Zane Grey left Payson in a huff — probably because there weren't any authentic Italian restaurants. Well, now there is.
Gerardo's Italian Bistro is located at 512 N. Beeline Highway in Payson. For more information, call 928-468-6500.
© Nick Berezenko
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By Leah Duran
Payson A placard that reads "Cucina Creativa Italiana" hangs on the wall of Gerardo's Italian Bistro in Payson. It's a testament to the innovative Italian dishes offered by Gerardo Moceri, the restaurant's owner and chef.
"Other people open Italian restaurants, but they've never cooked in Italy," says Moceri, who left his family's produce business in Detroit at the age of 19 to study in Italy under renowned chef Angelo Paracucchi. From there, he traveled to France, Switzerland and Mexico, learning the specialties of each area.
Today, Moceri brings his worldly influence to the tables at Gerardo's, which opened in 2000. For example, his appreciation for Asian cuisine inspired his use of Japanese-style panko breadcrumbs in his meatballs, while his time in Hawaii gave rise to his calamari Caesar salad.
Whatever culinary theme imbues his dishes, the staple of fresh ingredients never changes. Goat cheese for his specialty flatbread — an exquisite combination of chicken, basil, roasted red peppers and diced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil — comes from Fossil Creek Creamery, 15 minutes up the road in Strawberry. Tomatoes are shipped from Modesto, California, where Moceri once spent two days in the fields hand-picking the finest specimens.
The staff's favorite dish, Organic Capellini alla Checca, combines these imported tomatoes with fresh basil and garlic atop a bed of organic whole-wheat capellini sautéed with organic Italian extra virgin olive oil. "We like to toss shrimp and red chile flakes in it," Moceri says. "It's a nice dish that's very light."
On the heavier side, homemade lasagna baked to order by the slice oozes with ricotta, mozzarella and Romano cheeses. A miniature Italian flag tops off each mouthwatering piece. Of course, for many people, Italian means pizza, and the "Le Pizze" menu allows customers to get creative and style their own pies. Oak wood fires the brick oven where hand-thrown pizza dough bakes to thin, crispy perfection.
For a hands-on creative experience, Moceri offers cooking classes where participants can fashion thick, Sicilian-style pizza and fresh mozzarella cheese. For those who would rather watch the experts, Moceri plans to transform the rear storage section of the restaurant into an exhibition area where customers can observe chefs making pasta in the traditional Italian manner.
Meanwhile, the bar features exclusive wines from Small Vineyards, a Seattle-based company that imports wines from Italy. The labels are decorated with pictures of Moceri's relatives, echoing the importance of cultural tradition and heritage. The same themes show up in the photographs decorating the restaurant's mint- and brick-colored walls, and in the patrons themselves, who are treated like family.
"It's a simple family bistro," Moceri says. "We take our time."
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