There’s a little corner of Italy just east of Summerlin — Maru’s Pizza & Italian Bistro. Step inside, and you’ll be greeted by host Gaetano Naccarato, whose accent gives away his Italian roots.
His sense of humor is immediately apparent. “Where would you like to sit? Ocean view?” he joked.
No one knows the menu better, and Naccarato is quick to suggest a multitude of options, citing the ingredients and method of preparation. All the long pastas are made in house, as are the dressings, tomato sauces, pizza and focaccia doughs. Orders are not written down, as Naccarato remembers everything.
After your order is in, and if you’ve the inclination to ask, he’ll tell you of his upbringing in picturesque Termini Imerese, Sicily, and of the Fiat plant that closed there in 2011 after 41 years. He’ll also tell you about the way the setting sun’s rays slanted just so on the countryside.
Naccarato has long been an associate of Rosa Llamas, who owns Maru’s, 8125 W. Sahara Ave., Suite 170. Originally from Argentina, Llamas said Italian and Argentine cuisine are similar, as Argentine people have close roots to Italians and Spaniards.
Llamas owned a restaurant in Argentina for 10 years and opened another, Sony Bistro, in La Jolla, Calif., which she had for nearly three years. Now, she’s moving to Las Vegas and plans to open more Maru’s locations by 2016. Maru is her mother’s nickname. She is known for her pizza recipe, and all of the recipes used at Maru’s are family recipes.
“My vision is to make it a place for locals … to make the customer happy,” Llamas said.
The 1,700-square-foot location was formerly a pizza eatery, but Llamas brought a sense of sophistication to the place, overhauling the interior with a new kitchen and paying attention to the dining area with upgraded seating and canary colored walls accented by dark colors. Antique pieces, iron artwork and clever signs dot the walls. One of them reads, “I only eat pizza on days ending in Y.”
The business has been open since the beginning of the year.
“When we took it over, people thought we just changed the name and that we were the same (operation),” Naccarato said. “When people got to know us, we saw business pick up.”
Maru’s menu is extensive, barely fitting on the tri-fold menu. The key word is fresh — fresh dairy, meats, sauces and vegetables. The crispy zucchini fritti, for example, uses fresh-from-the garden zucchini, which can be dipped in marinara or the house-made ranch dressing.
Chef Oscar Chaves said the secret to the ranch dressing is making it by hand.
“The ranch, we used to buy,” he said. “I told the owner, we need to change the ranch. So, I changed it and fixed it.”
Pizzas run the gamut from pepperoni to more exotic choices, such as quattro formaggi with Gorgonzola, mozzarella, Parmesan and Asiago cheeses. Then there’s chicken Alfredo pizza with Alfredo sauce, grilled chicken and mozzarella. Pizza is sold by the slice, which is good for the lunch crowd.
Chaves said the key to the pizza is the water used in the dough, resulting in a light crust that doesn’t weigh down the stomach.
Steve Keating has lived in the area for 10 years and said he frequents mom-and-pop establishments.
“Why? I’ll give you a good example,” he said. “I went to (a famous pizza chain) a couple weeks ago and ordered pizza. I had chicken on it. When I bit into it, it felt like there was a beak in it. You don’t get that in places like this.”
Empanadas come in five styles, as do the salads. There are also sandwiches, stromboli, calzones and pinwheels.
Specialty dishes include various types of pastas in different combinations. Maru’s is one of the few places to offer aglio e olio, spaghetti with garlic in olive oil. Ravioli is stuffed with chicken or ricotta, and linguine alle vongole mixes homemade noodles with white or red clam sauce.
Vegans will be happy to see a section devoted to them, including meatballs made of chickpeas.
What’s the secret to Italian food?
“The secret is cooking with love, with passion,” Chaves said. “When you’re cooking from your heart, everything is good. People love this food.”
Maru’s Pizza & Italian Bistro is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 702-979-9222 or visit maruspizza.com.
Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 702-387-2949.