The Gist: http://www.andreoli-grocer.com/
The Why: Generally quite fond of Italian food and events with other like-minded folks the 5th Annual Christmas Festival at Andreoli seemed like a great opportunity to check out a wide range of Andreoli’s products while simultaneously meeting up with some other members of phxfoodnerds.com. From the expanded menu to the open-air atmosphere, live music, and beautiful weather (a novelty for this Ohioan in December) it seemed like a can’t miss event.
The Reservation: None needed – just show up, order, and take a seat.
The Setting/Service: I can’t speak to the ‘norm’ at Andreoli, but for this event I loved the place – a bustling market full of high end Italian goods, as many people speaking Italian as English, and live music filling the air. A family run operation from front to back service was rather perfunctory, but everyone was friendly, smiling, and happy to answer questions from a crowd that I’m certain was several times more than the market/restaurant is generally accustomed to.
The Food: There were five of us and between the group fifteen items were sampled at a total of approximately $30 per person – give or take. Plenty of wines were available, though I do not believe anyone imbibed.
Insalatina al Sapore di Mare: $18. The weakest course of the meal for me, this simple salad featured clams, shrimp, squid, and fish in a thick lacquer of olive oil with olives and celery aplenty. Fresh and light I simply found the clams too mild while the olives and celery dominated the flavor profile.
Crostini di Fegatini alla Fiorentina: $5. Nothing complicated here, just rough ground chicken liver pate over homemade toasted bread with a bit of parsley. Served chilled and ample in portion, no complaints.
Frittelle Calabresi: $2.50 each. A bit oily for my liking these eggplant and zucchini fritters were nicely tinged with oregano and vinegar notes but I believe they suffered for the size of the crowd; warmer and prepped to order I imagine they could be exemplary.
Maialino: $18. The most limited item on the menu this spit-roast baby piglet was gone by the time we left and although the skin could have been crispier the flavors were spot on – the pork supple and rife with notes of garlic, rosemary, coriander, and pepper while the skin was slightly sweet and plenty smoky.
Panino con Porchetta: $8.95. Much like the Maialino this could have used a bit more crackle on the surface but all things being equal it would be pretty hard to complain about crusty Italian bread wrapped around warm pork roast with plenty of black pepper, fennel and light citrus notes.
Baccala` in Umido con Polenta: $18. One of my primary reasons for wanting to visit Andreoli in the first place was this dish and thankfully it did not disappoint one bit. Big in portion, huge in flavor, and in my opinion the most well executed dish of the afternoon I figured going into it that the cod would be excellent and as good as it was, the biggest shocker of the dish was perfect execution of the polenta – toothsome, dense, and a veritable sponge for both the tomatoes and the briny fish.
Caponata Sicula: $5. Simple, savory, and perhaps the deal of the day this plate of tender eggplant, briny capers, pine nuts, tomatoes, balsamic, and olive oil with hints of basil and onion was plenty to share and would have only been better with some warm bread for dipping.
Trippa alla Toscanaccia: $14. With almost half of our table having never eaten tripe and another not really a fan of the dish I figured I’d be doing most of the legwork on this dish and although everyone took a taste my suspicions fortuitously proved correct – an acquired taste for sure, this was really good. Thin like soup and plenty fatty despite being loaded with meat with notes of onion, tomato, and vinegar at the fore while mint and garlic came through on the palate this was another place that some extra bread would have been welcomed as far too much broth remained at the end.
Mille Feuille: $7. While I contest this should have been referred to as a Napoleon I guess it really doesn’t matter because regardless of nationality what we received was flaky pastry wrapped around lightly sweetened pastry cream. Clearly not as transcendent as some of the a la minute options being turned out elsewhere as this one had been stored in the chiller all day I have to say I was largely impressed by the separation of the layers and lack of sogginess – definitely on par with the version at Essence and possibly better.
Rhum Baba: $2 each. Also straight from the chilled case these traditional baba were everything one could hope from the classic dish – a buttery ball of pastry drown in rum; a sledgehammer of flavor up front with a buttery sweet finish; at one bite each I’m pretty sure I’d have been tipsy with a half dozen.
Struffoli: $4. Another very traditional selection you don’t really see all that often at Italian markets or bakeries these marble sized pastry balls were crisp on the outside, soft on the inside, and absolutely dredged in honey. A stark textural juxtaposition to the baba which was soft throughout I personally enjoyed these a lot, though having sat for a while the honey had begun to harden which made them a bit difficult to extract from the small dish.
Cornetti: $2.50. Golden crisp on the outside, buttery caverns within, and fortunately a brand new batch when I ran back in to make my purchase this warm nutella croissant was the highlight of the sweets for me – a strong contender for best croissant in town that remained fluffy despite the chocolate-hazenut filling while the exterior shattered to the tooth.
Sfogliatelle: $3. Lightly citrus thanks to the use of candied lemon peel, even crispier than the cornetti on the outside, and a pillow of ricotta smoothness within – if you go to Andreoli and don’t order one of these you’re missing out…as a matter of fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that this item alone is worth a visit to Andreoli as it was every bit as good as any I’ve ever tasted on either coast (admittedly having not yet been to Italy.)
Pignoli: $2. Listed as pignoli but not appearing like the traditional round pine nut cookies I’ve seen (or subsequently looked up) this little pastry was dry and sweet, loaded with notes of almond paste and pine nuts plus “two types of flour” and cinnamon. Somewhat akin to biscotti in texture while far more nutty in flavor this would have gone great with a shot of espresso – something I surprisingly didn’t see at the Christmas celebration.
Schiacciata uva: $4. I’d never tried this prior to Andreoli’s and, as a matter of fact, I’d never even seen it. Quite simply a focaccia base with fresh grapes placed at the center prior to baking thus allowing the juices to infuse the dough as it cooked this was sweet, light, and full of flavor – the sort of dish that would be easy to whip up for a party and equally easy to dress up in any number of variations with seasonal fruits, cheeses, or fillings.
The Verdict: Fresh, rustic, and very authentic this one definitely goes on the ‘under the radar’ list and while I’m unable to speak to Andreoli’s quality during normal business hours I can only say that based on what I experienced at the Christmas festival I’m eager to return.