Consider the humble pizza. Outside of hamburgers, it is the most consumed food by Americans each year. At its simple base, a pizza is a form of bread topped often with a sauce, some cheese, and maybe a vegetable or meat or both. That bread, the crust, can be changed into many forms, perhaps more puffy or cut square. The sauce can be tomato based or white sauce. The cheese can be velveeta or gorgonzola. The sausage could be artisan sopressata or Oscar Meyer pepperoni. The toppings can range from wild nettles to squid ink to poached eggs to canned artichoke hearts. Anything and everything can represent a pizza it seems. With all of these pizzas, there are very few truly spectacular pizzas that rise upon the competition. Amidst those dozen or two dozen per metropolitan area depending on if we’re talking about Billings versus New York, there is that rare masterpiece that sings like Paul McCartney and strikes you visually like a Monet Water Lilies.
New York and Naples are the capitals no doubt of pizza. One is pizza’s birthplace, the other is where pizza became a part of daily life worldwide. Phoenix, Arizona? The land of cactus as the land of pizza? When Chris Bianco moved out west from the Bronx, masterpiece level pizza followed with him. Pizzeria Bianco opened in 1994 then moved to its current, tiny location in an old charming machine shop at Heritage Square, an oasis of historic old buildings just east of the not so charming Downtown Phoenix. With just over 40 seats, the waits are as famous and necessary a part of the Bianco experience as the pizza itself.
It almost seems like an experience is truly necessary for this caliber of pizza. The legendary Di Fara in Midwood, Brooklyn requires a 45 minute subway ride from Manhattan, followed by a 2 hour wait in line to order, then another hour of waiting for the pie to be, then another 10 minutes for the pizza to cool to eating temperature. After two recent visits to Pizzeria Bianco, I have a system in place as well that makes this quite the experience. I arrive at 6 and put in the name. Then spend an hour across the way at the Rose and Crown Pub, perhaps watching some March Madness at this time of year. Then somebody goes to pick up my brother flying in to the airport and bring him back to Heritage Square. During that second hour, I continue the wait across Heritage Square with a glass of Arizona wine at Bar Bianco. Generally at the same time, that second hour ends with the arrival of my brother and the opening of our table. Perfect!
With that amount of planning, this should not be just another pizza. Indeed, the pies coming out of the wood burning oven imported from Italy are far from any other pizza. There is some sort of magic in the oven, in the ingredients, perhaps even in the Barbera to go with the pizza that makes Pizzeria Bianco truly the best pizza in the world. It’s a big proclamation said by many before, but there’s no other way to say it. This is transcendent pizza.
But whom of the pizzas to pick? This is part of why Bianco’s pies rise above the rest. The ingredients are thoroughly selected for quality and matching together like a 50 year old marriage. The Margherita is simple yet spot on with its San Marzano tomatoes, fresh pulled mozzarella, and a few snippets of fragrant basil. The Sonny Boy adds homemade salami and Gaeta olives, erasing the need for basil. I adore the Rosa that is in one bite crunchy, sweet, bitter, and funky with red onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, rosemary, and finely chopped Arizona pistachios. It is a mystery why more pistachios are not found on pizzas. The Biancoverde thrives again with that Parmigiano Reggiano, but gains another edge from the silky ricotta, and biting freshness of arugula. However, my favorite? It once was the Rosa, but I have fallen for the Wiseguy this time. The smoky, sweet wood roasted onions, complimented by fennel sausage evokes campfire tastes and smells, while remaining elegant. If there was such a thing as a perfect pizza, this would be it.
Strangely enough, and indeed it would truly be a crime to do so, one could come to Pizzeria Bianco and have a terrific meal without even ordering a pizza. The epic antipasto platter of wood roasted vegetables, some Parmigiano Reggiano, and sopressata is a work of art. Possibly even more noteworthy than the pizzas are the spiedini, from the wood burning oven, delicate Italian fontina cheese carefully wrapped by proscuitto di Parma, as delicate as a ballerina’s step. Salads are perfect foils to the pizza, especially a caprese that beautifully teams the basil, local tomatoes, and handmade mozzarella together. Dessert? No need for that on the menu here, perhaps go to Sweet Republic in Scottsdale for some bleu cheese and honey ice cream afterwards.
As poetic as I can get with the spiedini, obviously the heart of Pizzeria Bianco are the six pizzas (there’s a marinara version too, which I’ve never sampled). Each time I put my name down at Pizzeria Bianco I think two things. With all of these hungry, impatient passionate food tourists and locals, how does the service staff stay so friendly and organized? Second, this pizza cannot possibly be as good as last time. Yet, the pizza continues to perform on an elite stage. The oven’s smoky perfume, the perfect ratio of yeast and flour to create a puffy yet slightly bready crust, the crunch of the pistachios, the exact right amount of mozzarella and basil, the sweet-smokiness of the fennel sausage, all add up to a culinary work of art.
Luckily you can now come for lunch at Pizzeria Bianco. The waits may be down then…or you might just be waiting two hours in the harsh afternoon sun instead of after sunset.
No matter the wait in the searing desert sun, Phoenix is lucky. Nearing two decades in Arizona, Pizzeria Bianco continues to make the country, possibly even the world’s premier pizzas.