Spaghetti and meatballs? Sure. Rice and meatballs? Hmmm.
The latter is one of the more eyebrow-raising options offered at Bõl Italia, a month-old Italian fast-casual restaurant on the southwest corner of Alma School and Queen Creek roads in Chandler.
Bõl Italia is the brainchild of chef-owner Philip Occhipinti, who’s combining what he learned as a general manager at Chipotle with his passion for Italian food.
The result is a streamlined menu of eight pasta bowls, four rice bowls and four salad bowls. All are priced between $8 and $12, which includes tax.
Occhipinti, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, makes two pastas in-house: thick, long strands of fettucine, and even thicker, even longer ribbons of pappardelle.
“Toppings” range from Bõl Italia’s signature cheese-stuffed meatballs in marinara sauce, sautéed shrimp in a red pepper cream sauce, a red bell pepper pesto primavera and chicken alfredo, to name just four.
The menu lists set combinations like spaghetti and meatballs, but the order-taker at the counter told us we could any of the bowls with whichever pasta we wanted.
The rice bowls are built atop what Bõl Italia calls its “Italian rice,” which is pretty much just long-grain white rice, as far as I can tell.
The rice seems to work well with, say, chicken and broccoli, the heavily herbed poultry sautéed in a white wine and lemon butter sauce. It’s a little strange when combined with the meatballs and marinara.
Salad bowl choices are house, classic Caesar, Mediterranean and spicy crusted chicken. For an extra $2 you can add four slices of garlic bread that look a little like square English muffins.
If I could change one thing it’s that Bõl Italia wouldn’t be so stingy with the sauce. The heavy ribbons of pappardelle, three-quarters of an inch wide and more than a foot long, especially overwhelm the meager amount.
On one occasion, our meal took more than 20 minutes to arrive — the lone hustling server explained the kitchen was short-staffed that day — but on the others our food arrived in less than 10 minutes, making Bõl Italia a viable option for a quick lunch or dinner.
It’ll be interesting to see what Chandler residents think of Occhipinti’s idea.
The Valley, especially the southeast Valley, has become a mecca for family-friendly fast-casual concepts. But while we have our share of such places featuring Mexican- or Asian-inspired dishes — and even some noodles-based ones — true Italian choices have been rare.
Especially those serving meatballs and marinara over rice.
Where: 1065 W. Queen Creek Road (southwest corner of Alma School and Queen Creek roads)
Open: Lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday
Info: (480) 821-1401
First Taste reviews are based on initial visits to new East Valley restaurants. Full reviews only are written after a restaurant has been open at least a couple of months.