(Note: There are additional photos at my food blod. Click the link below.)
GIUSEPPES ITALIAN KITCHEN
There were times in the past when I thought that having an entire meal discussing nothing but food would be either 1) impossible or 2) boring. But that was long before I began my blog writing about my dining experiences. Now, I find that there is plenty of food and food-related topics to discuss over a plate of plantains, a basket of bread, a bowl of bisque or a cup of corn chowder.
As fate would have it, one of the regular readers and posters on Chowhound.com decided that it was time for a get together of the Phoenix area chowhounds. I was thrilled at the prospect. I have attended these gatherings before. The first was over at Café Lalibella in Tempe where myself, JK the Cosmic Jester, Sarah C., Jamie, Gayle, Leanne and my roommate Dave all feasted on Ethiopian cuisine. My next adventure was with JK and Rob, who doesnt post on Chowhound.com but has a food blog. We met at local favorite Los Sombreros where we had a wonderful time, sans the ice cream.
So, I was hyped for the evening. Renee was kind enough to put it all together and we had 14 Hounds head to Giuseppes in Central Phoenix for a dinner of Italian food and conversation about food. Our chowdown for the chowhounds, as it were.
We met at 7 PM inside Giuseppes. When I arrived, Renee and her husband Jeff and John Seberg were already seated. I took a seat and the discussion about food was underway. Giuseppes is a tiny Italian restaurant in the middle of a strip mall in central Phoenix on the corner of 28th Street and Indian School Road. It is near the Sprouts grocery store and next to a store that sells distilled and purified water. The staff was superb in setting up the table so we could enjoy the evening. We had taken over a good portion of the restaurant. They even had no problems accommodating any last minute stragglers that showed up. The restaurant itself was packed with other patrons.
As the conversation developed, we were joined by Sue and her son Charlie, Sarah C. and Jamie, and then Gayle, Ryan, Leanne and Patrick. We were also joined by Mark, a friend of Renee who didnt know what a chowhound was or what to expect. Trust me: we were gentle.
Our final guest was Ben, who drove all the way up from Tucson (Go Devils!) to join us for dinner.
Many people had brought bottles of wine, myself included. Whites, reds, reserves, and others were liberally poured. (Corkage is $3.00 per bottle.) After everyone was comfortable, our server came over to take our appetizer orders. Due to the size of the party, I decided just to focus on the food that was at my end of the table.
The appetizers that seems to be calling most of the people at the table was the Mix and Match Bruschetta (three for $5.15). There were six choices to choose from. I decided to go with the Tomato/Basil/Olive Oil, the Pork/Mozzarella, and the Goat Cheese/Sun-Dried Tomato. Others at the end of the table where I was sitting also ordered the Bruschetta while John decided to have a serving of the Italian Gazpacho ($4.00). Our youngest Hound, Charlie, decided to cut to the quick and ordered the Tortellini in Garlic Sauce ($7.95).
Due to the revelry and fun, time was passing quickly and appetizers were being served right and left. However, due to a mix up, my appetizer was never made or given to another person at the table. Disappointing, but not a big deal. A new plate of the Bruschetta was brought to me and I was happy.
I dove right in and tried them in order of how they were listed on the board. The Tomato/Basil/Olive Oil Bruschetta was very good. The bread was fully toasted and had a wonderful garlic snap to it. The tomatoes were good, but could have been a bit fresher. The basil and olive oil were top notch, although I would have loved to have had more basil. The Pork/Mozzarella Bruschetta was decent, but was way too heavy. Between the meat and the full-fat cheese, it simple was overwhelming. It would have made a fantastic sandwich filling, however. For everyone who had the Goat Cheese/Sun-Dried Tomato, this was absolutely stellar. The cheese was creamy and soft and the tomato sauce was spot on. I would have been very happy with three of those.
John was busy working on his Gazpacho which turned out to be one of the largest serving of Gazpacho I think I have ever seen. It looked rich and thick. John said it was good but he seemed rather hesitant in giving it a full endorsement.
Interestingly enough, everyone at the table seemed to be on the same page. We were all fairly vocal about what was good, missed the mark or was outstanding, so it was nice to know that we all seemed to favor the same items.
Next, our server took our entrée orders. Four of us on my end of the table (me, Renee, John and Sue) immediately ordered the Gorgonzola, Sage and Walnut Penne Pasta ($10.95). Several people at the table ordered the Bolognese Pasta ($11.95) and one person in my field of vision ordered the Pasta with Spinach and Sausage ($11.95). I also ordered a Caesar Salad ($4.95) and a Diet Coke ($1.50).
As we waited, we had more discussions about food and I found, to my horror, that there were many secret shame restaurants, those places we go to eat but dont admit it. One confessed to liking the Soup, Salad and Breadstick meal at Olive Garden (*gasp*). Another mentioned some hot dog stand dive (*eeek*). And two admitted, in mixed company no less, that they enjoyed Black Angus (*faint*). Of course, I have no secret shame restaurants and any allegations that the words Waffle House left my lips are patently false (although Waffle House does have great hash browns).
My Caesar salad was brought out and I was a little taken aback by the size. A full plate of salad was presented. The Romaine lettuce was green and crisp and the dressing was excellent. I loved the heavy garlic and anchovy flavor. What was missing, however, were the croutons and the Parmesan cheese. Perhaps this was a regional difference, but those two items were very much missed. Still, it was good for what it was.
Shortly thereafter, our entrees started arriving. My table was awash in Gorgonzola, Sage and Walnut Penne Pasta. Mark, our soon-to-be-Hound, was given a plate of Penne Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe instead of spinach. It turns out that his meal had been inadvertently swapped with Bens. The owner came over and was apologetic, but encouraged Mark to stick with his meal saying that it was one of the best things on the menu. After a few bites, Mark seemed hooked and others who tried a taste raved about it.
Unfortunately, the Gorgonzola, Sage and Walnut Pasta dish fell flat with the four of us who ordered it. The pasta was good and it was an ample serving. However, the dish was incredibly salty and none of us could really detect any presence of sage. I could see it in the sauce, which suggested to me that it was overpowered by the Gorgonzola. While I couldnt confirm it with anyone else, I thought the walnuts were somewhere between stale and rancid. This wasnt Giuseppes finest moment. Sue was very disappointed and asked for a replacement meal, opting for the Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe. John, Renee and I muddled our way through. The dish wasnt horrible, but it was just not as expected.
Charlie, on the other hand, was having a great time with his Tortellini with Garlic Sauce. He smiled as he ate each little pasta pocket. It was good seeing a budding, young chowhound who will be demanding dinner at Mary Elaines very, very soon.
We all finished our meals and returned to discussions about food. Out of nowhere, someone one brazenly suggested we head out for gelato. Then, the discussion returned to the great gelato discussion on the Chowhound board earlier this year (which we lovingly call Gelatogate). After some discussion, I offered to lead the charge to either Gelato Spot or Arlecchino Gelateria. We decided to go to Arlecchino.
We paid our bill at Giuseppes and the total was around $290.00 for 14 people, which worked about to about $21.00 per person including tax and corkage, but not tip. Gauging reactions from the group, I would say that the winners at the table were the Goat Cheese Bruschetta, the Tortellini, the Pasta Bolognese, and the Pasta with Sausage and Broccoli Rabe. Of course, the conversation was fantastic, despite the stunning revelations of secret shame restaurants, which I will be working through in therapy on Tuesday. Service had some hiccups, but considering the size of the party, I wasnt too bothered by them.
I would recommend Guissepes because I think they have some very good Italian food. I wouldnt recommend the Gorgonzola Pasta, but I have had some great meals there and will continue to visit this little strip mall gem.
About 10 of us headed over to Arlecchino for gelato. John and Ben drove with me because the parking situation at the La Grande Orange complex is paltry. Luckily, we all found parking spots.
Arlecchino is a small gelato place with seating for only a few people. Service is always quick and with smiles. I decided to get scoops of Pistachio, Strawberry, and the Orange Grapefruit ($6.83 including tax for the three scoops). Others in the group chose other flavors, but the big winner was the pistachio, which was phenomenal.
The pistachio wasnt sweet, but tasted like I was eating a handful of freshly picked pistachios. It was amazing. The strawberry was very good and I loved the little seeds in the mix. The orange grapefruit was excellent. Tart, tangy and perfect for a warm summer Phoenix evening.
Despite Gelatogate, I have to say that Arlecchino blows The Gelato Spot and Angel Sweet out of the water. It is excellent stuff.
Ben, John and I finished our gelato and said our goodbyes to everyone. I drove Ben and John back to Giuseppes and departed.
What a great evening. It was a successful Chowdown and I was happy to be invited.
A very special thank you to Renee for taking care of the arrangements and getting the whole ball rolling.
Now, I will close with the information and a request that others post their thoughts on the evening.
Thanks, Phoenix Hounds! I had a blast.
Giuseppes Italian Kitchen
2824 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Notes: Plenty of parking. Reservations are wise.
4410 North 40th Street
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Notes: Parking is limited. Debit/Credit cards accepted with purchase of $10.00 or more.