I believe in Main Street; I do. Plenty of them afforded me visual and gustatory treats back when I was a college bum with a beat up motorcycle. And then, there’s Centralia, Illinois, which lined up their town children along the main street and outfitted them with anti-abortion signs.
But I digress.
Saturday, Tamara and I abandoned the midget at her mothers and fled to Verrado; taking I-10 west to Verrado Way, and crossing the bridge which separates the island town from massive borg-like wastelands of Buckeye. Much construction abound on the outer realms of Verrado, with beautiful, unique homes that grab your eyes and whisper “expensive” in breathy, romantic notes. The homes in Verrado truly are beautiful and a welcome escape from the brown and tan boxes amassed in the west valley. Too bad the Verrado home prices are out of the general customers’ reach.
Downtown Verrado doesn’t quite remind me of the Main Streets back east. It actually looked a bit like downtown Boulder; which technically is east of here, but is not quite east – east, if you get my meaning. Still, it’s a welcome difference from most of the newish west valley towns, like Surprise, that lack anything that resembles a true downtown-main street appeal.
On the east corner of Verrado’s Main Street sits Grazie Pizzeria and Winebar. Tamara and I decided to eat there.
We stepped into the bland, Z-Gallerie inspired interior and were immediately shown our seats by a hostess who didn’t bother with annoying social niceties such as eye-contact, or a pleasant demeanor. Our menus were carelessly tossed onto the table and she stomped off to the plexi-glass safety of the open pizza kitchen, which housed an equally surly pizza chef and what I supposed to be a brick oven. The restaurant wasn’t busy so, the open kitchen afforded me views of a pizza chef in various stages of idleness.
Tamara and I immediately dove into the wine menu. Lord knows we needed a drink. Grazie’s emphasis is Italian. I’m not an expert in Italian wines (or wines in general – my budometer rating is “tolerant”), but the selection seemed to be great. One nice thing I liked about Grazie’s wine list is that the retail prices of all their drinks were listed. Generally, glasses cost 7 to 9 dollars. I ordered a glass of Nero d’avola “Laumuri” 2003 ($9 | Retail Bottle $20 | approx 200% markup per glass per 6oz).
Good choice. Without any expertise, I surmise that the wine tasted like blackberries, or currants. It definitely didn’t have much tannin. In any case, it was good. I’d buy a bottle for my own cellar.
Luckily, a smiling waitress replaced the sullen hostess, and we placed our orders. To start, we had the Piatto Misto platter ($12 – Salame, Italian Ham, Caopcollo, Sopressata, Provolone, and Olives).
I ordered the Quattro Stagioni prizza ($14, tomato sauce, mozzarella, salame, mushrooms, ham, olives, basil, parmigiano, and olive oil). Tamara ordered the Vegetariana (mozzarella, provolone, onions, peppers, parmigiano, and olive oil).
The Piatto Misto came quickly, but the Sopressata were missing. The waitress told us they compensated by adding more of the remaining, which was fine by us. Plus, they took $2 off the overall price of the dish.
The cubed provolone was nice and flakey. If I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed it was parmesan. Tamara guessed that they aged it for a bit.
Next, I tried the Capocollo – a round, reddish meat with streaks of fat. It tasted of bacon; which is another way of saying “close to heaven”. The Italian Ham followed; pale to the eye and palette. It creamed a distinct umami flavor. The Salame came last, full of grease and peppercorns. The resounding shock of peppercorn taste drowned out the fragile meat flavors and repulsed me. I did not like it much.
The pizzas arrived while we were still working on the appetizer. My guess is that the pizza cook, excited to have an order, leaped to fray.
I’m a solid believer in the Perfect Pizza Philosophy (P^3), which holds that a Pizza is to food what a complex symphony is to music. All flavors must be perfectly harmonized; otherwise, cacophony.
That being said, I lifted my first slice and the nose flopped forward under the weight of the ingredients. The flabbiness of the crust reminded me of Cibo, but at least Grazie’s cheese didn’t slide off after the first hang time. The crust’s color wore wain, with the expected wood-burn spots. To taste, it was nothing.
Tamara suggested that the crust was purposely designed to be neutral, so that the taste of the ingredients would be the main focus. That didn’t jibe with me (recall the P^3). Without crust, the pizza is nothing.
Still, there was hope for my meal. My first bite brined with kalamata. I couldn’t taste anything else. I took another, scrupulously avoiding any olives. My search rewarded me with the pungent taste of the cooked Italian Ham. A third bite landed me watery mozzarella and tomato sauce. Later eating found the taste of peppercorns ruining everything. Blasted salame!
I don’t know why they bothered with the mushrooms. I couldn’t taste them. None of the flavors gelled. They all competed with each other, creating a most unceremonious display of pizza disharmony. Disappointed, I whined to Tamara. She offered me a taste of hers.
What beautiful music! All her flavors blended together to create impressions of sweetness, saltiness, and bitterness. I immediately professed jealousy and refused to return my borrowed slice.
Note: The next day, I put my pizza up to the cold pizza test. This time around, the strong flavors were welcome, although the peppercorns still were not! Maybe they should just serve that particular pizza cold from the get-go?
All together, we paid 70.94 for the entire meal, including some unlisted drinks. While the affair was nice for Verrado, I wouldn’t frequent Grazie again. The flavor contradictions and variable offerings don’t justify the price.
Some other contradictions we noted included offering high chairs for infants, but lacking changing tables in either bathroom. How very Grazie!
603 N. 5th Ave., Phoenix, AZ 850103
Grazie Pizzeria and Winebar
Verrado, AZ, Verrado, AZ