By Niki D’Andrea
“This is sooo good! It’s sooo good!”
The woman at the table across from us is talking to her male dining companion, pointing emphatically with her fork at the dish in front of her. I don’t know what she’s eating, but that doesn’t matter, because we are at The Sicilian Butcher, and everything on the menu is “sooo good!”
Branded as a “craft meatballs and charcuterie bar,” The Sicilian Butcher is the latest restaurant concept from Chef Joey Maggiore of The Maggiore Group. Chef Joey also owns and operates Hash Kitchen, and his father Tomaso is the founder of Tomaso’s Italian Restaurant and Tomaso’s When in Rome (Tommy V’s is also part of the family business).
This Italian foodie family knows its flavors. Every concept that’s opened under the Maggiore umbrella so far has been a success, and The Sicilian Butcher is no exception – but it is exceptional, starting with the set-up.
The interior design is stylish and food-forward. There’s a little Italy in everything, from the mobster-figure murals painted above the bar and the artsy cascade of butcher axes hanging between chain-link curtains to the colossal glass-enclosed display of hanging meats and the black-and-white wall-size photo of Tomaso Maggiore with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth. The interior space is big and bright, with views of the open kitchen, and there’s also an expansive (and perpetually packed) patio.
A full bar serves a slew of craft cocktails, most notably the Milan Margarita (tequila, pineapple rosemary agave, lime juice and Campari) and the Pepe Pepe (tequila, red pepper agave, lime juice and grapefruit juice). If tequila isn’t your taste, The Italiano brings the brawn with bourbon, Averna, amaretto syrup and a dash of orange bitters. Of course wine is prime here, and the all-Italian vino list features Maggiore family Monte Olimpo varietals (a Chardonnay and a Nero D’Avola) and several Sicilian white and red blends. Beer options are far fewer, but you can never go wrong with Peroni. But considering how fantastic the food here is, you might want to steer clear of filling beer.
Let’s start with the appetizers, and a bowl of slick and flavorful Sicilian olives with a warm basket of ciabatta bread. A good way to sample a few different starts is via a charcuterie board. The Sicilian Street Board (two-person minimum) includes cazzilli (fried potato sticks stuffed with mozzarella, crispy pancetta and tomato herb sauce), panelle (chickpea French fries with lemon aioli), arancini (saffron rice balls packed with melty mozzarella, meat ragu and English peas), and crispy cuttlefish, which our server likened to calamari but which is actually more rubbery in texture and briny in taste.
Excellent bruschetta boards, flatbread, panini and salads abound on the menu, but the stars of this show are really the pastas (crafted in-house) and handmade meatballs. There are 10 kinds of craft meatballs on the menu, ranging from more traditional (Tomaso’s Sicilian Meatballs, made with veal, pork and beef) to completely unexpected (Sicilian Tuna Fresh, made with ahi tuna, raisins, pine nuts, pecorino, garlic, lemon and herb bread crumbs). Lamb meatballs satisfy, and lump crab and shrimp meatballs are surprisingly savory with whipped Boursin cheese, but far and away my favorite meatball on the menu is the turkey meatball – the best iteration I’ve ever had, and a huge hit at the grand opening in late November, when groups of people were literally stalking the servers for samples of them and hanging around the kitchen counter waiting. Cut into a turkey meatball with your fork, and a pillow of fragrant steam rises to greet you.
Pasta and meatball orders work like this: You pick your meatball, then your sauce and your pasta, so you can more or less completely customize your order. There are nine sauces to choose from, including basil-tinged marinara, vodka cream sauce and a decadent truffle mushroom cream. Pastas are masterfully made with not a bad “bottom” among them. The mafalde (wide ribbon pasta) is one of the most popular, with the paccheri (large tube pasta) a close second. Spaghetti is of the long square variety, and ever al dente.
If you manage to make room for dessert, you won’t be sorry. Olive oil cake with mascarpone cream and house-made honeycomb is spongy and sweet — but in a comforting, not cloying, sense. The espresso caramel budino is a bed of vanilla custard covered in an eye-opening espresso caramel. The “Deconstructed Cannoli” is decent and adorned with crushed pistachio, candied lemon wheel and pizzelle cookies, but if you’re Italian and grew up with an auntie who made magnificent cannoli, you should know right now that nothing will ever be as good – but The Sicilian Butcher’s version isn’t bad.
The restaurant’s location in a strip mall near Tatum Boulevard and Greenway Road puts it smack-dab in the middle of my neighborhood, and it’s quickly become my new favorite neighborhood restaurant. Chef Joey is usually there greeting guests, along with restaurant manager Luigi. And the place is almost always packed, inside and out, which is pretty impressive considering it’s only been open for a few months. Some of that has to do with the Maggiore reputation for creating superlative Italian dining experiences, but I’m convinced it’s mostly because of the mind-blowing meatballs. They’re the kind of the food experience that makes you loudly enthuse “It’s sooo good!”
The Sicilian Butcher, 15530 N. Tatum Boulevard, Suite 160, Phoenix, 602.775.5140, thesicilianbutcher.com.
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