By Leah Duran | Photo by Nick Berezenko
A placard that reads, “Cucina Creativa Italiana” hangs on the wall of Gerardo’s Firewood Café 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.
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.
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.”
Gerardo's Firewood Café is located at 512 N. State Route 87 in Payson. For more information, call 928-468-6500 or visit www.gerardosfirewoodcafe.com.