Stuffing My Face at Pizzeria Bianco
Editor's note: Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce a new voice here at Slice: Robyn Lee. You may already be familiar with Robyn from her blog The Girl Who Ate Everything. She also works with me at Serious Eats, which is how she found her way to posting on Slice. Anyway, she recently visited Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. Here's her take. The Mgmt.
Best. Pizza. Ever.
That's what I was expecting from Pizzeria Bianco, which is known for having, well, the best pizza ever. In the U.S., at least. Maybe even in the world. But I can't vouch for that since I haven't eaten all the pizza in the world (although I'd be happy to make that a lifelong goal).
What I can say is that out of all the pizza I've ever eaten, Chris Bianco's may have been the best I've ever had the pleasure of sending through my digestive system. I only hesitate because I don't know if it was the pizza alone or a combination of things (the warm atmosphere and friendly company) that resulted in a night of explosive happiness derived from stuffing my face with slice after slice. Maybe it was the best pizza and the best pizza-eating experience. My mind is still a little fuzzy from the happiness hangover.
If you go to Pizzeria Bianco, I suggest gathering a party of at least six so you can make a reservation, thus overcoming two hurdles; one, you won't have to wait two or more hours to squeeze into one of the restaurant's eight or so tables and two, you won't have trouble deciding what to order because you can just get one of each of the six pies on the menu. (Of course, you can still order all the pizzas even if you have fewer people, but I prefer to distribute the calories among multiple stomachs so mine has less of a chance of exploding.)
However, if you do have to wait, you can just hang out in the cozy house next door to the pizzeria, which is part bar, part "place to crash while you wait two or more hours for dinner." It's a lot better than roaming around downtown Phoenix, which, with all its half-constructed buildings, massive cranes, and fenced-off plots of dirt, looks like its being rebuilt after a major catastrophe. The homey block that Bianco sits on feels out of place, even more so with the angular corners of the Phoenix Science Center looming in the back, but it's a good "out of place" feeling, like an escape from the rest of the city.
So. The pizza. I'm afraid my brain didn't have as much time as it needed to process the sensations of the pizza being chewed since I was pretty focused on eating everything while it was still melty and hot (i.e., I inhaled most of it) , but I remember each first bite eliciting deep thoughts such as, "Mmm....mraah...whoa...gaarh..." My level of eloquence got as high as, "This pizza is awesome, oh my god, why is this pizza so awesome?" I spent the rest of my week in Arizona trying to answer that question, a process that involved staring at the photos I took for long periods of time and discussing the pizza with my friends. LET'S REPEAT THE PROCESS.
Bianco's crust is super thin but not flimsy. It's soft, slightly chewy, has a slight smoky charred flavor that holds up to whatever fresh toppings are set upon it, whether it's peppery chunks of fennel sausage or thin, delicate slices of red onion. The crust-to-topping ratio was perfect on every pizza, aside from one rogue slice of the Sonny Boy (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, salami, Gaeta olives) that ended up with more spicy salami than the rest of the pie. My friend was shocked when she saw a mountain of pizza crusts grow on my plate, but I was just saving them for later after eating all the parts of the pizza that had been topped. Do not ignore the puffed, fluffy ring that encases the flavorful pie innards. It's as tasty as the bread in the other part of the pizza butyou know, fatter and in stick form with more smoky flavor. It's probably even better if you ask for a side of olive oil to dip it in.
Out of all the pies, my favorite was the Biancoverde, the only pizza with triple the sweet, cheesy goodness (fresh mozzarella made in-house every morning, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and ricotta) counterbalanced by a layer of arugula leaves. The basil on the Margherita tasted so fresh that my first bite felt like I was being punched by an herb garden. The Rosa was easily the prettiest, with its rings of red onion and sprinkling of Arizona pistachios over a light layer of Parmigiano-Reggiano. I thought the Marinara would be kind of boring without the presence of cheese, but its large garlic slices atop the thin layer of sweet tomato sauce propelled it into the land of awesomeness. Most of my stomach space was devoted to the Wiseguy and its tender lumps of wood-roasted onion and slices of fennel sausage.
Although I felt slightly intimidated to approach Chris Bianco, the man behind the pizza magic who you can see topping pizzas and watching baseball games on a miniature TV behind the wood counter, he's one of the friendliest, most easygoing guys you could talk to. He put down the pizza dough for a moment to enthusiastically recommend that my friend and I eat at Rito's, his choice for the best Mexican food in the area. I was also happy to find out that the word "groovy" was part of his vernacular. Why is that cool? I don't know; I just don't hear many people slip "groovy" into a sentence. He can pull it off.
I'm already thinking about my next visit to Phoenix and future encounter with Pizzeria Bianco. Or encounters, if I plan things out right.