On our last visit to Mesa, Arizona, we caught a geographically convenient lunch at Oregano’s Pizza Bistro. (Tiki types in the Valley of the Sun should check out Hula’s Modern Tiki in Phoenix or pay their respects to Trader Vic’s Scottsdale, which closed in July 2011. The decor is being sold off piece by piece but the space is pretty much intact and being used for private events hosted by the Hotel Valley Ho.)
Anyway, Oregano’s serves up decent pizza and a heaping helping of nostalgia. Mark Russell founded the restaurant a decade ago to pay tribute to his father Lawrence Gibbilini, whose flair for cooking Italian food earned him the nickname “Lawrence of Oregano.”
Each of the dozen Arizona locations tries to evoke the feeling of a neighborhood Italian restaurant in Chicago from decades past. The dining rooms are filled with random kitsch like neon clocks, old wooden skis and surf boards covered with Christmas lights.
I was a bit surprised to see a mug shot for a young Frank Sinatra framed up on the wall. His crime? Seduction.
But the most interesting thing about Oregano’s is the menus, which graphic artist Jon Arvizu designed to look like retro album covers. There are several different styles but “Polynesian Paradise” features a hula girl pin-up and a tiki that looked rather familiar…
But then I remembered how that catalog has been “inspired” by photos in “The Book of Tiki,” and there it was when I flipped through my copy. The image illustrated author Sven Kirsten’s discovery that tikis from the original Luau in Beverly Hills somehow ended up at the Hanalei Hotel (now a Crowne Plaza) in San Diego. Double déjà vu!