Meat Cute

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Three Bites Issue: October 2018
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Mortadella – aka “fancy bologna” – shrugs off its cold-cut origins on upscale Valley restaurant menus.

photo by Angelina AragonNico Heirloom Kitchen
366 N. Gilbert Rd., Gilbert
480-584-4760, nicoaz.com
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
602-200-0085, southernrailaz.com
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
602-441-4749, rolandsphx.com
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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