Photo by Leah LeMoine
I am embarrassed by how many times I have driven by locations of Picazzo’s Healthy Italian Kitchen without giving it a second thought. I think for many years I assumed it was a gluten-free version of Panera Bread – an unremarkable chain bakery/cafe. Why would I go out of my way to eat there when I could support our homegrown bakery/cafe, Wildflower?
Then my friend Elaina started working with Picazzo’s. She told me it was locally owned (say what?), specialized in gluten-free and allergy-sensitive foods (plus vegan and keto/Paleo options), had locations Valleywide as well as in Sedona, and had a delicious Healthy Hour menu in lieu of your average grease-loaded HH offerings. I love grease as much as the next gal, but when you write a weekly happy hour blog, you start looking for some lighter ports in the potato skin storm. Elaina graciously set up a media sampling and I swooped by the North Scottsdale location to pick it up.
It was one of the first truly hot days of 2021, and the relief and shock I felt upon walking into the restaurant cannot be overstated. It was icy cool and clean. I don’t know if I have ever seen such a pristine eatery. Surfaces were not only spotless, they were gleaming. And it felt like a chic little restaurant with a sleek bar, nice wineglasses, lush plants and chandeliers, not at all the hokey bakery I’d wrongly assumed it to be. The happy surprises carried through to the food.
Photo by Leah LeMoine
There are a lot of unfortunate stereotypes about gluten-free food, and they can be true. The key to shattering them, I’ve found, is texture – and not losing flavor in the pursuit of texture. Picazzo’s handles this challenge deftly, churning out the best gluten-free pizza crust I’ve ever had and sturdy yet tender focaccia that crumbles in a satisfying, cornbread-like way, not due to structural unsoundness.
Spread that focaccia with a heaping spoonful of hot artichoke spinach dip ($7), a thick and creamy version of the classic app that is also delectable spread on vegan flatbread or swirled around fresh multicolored carrot sticks (a nice aesthetic touch that also shows you they aren’t phoning it in with sad baby carrots). It’s also fabulous dunked into the chunky tomato sauce that Mama’s Meat-za Balls ($8) are swimming in. The springy, perfectly moist turkey meatballs are lavishly garnished with fresh basil, which elevates and enlivens the whole dish. These aren’t clunky, super dense meatballs that leave you feeling sluggish. They’re light and bright and tasty.
More indulgent is the cheese bread ($6), which boasts mozzarella, Cheddar and garlic-herb Parmesan and a dish of zingy tomato sauce for dipping. I’m sure this is the kind of dish that celiac sufferers fear they’ll never be able to enjoy again. How lovely that they can have a cheesy, carb-y, gloriously gluttonous moment sans gluten. I’d order this cheese bread even if presented with a glutenous option.
Photo by Leah LeMoine
Baked wings ($8) are among several dishes that can fall in line with keto/Paleo diets. We enjoyed the Italian seasoned wings, which tasted like the most delicious roasted chicken. A side of vinegary yet balanced Buffalo sauce provided zippy bursts of heat, but I couldn’t stop dipping carrot sticks in the Omega-3 ranch, which takes the classic dressing and amps up the umami and sweetness. Mega yum.
Avocado toast was so much more interesting than the average specimen, with peppery arugula, crisp watermelon radishes, slivered almonds and a lip-smacking lemon-garlic dressing stealing the show. I could eat the toppings alone as a salad and be a happy lady. Other healthy hour dishes that I’ll try next time: Italian herb mushroom and polenta ($6) and baked Brie ($7).
The pizza ($20-$32) is not part of the healthy hour specials, but it’s worth ordering, anyway. We tried the elote pie, topped with gooey cheese, fresh sweet corn, red onion rings, cilantro and a lightly spicy drizzle redolent of chile. I’ve had GF pizza plenty of times before, and it’s never tasted like this, with a plush, stretchy crust baked to a delish golden brown. I would come back for this pizza alone – especially now that I know what Picazzo’s is all about. No more passing it by.
Local draft beers are just $4, and house wines by the glass are $5. Indulge in Zo’s House-Made Sangria for $6 a glass. Signature cocktails like vodka-spiked raspberry limeade, prickly pear margarita, AZ old-fashioned and the Cucumber Basil Breeze (Arcadia #Cucumber Vodka, cucumber, basil, lime, cranberry and simple syrup) are $7 each.
Healthy hour runs daily from 3-6 p.m. Dine-in only.