Pizza with a Topping of Owner Art

By Villarreal, Phil | AZ Daily Star, August 15, 2013 | Go to article overview

Pizza with a Topping of Owner Art


Villarreal, Phil, AZ Daily Star


Nonna Maria's finds following amid walls of quirky paintings

Where others might have seen conflict, Nonna Maria's Ristorante & Pizzeria owner Frank Palazzolo saw opportunity. He melded his diverse passions into his Oracle restaurant, which doubles as an art gallery.

Having grown up living in a home in the same building as his parents' restaurant on the outskirts of Chicago, Palazzolo wanted to open an eatery but also spend as much time as possible painting pop art portraits.

When he decided to move from the Chicago area in the late 1990s, he considered returning to his ancestral homeland of Sicily, where he spent seven years going to school. But he was hesitant to leave the United States.

Instead of making difficult choices, Palazzolo found that he could have it all.

When visiting relatives here, he was struck by how much Oracle resembled Sicily.

"The mountains look just like they are in Sicily. They have prickly pear cactuses just like in Sicily," he said. "The terrain is very similar. I moved out here and felt like I was in Sicily, but was still in the States. The best of both worlds."

Palazzolo moved to Oracle and opened Nonna Maria's, named for his grandmother. And as he built the restaurant as a strip mall takeout joint, he continued painting, using his artwork to decorate the restaurant's walls when he moved the operation to its current location, at 2161 Rockliff Blvd. in Oracle, in 2005.

Using acrylic and oil paints, Palazzolo creates portraits of celebrities dining on pizza and pasta. His subjects range from U.S. presidents to the Marx Brothers and characters from the film "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

"The thing about it is, it's a part of me. Being able to combine the two things works," Palazzolo said. "I think that's the reason why it works. People ask me why I always paint pizza and pastas, and it's because that's what I see. I paint a lot of great people enjoying it."

The chef and owner, Palazzolo, 43, runs the restaurant with his wife, Angelina, who also grew up in a family restaurant in the outskirts of Chicago.

The restaurant boasts a fountain and columns out front, and the interior, which seats 75, has a polished-concrete floor. The patio offers views of Picacho Peak and Mount Lemmon.

Palazzolo and his 15 employees serve up an array of pizza, pastas, salads, sandwiches and calzones, as well as Italian wine, beer and soft drinks. …

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