It was 120 degrees in Phoenix, and Maria van Schaijik and Anthony Andiario had just finished packing a U-Haul truck for a cross-country move to West Chester when they found out they had nowhere to live.
"Turns out the house we rented was actually for sale, and someone had taken it and listed it as a rental," Andiario said. "It was a stupid scam that if either of us had less on our plates at the moment, we would have caught it."
On the couple's plates: opening their first restaurant, Andiario, in a former consignment shop on West Chester's tree-lined Gay Street. Opening any new restaurant is tough. Opening in a town where you don't know a farmer, a busboy, a linen service? "It was pretty risky," Andiario said, "but after 15 years in Phoenix, we knew we needed to be closer to family and to our roots."
Closer to family they got. Unexpectedly homeless, they tossed together a plan to split time between Van Schaijik's parents' home in West Chester and Andiario's parents' in the Poconos and hit the road with their husky-Lab and border collie-Australian shepherd mixes, a hundred cookbooks, a scrawny pair of potted olive trees, and a brand-new Volkswagen CC hitched to the back of the U-Haul.
"Four hours outside of Phoenix, we broke down," van Schaijik said. They got towed up to Snowflake, an old paper mill town, where the U-Haul was repaired. When they got back on the road, the VW came unhitched. "I look behind me, and the car is bouncing and skidding across the road."
"Yeah," Andiario said. "It sucked."
A more superstitious duo might have turned around. They had settled into a nice life together in Phoenix after meeting at pizza pope Chris Bianco's Pizzeria Bianco in 2014. Andiario was in the kitchen; Van Schaijik waited tables while completing a master's degree in statistics.
"When he asked me out," she said, "he wrote his number on a punch-out ticket."
In 2016, Bianco opened Tratto, a breezy 35-seater, and chose Andiario to lead the kitchen. "Tony is extremely talented and passionate, but it goes deeper than that," Bianco said. "There's something really sincere about how he loves the whole process of where food comes from and what makes good things good."
In March 2017, I was in Phoenix, squeezed into Tratto on a friend's recommendation, and fell hard for the intimate whitewashed space, the smoked Negroni a bartender whipped up with sfumato amaro, the lush chicken liver mousse studded with plump brandied cherries, the profusion of Arizona citrus. There was a bowl of glossy lemon tagliolini, a wedge of bruleed citrus custard tart, an audacious fresh tangerine served next to a pile of broken-up dark chocolate.
Phoenix critics fell hard, too. "Andiario's name has long been whispered with hushed reverence among those in the know, but they'll soon be saying it — loudly — right after 'I remember when,' " Arizona Republic critic Dominic Armato wrote in a review. "He's a rock star in waiting."
In West Chester, he's a rock star arrived — albeit a soft-spoken one cooking in a Lucky-brand denim shirt surrounded by jars of artichoke amaro, honeysuckle syrup, and dried cherry blossoms. Having successfully avoided any other vehicular problems and with a new place to live, Andiario and van Schaijik opened Andiario in March. He cooks, she manages. Out in front of the restaurant, their Arizonan olive trees have taken root.
The spacious and uncommonly comfortable dining room is as white and khaki as a '90s Gap commercial, giving the careful pops of color greater impact. Purple rhododendron branches harvested from van Schaijik's parents' property erupt from a vase on the meticulous service station, their tips nearly touching the original pressed-tin ceiling. Diaphanous votive holders light up each table; they're made in Rome from recycled plastic that looks like Murano glass. The abstract art hanging on the walls is by Andiario's brother Angelo, a digital photographer. His other brother, Chris, a carpenter, built the maple pasta table that anchors one side of the handsome, custom-built open kitchen. This is where Andiario spends most of his time, twisting short cuts of strozzapreti, folding jade sheets of stinging nettle dough into tortelloni origami. Photos and videos of pastas fill his Instagram feed (@anthonyandiario); he has nearly 57,000 followers.
"I have a strong bond to pasta; we had it every Sunday growing up," said Andiario, a third-generation Italian American. "Traveling to Rome was a big turning point." He had just graduated from Pennsylvania State University and was toying with going to culinary school in Phoenix, where his brother was living. Italy cemented the decision. "Having those moments when you drop your fork down, like, 'This is what [pasta] should be.' I knew this was what I was going to do."
There are three pastas on the menu, all made by hand from locally grown and milled grain and suggested as a course between appetizers and entrées — but Andiario is not an Italian restaurant. "We want to be known as a Pennsylvania restaurant, showcasing the best of what the state has to offer," Andiario said. To wit: Pocono trout arrives in a diorama of morels, lotus flowers, young bamboo, spruce needles, and other "foragings from the forest floor."
Andiario is a big get for West Chester, a university town whose dining scene historically catered to the broke-student and parents-are-paying markets. Things are percolating downtown, though, with a flurry of brewpubs and upstarts like Miss Winnie's Jamaican jerk house and Liquid Eatery, a vegan cafe opening in August with acai bowls, kombucha floats, and nut-milk shakes. The night I visited Andiario, Evan Ross, Liquid Eatery's chef and owner, was having dinner there.
"I'm here at least once a week," Ross said. "The quality of what Andiario brings to West Chester is another level. It's on par with the top restaurants in Philly, and, lucky for us, it's local."
Some West Chester residents, like Ross, followed the transformation of the old consignment shop into Andiario and booked the first table available. Others had no idea what they were in for. Andiario laughs, "No one in town knew us, and in the first few weeks, people were basically taking a chance, looking at this weird menu, like, 'Where the hell are we?' " Then they would have dinner and come back, with friends. "That was fun."
The West Chester and greater Chester County communities, according to the couple, have been extremely supportive. Have Philly diners turned out yet? "Not many, but definitely a few," van Schaijik said. Like their olive trees, that number is likely to grow.