Mortimer Sánchez

Chub Med

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Andy and Debbie Pappas

When I wandered into La Piccola Cucina for lunch, I thought I was walking into a traditional, sit-down-and-order restaurant. I paced around at the front counter waiting to be seated while a group paid their bill. Seated where, I didn’t know – I only saw three tables. I’d already circled the restaurant three times in search of their parking lot, before stealing a space by McAlpine’s diner.

Finally, someone directed me to order from a food case at the back of what was once the living room in a small converted house of the Coronado district. There a cheerful young man waited to help me figure out the mediteranean smorgasbord in the case.

I looked through the glass, spying the Le Menu lunch special ($9.95) options; one main dish, two sides and a drink. Roast pork tenderloin tempted me from its plate on the top shelf. Chicken Provencál fought with it for attention. Slices of beef roast just made me hungrier. The side options included ratatouille, grilled eggplant, beets, farfalle, orzo, asparagus and… then a chef slipped a new steaming container of grilled zucchini into place. Oh, I was sold!

I chose the zucchini, potato medallions and pork tenderloin stuffed with what looked like rosemary and other spices. It was drizzled with some sort of red reduction sauce.

I was handed a number and found myself a seat by the window, looking out on several patio tables, umbrellas advertising Mokarabia coffee, and the blur of lunchtime traffic on 7th Street as I waited.

Soon after my plate of food and a green tea were laid down, a hefty man in a confidently red t-shirt strolled out, looking… well… confident. Spotting my dish, he apologized for the reduction sauce not having figs because he ran out. Instead it was a pomegranate balsamic reduction. Ah, the owner – Andy Pappas. Or, as he calls himself, the “executive.”

I shoveled the first bite in my mouth and sampled the flavors. There was no need to complain. While an odd combination, the savor of the pork and sweet tang of the sauce grew on me, and I only wished he’d drizzled more on my plate. The potatoes were sprinkled with red pepper and a touch of garlic. I was surprised by the fresh flavors from something I thought would taste like it had been lounging in a foodcase all morning.

Then, while I devoured my charred zucchini, a group of women wandered out from a back room of seating to gaze into a dessert case. The man who’d chatted me up wandered off to made quick work of wooing his customers. Then, to their surprise, he broke into a baritone fragment of opera. By the time he’d finished, all three women stood with cups of gelato and spoons held close to their wide smiles.

Wandering past me, the owner looked down to my plate, “Oh! you’re still eatin’. Good. You didn’t throw it away.” He disappeared into the back room to regale more customers with enthusiasm. I didn’t disappoint either, leaving nothing on my plate for the trashcan.

In addition to the Le Menu special, several sandwiches are available for $7.95. They’ll let you bring a bottle of wine in, and they avoid charging a corking fee by offering smaller glasses to drink from. I found there’s another dining room in the back. So don’t be frightened by what looks like a lack of seating. But parking spots behind the restaurant are limited. And don’t worry, the owner entertains you for free!

La Piccola Cucina
Open Mon.-Sat, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
2241 N. 7th Street, Phoenix
(602) 358-7415

Mort’s Torts
5 tortillas is damn sabroso, but 1… Well now, that’s a nice tasty plate of cardboard
This place gets 4 out of 5

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