623 E Adams St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Before we get into my pizza trip to Phoenix, let me introduce myself.
I’m currently a barista in Alberta and finished a Bachelor of Arts last spring. I’ve been working in the food industry for the last 11 years, but only started appreciating real food when I began working in the specialty coffee industry three-and-a-half years ago. Being a part of the coffee industry has been an excellent opportunity for palate training: there are over 1,000 chemicals in roasted coffee, making for a very complex and diverse drink. No two cups of coffee or two pulls of espresso are the same; the quest for the perfect extraction lead many baristi to lose sleep, become over-caffeinated and obsessive. One major upside is that any good barista will become concerned about everything she consumes. It is through this process that I really began to care about the food I eat. By no means do I claim to be a culinary expert; I’m just a food-lover, like every other contributor on foodosophy. I care about where my food comes from and hope that the person who prepared it cares even more. I also believe that when someone focuses on one thing and decides to put everything he or she has into it, the results will come through. This is obviously true in the food industry and I intend to experience as much of that passion around the world as I possibly can.
On that note, my trip to Pizzeria Bianco was inspired by friends at home who have been obsessing over pizza dough for the past year. If you think pizza is some average combination of flour, water, salt and miscellaneous toppings, you’ve never experienced pizza for what it can be. After many pizza parties, where my friends were experimenting with different dough recipes and ways of preparation, I came to the conclusion that I’d never eaten an outstanding pizza. These same pizza-obsessed friends also kept mentioning a pizzeria in Phoenix that they were dying to visit: Pizzeria Bianco. A quick search on WestJet in December revealed not only a direct flight from my city, but an incredibly cheap seat sale mid-January! I booked on a whim and waited impatiently for January 9 to arrive.
After landing on the tarmac and picking up the car rental, my friend and I were off to Pizzeria Bianco. Hotel check-in and settling in? Acquainting ourselves with a completely new city? Pfffff. We came for pizza and we wanted to eat pizza now.
Pizzeria Bianco is widely regarded as the best pizza restaurant in North America. It has been rated number one in the US by Bon Appétit, the New York Times and Vogue. But would I, a non-professional food critic, be able to taste the difference?
We arrived to the news that there was a three hour wait-time for two. Three hours? This had better be life-changing pie… Thankfully, Bianco’s has a charming little bar next door that resides in a cute bungalow with a porch-front patio. We easily passed the time admiring the warm and worn hardwood floors, ironic but artful portrait paintings and the soft and inviting lighting from the fireplace and sconces. Not to mention, the excellent wine and beer menu (try the Four Peaks Hopknot pale ale from nearby Tempe for a crisp and refreshing brew with big agave notes). Worry not about the time, as the efficient and friendly hostess has been keeping note on tables opening in the restaurant. She’ll let you know when you’re up.
All at once, it was our time to eat pizza! What to choose… Like all other outstanding eateries, Bianco’s opts for a small and simple menu. Not only that, they will happily do half-and-halves! My friend and I chose a Margherita (the espresso of pizza), Rosa (Arizona pistachio, parmigiano reggiano, red onion and rosemary) and 1/2 Sonny Boy (tomato sauce, mozzarella, salami and Gaeta olives); 1/2 Wiseguy (wood roasted onion, house smoked mozzarella and fennel sausage). Side note: the fennel sausage itself makes the Wiseguy a worthy full pizza. Had I known this beforehand, I would have ordered a full of this particular pie.
Verdict? Every pizza was better than the last. The toppings were fresh and well portioned; the flavour combinations balanced and interesting. Most importantly, the dough was the best I’d ever eaten: light and airy, crispy on the outside, just a little chewy on the inside and flavourful. I could have eaten the crust by itself and would have been happy.
Margherita: the classic. Basil, fresh mozzarella and tomato sauce. Like espresso, it’s bare-bones, but complex. Simple because there are few components; complex because a balance amongst them is essential. This one achieved a great balance between a tangy and flavourful tomato sauce, the sweetness/bitterness of the basil and creaminess of the mozzarella, all atop a phenomenal crust.
Rosa: one of Bianco’s white pies. You couldn’t eat more than one of these in a night, but the flavour combination is unlike anything else you’ve ever tasted on a pizza. The sweetness of the red onion is balanced by the saltiness of the pistachio and parmigiano reggiano.
On the left: Wiseguy – my favourite of the night. That fennel sausage is truly outstanding. You will dream about it later in the night. The wood roasted onion just adds to its greatness.
Right: Sonny Boy – also a tasty pie, though a little more conventional. The salami is solid (peppery with just the right amount of saltiness) and the olives and mozzarella provide even more savoury goodness.
You will be enjoyed later…
Just before a beautiful hike in the red rock of Sedona.
Was the pizza worth the flight to Phoenix? Wholeheartedly, yes. Eating at Bianco’s reminds me that passion and attention to detail can be tasted in food, no matter how simple it is. As with every other food experience, context has an affect on taste. But context doesn’t change mediocre food into great tasting food and Bianco’s serves the kind of pizza that will cause you to re-think the stereotype that pizza is just another fast-food or hangover cure.