Just about everyone has heard the saying “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” When it comes to new apartment construction, that wisdom is debated as the need for housing and density is weighed against the benefits of fine-grained development. Muse, the apartment building at the northwest corner of Central and McDowell may not be perfect, but it has a major strength: a record of attracting local, independent businesses to its retail space. One of those establishments is appropriately named “In Perfetto,” incorporating the Italian word for “perfect.”
In Perfetto started as a gelateria, serving a broader selection of the same frozen dessert found at its neighbor and sibling Forno 301. In a short time, it has evolved to become a fast-casual restaurant with equal emphasis on gelato and “rustic bites,” a selection of salad, sandwiches, and appetizers ideal for a casual lunch or even a hearty snack. All this has taken place in a ground floor retail spot facing Central directly opposite the Phoenix Art Museum.The McDowell / Central light rail station is diagonally across the street on the south side of the intersection.
Muse addresses Central Avenue with wide sidewalks, clever red bikes racks in the shape of Arizona, and inviting benches. One not-so-perfetto detail to beware of is the Muse driveway, found north of In Perfetto. Motorists have been observed racing out of the garage without stopping to check for pedestrians before turning onto Central. Thankfully, that hazard lies outside the typical walking path between the station and the restaurant. Regardless of the direction of approach, In Perfetto can be identified by its outdoor seating and chalkboard sign.
Inside, there’s seating at small two-top tables that can be reconfigured as needed for larger groups. A counter runs the length of the establishment. As expected, there’s a refrigerated case full of gelato, but that’s only a portion of what’s on display. Charcuterie, fresh loaves of crusty bread, and imported Italian products are also showcased and available to take home. A small printed menu lists the regularly available sandwiches, salads, and snacks. A chalkboard near the counter supplements those offerings with a daily soup and often several special dishes.
There’s always at least one soup available, and all of them sampled have been hearty enough to serve as a meal, especially when paired with the lightly toasted slices of house-made bread that come with every bowl. Recent choices have included minestrone, an Italian classic; lentil with vegetables; and a simple but effective chicken and vegetable soup full of satisfying chunks of poultry, potato, and squash. Bruschetta is also a chalkboard special with a recently featured topping combination of tomato, lean roast beef, shaved parmesan, and fresh basil.
In Perfetto’s salads are copious bowls of greenery, sufficient as a light meal when paired with the same bread that accompanies the soups and serves as the foundation of the bruschetta. A spinach salad speaks to the simplicity of the shop’s approach. High quality fresh ingredients are allowed to speak for themselves. In this case big leaves of spinach are tossed with slivers of parmesan, chopped walnuts, and hunks of tomato. The dressing on the side may look like orange marmalade, but it’s a pleasant surprise to find that it’s more spicy than sweet.
A pasta salad, the cold caprese is equally successful. A big bowl is filled with chilled, al dente orecchiette tossed with coarsely torn basil leaves, halved grape tomatoes, and ciliegine, bite-sized balls of fresh mozzarella. The resulting mix is dressed is little more than extra virgin olive oil, making this dish yet another exercise in restraint and minimalism with compelling results. As a pasta alternative for those avoiding wheat or refined grains for whatever reason, spaghetti squash is often available as a chalkboard special topped with marinara sauce.
A panini press behind the counter is put to use every day for a sandwich of roast beef, tomatoes, and provolone. It also works unexpectedly well in the creation of a chicken wrap, an item that might not typically be expected on an Italian menu. The grill marks and gentle warmth imparted to the tortilla make this sandwich more supple and satisfying than the typical wrap. Other sandwiches appear intermittently on the board. A recent vegetarian sandwich special features fresh mozzarella, spinach, tomato, and avocado, all lightly dressed with pesto.
With these savory choices, it might be easy to forget that In Perfetto is a gelateria. The eleven flavors on display should serve as quick reminder, though. Traditional favorites include bacio, a blend of chocolate and hazelnut; stracciatella, with shavings of chocolate in a sweet cream base; and mascarpone, made with creamy cheese. Tropical fruit flavors may include mango, pineapple, banana, or passion fruit. In Perfetto doesn’t offer a huge array of toppings, but there is the option to pair any flavor with fresh strawberries or to add espresso to create an affogato.
The beverage selection is currently limited to iced tea and bottled sodas and sparkling waters; however, there is a plan to add beer and wine in the near future. When that occurs, expect more menu choices such as charcuterie boards and the addition of evening hours. Debate will no doubt continue about the ways in which new apartment construction affects the urban fabric. All new residential buildings may not always be seen as perfect, but when enjoying some gelato or a panino in a city setting, it’s hard to argue with the good found in places like In Perfetto.
1616 N. Central Ave. #103, Phoenix AZ 85004
McDowell / Central Station