The smoked meats and homemade sauces at Fresco Pizzeria & Pastaria are serious game-changers for the Italian food scene in Tucson.
Owner Mat Cable bought and renamed the joint in 2008 when it was the last slice standing in a failing pizza delivery franchise. He blew open the wall to the business next door to incorporate a dining room for his patrons, then completely scrapped the original concept and redeveloped the menu with house-made ingredients.
Renovating on a budget, he used his carpentry skills to make his own bar-top tables. He kept the décor simple — red, green, and white accents dress up the glossy wooden floors, and tin streetlight-style lamps hang overhead. The decorations extend to vintage photographs of his half-Italian family.
While creating the menu, Cable went above and beyond the average pizza-shop classics. He chose to incorporate wholesome salads, calzones, parmesan-style oven-baked subs, and a mountain of linguini, fettuccini, ravioli, and other pasta favorites. The pizzas are available in a number of flavors, with vegetarian, Greek, white-sauce ricotta, barbecue, 5-Alarm! extra-spicy, and vegan as just a handful of the varieties.
Diners are welcome to create their own cheesy (or not) concoctions, as well. Gluten-free crusts are available with the 12" but the regular crust is available with sizes ranging from the personal 10” to the extra large 16”.
A large list of appetizers grace the menu, including cheese, and garlic variations of the basic breadstick. The Superstix ($6) are similar to garlic knots, with a crispy salted outer layer hugging a soft and fluffy inside. They're served with the house marinara to add bright saucy sweetness.
But one of Fresco's strengths - something they don't really market - is their house-made meat.
"We cure and smoke pork belly for bacon and pork loin for Canadian bacon, grind and stuff two types of sausage in-house — Italian and smoked andouille — and we hand-roll every meatball from Angus chuck," Cable said.
While the house-made meats are the star, other less common pizza toppings, like shrimp, chorizo, Jamaican jerk chicken, Kalamata olives, pine nuts, capers, and roasted green chile, make appearances.
For those going the pasta route, the Lasagna ($11) is rather famous among guests. Al dente pasta gets layered with thick chunky marinara, homemade meatballs, and a generous helping of soft and creamy ricotta. A fork will suffice for the meal - no knife needed. Crisp bread is served on the side, providing a vessel to mop up the cheese and extra sauce.
A handful of salads are available as entrées or to be served alongside your delightful carb-laden feast. The Vegi Salad (half $6, dinner $9.75) is a winner for the sun-dried tomato balsamic vinaigrette alone. The robust dressing is drizzled over tender greens, white mushrooms, artichoke hearts, and crunchy bell pepper, offering a sweet tanginess to contrast the rich balsamic.
For beverages, Fresco stocks several local favorites including Yellow Brick Coffee nitro cold brew. There's a rotating selection of Barrio Brewing Co., Thunder Canyon Brewery, and Chandler’s The Perch Brewery beers among fountain drinks and teas. In addition, New York Style Cheesecake ($5) and fresh gooey Chocolate Chip Cookies ($2.25) are available to grab before you roll merrily out the door.
Fresco is located at 3011 E. Speedway Blvd. Operating hours are 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information, call (520) 881-5555 or visit frescopizzeria.com.