I am forever amazed at what I will find in my own backyard restaurant-wise here in the Arcadia District in East Phoenix. Most of the stuff I stumble upon because it sits in some boring strip mall that has the same tired retailers you have seen for years.
One of the oddest strip malls in East Phoenix sits at 28th Street and Indian School Road. This place has turned over so many businesses, I can't even tell you what was here initially, except that I think the first grocery store in the place was an Alpha Beta, and at one point it housed a Fashion Bug.
Today, that mall still has a grocery chain - this time a Sprouts - and lots of other small places including a Blockbuster, a cell phone seller, a Papa John's Pizza, and The Vine, a brew and wings place. The hidden gem in this strip mall, however, is a tiny Italian eatery that most people don't even know is there. That is a shame for them.
Giuseppe's Italian Kitchen has all of 8 or 9 tables inside and two outside. The bulk of the space is used for the kitchen. Last Saturday, I decided to finally try Guiseppe's. I had heard about it from some regulars on the Southwest Chowhound board, so I figured I would give it a try.
I arrived at Guiseppe's around 8 PM and the place was packed. A group of people were waiting outside and I had readied myself for a long wait. One of the staff came out and said flat out that they had two large parties inside and there was a small table in the back where I could sit, but it would be sometime before they got to me because they were short staffed. Not a problem for me because the staff member was smart enough to tell me ahead of time of the problems. It was now my choice to leave or wait. I wanted Italian food and figured by the time I got someplace else, I would be attended to, so I took the small table off to the side of the main dining room.
Giuseppe's is a decorated in black and white with splashes of red throughout. The place is clean and bright. Rat Pack music filters through the sound system and you can't help but smell all the fresh garlic and basil. My table was for two and was decorated with a red table cloth covered in white butcher paper. A fresh flower and votive candle adorned the top.
I pulled out some reading material and waited, receiving a glass of water a few minutes after being seated. About 10 minutes passed before the sole waiter came by and profusely apologized for the wait. He took my drink order and said he would be back in a few minutes. Sure enough, he returned, but along with my soda, he brought a big plate of sliced Italian bread and some small cups of butter. He also handed me a menu and said he would be back to take my order once he finished up with the last large party in the restaurant.
Only about five minutes passed and I was still deciding when he came by to take my order. I selected the House Salad ($3.00), the Suppli di Riso ($3.95) for an appetizer, and the Chicken Parmigiana ($9.95). I expected another wait before getting the parts of my meal on my table, so I munched on another piece of bread and nursed my soda.
As fate would have it, it was only a few moments before my server returned with my salad. The simple white plate was piled with a mixture of iceberg and Romaine lettuce and then topped with sliced onions and carrot with a half-moon slice of tomato on the side. A simple vinaigrette was drizzled over the top of the salad. I dove in. This wasn't anything super special, but it was very good and the dressing was perfect. It wasn't sharp nor was the vinegar overdone. It was modest and complete. A great first course. My only complaint was that the iceberg lettuce was a bit yellow for my taste, but, luckily, it hadn't taken on a bitter taste yet.
Next up was the Suppli di Riso. Basically, the concept was easy enough: take some mozzarella cheese, encase it in risotto, bread the thing and deep fry it. When it arrived at my table, two large suppli di riso sat in a small pool of Marinara sauce (the parmesan cheese in the photo was my addition). The scent was of garlic and bread crumbs and I was eager to try these.
I cut one in half, dragged it through the sauce and took a taste. Very nice. They were cooked through so that the cheese inside had melted and the risotto was very tender. The breading even had a bit of a "crunch" to it. I enjoyed these, but I will confess that I wish they had had a bit more bite to them. Some garlic or red pepper flakes or maybe some sort of herb would have given this a triumphal push. They were not bad by any stretch, but they did need just a push to be fantastic.
I had cleared the sauce with the bread and the waiter came by to refill my drink. He again apologized for the wait and said my dinner would be out in minutes. Sure enough, I had my entree on my table in less than two minutes.
Staring back at me was a plate full of Chicken Parmigiana and a side of Rigatoni. The heavy garlic smell was intoxicating and the meal was piping hot. I first took a bit of the pasta. Al dente and perfect. The sauce was the winner, though... every garlic-infused bite of it. I tried the Chicken Parmigiana and was quite pleased. Three chicken medaillons were breaded, fried and then topped with their wonderful sauce with a slice of mozzarella cheese melted on top. This dish was outstanding and certainly was what I hoped for when I entered Giuseppe's.
I finish every crumb and every drop on my plate, soaking it all up with the excellent bread. The server dropped by and refilled my drink again and asked if I wanted anything else. Nope; I was quite satisfied.
A few minutes later I had my bill ($20.74 including tax) and paid. The service was very good considering the fact that my poor server was handling all the tables inside and the two outside by himself. He was giving it his all and with the exception of the wait at the beginning, I was more than pleased with his service.
As I left, a few tables had opened up and I walked out into the crisp Phoenix night air and into the reality of being in the middle of a non-descript strip mall in the middle of the Sonoran Desert.
Of course, I now know that with a bit of effort, I can find a nice treasure in this bland strip mall. Hopefully, you can, too.
Giuseppe's Italian Kitchen
2824 East Indian School Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Dress: Casual, but business casual would fit right in as well.
Notes: BYOB - Corkage is $3.00. Closed Sundays.