Along Scottsdale Road, the walls are about to come tumbling down. Time has run out for the Borgata, a shopping center modeled after a Tuscan village. With the city council’s recent approval of rezoning to allow condominiums to be built at the site, the Borgata’s demolition appears imminent and tenants have started to leave. One Borgata refugee, Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana, has found a new home in Downtown Phoenix. That’s a distance of 15 miles and a complete change in neighborhood, but Pomo seems a natural fit in its new surroundings.
|gamberi and rucola|
Pomo moved into the space along First Street formerly occupied by Sens. The space had been vacant since Johnny Chu decided to move his pan-Asian cooking to a new location in Midtown. It’s a prime spot within a few blocks of the Roosevelt / Central light rail station and in the stretch of First Street recently improved with a narrower road, more trees, and added bike racks, several of which also function as parking meters directly in front of the patio. It’s in the heart of a miniature restaurant row that seems to be coming back after a few setbacks.
|view from First Street|
To find Pomo, look for the two scooters parked by the patio. The attention to outdoor dining and decor signifies a departure from the dark and mysterious look associated with the former occupant. There a more open feel throughout the entire restaurant, a natural outcome of a decision to create a bar facing outward toward the street with counter seating both inside and outside. There’s another bar deeper in the interior, and, best of all, a three-seat counter with a view of the pizza oven, which is shaped like a beehive and about as busy as one.
Pomo is a full service operation and definitely not a place to order a slice at the counter. It’s one of a select group of pizzerias operating with the certification of the Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana, better known as VPN. The organization is committed to the traditions of pizza making established in the food’s city of origin, Naples. That means that Pomo, which has had the VPN seal since 2010, must adhere to strict standards regarding the origin of its ingredients, the authenticity of its technique, and the quality of its finished product.
With such strict enforcement of Italian tradition, it’s possible to envision some potential pitfalls. The first might be that tradition brings with an excessively formal atmosphere. That fear is put to rest the moment one observes that Pomo is a casual neighborhood spot as much as it is a destination pizzeria. Families with young children seem equally at home as solo diners at the bar. A second worry might be that tradition stymies originality. While you’re not going to find unusual cross-cultural pizza toppings here, there is some room for creativity on the menu.
Pomo’s menu is essentially pizza on one side and everything else on the other. Pizza is divided into three categories: “tradizionale,” meaning basic pies with either cow’s milk mozzarella (fior de latte) or buffalo mozzarella (bufala), as well as a cheeseless marinara pizza; “classica,” signifying the inclusion of meat and vegetable toppings while still maintaining the Neapolitan tradition; and “focaccia,” referring broadly here to a number of white pizzas, some made with standard pizza crust and some made with an airier, more leavened dough.
Neapolitan pizza is sometimes described as being soft to the point of soupy in the center. At Pomo, there’s a suggestion of that in the middle of the pie, but it’s restrained. For the most part, expect each slice to be thin and benefit from folding but not to flop uncontrollably if gripped with at the edge. With exception of the white pies, all include sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes. It’s possible but not encouraged for customers to designate their own toppings, but barring special dietary needs, it’s best to go with one of the pies on the menu.
|lasagne alla verdure|
Rucola and Gamberi combines shrimp with fresh, peppery arugula leaves for a lively mix of cold and hot toppings. The Principe does the same with arugula and prosciutto, a cured meat that appears on numerous pizzas at Pomo. Toto Sapore is the meatiest with not only prosciutto, but also salami, bacon, and sausage, all presented in their Italian variants. The Contradina is an equally hearty but meatless choice topped with red bell pepper, onions, olive, artichokes, and mushrooms. Fresh basil is a given on almost all the pies on the menu.
Beyond pizza, Pomo offers lasagna in both Bolognese and meatless varieties. Either way, expect many, many layers of pasta with bechamel sauce. All the salads are large enough for sharing. The Pollo is a straightforward mix of mesclun greens with pine nuts, grape tomatoes, and grilled chicken while the Romano is a classic Caesar. The two soups served, tomato and mushroom, are both creamy, viscous purees. At lunch only, there are half a dozen panini made with focaccia. They’re all large enough to suffice for two if paired with a soup or salad.
The wine selection is 100% Italian with a few surprises such as a Lambrusco Centenario sparkling red. Cocktails include specials such as the Vespa, a vodka-based homage to the scooters outside. Dessert standouts are the tiramisu and the Torta Nutella. With the migration of Pomo, Downtown Phoenix has benefited as Scottsdale is poised to lose the Borgata. Nevertheless, Scottsdale residents can enjoy the restaurant’s pizza at a newly opened second branch at Gainey Village. Mourn for the Borgata, but celebrate Pomo’s survival at either location.
705 N. 1st St., Phoenix AZ 85004
Roosevelt / Central Station