A taste of Italy

Whether it was called Franco’s Trattoria, or Franco’s Italian Caffe, for 30 years (off and on), there has been a Chef Franco Fazzuoli restaurant serving hungry Arizonans. There have been four different locations over the years, with each incarnation having a special offering. Franco’s Italian Caffe, in the heart of Scottsdale, is an intimate dining experience featuring fine Italian food at Franco’s famously moderate prices.

Franco’s restaurants have always enjoyed a loyal following of customers, and have long been “special occasion” restaurants, where anniversaries and birthdays are often celebrated. Franco’s Italian Caffe is more of a cozy spot, without large tables, where couples or parties of four can find a gourmet meal with prestige but no pressure.

One of my favorite Arizona stories is how Franco hired a former governor of Arizona, with no experience, to be a pastry chef at his restaurant. You may be old enough to remember J. Fife Symington, III, the 19th governor of Arizona, who was found guilty on seven counts of bank fraud (the convictions were later overturned) and was forced by Arizona law to resign as governor. Symington reinvented himself by going to culinary school, and upon graduation, went to work at Franco’s Trattoria located in the Camelback Esplanade, which oddly enough, was one of Symington’s former properties included in his trial. People flocked to the restaurant to see the former governor toiling in the kitchen where one of his best recipes is still featured on the menu today at Franco’s: Governor’s Chocolate Cake.

For this experience, an adorably petite Italian friend joined me – who can eat like nobody’s business – as I needed back up. Franco’s can be rich, and heavily sauced, and then there were the heavenly desserts I remembered from other locations.

Quick note: The restaurant’s menu descriptions are sparse, so the ones you see are my best attempt. Over the course of a few visits, this is what we had:

Portobello Mushroom   $11.00
(Roasted, sliced and drizzled with a vinaigrette)

Grilled veggie and mushroom lovers as we are, we couldn’t resist ordering this appetizer. A generous serving of thickly sliced, beautifully charred portobello arrived for us to share. It was still hot from the grill, had a wonderful texture and a smoky flavor. The vinaigrette added a nice, almost citrus tang – complimenting the meaty mushroom. A must try.

Bufala Mozzarella and Tomato   $14.00
(Fresh mozzarella over sliced tomato, served with an arugula salad and vinaigrette)

Another beautiful appetizer served as fresh as it could be. The cheese had almost a cream texture which complemented with firm and flavorful tomato. No drizzle of balsamic, as most restaurants do, but I did not miss it. There were only two slices of tomato and cheese which I felt was a bit sparse (probably because I loved it so much) but the side salad was plentiful and delicious. I truly enjoyed the bitterness of the fresh arugula with the sweet, citrusy and I believe parmesan-laden tangy dressing. I remember saying to my friend, “It is times like this I think I could become a vegetarian.”

Ravioli   $19.50
(Ravioli stuffed with Ricotta Romana cheese and spinach, served with a tomato basil sauce)

A small mountain of ravioli was laid before me, and I’m glad there were two of us because it was deceptively rich. All fresh ingredients wrapped in a sometimes firm noodle, each bite was mouthwatering. The sauce was very nice and ample. I found it a little salty for my taste; my eating-machine friend did not. There was none to take home, so I guess that tells you we liked it just fine.

Filet Mignon All’Arrabiata   $38.00
(Two pieces of filet cooked to order and covered in a spicy red sauce, served with carrots, spinach and roasted potatoes)

All’Arrabiata is a red Italian sauce made from garlic, tomatoes and red chili peppers, all cooked in olive oil. Personally, I wouldn’t call it spicy, but I guess there is a little bit of heat to it. The filet was excellent, cooked to perfection (medium rare, just like I ordered) and some of the most tender, melt-in-your-mouth steak I’ve had in a long time. For me, there was a bit too much sauce which almost drowned this beautiful steak, so being resourceful, I simply scraped some off. The veggies were all nicely done but played second fiddle for sure to the main event.  All of this and a nice price, too – for a filet.

Tiramisu   $8.75
(Traditional coffee flavored Italian custard made with ladyfingers and topped with cocoa)

This dessert has all of the flavors of a delightful tiramisu, especially with the cocoa topping, but fell a little flat for the both of us on texture. It was very wet. It made it a little soggy for me, though I must confess, we ate the entire dessert.

Governor’s Chocolate Cake   $8.75
(Generous slice of chocolate layered cake with chocolate filling and chocolate icing)

It turns out that Governor Symington is a much better pastry chef than he was a governor. It is a heavenly slice of chocolate cake with layers of chocolate mousse filling. Almost like an ice box cake, served cold, as it should be. If you are sharing, be quick with your fork because this one is going to disappear. This cake is no crime.

Franco’s Italian Caffe is a gourmet restaurant with white linen tablecloths, but it manages that without being stuffy or pretentious. Instead, you find a relaxed, easy-going atmosphere with friendly staff who knows their menu. They are only open for dinner, and the meal always begins with a complimentary basket of assorted bread and oil. There’s no rush, take your time, enjoy your meal, and make sure you come back for more.

Franco’s Italian Caffe
4327 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale

Contact A. Noshman at [email protected]

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