Two wonderful things happened in Phoenix in 1977.
- I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
- Tomaso’s opened at 32nd St. and Camelback Rd.
I will go on and on about myself in a later post, but in this one I will sing endless praise to Tomaso’s.
On a recent visit I discovered why this Valley landmark has stayed strong in the ever-changing, often fickle Phoenix restaurant landscape. The answer is: Tomaso Maggiore, owner, chef and legend.
Long before I dined in his restaurant, I knew of Tomaso; heard of his Sicilian charm, and caught a glimpse of him at the opening of his son, Joey Maggiore’s restaurant, The Sicilian Butcher (catch a glimpse of him, yourself in form of a huge photo adorning the walls, a son’s tribute to his legendary father). Tomaso is everything I’d heard about and more – charismatic, handsome, insanely passionate about his craft and even a little naughty with a bawdy sense of humor.
He joined my husband and I at our table and spoke with such conviction about food, and his beloved Sicily that it brought a tear to my eye and a rumble in my belly, igniting a wanderlust and determination to book a family trip to Italy.
He speaks passionately about the dishes on his menu, each telling a story about the region of Italy from where they originated. And he himself has many stories to tell, growing up in Sicily, owning a restaurant in New York City, and building his gastro empire in Phoenix. The list of fellow legends he calls friends who have patronized Tomaso’s is long – Hollywood stars and local icons alike.
Everywhere you look in the restaurant you will see Tomaso’s passion and attention to detail. From the bright open space with white linen-clad tables to the smartly dressed wait staff dressed in crisp white shirts and black ties, many also with Italian roots and charming accents. It’s old school elegance at it’s finest.
The food, every dish a masterpiece, masterfully created and beautifully plated. Everything we ate was pure heaven, but one stood out as monumentally delicious with an absolutely incredible history.
Michaelangelo himself, ordered this dish at an inn in Italy and loved it so much he wrote about it. From these letters comes Tortelli Di Michelangelo Buonarotti, a 16th century recipe worthy of the master artist. Tender pasta pillows are stuffed with minced veal, porcini mushrooms, and creamy ricotta, then bathed and served in a pool of sage butter. There aren’t enough words in the English language to describe how special this dish is. It’s decadent comfort food, the sage butter offered a familiar warmth that reminded me of the tastes of the holidays. The pasta shell has a nice chew, the creamy ricotta blended well with the savory tender veal. Everything was perfect. Tomaso serves this dish with immense pride, and rightly so, it is a true masterpiece.
I was also blown away by another ravioli dish – Ravioli with Sausage and Broccolini. It’s house made, handcrafted pasta filled with spicy sausage, mascarpone cheese and rapini. It’s decadent but not heavy, served in a light tomato and olive oil sauce.
Another show stopper pasta dish is the Busiati with Sicilian Pesto. Unlike traditional pesto made with pine nuts, Sicilian pesto is made with almonds and has the addition of tomatoes. It makes for a luscious sauce with a pop of acid and sweetness from the tomatoes. It coats the pasta perfectly and is positively addictive.
For a taste of Rome order the Veal Saltimbocca Alla Romana. We allowed Tomaso to choose our entrees and this is what he sent out. He could not have been more spot on with that choice. We loved it. The veal melted in our mouths and dressed with sage, prosciutto, and a wine reduction. It was a rich dish, filling and served with fabulous potatoes and a mound of garlicky braised spinach. I had no idea spinach could be so delicious?
Tomaso also chose for us the Vegetarian Eggplant Torta. Layers of sautéed eggplant are baked with a zesty tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella resulting in a dish so hearty and savory I would have sworn there was some meat in it. I was assured there was not but you could have fooled me. The eggplant was expertly treated and cooked, and it kept great texture layered with the sauce and cheese. It was a fragrant, delightful dish.
Italians have a knack for taking simple ingredients – tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, pastas, etc. and making them sing; and thankfully that art is not lost in translation at Tomaso’s. All the dishes are approachable and familiar using only the finest, not the fanciest ingredients. While many of the dishes are rich and decadent, none of them are muddled or over done, each layer of flavor is deliciously defined.
The same goes for dessert. The Tiramisu was truly the best I have ever had, creamy and luscious, robust with rich coffee flavor but not at all overpowering; the sweetness was subtle and welcomed after our generous dinner.
But the crowning jewel of sweetness were the Angel Kisses. This dessert was heaven sent and yet so simple. Huge, plump strawberries filled with sweetened ricotta cream and adorned with tiny chocolate pearls. These berries were incredible. Even though I was bursting at the seams full, I wanted more. I already tried to recreate Angel Kisses at home, the ingredients seemed simple enough, but I didn’t even come close. But no matter – my craving for them will drive me back to Tomaso’s sooner rather than later.
I’m sure you have heard of limoncello, a strong Italian lemon liqueur. Well, Tomaso has created Peachcello and it is to-die-for! Sweet, fruity and so powerful Tomaso has given it a cheeky nickname. It’s a little risqué, so I will leave it at that and let you ask him what he calls it. I can only call it delicious and worth a visit by itself.
A restaurant serving the Valley for over 40 years, in the same location, is a rarity and pretty much unheard of. If Tomasos’ were ever to shutter their doors, I’m sure the masses would riot and I would lead the charge. But the passion burns bright within Tomaso Maggiore and he isn’t going any where; in fact, I’m sure you can expect more great things from him and his iconic family. Just wait and see.
And while you wait for what’s to come, visit Tomaso’s or Tomaso’s When in Rome, enjoy some pasta and some great wine. Tomaso has his own vineyard in Sicily too, where he makes his own wine – Monte Olimpo. Why wouldn’t he? Tomaso seeks perfection and what better way to achieve that than to do all the important things yourself.
Disclaimer: I enjoyed a meal at Tomaso’s free of charge to help facilitate this post. As usual all opinions are entirely my own.