Friday, May 11, 2012
Pizzeria Bianco: The Answer to Poverty, War and Deficit Spending?
623 East Adams St.
I’m always skeptical of the hype.
Call me a contrarian. Call me a doubter. Or just call me jaded.
Actually, I think after all these years of witnessing crowds overflowing into the parking lots of Applebees, Red Lobster and Buffalo Wild Wings, I never cease to be dumbfounded by America’s love affair with mediocrity.
At this point, an over-hyped restaurant is bound to stimulate my skeptical reflex.
But every once in a while I come across a place so hyped, so lauded, so hipper-than-thou, that it piques my curiosity.
Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix is exactly that kind of place.
Pizzeria Bianco is the Tim Tebow of pizzerias.
If Tim Tebow is the Second Coming, then Pizzeria Bianco is where the Almighty quenches his pizza cravings.
I first read about Pizzeria Bianco while sitting in a middle seat of a 757 (where else?) somewhere over Kansas in one of those in-flight magazines. A top ten list of the best pizza joints in America.
I immediately tore it out, stuffed in my brief case, and, I’m happy to say, I’ve managed to hit up most of the places on the list. Baltimore, Tampa, Brooklyn, Chicago.
But Phoenix was always a problem. I’ve stopped by Pizzeria Bianco a few times coming to or from the nearby airport and always encountered the same problem.
Hoards of people standing outside the little red brick building in 105 degree heat waiting for hours to get in the place.
No thank you.
But there is no way in a snowball’s chance in the Sonoran Desert you are going to get me to wait four hours for a pizza. I don’t care how good it is supposed to be.
Patience is not one of Suit757’s virtues.
As the years have gone by, the legend of Pizzeria Bianco has grown to ridiculous proportions, winning numerous awards bestowing it the title of “WORLD’S BEST PIZZA”.
As if whoever hands out those awards had actually eaten every pizza on planet Earth.
Rachel Ray, The New York Times, Zagat, GQ, Martha Stewart, Vogue, James Beard. Even Oprah (that’s the kiss of death). All have declared this to be the greatest pizza ever made.
Then one day I’m sitting on my couch at home, cold brew in hand, watching a baseball game and the announcers start vamping about their upcoming roadtrip to Arizona.
And guess what they start talking about?
By this point my curiosity had eclipsed my skepticism. I’ve just got to know. Is it REALLY that good?
Fortunately, the owners of Pizzeria Bianco discovered a bit of capitalist impulse and came to a radical idea – if you extend the hours you serve those hungry huddled hoards, you’ll make even more money.
So they expanded their hours from just four hours per day to eleven hours per day. Now open 11am to 10pm!
Which works out just fine with my Suit757 schedule.
Done with my last meeting at 1:30. Flight out of PHX at 3:30. Maybe I’ll miss the lunch rush.
Sure enough, the tiny dining room was less than half full with plenty of vacant stools at the bar.
I sipped on a pint of the only beer on tap, Sandstone Cream Ale, while perusing the succinct menu.
Refreshing, but not particularly flavorful, I found myself hoping the pizza would be more inspiring than the local brew.
My second choice, Four Peaks Hop Knot, brewed in nearby Tempe, was much better. Like liquid hops in a can. Literally.
My pizza choice really wasn’t difficult. Out of the six or seven options, I ordered the one with the sausage.
Fennel sausage and caramelized onions on “house smoked” mozzarella cheese. Sounds good.
My waiter helpfully pointed out that as presented on the menu, this is a “white pizza”, meaning no sauce. But if I wanted sauce, he’d be happy to throw some on there.
Oh yeah. Gotta have some sauce.
Five minutes later my masterpiece arrived still steaming fresh from the smoky 800 degree wood-fired oven.
If was a beautiful sight to behold. Generous thick-cut sausage slices. Golden-fried sweet onions. Smoked mozzarella and just a slather of tomato spread across a thin crust specked with dark char marks from the brick oven.
Talk about high expectations!
As I lifted that first piece to my mouth and tore off my first bite, the anticipation was almost too much to bear.
Chew. Chew. Chew. Swallow.
This pizza is really, really good!
The greatest pizza ever to grace our universe?
Oh, come on now.
You’ve got to know Suit757 is too jaded to grant a title like that.
But you know what? There’s no doubt about it. This is darn good pizza.
The savory sausage and sweet onions complimented each other like a marriage made in heaven. And the thin crust, with a toasty flavor fresh from the brick oven and punctuated with natural crisp air pockets, was light enough that I singlehandedly polished off the entire pie.
But the crust was also the source of the only flaw I detected. It got a little too limp and soggy in the middle. Maybe another few seconds in that inferno of an oven might have done it some good.
So there you go. Really good; but not perfect.
I criss cross this great country of ours always on the look-out for the coolest bars, smokiest BBQ shacks and most delicious places to pig out.
I mean, what would it say about me if the rest of the world had already beaten me to the single greatest pizza joint in the galaxy -- and the cure to poverty, war and deficit spending?
I might as well just turn in my Brooks Brothers suit to Goodwill and retire.
Not a chance! Remember, always be skeptical of the hype.
Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt