Dining

Making sense of Mezzo

The Italian menu is tough to tackle—because everything tastes so good

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Margherita pizza.
Photo: Beverly Poppe
Brock Radke

It’s difficult to order at Mezzo Bistro Italiano, a too-nice-for-its-neighborhood restaurant on North Rancho Drive at Craig Road. There’s a Kmart across the street, a car wash around the way, a liquor store and a Fatburger nearby. But the working-class shopping-center surroundings are not the cause for this indecision.

It’s the chalkboard. Posted high on the wall next to the kitchen in a quaint and comfortable dining room, all Tuscan’d out with wooden chairs, smooth brown tones and a long wine bar, is the specials board, and everything on it is pretty damn good. There’s probably a steak option, a fresh fish, a pasta and an appetizer that breaks away from the mostly Southern Italian menu at Mezzo. From the board, we’ve sampled a delicate seared tuna, a rich salmon in a bright vodka sauce, a petite filet with a rich gorgonzola sauce and a soulful veal Saltimbocca. One menu mainstay now unfortunately absent is the pasta Pappardelle, a delicate layered creation with wild-boar ragu. If you’re lucky, it’ll reappear on the chalkboard.

Restaurant Guide

Mezzo Bistro Italiano
Three and a half stars
4275 N. Rancho Drive, Suite 130, 944-8880.
Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 4-10 p.m.
Suggested dishes: wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas, $12; eggplant parmesan, $14; pasta Pappardelle, $18; Tuscan pork tenderloin, $18.

Tiramisu

Complicating things further is the consistency of the regular menu. You can go light with a basil-heavy Caprese salad or organic beet salad with sherry vinaigrette, and sew it up with some of the best Neapolitan-style pizza in town. (Mezzo serves the best thin-crust north of Sahara Avenue.) All these little pizzas are wonderful, baked in a super-hot wood-burning oven just long enough to caramelize the paper-thin, homemade crust. The Calabrese has salami and hot peppers, but check out the Parma: prosciutto and sliced figs.

Chef/owner Marc Sgrizzi has some longtime family recipes on the menu, like his dad’s double-thick bone-in pork chop spiced up with hot and sweet peppers and wild mushrooms, and a unique eggplant parmesan that crisps up perfectly even though it’s not breaded. Tradition and authenticity is important to the chef; when he opened Mezzo in March 2008, he had recently changed his last name from Ritz to the original family name after a trip to Calabria to strengthen his roots. Before that, the former boxer made his Vegas debut in 2000 with Marc’s World Cuisine on West Lake Mead Boulevard. After shape-shifting that restaurant into a steady Italian steakhouse, he sold it in 2006. Under different ownership, Marc’s survived until earlier this year. But Sgrizzi seems more comfortable at Mezzo, and his menu is more focused.

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Mezzo also boasts one of the strongest wine lists in the area; perhaps only Pip’s at Aliante Station is competitive. Happy hour specials, wine flights and couples’ night—30 percent off select bottles on Saturdays—only reinforce the family- or date-friendly mood at Mezzo.

Oh yeah, dessert … if you’re looking for a new guilty pleasure, it’s called Pizza Fritte here: butter-drenched homemade dough bits, fried crispy on the outside and cloud-puffy inside, dusted in powdered sugar. A big dish of these is highly unnecessary but highly addictive.

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