breakfast spread, and in both Italy and France it is a popular after-school snack. Worldwide, it outsells all peanut butter brands combined. Nearly three generations of Europeans have grown up eating Nutella, which was created in the 1940's by Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero Company.

“During the 1940's, cocoa was in short supply due to war rationing, and chocolate was a considered a real delicacy. So Pietro Ferrero decided to mix cocoa with toasted hazelnuts, cocoa butter, and vegetable oils to create an economical chocolate spread, which he called ‘pasta gianduja.’ It was an immediate success…. In 1949, Ferrero made a ‘supercrema gianduja’ which was more creamy and spreadable. This product became so popular that Italian food stores started a service called ‘The Smearing.’ Children could go to their local store with a slice of bread for a ‘smear’ of the chocolate spread…” (

I’ll bet that was more than you ever cared to know about Nutella. Come on. Admit it.

Pomo serves what is our third favorite pizza behind—in second—Settebello (Salt Lake City)—and first—Ancora (New Orleans). But it is certainly good enough to merit 4.5 Addies.

To review the role of Adler, Kitty Humbug, and the Addie rating system, read the November 14, 2011 blog.

Monday, October 29, 2012

I Was REALLY Excited…

when I discovered that Canyon Lake was close—at least by metro Phoenix standards—to Joe’s Farm Grill. What’s an hour when you are driving for good food?

Joe’s was featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and has been a favorite of ours since our first trip to Phoenix. But our last visit in December 2010 was too short to squeeze in the nearly fifty mile (each way from our campground near Anthem to Gilbert) road trip, so it has been at least three years since our last visit.

“Maybe it's the affordable housing prices or the constant sunshine that attracts transplants from all over the globe, but whatever the reason, Phoenix has become the melting pot of the Southwest. It's rare to find a native Phoenician and even rarer to find one like restaurateur Joe Johnston, who manages to make even the newest desert dweller feel at home in his trio of Gilbert restaurants: Joe's Real BBQ, Liberty Market, and Joe's Farm Grill.

“Johnston grew up in the slump block ranch that now houses Joe's Farm Grill and never ventured far from home…. While Phoenix-area developers were busy demolishing older houses to build ivory towers for businessmen and yuppie couples, Johnston wanted something different for his family's original farmland.
He imagined a quiet village where neighbors would get together for coffee and swap stories about their kids and grandkids—a community with heart. Builder Scott Homes shared a similar vision. Up sprang Agritopia, a master-planned community with 15 acres of working farmland and quaint bungalows with large sitting porches. How strong is his belief in the project? Johnston and his parents were among the first homebuyers at Agritopia, and Joe's Farm Grill uses fresh produce from the community's crops” (Phoenix New Times).

This was the best weather day since we arrived in Phoenix. Temps were somewhere in the low 80’s, there was no humidity, and the sky was bright blue. A perfect day for dining alfresco under a tree bearing small oranges. We found a picnic table in the shade and were studying the menu when a loud voice comes booming across the grounds: “Hey, kid. Can’t you read? You’re going to fall and hurt yourself.”

Evie and I elected to remain and guard our table when Chuck, Raina, and Jessie set forth to stand in line to place the food orders. And they stood in line. Stood in line. Stood in an endless line.
At last! The three returned laden with victuals.

Chuck selected one of the day’s specials – the pork tenderloin sandwich with a side of fries.

Evie ordered the Farm Veggie Burger hand-made with black beans, brown rice, oats, and ten fresh vegetables. This came served on multi-grain bun with vegan thousand island.

Did you want to see photos of these? Sorry. None are available.

For Jessie it would be the BBQ Pork Sandwich on a grilled buttered bun with a side of fries.

Raina was the adventurous one and chose the Grilled Peanut Butter + Banana Split Sandwich made with peanut butter, chocolate chips, pineapple, fresh strawberries, and bananas on Texas toast.
To her tray she added Fried Zucchini Slices (hand-breaded in rosemary-dill panko with marinara dipping sauce on the side) and the Fresh Beet Salad (red and golden beets, toasted pecans, and blue cheese crumbles).

And I ordered my favorite menu item at Joe’s—the rare Ahi Tuna Sandwich with wasabi mayo, Asian slaw, and a side of the Asian slaw (a substitution for the fries).

And to be shared by the table there was an order of onion rings (hand-breaded in rosemary-dill panko)
and an order of Fried Green Beans (fresh green beans hand-breaded in rosemary-dill panko and tossed in fresh garlic sauce).

But what happened? Everything seemed just a bit off. My rare tuna was anything but rare and my motto is “If it’s not rare, it’s just Chicken of the Sea.” Chuck was less than thrilled by his pork tenderloin. Evie thought that her veggie burger was way too peppery. Raina would have liked her sandwich better had it come on regular bread and not Texas toast. And the beets in her salad tasted like just boiled beets. Jessie said that his sandwich was OK, which was not a ringing endorsement. And the green beans tasted as if they had been left on the vines too long. And all of the fried items were overly oily. The only saving grace was the Asian slaw which was fresh and crisp and nicely dressed with sesame oil, soy sauce, and black sesame seeds.

Joe, what happened? With three restaurants are you now stretched too thin? Was your staff unprepared for the volume of business that beautiful weekend afternoon? What’s gone wrong? This was one of my metro-Phoenix favorites. I have given you 5.0 Addies. Now you are no better than 2.0 Addies.

(I still like the Asian slaw.)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dolly and Canyon Lake

The destination for the party of five (my aunt Evelyn, cousin Raina and her husband Jesse, Kate, and me) who traveled the initial portion of the Apache Trail (see yesterday's entry) was the Dolly Steamboat on Canyon Lake (Tortilla Flat, AZ). The Dolly is a
103-foot replica of a riverboat that has been providing cruises on Canyon Lake for more than 20 years.

We had signed up for the 90-minute cruise that covered about six miles of the 10-mile-long lake.

The lake is a popular recreational spot, so we had a variety of sportsmen and women accompanying the Dolly along its route.

We passed some rock formations that resembled figures. One example is this formation that appears to be a woman holding an infant while another child stands nearby.

Another formation is called The Mastadon. It appears in profile facing to the left. The trunk is located between the two holes on the left; panning to the right, I saw the body, front leg, and back leg.

Canyon Lake is one of four reservoirs that were formed by the damming of the Salt River. The lake was formed by the Mormon Flat Dam, which was completed in 1925 after two years of construction.

Mormon Flat Dam is named after nearby Mormon Flat, a place where pioneers from Utah stopped to camp en route to the Valley.

We found chairs near the wheelhouse and were able to have brief conversations with Captain Jensen, who was from Cedar Rapids (IA).

His narration was delivered in a conversational manner in an almost musical, grandfatherly manner.

His words and the music of Enya, the Navajo flute, Andean pan flutes, and songs of the Arizona Cowboy Rex Allen matched perfectly the slow movement of the boat and slow passage of the canyon's cliffs.

Everyone seemed engrossed in their own thoughts. We'd sit awhile, stand awhile (as Evie is shown doing here), but mostly just felt the warmth of the sun and soaked in the sights.

Even these dragonflies lingered for the longest time, just soakin' up some warmth from the sun.

Other types of sun-soakers took a more active approach to their work.

In moments of moving my eyes around the scenes, I would find sights that evoked wonderment. Pondering what it took for a tree

or a cactus to survive on the side of a cliff for decades was a marvelous Life Lesson.

Captain Jensen noted that some folks choose to be dropped off at one of the few spots around the lake that are large enough for a tent and a few belongings.

What do they do?

Just look around.

A 90-minute cruise that was so much more.