One of the cuisines that always seems to get short shrift from me is Italian. I am not sure why because I love Italian food. There is something incredibly comforting and fulfilling about a big plate of pasta or a wonderful chicken dishes with sometimes subtle, sometimes robust sauces.
I also always seem to think about that in my routine of selecting a restaurant. Mexican, Asian, even Middle Eastern get considered first.
But I was having a craving for Italian food and I strong armed J. into finding a nice Italian restaurant in the Valley that could give us some hearty food but not bust the wallet. After doing some searching, we decided to try out Aiello’s, a relatively new Italian restaurant on Central Avenue in Phoenix just north of Camelback. I had heard some good reports about Aiello’s was glad that they were able to take a late reservation.
After arriving, we parked in the back parking lot and saw a small Dutch door with a big sign touting Aiello’s take out pizza. We made our way to the side of the building and entered and were taken to a large table in the middle of the restaurant. Our initial impressions were very favorable due to the subdued lighting, the lovely vaulted ceiling and layout of the restaurant. It was quite relaxing and subdued and the Sinatra music didn’t hurt either.
We scanned the menu and it was very extensive. J. and I both had a tough time deciding on what we should get. While we decided, we were presented with a basket of bread, garlic butter, and flavored olive oil. The bread was wonderful with its light, salty flavor and a slightly chewy crust. What made it even better was the flavored olive oil that had been infused with spicy peppers. Absolutely delicious and the kick of spice complimented the bread quite well. We agreed that the garlic butter was excellent because they didn’t shy away from the garlic. Hooray!
Our waiter arrived and took our drink order: one Diet Coke ($2.00) and one Iced Tea ($2.00). When he returned with our beverage selections, he took our order. J. and I agreed to get the Antipasto for Two ($16.00). That would be followed by the Chicken Parmesan ($17.00) for me and the Italian Sausage and Peppers ($14.00) for J.
While we waited, J. and I noticed how the owner of the restaurant was visiting tables, making sure the food prep was proceeding and was just being generally affable with the staff and customers. It was nice to see and very welcome. You could see how much the owner loved his restaurant and wanted to make his customers happy.
Our Antipasto for Two arrived and it was surprising, but in a very good way. Missing from the plate was the inevitable gobs of lettuce hidden under the meats, vegetables and cheeses. No, this version was all about the small, tasty treats that we would drizzle with balsamic vinegar and some of the spicy olive oil. The plate was socked full of mozzarella, vine tomatoes, fresh basil leaves, roasted peppers, prosciutto, Provolone, marinated artichoke hearts, salami and olives. It was a wonderful treat. The portion was perfect for two and the platter of vegetables, cheeses and meats were stellar. The balsamic and spicy oil only served to enhance the dish that much more. J. and I were raving about the appetizer because it was superb. What a fun and ambrosial way to start out meal.
We had just finished our Antipasto when our main dishes arrived. J.’s Italian Sausage and Peppers was an optic treat. The large serving of Italian Sausage was great for J. He loved the snap and the spice of the sausage and really appreciated the sweetness of the peppers since they added a wonderful counterbalance to the savory nature of the dish. He also like the spaghetti and Pomodoro sauce as the side dish. He did say he would have preferred a bit more sauce, but still enjoyed everything on his plate.
My Chicken Parmesan was exactly what I wanted. A large boneless chicken breast was breaded and then sauteed. On top of the chicken was a hearty amount of thick Pomodoro sauce with mushrooms and a slab of mozzarella cheese that had melted and was lightly browned. Along side the chicken was a serving of spaghetti with some of the same Pomodoro sauce that adorned the chicken. The chicken itself was tender, moist and perfectly cooked. It could easily have been overcooked, but it certainly wasn’t. I also like the fact that even with the sauce, cheese and moistness of the chicken, the breading still had a good bit of crispiness to it. The sauce was not overpowering but slightly acidic, a tiny hint of spice and a full-bodied flavor. The mushrooms provided a good texture. The spaghetti was al dente and held the sauce well. I had nothing but good things to say about my dish. J. tried a bite and was very pleased with the results. “Quite good,” he said.
We took our time working through our meals and when it was all said and done, we knew we didn’t have room for dessert. We had another round of beverages and asked for the bill. The total was $55.25 which included the tax. We thought it was an very good value. The portions were very satisfactory and the quality of the food was excellent. Service was good, but we did have a quibble about the fact that getting refills on our drinks seemed to take an inordinate amount of time.
Before we could pay our bill, the owner approached our table and asked us how our dinner was. We told him how much we enjoyed it and he said he was pleased and wanted us to play a pick-a-number game with him. He grabbed an onion shaped container and shook it. The rattling sound filled the restaurant and he told us that there were 90 numbered tiles in the container and we were to pick a number. He would then turn the container over and a tile would spill out. If the tile matched our number, the entire meal was on the house. I let J. pick the number. His choice was 32.
The tile that spilled out was…. 33.
5202 North Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Dress: Resort Casual
Hours: Lunch: Monday through Friday – 11 AM to 4 PM; Dinner: Sunday through Thursday – 4 PM to 9 PM, Friday and Saturday – 4 PM to 10 PM.
Notes: Entrance is on the north side of the building. Ample parking in the back.
Alcohol: Full bar.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
5202 North Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85012