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The United States of Pizza: Arizona

Continuing the 50-part series that is The United States of Pizza, here's a bit of intel from the Grand Canyon State. —The Mgmt.

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[Illustration: Adam Kuban]

If you read Slice with any regularity, you might get the impression that pizza in Arizona begins and ends with Pizzeria Bianco. Lord knows, we've spilled enough pixels writing about the place—not that it doesn't deserve it. But there are other places in Arizona that you might want to check out.

Wood-Oven Pizzerias in Arizona

Pizzeria Bianco; Phoenix

Pizzeria Bianco, full exterior

[Photograph: Robyn Lee]

You've probably already read a lot about this place here on Slice. No? Take a spin through our Pizzeria Bianco archives, then. I've yet to visit, but if most of these folks can be believed, this is life-changing pizza. And it routinely makes it to the top (or near the top) of everyone's national best-of pizza lists.

What to know before you visit: You are going to have to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Some folks report up to a four-hour wait for a table here. But you can hang out at Bar Bianco while you cool your heels. Reservations only taken for parties of 6 to 10. 623 East Adams Street, Phoenix AZ 85004 (map); 602-258-8300; pizzeriabianco.com

Besides Pizzeria Bianco, of course, there are a number of wood-oven pizzerias in the East Valley area....

Classic Italian Pizza; Tempe

Classic Italian Pizza is a Neapolitan-style place in Tempe that perennially lands on many East Valley–pizza best-of lists, including Phoenix food writer Jess Harter's and an old chestnut of pizza list from the Arizona Republic. Another great Phoenix blogger, Seth Chadwich (Feasting in Phoenix), raves about the place in this review. And most chowhounds seem to agree with him here, one even going so far as to say that it's competitive with Bianco but with much less hassle. 1030 East Baseline Road, Tempe AZ; 480-345-8681

Cibo; Phoenix

Cibo is located in a 1913 bungalow in downtown Phoenix that has been restored by owners Tony and Karen Martingilio; their son, Michael; and the pizzaiolo there, Guido Saccone, who grew up in Caserta, Italy. (That's just a bit north of Naples, if you're keeping score.) While it won the New Times's Best Gourmet Pizza category in 2005 and 2006, the majority of chowhounders weighing in on this thread seem to find it good but not transcendent. This comment seems to sum up much of the sentiment:

We have gone to Cibo after being told there would be an onerous wait at PB. Of course, we have gone to Crazy Jim's, too. Given my 'druthers, I'd opt for Crazy Jim's. My wife, though, opts for Cibo, probably because she likes a nice glass of wine and the atmosphere. Me? I'm about the food.

603 North Fifth Avenue, Phoenix AZ 85003; 602-441-2697; cibophoenix.com

Humble Pie; Scottsdale and Phoenix

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[Photograph: Humble Pie Facebook page]

Humble Pie in Scottsdale is from the second wave of the Neapartisanal pizza boom, having opened in early 2008 (rather than during the 2004-era first wave). As such, the business partners behind this gas-assist wood-oven place said they looked to Nancy Silverton's Pizzeria Mozza in L.A. as a model of what their crust should be like. Riding not only the pizza boom, the owners also go for the whole sustainorganica thing, sourcing many of the items from Arizona's McClendon Farms and sausage from Schreiner's, a family-run local business that's been making sausage since 1955. Feasting in Phoenix enjoyed the pies here, as did the Republic's restaurant critic, Howard Seftel, and the New Times's Michele Laudig, although her assessment sounds a bit mixed:

pizza with puffy, bubbly, lightly charred edges. Inside, the crust is moist and doughy, so as you bite through its crisp surface, the effect is gently chewy, and sweet yeasty flavors mingle with smokiness. Conversely, the crust gets extremely thin in the middle of the pie—it practically disappears under layers of toppings. You'll need to use a knife and fork for the first couple bites before you can pick up a slice.

Though originally founded in Scottsdale (Hilton Village, 6149 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale AZ 85250; map; 480-556-9900) there's also a location in Phoenix (21050 North Tatum Boulevard, Phoenix AZ 85050; map; 480-502-2121).

La Piazza al Forno; Glendale

A thread from this summer on the excellent Pizza Making forums put La Piazza al Forno on my radar. The folks on the boards there are tough customers, so it's a good sign to read the following:

The Margherita: Simply beautifully simple, as it should be. Wonderfully puffy cornicione, blistered ever so slightly. Just a slight sag when a slice is held. [Assistant pizza-man] Jim really was mindful of the center. Very thin bottom. The upskirt was perfectly seared. The crust had a pleasant aroma as I tore it apart to gaze at the caverns of air pockets. This is one of the very finest Margheritas I have ever tasted.

You may have seen Piazza al Forno on the Food Network. Guy Fieri ate there in an episode of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. If you don't trust Fieri, the Phoenix New Times and the Arizona Republic both give LPaF high marks. 5803 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale AZ 85301; map; 623-847-3301

Coal-Oven Pizza in Arizona


View Coal-Oven Pizzerias in a larger map

There are a number of coal-oven pizzerias in Arizona—six, if my Coal-Oven Pizza Map intel serves me right. But forget variety. They're all branches of Grimaldi's Coal Brick Oven Pizzeria, a sort of spin-off of the Brooklyn Grimaldi's that pizzaheads may be familiar with.

While the legendary Patsy Grimaldi is not involved with this chain, it may give Arizonans an approximation of what coal-oven pizza is all about. Slice's own L.A. Pizza Maven checked out the Las Vegas branch of Grimaldi's Coal Brick Oven Pizzeria. He liked the Sin City branch, but be forewarned: Chowhounders and Pizza Making folks report disappointment in the Phoenix-area locations.

Apizza Heaven: A Connecticut Connection

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[Photograph: L.A. Pizza Maven]

While on a trip to Sedona, L.A. Pizza Maven discovered Apizza Heaven, where owner-pizzaman and New Haven, Connecticut, native David Muzzo is making a version of what Nutmeg Staters refer to as "ah-beetz." While true New Haven pies are oblong, Muzzo's are round and seem to have more in common with New York–style pies, but LAPM assures us this pizza is worth traveling for.

He uses a gas oven, which he feels gives him better control of the heat than wood- or coal-burning ovens. The oven is set at 550 degrees, the temperature commonly used for baking pizza and far from the high heat some great pie-makers use. Nevertheless, the crust was sufficiently charred and crisp, with a structural integrity that did not collapse when folded and eaten. As can be seen in the photos, the basil was cooked into the cheese and sauce, suffusing the entire pie with its herbal essence. As for the cheese, I was surprised to learn that Muzzo uses East Coast commercially available Polly-O. I did not ask for specifics about the sauce, but it was delicious. Not overly spiced or sweet at all. The sausage was a tasty fennel; grainy and spicy. Last, the oil was flavorful and not excessive. There was no residue dripping off the pie.

Apizza Heaven

2675 West Highway 89A, Sedona AZ 86336 (map)
928-282-0519

Pizza Weirdness in Arizona

I've driven through Arizona only a handful of times, but it's always struck me as a weird and mystical state—what with the Lost Dutchman Mine, the Superstition Mountains, Navajo skinwalkers, and the like. I guess I shouldn't have expected any less with some of the pizza options in the Copper State.

Organ Stop Pizza

In the '70s there was a sort of mini craze that saw the rise of pipe-organ pizzerias. Yes, you read that correctly: pizzerias equipped with pipe organs. According to the History page of Mesa's Organ Stop Pizza:

In 1972, the original Organ Stop Pizza restaurant premiered in Phoenix, Arizona, at the corner of 7th Street and Missouri Avenue with a Wurlitzer pipe organ which was originally built for Grauman's Hollywood Egyptian Theater. This unique concept of a pizza parlor with a pipe organ was envisioned by William P. Brown, a Phoenix real estate developer whose enthusiasm for the theater pipe organ and its music led to the creation of this landmark attraction.

Unfortunately, many of the organ-equipped pizzerias of the Me Decade have disappeared, but the Organ Stop in Mesa soldiers on, with what's reputed to be one of the largest pipe organs in the world played by a staff of crack organ musicians.

What's the pizza like here? Who knows. If you can devour it while listening to a pipe-organ version of "Bohemian Rhapsody," who cares. 1149 East Southern Avenue, Mesa AZ 85204 (map); 480-813-5700; organstoppizza.com

Pizzaman Mike Jensen, Nothing, Arizona

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The town of Nothing, Arizona. At least there's something there. [Photograph: Cobalt123 on Flickr]

The town of Nothing, Arizona, sounds like something straight out of Duel, Breakdown, or any number of psycho-stalker-trucker movies. A town in name only, it's basically a shell of a gas station in rural northwestern Arizona surrounded by swaths of federally owned land.

Until April of of this year, there was no reason to go there. But then "Pizzaman" Mike Jensen bought the place, hoping to make it a destination in part through wood-fired pizza:

A good chunk of Jensen's plan hinges on his pizza. For the past four years, Jensen has made a living driving his mobile wood-fired pizza oven around the West to various events. He has become a mainstay at some annual events and boasts of people waiting in line for two or three hours to get a pie at a NASCAR event.

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[Photograph: Pizzaman Mike]

I love this story. It's yet another perfect example of the rugged (and kooky) individualist spirit that has made for some of America's greatest moments. It somehow makes sense that this story would play out in the Arizona desert. Jensen not only sells pizza from a trailer oven, he builds these rigs for others.

How to get there: According to Wikipedia, it's "located 50 miles north of Phoenix and roughly 20 miles south of Wikieup.... It is west of Bagdad at milepost 148 1/2 on U.S. Route 93... between Wickenburg and Kingman, on the route from Las Vegas to Phoenix."

Well, that's it for our quick tour of Arizona pizza. I'm sure something has been left out here. As always, feel free to chime in with recommendations in the comments.

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