By Connor Dziawura
Old news clippings, nostalgic photographs, images of characters like Rocky Balboa, autographed pictures of athletes and other memorabilia decorate the walls of Corleone’s in the Scottsdale Airpark.
The eatery—named as a tribute to owner Giovanni Caranci’s father, who was born in Corleone, Italy—has been serving what its team considers an authentic Philly experience for more than a decade and a half.
“A lot of people think that (the name is) in reference to ‘The Godfather,’ but my father was actually born in a town in Italy called Corleone,” Caranci explains, before clarifying that he did at one point have more memorabilia inspired by the acclaimed gangster franchise.
Caranci, who co-owns the concept with his brother, Jerry Salko, says he wanted Valley customers to experience what it would be like to step into an actual sandwich shop in Philadelphia.
But that experience goes beyond visuals. It must also hit all the marks for taste.
Caranci feels it does.
“Our steak is actually shipped in from the same butcher that we buy our steak from for (our family’s) restaurants in Philly, so that’s No. 1. The bread (from Amaroso’s) is one of the most important things; and the Cheez Whiz,” Caranci explains, adding:
“I mean, people talk about Philly cheesesteaks being original or real or not. Cheez Whiz is the best way to eat a cheesesteak. Some people like it, some people don’t, majority of people do, but everything that we get comes from Philly. All of our products.”
And while Cheez Whiz may be the original way to get it, patrons can still personalize their cheesesteak however they’d like—ribeye steak or chicken; Cheez Whiz, provolone, American or mozzarella cheese; with or without grilled onions; and plus a variety of other add-ons.
Though Caranci says the cheesesteak is “absolutely” what draws people in, the menu goes beyond that classic. The restaurant offers a variety of other sandwiches as well as chicken wings, some sides, selections for kids, and even salad. Pizza was added to the menu around five years ago, too. A separate catering menu is available.
Caranci feels the Italian hoagie—which consists of thinly sliced capicola, pepper ham, Genoa salami, provolone, lettuce, tomato and onion, with oil and vinegar—as well as the Buffalo chicken—served with bleu cheese or ranch—perhaps get sidelined to the more popular items.
But that doesn’t make them any less essential.
“People skip over some of the other menu items because they just get the cheesesteak, but those two sandwiches are stupid good,” Caranci says.
Through their food and atmosphere, the brothers showcase their Philadelphia roots. In fact, it was there where Caranci says he previously owned the cheesesteak restaurant, albeit under a different name.
But Salko, who was living in Arizona, couldn’t find the real deal on this side of the country, according to Caranci. After joking about bringing the concept to the Valley to avoid spending travel time and money for something as simple as a sandwich, Corleone’s became an Airpark reality.
And “it kind of blew up,” Caranci says, so he sold his Philly restaurant and moved fulltime to Arizona, where he went on to own five locations at one point.
Though Corleone’s is now down to just its Airpark site and another at 16th Street and Camelback Road, they’re doing well. Caranci says they’re looking at potentially franchising, as well as getting into the growing food truck business.
Regardless of when or if that happens, Corleone’s is focused on keeping Philadelphia alive in the Valley.
“It was impossible to find a real cheesesteak out here,” Caranci recalls. “I mean, you can go and look at our reviews. People say this is if not the same cheesesteak as in Philly, it’s absolutely the closest that you can get to Philly. It’s just like a Philly cheesesteak in Philly for sure.”
15040 N. Northsight Boulevard, Suite 106, Scottsdale
1640 E. Camelback Road, Suite 140, Phoenix
480.483.8558 (Airpark), 602.351.8558 (16th Street)