Editor's note: If you read the Dear Slice letter yesterday from homeslice Lance R. asking for New York pizza-eating advice, you'll remember he mentioned a piece he wrote for us about Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. I forgot to run it when he sent it in. But here it is. No worse for the delay, I might add. Lance, sorry about spacing this; I'm an asshat. —The Mgmt.
Sorry about the quality of the pics, I was too giddy about the food to focus. Anyway, here's the rundown. My friend Mat and I are in the same pizza obsession club with you, but let us first state our credentials. Together, we've tried 30 or so pizza places in Los Angeles where we live (Village Pizza on Larchmont and Mozza are the current title holders). I've done a lot of Chicago pizza, and he grew up in NY and recently went to Italy (and had the best pie of his life). After hearing all this Bianco/Mozza talk from Ed Levine and others, we decided we needed to know the truth for ourselves.
So we decided to compare them. We started with a decent breakfast that would tide us over until 5 p.m., then headed to the airport for a 12:45 p.m. flight from LAX to Phoenix. We arrived at 2 p.m. and took a cab to Pizzeria Bianco. Three hours later we were inside. Chris Bianco was working behind his counter with a focused look (or scowl, depending on how you see it) on his face that would immediately break into a smile the second he began to talk to a customer. We ordered two pizzas for appetizers, two for the main course.
Let me discuss them in order.
The white pizza was up first. The menu says that it's made with fresh mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, ricotta, and arugula. It does not mention the mind-blowing olive oil dripping from every bite. The pizza is incredible. Everything is ridiculously fresh. The trip is worth it already. After a few more slices, we move on to...
The Sonny Boy. Salami, olives, sauce, and more of that amazing fresh mozzarella. Mozza has a pizza just like this one with salami from Batali's dad. Bianco's salami is thicker than I expected, but it's just as good. More important, the pizza itself is better than the one at Mozza. Perfect sauce, just the right amount of cheese. Bianco makes amazing pizza. We polish the two pies off pretty quickly, and get ready for...
The Wiseguy (wood-roasted onion, house-smoked mozzarella, fennel sausage) and the plain Margherita pizza (pictured at top). If ever there was a contrast between two pies, this is it. The Wiseguy is loaded with sausage, cheese, and onions that we could smell roasting from outside. We decide to go with the Margherita first because we're afraid the Wiseguy will overwhelm it. On the first bite we both just stare at the pizza. It's a very strange moment. Then we look at each other and confer. It's the best piece of pizza we've ever had in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Italy, Michigan, or anywhere else.
I was eager to move on to the Wiseguy. Sausage and onions are usually my toppings of choice. There's so much flavor on that pizza that it's hard to describe. The onions are otherworldly, the sausage perfectly seasoned. But it was somewhat overwhelming because we had already had nine pieces of pizza each. I need to have a Wiseguy first, not last, to truly judge it. That said, we polished off both pies.
When it was over, we asked if we could have a picture with "The Bianco," as we were calling him by that point. The waiter said it was no problem. We told Chris we flew in just to eat, and he was very appreciative, but you could also tell that people do it all the time. He invited us back behind the oven, and we took a picture. He couldn't have been a nicer guy. Just a great, great guy. An hour later, we were on a plane back to Los Angeles, half giddy and half in a food coma. It was one of the greatest days in my life.
Going the Distance
Before we went to Bianco, I wondered what would make a guy want to make the same six pizzas five days a week. It's all very clear now. Chris is more a part of his restaurant than any chef I have ever seen. Every bit of that place feels like an extension of him, from the food to the decor—even the service. He makes you feel like you're a friend and he's just cooking for you. And he just happens to be a master chef.
About two-thirds into the meal, I became very sad that Pizzeria Bianco is so far from L.A., and then I got angry—about Mozza. Not so much the place itself, but the hype around it from Ed Levine and everyone else. Mozza is great. I love the crust there, as much as if not more than Bianco's. But all those people who talk about Mozza not being "real pizza" have an argument—and the place is a little overpriced and inconsistent.
Chris Bianco makes pizza in its purest form, and it is unlike anything I've ever tasted. I don't know if it's the quality of the ingredients or the way he puts them together, but Pizzeria Bianco mops the floor with Mozza in not only taste, but in experience. It also lays waste to every other pizza I've ever had. This won't stop me from going to Mozza (a lot) or any other pizza place in the future, but it does mean that I'll be going to Phoenix every six months or so. And it means that you need to get your ass on a plane to Phoenix ASAP.