In a Phoenix.org feature published in November, 2022, David Tynda declared that Phoenix is a top city for pizza. “I say to people that I believe Phoenix is the pizza capital of the U.S. and I wait for them to slap me across the face,” said Tyda, the co-manager of Phoenix Festivals. The Matador Network agreed: “Phoenix is a slice of pizza heaven. Yes, that Phoenix, the one where it’s nearly hot enough in the summer to cook said pizza on the sidewalk. While Chicago and New York were dueling it out for pizza supremacy, Phoenix was quietly building an army of pizza joints that could dethrone Naples.”
Not that very long ago, most of the nation’s crusty cognoscenti conceded “It may not be New York or Chicago, but the pizza’s not bad,” a culinary equivalent of saying a girl isn’t very pretty, but she’s got a great personality. Only a critic with masochistic tendencies would dispute the superiority of Pizzeria Bianco, but every other pizzeria in the Valley of the Sun barely warranted a mention on any national dialogue about pizza. Most conversations about pizza in the Valley of the Sun still begin with Pizzeria Bianco, but alongside the acknowledged al forno favorite are a number of other pizzerias who have made Phoenix one of the country’s best cities for pizza.
For the past decade or so, a new pantheon of pizza artisans have begun to challenge the heretofore undisputed Bianco. They’ve done it not as much by copying the great master, but by employing their own creative techniques for crafting fabulous pizza. As much science as it is art, the new breed of pizzaioli has begun blending flours with distinctive characteristics, introducing new ingredients that titillate and tantalize taste buds and figured out that levels of char create flavors. It has made quite the difference. When we plan our trips to the Phoenix area, we often list more pizza restaurants than we can possibly visit.
One recent addition to our list is among the nascent newcomers, having launched in 2017 in Glendale, the city in which the Arizona Cardinals do battle. Milan-born owner Nick DiLello is a peripatetic presence at the cavernous restaurant. Interestingly, DiLello doesn’t have a background as a restaurateur. His career and wealth were made in the bridal industry. As a sage entrepreneur, he knew the only way to be successful was to bring in an executive chef with an Italian food background. Chef Daniele Lombardo created a menu centered around wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza with a solid selection of fresh-made pasta dishes.
One of the reasons Bottega came to my notice was the simple abbreviation “DOP,” an acronym which means “Designation of Origin.” Scroll down the menu and you’ll find that many of the listed ingredients are suffixed with “DOP.” The DOP label guarantees that your favorite cheese, prosciutto, olive oil, etc., is produced, processed, and packaged in a specific geographical zone and according to tradition. Each step, from production to packaging, is regulated. This certification ensures you’re not going to be fed any of the low-quality, knock-off products sold under the guise of the high quality products they mimic. Among the menu items listed on the menu that have a DOP designation is San Marzano tomatoes. Just as not every chile labeled “Hatch” isn’t from New Mexico, not every tomato labeled “San Marzano” actually is. Bottega’s is!
Accompanying us were my dear friend and brother-in-law Tim and his beautiful bride Lola née Devivo, a bonafide Chicago Italian who can’t be fooled by knock-offs of interior quality. Lola would see right through any ruse. We were greeted by the energetic Emily, one of the very best servers we’ve had during our travels. Emily would prove a sage guide through our meal, imparting great advice and recommendations–and always with a smile. Emily told us she lives in Tempe but when she’s craving a pizza, she’ll take the forty-minute drive to Bottega to sate her fix. She described the pizza as the Phoenix area’s only true Italian style with a thin crust that you can fold over (like New York style slices). Though other items beckoned, her recommendation carried more weight.
Twelve “red” pizzas and seven “white” (no tomato sauce) pizzas festoon the menu, each one an invitation to deliciousness. Emily recommended the Prosciutto E Rucola (D.O.P tomato sauce, fior di latte, imported prosciutto crudo De Parma, arugula, shaved Parmigiano Regianno, basil and EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)). Did you notice that D.O.P. designation which means so much to me? Did you catch the first ingredient on the list: fior di latte? Taken on its own, the phrase “fior di latte” translates to “flower of milk” and refers to cow’s milk mozzarella. It’s a superior cheese on pizza and by the way, makes a phenomenal gelato. Did you swoon at the thought of imported prosciutto crudo De Parma? That’s prosciutto regarded as some of the very best in the world.
Okay, the pizza had a phalanx of ingredients with a pedigree, but how did it taste? In all honesty, it would have been one of the top ten pizzas I’ve ever had if not for the arugula. There was just too much of it…and frankly, one leaf is too much. Arugula’s distinctive spicy kick and peppery qualities are great on a salad, but not so good on a pizza. Every other element on the pizza played perfect orchestral harmony on my taste buds. The light char on a waifishly thin crust was perfect. A slight cornicione (Italian word for the edge or rim of the pizza) befits the thin crust. Unlike at some pizzerias, you don’t need to mount an expedition to find some of the ingredients you request. The generosity of those ingredients means you’ll either have to hold each slice both the top and from its tapered bottom, fold it in half or eat it Travolta style (two folded slices).
Had I not ordered a pizza, my dinner choice would have been the Carbonara (fresh pasta, egg yolk, Parmigiano Reggiano, guanciale). My Kim must have read my conflicted mind because that’s what she ordered. It’s been an oft-discussed topic on Gil’s Thrilling…that most carbonara is rather on the inauthentic side, sometimes almost heretically so. Carbonara, one of the most famous pasta recipes of Roman cuisine, is made only with five simple ingredients: spaghetti seasoned with browned guanciale, black pepper, pecorino Romano and beaten eggs. So, Bottega Pizzeria Ristorante does not exactly fit the bill. What it does do is make diners happy. It’s a far cry from the overly sauced (sometimes with Alfredo) and soupy stuff some restaurant calls carbonara. In fact, it’s among the best carbonara dishes we’ve had in a long time.
Tim’s go-to favorite is lasagna which is available with a red sauce (fresh pasta layered with bolognese sauce, béchamel, Parmigiano Reggiano) or white sauce (fresh pasta layered with spicy Italian sausage, béchamel, mushrooms, provola, Parmigiano Reggiano). He opted for the red sauce lasagna, a thick slab of goodness. For Lola, the ravioli (cheese stuffed fresh pasta, broccoli, garlic, cream sauce) with extra broccoli called loudest. Broccoli actually originated in Southern Italy and is one of those traditional Italian vegetables particularly beloved by Italians.
Affogato al caffe (scoops of vanilla gelato topped with hot caffe’ espresso, coffee liqueur) has long been one of my very favorite Italian desserts. Despite practically drooling at the mention of a dessert which pairs the strong taste and heat of an espresso coffee with the cool refreshing creaminess of Vanilla gelato, I rarely order it. It’s not always made well. The sweet Emily assured us she was a former barista at Starbucks and would make our affogato al caffe herself. Thank goodness for baristas who know what she’s doing. The affogato al caffe was terrific, one of the best I’ve ever had.
Not by design, my Kim paired her calorific carbonara entree with a dessert called a nutella calzone (chocolate hazelnut spread in a wood-fired calzone) with a scoop of vanilla gelato. It was about the size of a pizza folded over and sprinkled with confectioners sugar. With enough calories to sustain a family over a cold winter, we barely put a dent on the behemoth bread dessert. My Kim loves nutella, but she’ll be loving it for about a week because it’s so rich you can’t eat much of it in one sitting.
In December, 2022, Yelp listed Bottega Pizzeria Ristorante as the tenth best pizza in Phoenix. Much more impressively, in October, 2022, the Phoenix New Times rated Bottega’s pizza as the second best pizza in Phoenix, just behind the legendary Bianco. A few years ago that wouldn’t have meant much, but with keen competition throughout a city now universally acknowledged as one of the country’s best for pizza, that’s quite an accomplishment.
19420 N. 59th Ave.
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LATEST VISIT: 24 December 2022
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Carbonara, Affogato al Caffe, Nutella Calzone, Prosciutto E Rucola