One of the things that a lot of people haven’t figured out about Phoenix is that some of the best Mom and Pop restaurants are in dumpy strip malls and are often overshadowed by the mega-chains that have pulsating neon signs and large stand-alone buildings. Due to the cost of real estate, the little places run by families or upstart business owners often can only afford the rent in a strip mall.
All the better for me and those of us who are constantly on the lookout for a dingy strip hiding a fantastic meal.
As luck would have it, a less than stellar strip mall near I-17 and Thomas Road is currently housing a little (and I do mean little) Italian restaurant called Pizza A Metro. This strip mall anchor is a Circle K and the only way I saw the place was by the small neon sign that said “PIZZA” with an arrow pointing to the entrance.
I pulled in and was joined by a fellow chowhound named “Ciaogal,” a delightful dinner companion who shares my love of food and finding those out-of-the-way places. I was waiting outside when Ciaogal opened the door and asked me if I was Seth. She had grabbed a table while waiting for me and I was happy to escape the heat outside.
We sat at a spacious and comfortable four-top and I was immediately asked by the owner if I would like something to drink. I requested a Diet Coke ($2.00 each). This was brought quickly and I slowly poured the bottled liquid over the glass of ice. I gave big props to Ciaogal for also having a Diet Coke.
We were handed menus and started debating about what we would have for our dinner. There were lots of items on the menu that jumped out at me and I had a hard time deciding between the pasta, the pizza and the appetizers. Ciaogal asked if we could share any of the items we ordered. I was quick to agree.
With that compromise under our belts, we place our order. Ciaogal would start with the Carpaccio ($6.95) and I would get the Caesar Salad ($4.95). Four our main dishes, I decided to try the regular sized Frescolina Pizza ($14.95) and Ciao got the Linguini Carbonara ($8.95). The owner was our server as well and he promised that we would have fresh bread on the table in minutes as the oven was overflowing with a pizza order.
As we waited, we took in the atmosphere and chatted about food. Although the place was tiny, it was cleverly decorated and the outside world was the furthest thing from my mind. The place was just comfortable and charming and the owner was doing his best to greet and satisfy the customers. The only issue we both had was the noise level. Even though the restaurant only has about half a dozen tables, I was straining to hear Ciao and felt bad about asking her to repeat every third sentence. Still, the villa doll house decor was not expected but completely welcome. Ciao called it “a collaboration of passion and love for good food and ambiance.”
As promised, the bread arrived and I was a bit surprised. A very elongated dish was covered with small triangles of pillowy, golden bread and a small bowl of an onion, caper and mushroom caponata sat on the edge. The bread was hot, slightly chewy and completely delicious. The caponata was fantastic with its slightly sweet overtones and lots of body and flavor. It was a great way to start our meal.
After munching on the bread for a few moments, our appetizers arrived. The first to the table was a plate of Caprese. However, we hadn’t ordered the Caprese but had ordered the Carpaccio. We immediately chalked up the mistake to the noise issue and the owner was very quick to replace the dish with the one we ordered.
While the Carpaccio was being made, my Caesar Salad arrived on a colorful plate. The cold, fresh Romaine pieces were tossed with a creamy and garlicky Caesar dressing that had me hooked. Shreds of paper-thin Parmesan cheese was also in the mix. I had no complaints about this dish at all, but would have liked to have seen some croutons or similar. Not a big deal as the freshness of the salad was incredibly enticing. Ciao found the salad very fresh and like the fact that the salad was not dripping with dressing like many places in the Valley do.
When the Carpaccio arrived, I think Ciao and I feel in love with it just from the look of the dish. “It’s like we are going to destroy art,” Ciao said. I agreed. The presentation was beautiful, but the thin slices of beef along with the capers and cheese just lured me in and I was more than happy to destroy the artistic value of the food in order to please my palate. We dove in and I was mesmerized by the mix of flavors. The Carpaccio was sublime. Bursting with flavor, the meat had been treated to a fine mix of olive oil and a tremendous amount of lemon juice. Everything was super fresh and the flavors melded together. Just delicious on all counts. Ciao said it was one of the best presentations of carpaccio she had seen and I would have to agree. What really made this dish stand out was the lemony vinaigrette. This could have been just another carpaccio plate, but the presentation and the dressing just nailed it for us.
We were poking at the remnants of our appetizers when our entrees arrived. The Linguini Carbonara was a large portion of linguini thoroughly coated with a delicious cream sauce and lots of small bits of pancetta. It was an adult, upscale version of Macaroni & Cheese that had us both licking our chops. I was very happy that the bacon didn’t overpower the dish. There was a perfect balance between pasta, cream and meat. Ciao loved the smokiness of the pancetta and had a notion that the pasta may have been handmade. It wouldn’t surprise me. Ciao called it a “bowl of heaven.” Indeed.
My Fresca Pizza arrived and we were very happy with what we saw. A medium pizza pie crust had been covered with crushed tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, prosciutto and lots of peppery arugula. Ciao and I were both chomping at the bit to get to the pizza and I pulled the first slice with bits of the arugula falling to the side. I repositioned the greens and took a bite. It was delicious. The crust was thin and pliable with a small amount of chew and plenty of salt. The tomatoes and mozzarella combined with the arugula and prosciutto were a fantastic combination. It hit the palate just right. Ciao said the owner sure had a knack of laying flavors quite well. For both of us, the stand out was the crust. This could have been just another, average crust, but it wasn’t too thin or too heavy, but crisp, light and not burnt. We both felt this was another work of art we had to destroy for the sake of our taste buds.
We were amply stuffed when we requested the bill and boxes to take home the leftovers. The entire meal was an astoundingly inexpensive $45.27 including tax. This was a bona fide steal. The food was excellent along with the top notch service and a wonderful atmosphere. We couldn’t find any fault with our evening other than we both had to depart.
I did find it interesting that while we were eating, a group of four young guys entered. From their conversation, it was clear that they thought this was going to be another quick, order at the counter pizza joint where you could get a slice for a couple of bucks. The owner invited them to take a seat and walked them through the menu. After they ordered, one said to the rest of the group, “I wish we had more places like this in the neighborhood.”
I think Ciao and I would agree with this person completely.
Pizza A Metro
2336 West Thomas Road
Phoenix, AZ 85015
Hours: Monday through Thursday - 11 AM to 8:30 PM; Friday and Saturday - 11:30 AM to 9:30 PM; Closed Sundays.
Notes: On the north side of Thomas Road. Look for the Circle K sign. Parking is limited. Second location may be opening in Scottsdale.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
Pizza A Metro
2336 W Thomas Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85015