"What does DJ Bubbles think of the pizza at Pizzeria Bianco? Short answer: It is unquestionably great."
As usual, I've taken my sweet-ass time between articles, and I know that has been a cause of concern for some of you out there looking for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Well, I think you may be in luck, because I think I've found it—and it ain't in New York City, suckas!
No, it may actually exist in the great American Southwest, in a little place called Phoenix. Yes, many of you are on to me and realize that I'm talking about none other than my main man, Chris Bianco and his eponymous restaurant, Pizzeria Bianco, where locals and tourists gladly wait hours in line for their own slice of heaven. While it is true that Chris is one of my new main men (think Ali G. interviewing an important U.S. dignitary: "I'm 'ere with none otha than my main man, Buzz Aldrin!"), it is worth mentioning that I have also designated the dude as one of my new Pizza Yodas (or PY; pronounced PIE). A PY is a counselor or learned man who has inspired, educated, or enriched my walk with Pizza. I have returned to New York feeling all of these things, and I have Chris to thank for that. Yes, the force is strong in me at the moment. It is my hope that, after you finish reading this article, it will be strong in you, too. Let us continue.
The Southwest is a place of extremes: suffocating heat, fervent religiosity (think the polygamist sect that got housed by the cops earlier this year), and unprecedented numbers of strip malls per capita. In that sense, perhaps it is fitting that someone as passionate and singular as Chris would choose Phoenix to perfect his art.
I not only had the chance to try his wares last week but also converse with the Maestro of Mozz about everything under the hot Bianco sun. This guy's on fire, and I think he's the only one who can put it out! I did not record our conversation, but he had more than a couple interesting observations. I did, however, remember some of the highlights, despite his best efforts to bring me into a pizza-(and Peroni-) induced state of bliss. Here's a real kicker:
DJ Bubbles: So where do you go for a slice when you come back to New York?
Chris Bianco: Momofuku.
Snap! Classic stuff, right there. He wasn't hating on New York pie, by the way, he was just making the point that he's around pizza all the time and when he takes time off from his restaurant, the last thing he wants to do is house a slice. Makes sense, right?
Despite all that, I was surprised to learn that he hadn't yet tried Una Pizza Napoletana here in the East Village. If there were ever two kindred spirits in this wacky pizza subculture of ours, it would seem as if they would be CB and Anthony Mangieri at UPN. Both are obsessed with bringing the best ingredients to your table, and neither lets anyone else make-a the pie at their respective restaurants. They are friends, though (introduced to each other by one of my other PYs and main men, Ed "Boom Boom" Levine), and Bianco stated that he would try Mangieri's masterworks sometime soon.
And now for the main event. What does DJ Bubbles think of the pizza at Pizzeria Bianco? Short answer: It is unquestionably great. There is simply no room for argument that Bianco is making some of the best pies to be had anywhere in the world. The combination of his artisanal approach, uninhibited creativity, and commitment to quality ingredients is first class.
Like Mangieri over at UPN, he adheres to Neapolitan baking standards and keeps his wood-fired oven at high temperatures (800 to 900 degrees, depending on the night). But he's certainly not biting anyone's style, either, as he has broken with tradition and created some exciting pizzas that have never been thought of before. I mean, pistachios—who knew? Perhaps that's why he's the only U.S. pizzaiolo with a James Beard award.
The Pies I Ate
The Rosa: mozz, red onion, Parmigiano-Reggiano, rosemary, and Arizona pistachios.
The Biancoverde: mozz, ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, topped with fresh arugula.
The Margherita: Tomato sauce, basil, and fresh mozzarella, which Chris Bianco makes on premises.
Not pictured but also eaten was The Sonny Boy (mozz, salami, and gaeta olives).
He also made a special pie (above) that wasn't on the menu—mozz and roasted red peppers with pockets of a delicious pesto.
The Perfection of Bianco's Margherita
Instead, I would like to take a moment and reflect on Bianco's faithful rendering of my one true love, the pizza Margherita.
As many of you already know, I tend to pass judgment on a given pizzeria by trying its Margherita or plain slice. To me, it's the only fair way of putting one joint up against another—every pizzeria makes a pie with just cheese and sauce, maybe some basil, right? Moreover, a plain pie has always been my favorite and summarizes what pizza is all about to me: simplicity and balance. That said, Bianco's yin is Bianco's yang—no one ingredient overcrowds the others. The mozzarella was slightly rich and buttery, the sauce was both sweet and tangy, the basil was fresh and evenly spread, and the crust supported it all with a crisp strength that belied its soft, artisanal interior. The Margherita was finished with a subtle, spiral pour of olive oil. Certain New York pizzerias could take a page from Bianco's book and ease up on the EVOO a little (cough, cough, Di Fara, Artichoke, cough, cough).
Alright, back to the action. I sampled my first slice with a quiet appreciation and smile (and maybe an occasional grunt of approval), as I took in the electric atmosphere around me—the tables of pizza lovers completely in their element; the enthusiastic revelers outside waiting at picnic tables, enjoying their bottles of wine; the upbeat waitstaff diligently refilling glasses of water and iced tea; and, of course, Chris Bianco, making the pies, working the oven, and occasionally stealing a few seconds of the ballgame from the mini TV under the counter. Everyone seemed so happy. And why not? When you're having one of those transcendent pizzas, there is really nothing to do but sit back and enjoy it. For that one moment in time, all is right with the world.
Have I had moments like this in New York and in Naples? Of course I have. Does Bianco make the best pizza in the U.S.? In the world? I don't know. I've had a lot of great pizzas in a lot of great restaurants, and I'm not sure if I am in any position to put one up against another anymore—these meals were merely slices in time; unique experiences that will remain with me forever, none better than the other. And with all that said, I had one of those experiences last Saturday. I am happy to report that the force is strong in Phoenix, and we have Chris Bianco to thank for that.
Until next time, Bubbles out!
Earlier Drive-Bys from The Bubster
The DJ Bubbles Definitive Top 10 List
The Best Grandma Slice in New York?
The Syracuse Pizza Manifesto
Artichoke, a DJ Bubbles Drive-By
Patsy's in East Harlem: Balance, Perfection
Vezzo: Three Strikes and You're Out!
14th Street and Below: A DJ Bubbles Drive-By
Abitino's in Murray Hill
DJ Bubbles Wishes You a Happy New Year
A Sunday Night Slice Walk, a DJ Bubbles Drive-By
Vezzo, The DJ Bubbles Drive-By