First Dish: Source

Nikki BuchananFebruary 21, 2023
Share This

For a week or two there, it seemed as if every food-friend I spoke to had recently been to Source — Claudio Urciuoli’s new restaurant in Epicenter at Agritopia — and to a person, they raved about it. Many of the superlatives zeroed in on the bread, some declaring that Urciuoli’s bread-baking chops have reached an all-time high, others gushing more specifically, as in, “Oh my God! You’ve gotta try the ciabatta!” After my third or fourth conversation of this nature, I was pretty sure the universe was trying to tell me something.

So I headed out to Gilbert to visit Source, the new Mediterranean kitchen that Urciuloi co-owns with Thai Chili 2 Go founder Akshat Sethi. The first shocker (although it shouldn’t have been, given that Epicenter is new) is how different Source looks from the original 24th Street Pa’La, which Urciuoli co-founded with Omar Alvarez of Tortas Paquime in 2017, leaving last fall to begin his new partnership with Sethi. Outfitted with garage doors and industrial-style shelves holding wines, olive oils and other imported foodstuffs, Source looks sleek and modern, while Pa’La, housed in a vintage bungalow, has always conveyed a certain funkiness and Old-World charm. Both, however, exude simplicity and an utter lack of pretention, much like Urciuoli himself.

As is true at Pa’La, orders are taken at the counter and food arrives on compostable paper plates. At Source, however, Pa’La’s chalkboard has been replaced by a digital menu featuring salads, sandwiches, pizza, a grain bowl and a handful of snacks, many involving bread.  Wines-by-the-glass are on offer as well, served in small European-style glassware.

Here, breads and pizzas are not cooked in a wood-burning hearth but rather a Swedish oven that Urciuoli says is great for bread-baking. I’m sure he’s right on that, but I’m going to give the man himself most of the credit for this incredible stuff. Faintly crispy, flour-dusted ciabatta, full of holes inside, is wonderfully moist, almost silky in texture, a bread that offers a slight chewiness. I could eat it all day.

In fact, everything on the menu that involves flour is insanely good, starting with triangles of crackly flatbread, sprinkled with earthy, savory za’atar, which serve as accompaniment to a textural swirl of chermoula-laced hummus, a faintly grainy combo of chickpeas and controne. The latter is Salerno’s famously creamy white heirloom bean ($9). Rivulets of fruity olive oil (so fresh it’s faintly bitter) settle within the swirls of the hummus, a familiar dish bearing little resemblance to the traditionally silky versions, redolent with garlic and lemon, to which we’re accustomed. Trust me, you’ll love the subtle difference.

In an interview I conducted with Urciuoli many years ago at now defunct Noca, he told me that lunch for him might be a piece of bread and a bit of cheese. It was stunning information for a gluttonous American like me, and as I looked at the “antipastino” (little antipasto plate, $15) at Source, the memory of that conversation came back to me. Here is a snack or light lunch for someone who eats simply but well — a few rounds of rich, fatty salametto (coarsely ground salami, aromatic with garlic), a few crumbly hunks of pecorino Toscano (mild sheep’s milk cheese), buttery Castelvetrano olives, spicy almonds, a spoonful of intensely concentrated tomato jam and those dry crumbly crackers Urciuoli has always served (and I’ve always loved).

Another dish that seamlessly blends Italian traditions with those of the Mediterranean combines North African merguez sausage — spicy-sweet and texturally dense — with seared, crisp-at-the-edges polenta and tomato-pepper ragu. Another little tapa that packs a wallop ($15). Meanwhile, the pizza is so light it stops just short of being air, offering a burnished crust, a bit of tomato, red onion and mountain oregano, a whisper of mozzarella cheese and juicy chunks of spicy Italian sausage from Arcadia Meat Market. It’s stellar. Who needs a wood-burning oven?

After the first bite of the Island Trollers tuna sandwich ($15), I find myself wishing I’d ordered the ham and cheese sandwich (made with rosemary ham from Fra’Mani) instead. But there’s something to be said for this subtle combo, assembled on ciabatta with sashimi-grade albacore tuna (wild, troll-caught), braised endive and tapenade. It grows on me, this unlikely combination, offering up little hits of richness, salt, sweetness and bitterness.

Urciuoli understands the power of simple ingredients presented with very little manipulation. In fact, he probably understood that principle, deep in his bones, long before Wolfgang Puck famously said, “We buy the best ingredients and try not to f*@# them up.” One of the city’s most meticulous sourcers does just that at Source.

3150 W. Ray Rd., Gilbert,


For more than 50 years, PHOENIX magazine's experienced writers, editors, and designers have captured all sides of the Valley with award-winning and insightful writing, and groundbreaking report and design. Our expository features, narratives, profiles, and investigative features keep our 385,000 readers in touch with the Valley's latest trends, events, personalities and places.