One might ask why a vegetarian would dine at a restaurant that bills itself as a “chophouse,” but with such a large variety of delectable meatless dishes, the better question to ask is why more vegetarians don’t frequent it?
Located inside Gila River Casinos’ Lone Butte Casino in Chandler, Verona Chophouse revamped its menu and added more than 20 new Tuscan-inspired dishes that are sure to awaken your taste buds.
When our group of three was ushered in, we were greeted not only by the host, but also by the pasta room where pasta is handmade daily. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.
As we were escorted to our table there was a tantalizing aroma coming from the restaurant’s new sizzling pasta station in the outdoor patio area where a chef makes the Italian sizzling skillets. A water fountain and trees make for a serene ambiance in the patio. There’s no need to worry about the heat, the misters will abolish those concerns.
Instead of browsing through the menu endlessly, our waitress went through it entirely and highlighted house favorites which eased the ordering process.
For our appetizers we selected the Verona Trio, which included Bruschetta, spinach artichoke dip, crab stuffed mushrooms and fried calamari. I sampled only the meatless items, but they did not disappoint.
I just about finished the Bruschetta by myself. The Italian baguette was toasted to perfection, topped with Roma tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and olive oil; the fresh basil set off a taste explosion in my mouth.
The spinach artichoke dip was hands down the best I have ever tasted. I am not a fan of greasy food and many times it’s not negotiable when you throw cheese into the mix, but the dip had the benefit of great taste, without the greasy side effect. It was the perfect blend of spinach and artichoke with neither flavor overpowering the other. Instead, they created an ideal fusion of flavors. I almost wanted to ditch the garlic bread and eat it right out of the bowl with a spoon, but I restrained myself. We were at a classy place after all.
Executive chef Brian Lawlor was gracious enough to make me an order of crab-stuffed mushrooms sans the meat. It was easily a table favorite even among the meat alternatives. The bread-crumb coating, which contained roasted peppers, zucchini, onions and parmesan cheese among other ingredients, was gently crisped on the outside, while nice and moist on the inside. The succulent flavor of the mushroom was a perfect complement to the bread concoction.
One of our dining partners who sampled the fried calamari said it is one of those appetizers that are either hit or miss depending on the restaurant. He added, however, that Verona did not disappoint. “It was lightly breaded, seasoned, and had just the right consistency,” he said.
Given the choice of soup or salad I opted for the Tuscan tomato soup, which was my dinner favorite. Freshly ground pepper gave it just the right kick. My mouth watered as I took the first spoonful. I could have walked out of the restaurant after that, completely and over-the-top satisfied, but curiosity got the best of me so I stayed for the main course.
My entrée choice was the wild mushroom fettuccine. It was a mushroom lover’s dream brought to life. Portobello, shiitake and domestic mushrooms were sauteed with fresh spinach and roasted garlic cream sauce and combined with fresh handmade fettuccine. The fettuccine was light and tasty. If anyone ever says boxed pasta is just as good as homemade, they’ve clearly never tried fresh, handmade pasta. I paired by meal with a glass of Lungarotti Pinot Grigio, its bold taste complemented the entrée perfectly without overpowering it while leaving a pleasant aftertaste.
A fellow dinner partner ordered the Linguini Pescatore. It was a combination of jumbo shrimp and mussels tossed in a white wine garlic sauce. He said it was not overwhelming, adding that the Roma tomatoes and parsley added a nice taste.
Amazingly enough, we actually had room for dessert, and were treated to the array of Verona’s desserts. We sampled the cannoli, spumoni, tiramisu, crème brûlée and chophouse chocolate cake.
The cannoli, a crisp shell filled with Mascarpone creme, chocolate chips and a drizzle of chocolate sauce, was a fine selection. Spumoni is a great choice if you forget to save room for dessert because of its light texture. Layers of cherry, chocolate and pistachio ice cream were topped with brandied cherries, whipped cream, pecans and hot fudge drizzle.
The Chophouse chocolate cake had a bolder taste. It was filled with butter cream and covered in dark chocolate ganache. If you love sweets, this is the dessert for you.
My favorite dessert was the crème brûlée, which was not overwhelmingly sweet, just as I like it. To conclude our visit to the Verona Chophouse, we were served a “special” coffee, which is custom blended for the restaurant. The Italian blend was developed to match the menu and went great with the desserts. It was rich and smooth on its own. There was no need to add cream or sugar, a testament to how flavorful it was.
Our experience at Verona was wonderful. The staff was friendly, attentive and accommodating. Chef Lawlor personally delivered our dishes and explained how each was prepared and what ingredients he used.
We already have made plans to return for the Sunday brunch, which features a buffet and live jazz music.