« The Quarterly Report - Q2 2010 | Main | Central Gyros »

July 26, 2010

Andreoli

Salami Dominic Armato

The first time I met Giovanni Scorzo, chef and proprietor of Andreoli, he was holding a massive chunk of cured pork a scant few inches from my nose.

It was the first time I'd eaten there. A shopping and scouting mission had me all atwitter, and I'd hurriedly rushed back to give the kitchen a try. After a perfect meal, capped off by a perfect espresso, I went up to the counter to grab a little pancetta to use for my own pasta the next day. The young fellow at the counter told me that they were all out, and as I was giving an "aw, shucks" and snapping my fingers, he explained that the next batch wasn't ready yet. "Wait, you cure your own?" He held up an index finger and excused himself for a moment, stepping over to a scruffy middle-aged gentleman slicing cured meats at a large wooden table. After saying something to him, the older fellow nodded and twisted his lips in a "sure, why not?" gesture, and moments later the young man returned with a huge, rolled pancetta, still in the netting and obviously just cut down from wherever it had been drying. The older fellow quickly removed the netting, pulled out an ancient-looking knife shaped like a scimitar, carved off one end of the nearly two foot long log and held the rest to his nose. He took a deep breath, his eyes lit up, and his lips curled into a satisfied smile. He looked up for the first time since I'd been standing there, caught my eyes, strode over to the counter and reached across, holding it out for me to do the same.

Patatine FritteDominic Armato

It was absolutely beautiful. I was blown away by a huge noseful of pork, cured but still clean and fresh with a little spice and the sweetly musky undertones it had picked up while drying. I probably said, "Whoa!" or something similarly Keanu-esque, so he took it back to his work table, carved off a paper thin slice and handed it to me. The fat melted away on my tongue, and I briefly considered vaulting across the counter and running away with a twenty pound hunk of cured meat. Then I realized that I'd probably rather have this guy as a friend. "You make your own pancetta?" I asked. "I make pancetta, salami, soppressata, capicolla, culatello... the only thing I don't make, I don't make any money." He returned to the table and started pulling out more and more house-cured cuts for me to sample. And it was here that my quest of more than a decade had come to an end.

Tomato, Anchovy, GorgonzolaDominic Armato

Rewind ten or twelve years. I'm traveling to Italy quite a bit, and on those torturous breaks in between trips, I'm getting increasingly frustrated with my inability to find the kind of trattoria-style fare that I miss so much. Why is this so hard? It isn't rocket science. Get a few good ingredients, treat them with respect, don't screw them up. You don't even have to make fresh pasta. The boxed stuff has its own wonderful character. I want a little trattoria like the ones that are on every corner in Italy. The corners that aren't occupied by churches, anyway. Not those places that call themselves trattorie where everything is either saucy Italian-American, or it's hideously overworked, or it's elevated to a fine dining level and turned into something elegant but somehow lacking the same humble soul. I want one of those tiny family-run joints that are warm, comfortable, and that know how to get out of the way of their food. And I resolve to find it back home.

Calamaretti del SacrestanoDominic Armato

It took a while, but Andreoli is it.... finally. I cannot express how excited I am by this place, but boy howdy, I'm going to try. Over the past six months, I've visited over twenty times. The reason I didn't write it up sooner? I can't stop eating at the place. I can't bear to not do it justice. I want to taste a little more, document a little more, share a little more, paint a more complete picture. I want to try just one more veal dish, sample a couple more sandwiches, inhale a few more dolci... for months, I've been unable to say enough is enough and just start writing. So here it is. Andreoli is a spectacular restaurant, it's the restaurant I've been seeking for over a decade, and I'm not sure that the people of Phoenix realize just how lucky they are to have it.

Insalata di MareDominic Armato

Andreoli, Scorzo's mother's maiden name, is shop, restaurant, cafe and gathering place. Born in Calabria and raised in Liguria, Scorzo previously ran a white tablecloth restaurant in Scottsdale called Leccabaffi. It's no longer with us, and it wasn't Scorzo's for its autumn years anyway. To hear from those who know him, Scorzo got sick of the place. Sick of the grind, sick of the BS involved in running a restaurant at that level, and sick of the people who didn't appreciate the food. So after throwing in the towel with Leccabaffi and taking some time away from a restaurant kitchen, he opened Andreoli, a comfortable place where he could invite people into his kitchen, cook for them and make them happy on a very personal level in ways that only people who are driven to do this kind of cooking can. It's small. There are a dozen tables at most, squeezed into the space while shelves of Italian grocery items line the walls. When you walk in, Giovanni's either working behind the counter, or he's seated at a table with some other Italians, sipping espresso and bantering in animated fashion while his daughter, Francesca, holds down the fort. During the day, people stop in for sandwiches. In the evening, families eat with their kids. It may start out as a shop and restaurant, but you keep showing up and showing up and one day Giovanni's telling you about his upcoming trip to Italy while Francesca plays with your baby daughter and suddenly it's a home -- a home with really, really good food.

Vitello TonnatoDominic Armato

The regular menu is mostly focused on sandwiches with a few salads and antipasti, and there are plenty of gems to be found there. But the real magic happens on a small white board with roughly a dozen items that change on a daily basis. A soup or two, a few pastas, a couple seafood dishes, a few meats... whatever strikes Scorzo's fancy that day. and outside of the sandwiches, what's most striking about both menus is how thoroughly traditional they are. So many Italian restaurants in the States feel compelled to stand out through their menu, reinventing and reimagining the classics, which is all fine and good except that almost all of them do it poorly. It's so refreshing to find an Italian kitchen steered by a hand confident enough to simply do these dishes the way they've been done forever, and do them well.

Linguine alle Vongole VeraciDominic Armato

Sometimes, a meal might start with simple marinated vegetables, set out on the counter for you to peruse before you order. Or a simple salad, like slabs of ripe tomato with slivers of onion, anchovy fillets and dollops of gorgonzola dolce. Nothing fancy, just excellent ingredients put together and lightly dressed. If you're lucky, you might be able to get a hold of some of Scorzo's housemade salumi, which show the understated grace of the experienced hand that prepared them. Some are coarse and rustic with melting globules of fat, some are fine and tender with an almost pate-like consistency, but all maintain the flavor of the pork, which never gets lost in curing salts or an overabundance of seasonings. Scorzo's pancetta is luscious and sweet with a little bit of chile heat -- he's from Calabria, after all -- and though it's been doing wonderful things to my pastas at home, it's so good sliced paper thin and eaten raw that it almost seems a crime to cook it.

Fusilli con Ricotta e PomodoriDominic Armato

Other starting tastes abound. I'm especially fond of Scorzo's patatine fritte, which are in the running for my favorite fried potatoes of all time. Forget the focus on crispness that dominates fried potato cookery in the States. These are fried in olive oil and there's nothing crisp about them. But they taste like potatoes, and fabulous ones at that. The crispness comes from the accompanying fried leeks which, along with a remoulade-like dip, make me glad Francesca talked me into ordering them. Seafood is also well-represented, and you'll find items like breaded and fried sardines, insalata di mare or multiple preparations of calamari. The insalata di mare is done with enormous, juicy mussels and clams with chunks of calamari and octopus. It's a simple marinade with wine vinegar, shredded carrots and big chunks of celery, and it's unabashedly marine, without the slightest effort to clean it up for those who don't like their seafood to taste like seafood. The Calamaretti del Sacrestano is a grilled preparation, soft and charred and bathed in lemon, olive oil and the squid's natural essence -- so much of it that it'll take half a loaf of bread (made in house, by the way) to mop it all up, and you'll want to. On a recent visit, I was thrilled to see one of my absolute favorites, Vitello Tonnato, and Scorzo's hits it right on the head. For those unfamiliar, Vitello Tonnato is poached veal that's chilled and very thinly sliced, then topped with a mayonnaise-like sauce that's blended with tuna and usually topped with capers. Scorzo's is especially delicate, avoiding the dry fate that often befalls the veal, and his sauce is unusually smooth and light.

Ravioli al Funghi e Tartufi BianchiDominic Armato

Pastas are perfect. Simple and perfect. And above all, simple. What's more, in true trattoria fashion, factory-made dry pastas are well-represented. The superiority of fresh pasta is an American conceit, whereas Italians know that both have their place at the table. Linguine alle Vongole Veraci -- with clams -- is not the soupy, garlicky mess it is everywhere else. It's fresh, light, clean, tasting of clams rather than bottled clam juice. The sauce is barely there, and it has just a whiff of garlic. There's no cheese, and don't ask for any. This dish is about the clams, and about the pasta itself, as it should be. When Scorzo goes rich, he goes rich, but keeps the flavors simple to keep them from getting muddy. Fusilli is bound by a mess of melted fresh ricotta, but it's an excellent ricotta (also made in-house), it hasn't been flavored seven different ways, and it's paired with grape tomatoes, bursting through their skins and cutting through the cheese's richness with their naturally sweet acid. I presume Scorzo uses the same fresh mushrooms as everybody else, but how he pulls so much flavor out of them for the Ravioli ai Funghi is something I'd like to know. Pressed between sheets of firm but yielding pasta and basted with salty butter and a touch of white truffle oil, they're remarkably intense. Pappardelle al Cinghiale, another old favorite of mine, embraces the boar's wild nature. Scorzo's version is downright chunky, containing huge pieces of meat, and the underlying pasta has bite to match. And these are just a few... a light and delicate veal-based Penne Strascicate, light potato gnocchi in a tomato sauce with a slightest touch of pesto, tangled Fettuccine all'Aragosta... they're all wonderful.

Pappardelle al CinghialeDominic Armato

I haven't spent nearly as much time with the secondi. I keep getting hung up on the pastas. But the ones that I've had have all been wonderful. Veal Saltimbocca shouldn't be smothered in cheese. It should be as it is here, seared in the pan and bathed in its own juices, butter and Marsala, with nothing more than prosciutto and sage to accompany it. And one of the best seafood dishes I've had in a long time, Gamberoni Reali alla Brace, fresh from Greece, seven inches long with the tails curled. What do you do with such precious creatures as these? Almost nothing. A little oil, a little lemon, salt and pepper and a grill. When Scorzo set the plate in front of me, he said, "You know, the heads, right?" holding his fingers to his lips and making a slurping sound. "Are you kidding? That's the best part!" I replied. "She couldn't do it," he said, grinning ear to ear and teasing a woman -- a regular, I think -- seated on the other side of the store. She looked up, smiled and shrugged. Her loss. I started with a knife and fork, but Scorzo quickly tossed me a huge pile of napkins, confirming that my preferred method was entirely acceptable. They were sweet... so sweet, seasoned with the brine from whence they came. Little smoky flakes of charred shell snuck their way into one bite after another, further infusing the meat with smoke and fire. I got lost for a while, completely dismantling each shrimp, slurping every last bit of essence and leaving nothing but a pile of dry shells and hollow heads.

Gamberoni Reali alla BraceDominic Armato

Dolci? Also done on the premises. Between the savories, the sweets, the salumi and the crusty bread, the kitchen's versatility is amazing. You'll find all manner of cookies, including cantucci (what most know as biscotti), chocolates with toasted nuts, the occasional creamy or custardy offerings popular with Americans like cannoli and tiramisu, and the most delicious cornetti I've ever had. Named for their horn-like shape, cornetti are the Italian analogue to croissants, and though cornetti are generally a little moister and more bready than their French cousins, Scorzo takes them even further, creating a dense, moist, almost cakey sweet bread that is one of the best pastries I've had in recent memory. If you're a fan of pain au chocolate, try one of his chocolate cornetti and then try going back. Good luck with that.

Vitello SaltimboccaDominic Armato

There are so many things that make the food at Andreoli so wonderful, but chief among them, I think, is the amount of restraint that Scorzo exercises. With so many of his dishes, as I eat I sit there and think about how almost every other Italian restaurant in the States would add two more ingredients, and those two ingredients would screw everything up. This is the essence of Italian food. Killer ingredients prepared using simple techniques that maximize their natural flavor. It seems like such a simple formula, but when you cook simply, you're exposed. The slightest errors are magnified. But Scorzo seems to get it every time. He does just enough, without doing too much, and he does it right.

When I first started visiting Andreoli, I couldn't figure out why Scorzo isn't one of the most publicly beloved chefs in the entire city. Whether or not he wants it, he deserves that recognition. But I came to accept that this was wishful thinking on my part. I understand exactly why. It's perhaps a little intimidating when half the people in the place aren't speaking your language. You might pay $20 for a pasta or $32 for an entree and there isn't any waitstaff. Food kind of comes out of the kitchen whenever it comes out of the kitchen. It's that kind of place. But for those who aren't married to traditional restaurant trappings, Andreoli is a goldmine of Italian food the way it's meant to be. Am I worried that I'm overselling the place? Not really. Andreoli is kind of a litmus test for where people's priorities lie when it comes to dining out. With this kind of food, you either get it or you don't. Those of us who don't will wonder why they should wait in line, sit in the middle of a store and pay $20 for a plate of pasta when they could spend that same money on a more upscale Italian dinner in an upscale restaurant. Those of us who get it, however, know that the food at that upscale restaurant isn't half as good, that more complex isn't necessarily better, and we'd much rather be fed by a fellow who holds freshly sliced homemade pancetta across the counter so we can take a deep, intoxicating whiff.

Andreoli
www.andreoli-grocer.com
8880 East Via Linda
Scottsdale, AZ 85258
480-614-1980
Mon - Sat10:00 AM - 9:00 PM

Comments

That looks and sounds amazing, Dom. What's with you and keeping little Italian store secrets?

Should I tearfully tell Carminantonio and Bruna at Piedigrotta that you've found a new surrogate Italian family next time I'm back in Baltimore? (just kidding!)

Holy Crap. Right after the pancetta story, I scrolled down hoping this place was in Baltimore and wondering how fast I could get out of DC in rush hour traffic. But, alas, it will have to wait until I'm in Scottsdale in October. Think my co-workers will notice if I sneak out of my corporate retreat?

Way to go, Dom.

Your praise of Andreoli is most eloquent, and I sincerely admire your devotion to the restaurant. Nevertheless, I must reluctanly count myself in the "don't get it" crowd. I don't expect Andreoli to have white tablecloths, tuxedo-clad waiters, fussy sauces, and elaborate presentations. What I expect and haven't found at Andreoli is the following:

-- A friendly greeting even if I don't speak Italian
-- Orders taken at my table or at least a clear system for ordering at the counter. Every time I've visited, it's been unclear whether I'm supposed to awkwardly hover or find a seat and wait. I'll put up with that for an $8 sandwich at lunch but not a $20 entree at dinner.
-- Some sort of acknowledgement by staff if I've waited 30 minutes for my food. I don't mind waiting for quality, but it's good to have a check-in so I know my order hasn't been forgotten.
-- Something to nibble on (bread, olives, etc.) while I wait up to 30 minutes for a pasta entree.

You mention that the proprietor says he is not making money. The kitchen certainly isn't the problem, but maybe a little more focus on basic customer service for those of us who "don't get it" would win Andreoli the acclaim and popularlity merited by its food.

Wangus... Well, Piedigrotta was a different story. There, I was bound by my pledge not to write about any of my neighbors' restaurants until after we left. And you can tell Bruna that there's no replacing her... ever :-)

David... thanks for sharing your experience. I can only speak for mine, obviously. And you're right, sometimes I get something to nibble on, sometimes I don't. Sometimes our food is out in ten minutes, sometimes it's half an hour. I guess those things just don't bother me. For me, it really is less like a traditional restaurant and more like coming over to hang out and let them cook for you, and I personally find it kind of charming. I understand why it bothers some, yourself included. But even if it did bother me -- and I've been in that situation with other restaurants -- it always seems like a small price to pay. For me, all of those things you mention are nice, but they're lumped together into a distant second priority behind the food.

Ah right, I do remember that now that you mention it, Dom. Seems like so long ago nowadays. I still enjoy lurking around this site even if you've crossed over to the other side of the country. :P We do miss your input over here though; I believe you've been gone for both the hunan taste (next to H-mart) and bluegrass tavern (federal hill) debates.

Hope you and your family have been doing well. My best to you and them.
-Andrew

I wish there were a place like this in NYC. Great post, Dom.

Your descriptions are amazing and it really makes me want to hop in the car and head to Scottsdale. Your writings about the area blow me away. I was raised in Phoenix (my High School - Arcadia - is having a reunion in October) and it was truly a barren wasteland. It was all foods that were frozen in an era never to defrost.


When I go to the reunion, this is one I will check out. If you could pick 3 places for us to go for lunch/dinner in the Valley of the Sun, what would your choices be? I will be on the phone to make reservations right away!

One other question: Where on earth have you run into Veal Saltimbocca with cheese on other than perhaps an almost decrotive sprinkle of freshly grated Parmasaen or Romano? If I ordered Saltimbocca and it was "smothered" in cheese, I would send it back before the waiter let go of the plate.

Anon Man... more places than I care to remember.

Whew...great job with the review. I agree completely with everything you said, down to finding "charming" what some may find a bit frustrating. There is a bit of a disconnect between the price tag and the seat-yourself, order-at-the-counter format, but the food is truly the star of the show. Yes, it could easily be served in a flashier, formal setting with service and speed to match, but it would lose something along the way. There is something homey and comforting about the way things are run, and any leisure found in the service and cooking pace is directly reflected in the quality and care found in every dish.

Anon Man... Ha! Saltimbocca with *mascarpone*, just one block from Andreoli:

http://www.tuttisantiristorante.com/Tutti_Santi_by_Nina/Menus_files/T2%2003%3A28%20Menu.pdf

Dom: *shudder*

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.