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August, 2013, Page 181
Photos by Richard Maack
Family recipes from Sicily and Calabria bring an authentic slice of Italy to this Gilbert neighborhood eatery.
Dina and Salvatore Zappone first eyed each other in the shared kitchen of the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, where Dina managed the resort’s Italian eatery and Sal cooked at the French restaurant. That night, they talked about opening their own restaurant.
Nine years later, in December 2012, the couple launched Zappone’s Italian Bistro in Gilbert, bringing family recipes from both sides of the aisle. Sal’s mother, who hails from Calabria, schooled her son in sauces, meatballs and pasta dishes, while Dina’s Sicilian father taught Sal the art of making pizza,
using a 50-year-old family dough recipe.
Many of Zappone’s ingredients also have Italian provenance, including the prosciutto, salami, San Marzano tomatoes, and cheeses, while most breads and pastas are made in-house. The strip-center restaurant’s simple, casual decor matches the tenor of its dishes. Fettuccine Bolognese ($11.25) is loaded with fresh, chunky tomato sauce and sweet Italian sausage. The ravioli of the day ($13) is packed with artichokes and spinach and smothered in a generous helping of a light marinara white wine sauce. Both dishes were bread-sopping delicious, but Sal’s portions are titanic, so be prepared to box up the leftovers.
ravioli trio with caprese salad
Pizza has a starring role here, and for good reason. The chewy, bread-like crust is the perfect host for fresh toppings including roasted mushrooms and eggplant, caramelized onions and fennel sausage. The margherita pizza ($16/$18) – topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, fresh basil and marinara sauce – is big enough to share, but don’t try to cut it with the provided knife. Zappone’s silverware is akin to airline flatware: dull and tinny. An upgrade would make a world of difference.
While flavorful, the chicken piccata ($13.25) isn’t the traditional butter, lemon juice and wine sauce version. Chef Sal changes it up with a lemon cream sauce atop a bed of sautéed fresh spinach. The grilled eggplant rollatini ($12.25) – tender slices of eggplant packed with ricotta cheese and topped with marinara sauce – lacked seasoning, as did its accompanying side of pasta. In fact, many of Zappone’s sauces would greatly benefit from a more generous hand with the seasonings.
The star of the menu – a meatball parmesan sandwich ($7.50) – bulges with three plump meatballs, topped with oozing mozzarella cheese and marinara sauce, and served on a crusty roll with a fistful of crisp house-made potato chips. I relished every last crumb.
Don’t miss the house-made cannoli ($5 for three), with a melt-in-your-mouth crust packed with velvety ricotta filling studded with mini chocolate chips, cinnamon and nuts.
Zappone’s Italian Bistro is a comfortable neighborhood spot with friendly and efficient staff. Stop by and cool off with some house-made sangria ($5) or an orange basil mojito ($8). You just might become a regular.
Zappone’s Italian Bistro
: 1652 N. Higley Rd., Gilbert
: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday
: Meatball parmesan sandwich ($7.50); fettuccini Bolognese ($11.25); margherita pizza ($16/$18); cannoli ($5)
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