Tastes of Sicily: Brugos brings authentic Italian to Cave Creek
By Jordan Houston
Christina McDonald says her mother was the first American to marry into her father’s Sicilian family. The Cave Creek resident jokingly recalls her father’s family, the Cefalus, asking her mother to sign off on two terms before wedding — to practice Catholicism and to master Italian cooking.
“She had to agree to sign a contract to raise us as Catholics and also to learn how to cook Italian,” McDonald shares, noting her grandmother at the time did not speak English nor did her mother speak Italian.
Fast forward to the present, McDonald continues a time-honored line of Italian family-owned restaurants, including Alioto’s on the Wharf of San Francisco, Swirl in Santa Rosa and Balistreri’s in Milwaukee, and she’s continuing the legacy in Cave Creek.
McDonald, alongside her husband Troy, helms the revered community staple Brugos Pizza Co. & Bistro, located at Stagecoach Village at 7100 E. Cave Creek Road, Suite 150.
The Italian eatery has built a reputation for itself over the last decade as a home away from home featuring authentic Cefalu dishes, such as homemade lasagnas and savory pizzas, in a casual yet fine dining atmosphere.
“It is a labor of love for sure. If you’re just doing it for the money, it’s not going to work,” McDonald says. “It’s like having people over to my house for dinner — it’s the same feeling you get at Thanksgiving or Christmas, only I get it every day — the anxiety and joy. It’s remarkable.”
The scratch menu boasts dinner specials such as chicken marsala, shrimp scampi, chicken piccata, fancy cheese tortellini and chicken Parmesan. It offers award-winning pizzas, including the Mama Mia Spicy Hot Italian, as well as fresh salads and cheesy breadsticks.
A take-and-bake feature, inspired during the COVID-19 lockdowns, is also available at the eatery.
“Almost everything is made from scratch and made to order, which, consequently, takes more time,” McDonald shares. “Every pizza is hand-rolled; every sauce is made from scratch. We cook our own sausage, make our own dough and roast our own garlic — there are so few canned goods.”
The gourmet pizzas are comprised of an all-natural family dough recipe, producing a soft and flavorful crust. The long-rise traditional dough is also milled slowly for “optimal water absorption.”
Toppings for the hand-spun pies are seasonal and procured locally when possible, including savory cured meats, imported cheeses, homemade sauces, and fresh produce and greens.
“Troy rules the kitchen, and I rule the front,” McDonald expresses. “Even though they’re my recipes, he has a huge background in shipping.” She adds that her husband is meticulous about examining and ensuring that all imports of produce or ingredients are fresh and high quality.
But delicious food isn’t Brugos’ only selling point.
The Italian restaurant’s atmosphere achieves a blissful union between fine dining and the comfort and familiarity of a family member’s home.
“I didn’t want to be one of those pizza places with fluorescent lights,” McDonald explains. “I wanted it to feel like you were coming to our house for dinner.”
Guests can indulge in a glass of wine or the “famous” Italian margarita while perusing the family-inspired menu at one of the many custom-made booths or outdoor patio seats. Sounds of Dean Martin, Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney flood the inside bistro, while Sicilian pictures decorate the walls as tribute to the Cefalu family.
“All of the booths are custom made. The chandeliers were never used and came out of the Bellagio (Las Vegas Hotel),” McDonald says. “It’s a very pretty place.”
McDonald says she and her husband pride themselves in carrying on the tradition of small neighborhood restaurants — and Brugos’ origin story is no different.
The couple established their first Brugos in 2007 in Carson City, Nevada.
“We didn’t think we were big enough to handle Reno,” McDonald shares, despite the fact that “(I) had a big background in food and beverage.” McDonald had years of experience in the industry under her belt, including stints ranging from server to marketing manager at the Harrah’s Hotels & Casinos in Las Vegas.
Following the success of the first Brugos location, which landed a “Best Pizza in Northern Nevada” award, McDonald and her husband shifted their attention to Arizona.
And they haven’t looked back since.
“Before Applebee’s, there was always that beautiful local restaurant where people knew your name, knew where you wanted to sit and what you wanted to drink,” McDonald states. “After 16 years, we’ve accomplished that.”
Brugos Pizza Co. & Bistro is open seven days a week from 4 to 9 p.m.
To learn more about the Italian restaurant, or to order online or make reservations, visit brugospizza.net.
7100 E. Cave Creek Road, Cave Creek
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