Forty years ago, Phoenix was transforming from a sleepy desert town into a full-fledged city. Shopping malls sprang up like crabgrass. Construction on Papago Freeway began. City-dwellers fled to the suburbs. Everything was in flux, including two Italians who would change the Phoenix food scene, bringing a big taste of Little Italy and big personalities to match.
When restaurateurs Angiolo “Angelo” Livi and Tomaso Maggiore opened their respective Valley restaurants, Avanti and Tomaso’s, back in the 1970s, they could hardly find the requisite ingredients to create authentic Italian dishes. “We couldn’t find anything. Fresh mozzarella, Parmesan cheese?” Livi says. “We couldn’t find the [real] Parmigiano-Reggiano. We had to use Kraft Parmesan cheese. I mean, come on, imagine the difference!”
Despite the desert’s lack of fresh seafood and artisanal cheeses in the ‘70s, the two entrepreneurial chefs found success (see their interview on page 90). “At one time I had five restaurants on Camelback Road,” Maggiore says. “They thought about renaming the street Tomaso Avenue.” Featured in the 1979 PHOENIX magazine ad below, one of these restaurants, the eponymous Maggiore’s, boasted “Flavor and quality you’ll never forget.” Although Maggiore’s no longer exists, the owner continues to share his love of Italian food at Tomaso’s, which has been serving traditional dishes for 37 years.
Avanti celebrates its 40th anniversary in December. Livi expanded the original Avanti concept in Phoenix to include Avanti of Scottsdale, PREGO and Avanti Trattoria at the Pointe Hilton. All thrived, but by 2001, Livi had sold all but the original Avanti location, which he still owns and operates.
Both Livi and Maggiore still spend time in their respective restaurants’ kitchens, making special dishes and dishing on what’s special to them. “What keeps me going?” Livi asks. “What else would I do? This is what I like to do!”
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