The Gist: http://pomopizzeria.com/
The Why: As part of a planned food-day out in Phoenix and Scottsdale I’d already filled breakfast and dinner slots with both food and friends, but as always lunch remained the last decision to be made – a decision made slightly more difficult in that I’d asked the Practice Administrator at my new place of work to meet up so that we could brainstorm. Never one to ‘settle’ for subpar food, even during a business meeting, and with my colleague well aware of this after a meal at Binkley’s in September 2011 I tossed out some options based on my tastes and he immediately jumped on ‘Pomo largely due to its convenient location for both of us on North Scottsdale Road.
Notably the only APN and VPN certified restaurant in a city where impressive pizzas abound ‘Pomo has won numerous local awards and with a strong adherence to Neapolitan traditions including the use of imported “00” Molino Caputo flour subjected to 24+ hour slow leavening plus 950F cooking temperatures in a handmade brick wood burning oven direct from Naples I had little doubts of the quality of the pies at ‘pomo the moment I read their credentials, but what intrigued me most about the spot was their list of primi, pasta, insalate, and desserts – things one generally does not associate with a place so devoted to the quality of its pies.
The Reservation: With the large space opening at 11am for lunch and our planned time of arrival set to be noon on a lazy Saturday I did not assume reservations to be necessary and arriving at 11:30 my notion was confirmed – two couples were seated near the entrance while a family of four, speaking exclusively Italian, sat along the back wall.
The Space: Let me start by saying the faux-Italian exterior is a huge turnoff – it reminds me of Olive Garden or Carraba’s and it is entirely unnecessary – but once you get inside the setting of ‘Pomo is actually quite sleek as black tables sans tablecloths, an open kitchen with the tile oven on full display, plus a small bar complete with televisions proudly displaying Serie A football show on the left half of restaurant while a long wall of plush leather seating, dark woods, and floor to ceiling depiction of an Italian street scene dominate the right. Featuring a sort of compress and expand entryway leading to high ceilings and white walls with light Italian tunes playing overhead ‘Pomo feels like it is trying without overcompensating and although I imagine it can get loud with a crowd it was plenty quiet for normal conversation (and for myself to read until my guest arrived) throughout the course of my 120 minute visit.
The Service: Taking a somewhat atypical approach to the afternoon by arriving early, staying late after settling the bill, ordering items ‘to-go’, and then opening a second tab for dessert our server – identified on the bill as ‘Cricket’ – performed quite admirably. Waters were filled at all times, lemon added when requested, and all items were delivered piping hot from the kitchen. With the server to table ratio 1:1 throughout much of the stay and the kitchen spending most of their downtime watching the match on the television we were never for want of anything and both diners and staff seemed to be in good spirits, casually conversing with everything flowing smoothly. Davanti Enoteca should send each of their servers next door to ‘Pomo in the coming weeks, to say the least.
The Food: 2 Primi, 2 Pizzas, 1 Dessert to stay, 1 Dessert to go, plus a Pizza to go for my colleague’s wife delivered from the oven mere moments before he walked out the door.
Crocchette Pugliesi: With my dining partner interested primarily in the pizza I was left to decide on opening courses and although the focaccia and arancini sounded tempting it was this pair of fluffy nuggets that won me over; and thankfully they did not disappoint. Featuring lightly whipped potatoes at outside edge with a lightly crisp coating each of these delectable bites burst with flavor as the interior housed a dense composition of house made Fior di Latte and Prosciutto Cotto. Served alongside stewed San Marzano tomatoes and a light salad of grape tomatoes and spinach each bite was fresh and balanced – my only complaint being that there wasn’t a half-dozen more.
Gnocchi alla sorrentia: Quite simply, good gnocchi is what every starch should aspire to be in my world and these gnocchi were sublime – each small dumpling so light that it threatened to float off the plate. A dish so often over/under-done each of these fluffy balls was simply adorned with simple stewed tomatoes, torn basil, creamy Fior di Latte, and a light dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano before a quick trip to the oven produced a lightly caramelized crust. If you go, this is a must order – and if I go back I’d love to see if they’d be willing to supplement the Bufala in place of the Fior di Latte.
Bufala DOP: Less the gourmand than myself but still knowledgeable of food it was suggested by my dining partner that he was going to order the Regina Margherita but more than happy for my suggestions an upsell to the Bufala DOP took little coaxing and while I cannot vouch to the quality of the Regina I can say without a doubt that the $3 fee was worth every penny as the weekly imported Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP Napoli’s tangy funk and ethereal mouthfeel was notable in every bite. Moving next to the crust (offered cut or un-cut by the kitchen in order to stick with tradition,) slow kneaded and just crisp enough on the edges to keep the rim steady and the center wet I particularly enjoyed the low smoky notes and although a bit more blister would have been ideal the simple garnish of unsweetened San Marzanos, Basil, and a touch of Parmigiano Reggiano was precisely what I’d hoped for walking in the door.
Tirolese: With my colleague ordering the pizza I’d have selected I decided to be a bit more progressive and turned to an equally well constructed pie featuring the same base but subsequently topped with Fior di Latte, Brie, and Speck Alto Adige IGP – a unique imported leg ham first salted and air-dried and then smoked, the flavor harkening notes of sweet, savory, and smoky all at once and perfectly balanced to the acid of the tomatoes by the creamy pairing of cheeses. Most times a pizza purist when visiting a Neapolitan spot I have to say I may have enjoyed this one even more than the Bufala, though perhaps that simply speaks to the quality of the translucent layer of pork on top.
Semifreddo Alla Mandorle: My friend having now departed with an Ortolana in hand for his wife (and the check) I decided that given the quiet and quality of service I’d stick around to study for a bit and after perhaps an hour of sipping water and reading I decided to test the sweet half of ‘Pomo’s menu with their ‘signature’ dessert – one of the few not present in a rotating pastry case near the bar. No stranger to semifreddo but having never seen it delivered quite like this what arrived to my table was exquisite – a sort of ‘ice cream sandwich’ but without the ice cream or sandwich. Featuring a delicate frozen mousse – think whipped cream but frozen – stuffed with chopped figs cooked in honey and rolled in crushed Amaretto Cookie this dessert was the very definition of light and refreshing, a fact furthered by a light drizzle of reduced strawberry and honey plus powdered sugar that made it sweet, but not overly so.
Millefoglie: While I could have (and perhaps should have) been contented by one dessert the fact that the menu contained no less than six which interested me led to a spontaneous decision to get one to go – or at least to go as far as the mall where I’d finish it an hour later as a friend contacted me to meet up at Davanti Enoteca for more food related fun at 3:30. Described by some as an Italian Mille Feuille and by others as the hand-held equivalent of a Napoleon this Millefoglie was quite different from the versions I’d experienced in Boston and Philadelphia, but with buttery puff pastry layers juxtaposing layers of pastry cream as well as cream Chantilly plus ample notes of honey and Amarena cherry it would be hard to say this wasn’t the best Millefoglie I’ve ever had. Far more dense than the semifreddo or a traditional mille-feuille but far less so than most napoleons I’d be hard pressed to describe a dessert I’ve had that is similar in flavor, though the overall texture was something like croissant meets baklava. Like the gnocchi it is a must order, though I would not recommend attempting to eat it by hand, as I did for lack of fork.
The Verdict: While some may contest that VPN certification is meaningless and I would tend to agree, if that is what it takes for ‘Pomo to get people past the sub-par exterior and into the restaurant then I am all for it. While perhaps not the best pizza in the Phoenix metropolitan area due to a little place called Bianco the pies at ‘Pomo stand up to the best in all but a handful of cities and when you take into account the strength of the rest of the menu I think it likely ranks amongst the ten best Neapolitan joints I’ve been lucky enough to visit.