Meat Cute

Marilyn HawkesOctober 1, 2018
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Mortadella – aka “fancy bologna” – shrugs off its cold-cut origins on upscale Valley restaurant menus.

Nico Heirloom Kitchen
366 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert
Naysayers sometimes dismiss mortadella as “fancy bologna,” but the pistachio-and-fat-flecked pork sausage is rising in popularity among Valley chefs. To wit: Nico Heirloom Kitchen executive chef Albert Torrisi plates his head-turning Nico Benedict ($12.99, pictured) with slabs of imported mortadella in lieu of the usual Canadian bacon or ham suspects, piled on toasted focaccia. First, he cuts the mortadella thick and grills it to impart a smoky flavor, then tops it with sautéed spinach infused with lemon and garlic and two poached eggs draped with fiery chile butter. Eating mortadella reminds Torrisi of growing up in a predominantly Italian household. “While all my friends were eating bologna, I was eating mortadella,” he says. Bottom line? “Mortadella just has more flavor.”

Southern Rail Restaurant
300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix
When chef/owner Justin Beckett was developing Southern Rail’s menu, he went to New Orleans on a tasting mission. At the famed Central Grocery, he sampled a muffaletta sandwich that featured thinly sliced and layered mortadella, salami and provolone cheese with a briny olive salad, and vowed to duplicate it. Beckett’s version, the Muffaletta Po’boy ($13), features imported mortadella without pistachios because so many folks have nut allergies, he says. Beckett finishes the multilayered sammie with house-made pickles and Cajun aioli spiked with Crystal’s Hot Sauce. New Orleans’ cuisine is a mash up of many cultures, from French to Jamaican to Italian, hence the mortadella, Beckett says. He also whips up a hefty muffaletta burger ($14) topped with mortadella.

Roland’s Café Market Bar
1505 E. Van Buren St., Phoenix
Roland’s chef Armando Hernandez hails from Chihuahua, Mexico, where he grew up eating mortadella made in the region. “I just figured mortadella was Mexican. I didn’t realize it had an influence from [Italy],” he says. His abuela showered him with fried mortadella dishes, including tacos with scrambled eggs, pinto beans and salsa. Hernandez pays tribute to his roots with a mortadella quesadilla ($8) built on a house-made flour tortilla toasted in a wood-fire oven. The pizza-like cheese crisp sports chunks of olive-flecked mortadella and slivers of red onion nestled in melted asadero and mozzarella cheeses topped with avocado slices. “It’s a different take on what people think of as a quesadilla,” he says.

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