August 12, 2009

Pizzeria Bianco - Phoenix, AZ - The Quintessential Pizza

pizzeria bianco

The waits are notorious, often 3 to 4 hours in the burning hot sun, just for a prized table at one of the most celebrated pizzerias in the country. Pizzeria Bianco, a mainstay in the Heritage Square section of Phoenix for 15 years, housed in a brick building fit for an old-school bakery, remains one of the toughest tables in the city because of its no-reservation policy. Fans and afficionados wait under the sun or more likely in the air-conditioned confines of Bar Bianco, a charming bungalow next door which features a well-put wine list and beer menu. It doesn't hurt that the servers at Bar Bianco are charming and attractive. It certainly made our hour-long wait more than bearable.

We arrived in the thick of the night, or at least a weeknight in Phoenix, when the summer air is dense like an invisible fog, and the sub 100 degree heat persists beyond sundown. On various occasions I cooled off with a sparkling wine at Bar Bianco, a prosecco on one occasion, and a more elegant, polished Schramsberg blanc de blancs on another. The neighboring Bianco establishments use radios to confirm when tables are available.

We were seated in the middle of the room, on small wooden tables in a high, industrial space with exposed brick and ventilation systems above. We began with the heirloom tomato caprese salad, with slices of juicy beefsteak-like tomatoes, fresh basil, and Bianco's signature fresh mozzarella.

heirloom tomato salad

Next appetizer was the antipasto, a pastiche of various edibles in bite-size form. Baked eggplant, sweet and earthy; roasted onion, mesmerizingly savory; warm juicy black olives; rich salami; delicious mushrooms. We gobbled up the plate before the pizzas arrived.


At first sight, the pizzas look fairly standard, with larger blotches of black burnt crust, bright colors, and a snippet of warm oven air. But the first smell is intoxicating, a melange of aromas that both marvel and excite the appetite. "Two minutes," said our great server Dave, who's been with Bianco for 12 years running. The pies needed a few minutes to cool from the screaming hot wood-fired oven. We sat there patiently ready to attack.


I usually judge a pizza place based on the quality of its margherita pie, especially since the last amazing one I had was at Flour + Water in San Francisco. Bianco's had a slightly puffier crust, wider and thicker layers of mozzarella infused into the fresh tomato sauce. Intermittent basil leaves completed the tri-colore palette. A long, pensive whiff of the pie and you're in bliss. One bite into the rich, creamy melted cheese and the slightly tart, garlicky tomato sauce. One crunchy bite into the perfect crust, and you're in heaven. The burnt ends lend coffee and barbeque notes while the dough possesses a hint of salt and malt. It might be the best pizza I've ever had up until this point of my life. Better than Flour + Water, at least twice as good as anything from Mozza, and loads better than anything else in LA.

sonny boy

The Sonny Boy was a meaty delight, with the warm gaeta olives providing a familiar taste for those who grew up with black olives on pizza. Slices of salty, oily salami fill the middle of the pie, with the same delicious sauce underneath.

margherita half eaten pies

On another night, we had a second Sonny Boy, which was equally as good, proving Bianco's consistency night in and night out. Both nights, late into dinner service, I saw that Chris himself was manning the oven, flinging fresh made pies into the oven. To see this commitment from a pizziaolo and restaurateur is inspiring.


Perhaps the best pizza I tasted at Pizzeria Bianco was the Rosa, recommended by the trusty Dave, with an addition of crimini mushrooms. The sauce-less pizza came with broken bits of Arizona pistachios, thinly sliced red onions, fresh rosemary, and a layer of parmigiano. The cheese was at some parts crispy and others more pliable. Olive oil doused the entire pie, with oil running down one's arm. The pizza was marvel whose varied flavors represented an ideal crossroads of tradition and innovation, a place where Chris has found his niche and specialty. You won't anything like this pie in pizza's spiritual home of Naples, but it is at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix where pizza is perfected.

After every night of service, you can find Chris taking a break at his own Bar Bianco, drinking a well deserved glass of beer. He's relaxed and content, knowing that the fruits of his labor are evident in the quality and crowds. I asked him coyly if he would ever open a place in LA, leaving the Phoenix location to his brother and partner to manage. He answered somewhat optimistically, which I understood to mean that it wasn't out of the question. But until then, he can oversee his excellent culinary empire in Phoenix, a city fortunate to have such a luminary.

Pizzeria Bianco
623 E Adams St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Note on obtaining a table at Pizzeria Bianco:

There are no reservations unless you have a table between 6-10 people. A bar section would seat one or two-tops more quickly than the tables, but expect a hefty wait if you're dining anytime before 9PM. People line up even hours before opening time of 5PM, so trying to nab an early table could be equally difficult. Your best bet is to eat a late lunch (ideally at Pane Bianco) and put your name for a table around 9:30PM. Drink an aperitif next door at Bar Bianco, and enjoy a late dinner.


burumun said...

Man, I wish I had driven through Phoenix now. The best on earth huh? I really need to go here at some point in life then.

Lina said...

oh my! I just went on a roadtrip to phoenix, i wish i read this post before i went there! that pizza looks awesome!

Gastronomer said...

This might sound crazy, but for me, their are limits to how good pizza can be. I've never experienced a pie that made me squeal with delight, not even the pizza I ate in Naples. Maybe it's because I've never been to Pizzeria Bianco?

mattatouille said...

fiona: you definitely should have made the stop. we'll make the roadtrip there some time, it's not that far :)

lina: same as fiona. bianco is worth the trip alone.

cathy: yes, it is because you have never tried pizzeria bianco.

Steve2 in LA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mattatouille said...

Steve2 in LA: I grew up on Casa Bianca. I loved that stuff. It's still good in its own right, but to compare it to Bianco (despite the similarlity of name) would be a travesty. There's really nothing even coming close to Pizzeria Bianco in LA, though Mozza might be a half-decent consolation. But apples to apples, even that's not a long fight. Sorry to give you that hankering at this hour.

Steve2 in LA said...

Whoa! You're actually up and writing? Love your stuff but I miss quoted myselves. . . for a change. Here then is what should have been the earlier and now more clever comment:

So jealous. So, so jealous. And hungry. Jealous, hungry and now, jonesing for a pizza. But not just ANY pizza. . . NOOOOOOOO!

Now, it's gotta be a Sonny Boy pie from Pizzeria Bianco. And me stuck in LA.

Thanks for the inspiration but curse you, curse you.

(Ah, now I feel better!)

mattatouille said...

oh don't curse me, just go to the place and see what happens :)

yes i'm up and writing, gotta wrap up a preview dinner I had tonight. Check FoodGPS tomorrow morning, it should be up there.

Joshua Lurie said...

I like how you asked Bianco the leading question about a potential move to Los Angeles. That would be amazing, but I'm not counting on it.

The first time I tried Bianco, it was for dinner, and I returned the following day for lunch, back in the days when he still bothered to serve lunch. Now he doesn't have to. Sally's and Pepe's are different, but about as good as Bianco. On the West Coast, there's no better.

Aaron said...

Takes so much commitment for this pizza. I would've never been able to eat there during my business trip. Great to eat vicariously through you though, as always

laurel said...

i was just reading your blog - and realized i went to school with your fiancee! christine's the coolest, congrats to you both!

Diana said...

I know where I'm dragging my bro the next time I'm in Phoenix...

Looks incredible. Especially that pistachio onion one!

Anna A. said...

Going to Phoenix tomorrow. Gonna try my best to make it here. Thanks for your post!