Review: Pizzeria Bianco - Phoenix
- Seth Chadwick Oct 18, 2006 07:28 AM
As a food blogger, I have a list of must try places that I hope to get to before I simply have had enough of maintaining a blog, or I get blown up by terrorists. While the list is fairly comprehensive, there is what I call “my triple crown” of restaurants that I definitely wanted to try before I get much older.
The Belmont Stakes of my Triple Crown desire is Durant’s. I have eaten there. Many times. And I think that it is the best overall dining experience to be had in the Valley of the Sun. Steaks, crushed red velvet wallpaper, servers in tuxedos. I simply adore Durant’s. The Kentucky Derby of my trio is definitely Mary Elaine’s, considered to be the finest restaurant in Arizona. Set within the confines of the beautiful Phoenician Resort, the place has an elaborate menu and a wine list that makes your jaw hit the floor when you see it. But that is for another time, such as when I win Powerball.
The Preakness for me is Pizzeria Bianco, and as luck would have it, a fellow chowhound organized a group of us to try out what has been called “the best pizza in America.” Since there were nine of us (Seth, JK, Bellana, Gayle, Nancy, Eric, Dominique, Jon and John), this gave us the added benefit of not having to wait the normal two (2) hours for a table, but instead allowed us to make a reservation.
We all arrived a few minutes shy of 8 PM and were told there would be about a 20 minute wait. I could see why. The place is small and it can only hold so many people. So, some of our group got drinks from the Bar Bianco next door while the rest of us had some food talk. It was a perfect night to be outside, and the large numbers of people waiting for pizza was quite incredible.
When we were seated, the nine of us were put toward the back of the place near the pizza “oven.” Within seconds, we were handed menus and our server appeared asking for our drink orders. Most had water to go along with their alcohol, but even at Pizzeria Bianco, I ordered a Diet Coke ($1.50). Our waiter headed over to get our drinks and we reviewed the menus thoroughly deciding which pizza sounded the best to try. In the end, we decided to each get what we wanted and then do a little horse trading so we could sample other types of the pies.
When our server returned, we placed a substantial order. Of the pizzas, we ordered the Wise Guy ($13.00), the Margherita ($10.00), the Sonny Boy ($12.00) and the Biancoverde ($13.00). We also wanted to kick off the evening right, so we got a selection of various salads including the Antipasto ($11.00), the Farmers’ Market Salad ($8.00), and the Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil ($9.00). There were also a couple of orders of the Spiedini ($9.00). Our server headed back over to the kitchen and placed our order.
A few moments passed and a flurry of servers arrived with three plates of crusty, rustic bread served with sides of olive oil. Thankfully, the three plates were enough to keep the whole table happy without having to reach across several places for it. The bread was excellent with its chewy crust and smokey flavor. Many of us thought the olive oil was excellent because of its rich flavor. This was a pleasant way to start the meal.
Only a few more moments passed and we were given our salads and starters. The Spiedini arrived with two skewers of Fontina Cheese wrapped with prosciutto and then set in the wood fired oven. The wood skewers were charred on the ends and the proscuitto was smokey, but the cheese was warmed through. This won rave reviews from Gayle, Nancy, Eric and Dominique. It looked delicious and satisfying.
At the far end of the table, the order of Antipasto was delivered and the group set upon trying the various components. The wood roasted vegetables, sopresatta and bits of cheese were lounging on the plate as the plate was liberally handed around. It all looked quite good. JK said it would be a perfect dish for people who weren’t too keen on vegetables. It also received big thumbs up from the rest of the group.
The simple preparation of the Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil was exceptionally colorful. Slices of the cheese and tomato were drizzled with olive oil and garnished with the basil. JK was happily munching along and stating that the preparation was “perfect” because of its simplicity. I was offered a bite, but was too focused on my salad.
And that salad was the Farmers’ Market Salad. This was a salad that is different each time as it is made with whatever the local markets have available. This time around, the salad featured microgreens, two kinds of sliced apple, small crumbles of blue cheese and chopped almonds. The dressing was a tangy vinaigrette. In a word: fantastic. The two apples were Granny Smith and (perhaps) Honey Crisp. They were not overly sweet and really gave a satisfying crunch to the salad. The blue cheese was slightly mild. The greens were exceptionally fresh. My only complaint was that I wish the nuts had played a larger supporting role.
We were all quite happy with the beginnings of our meal and we began chatting away about food and the latest gossip on our favorite places. I noticed how lovely the builiding was inside with its exposed brick, tall windows and high ceilings. It was also quite loud because there wasn’t much to absorb the noise.
About 10 minutes passed and our server began the procession of bringing our pizzas to the table. The first to hit the table was the Margherita Pizza that Gayle and Nancy were splitting. It was a basic production of a puffy and slightly chewy crust, lightly brushed with a seasoned tomato sauce and then topped with mozzarella slices and basil leaves. Through a non-aggression pact, I was able to secure a piece and loved it from the first bite. What wasn’t there to like about this? The crust was delicious with its bits of burnt and bubbled flesh. The tomato sauce was pleasing because it wasn’t trying to be anything more than a good sauce. The cheese, being fresh, was outstanding, and the basil was the perfect variable to bring this pizza together. Simple, complete and rustic, this was decadent.
Dominique’s Sonny Boy pizza featured slices of salami and Gaeta olives. This was the one pizza I did not try as I am not fond of olives or salami on pizza, but Dominique really enjoyed it as did Eric. The mixture of tastes from the salami and olives gave this presentation a unique flair. It seemed to please everyone, as I heard no complaints about it, although Dominique said that after tasting the other pizzas, she would probably get the Margherita next time.
The Wise Guy put Eric into fits as he was overwhelmed by the scent of the pizza. It was amazing to the sight because it had an abundance of fennel sausage that covered nearly every inch. Coupled with the caramelized onions, this was a stellar taste combination. It was also a carnivores dream. I loved the piece I was able to talk Eric out of. The sausage was out of this world due to the fennel addition. The onions were creamy and smooth. The smoked mozzarella just blew the socks off of me because the taste was divine. This was clearly the favorite at our end of the table.
My Biancoverde Pizza was sublime. I adored the fresh arugula on top and the melted cheeses hiding below the colorful green show. I am not sure if I liked the Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano or Ricotta the most, but I am glad they all made an appearance. Gayle isn’t a fan of Ricotta cheese, but she said it was quite good on this pizza. I loved every bite of this pizza because it was subtle and yet complex on so many levels. What I did discover, however, was that it was even better after it had cooled a bit and the cheeses had started to firm up a bit. The soft cheeses, the chewy crust and the crisp arugula had the perfect texture mix. Wow indeed!
There were only a few leftovers after we had done our damage and we asked for our bill. The total for eight pizzas, several salads, some starters and an antipasto was $200 and change, including tax. I heard no complaints about the total and I know I thought that for the quality and craftsmanship of the pizzas, this was a bargain. Service was quite good and our server was aimiable and engaging, but did seemed to think it humorous that I requested Ovaltine. We paid our bill and departed to the outside to compare notes.
The general conclusion was that Pizzeria Bianco has amazingly good pizza. John said it was the best pizza he had. There were plenty of similar raves. Nancy, a native of New York, said that it helds its own against the pizza in NYC. We all agreed that we would come back again and again.
For myself, I went back to the critic who said that Pizzeria Bianco has the best pizza in the United States. Is it? Well, I have had pizza in NYC, Pepe’s and Sallie’s in Connecticut, Pizza Pie in Chicago and a lot of pizza in Phoenix (from Red Devil to Pizza Hut). In my opinion, Pizzera Bianco has the finest pizza I have ever had and I would never hesitate to return for a meal.
But that leads to another question as to whether or not it is worth waiting two hours for a pizza from Pizzeria Bianco. My answer is no. Ultimately, it boils down to the fact that this is pizza. As much as I like eating and how much I especially liked Pizzeria Bianco, I do not think there is any food worth waiting two hours for. However, there is a way around that by getting 6 - 10 of your friends together and getting a reservation.
So, I now have two of my triple crown down and just need to fine a way to afford Mary Elaine’s. On my salary, that will take a lot of planning and saving, or I could play the trump card:
J., if you love me...
(P.S. A very big thank you to John for setting up the reservation for the nine of us!)
623 Adams Street (on Heritage Square)
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday: 5PM – 10PM. Closed Sunday and Monday.
Notes: No take out. Reservations for parties of 6 - 10.
Additional photos available at www.feastinginphoenix.com
Outstanding report! Thank you for sharing it.
If given a choice right now between Gagnaire in Paris or Pizzeria Bianco I would choose the later.
You can make reservation for six to ten people. I believe that the reservation times available are 5, 6:30 and 8 p.m.
Thanks for the review, Seth. And thanks for making the res, John. I had a great time and really enjoyed my meal.
I'm with you Seth, I won't go back and wait two hours. But, I will make reservations and go with a group.
It was great meeting y'all!
Great review as always. And it was nice to meet everyone.
Actually 2 hours might be a nice date (not a first date - but with someone with whom you want to chat). The house next door had a really nice, relaxed vibe for conversation and at this time of year having to sit out on a nice night with some bevs isn't the worst thing in the world. Not in July, however.
Going with a group, however, is still the best plan. Being able to sample a slice of several diffent pies was perfect. On he flip side, if I were on my own and ordered the sausage or the salami/olive pie, I might still be sitting there digesting... very hearty/strong. My fave was the simple margarita and the grilled veggies (I'd like to shop from his grocer).
Now I'm going to spend the next month trying to figure out how and where to build a pizza oven in my little back yard!
I drove home with a smile on my face, plotting out scenarios to return to Pizzeria Bianco. I think we sampled at least half of the menu, and I loved it all. Very friendly service and sincere gratitude from Chris Bianco.
This is the second successful Hound Gathering since the Google Group was created. The event was pretty easy to set up, and let me say "you're welcome" to those that have thanked me for doing so. I simply followed the successful formula devised by Mamamia. I think the key is to make an executive decision about the time and place before announcing it, knowing that you can't please everybody. The choice of more moderately priced restaurants is probably a plus.
For those interested in joining the discussion of such local events, please visit the Google Group:
My email address can be found on my profile page, but help might come sooner by contacting JK Grence, directly, if you are having trouble figuring out how to join the group:
I'm sad - I didn't know about it. I'm just glad those of you who were visiting for the first time finally got to see what all the hype was about. Yes, the wait is insane beyond all reason, but if you can circumvent that(group rez), then the food is fantastic. And Chris Bianco is a first class owner/host.
Did anyone glance at the wine list? Can you give us an idea of the markup and general price range?
JK, I drank two glasses of wine. One was a Chateau Granville while Bordeaux for $9, the second was a lovely Paso Robles old vines Zin, not sure of the vineyard, it too was $9 a glass. Mom was drinking merlot at $8 or $9 a glass. Not ridiculously priced, but not cheap. I think the least expensive glass was $7 and about $12ish for the most expensive.
My husband & I are NY'ers who visit AZ a lot...at least 8 times so far. We've got some favorite places that we go to each time we visit. Our last trip to AZ we decided to go to Pizzeria Bianco after hearing so many raves about it. Did we love the pizza & salads? YES, with no hesitation. Is it worth the 2 hr. wait? No. We won't return. We went early, to try to avoid the excessivly long wait, drove in circles over & over to find this place...found it, and waited 2 hours in the lovely house. In the 2 hrs. we finished a bottle of wine and the biggest bowl of olives I've ever seen. So, here we were, crocked from the bottle of wine, starving, and I kept thinking "we are in this big house, with plenty of room for tables for dining, why do they do this?". Again, we loved the pizza, but not for this type of wait.
great report - i really miss going to pizzeria bianco - used to visit scottsdale once a month for business - a definite advantage to go solo to this restaurant - i never had to wait more than a few minutes to get a seat at the bar and i was really impressed how personable the owner was - he knew alot of people coming in the front door yet still had time for a few words with us newcomers...it's the best pizza i've ever had !
I agree that it is silly to endure a long wait at a mediocre chain restaurant while complaining about one at a good restaurant, but how many people really do that? The two restaurants appeal to vastly different clientele. I acknowledge that the food at Bianco is a thousand times better than at the Cheesecake Factory, but I won't tolerate the long waits at either restaurant.
I know it is a little off topic, but I too have struggled with the complaints about the wait. I would certainly understand someone that didn't know about the wait, complaining about being suprised about it, but if you know going in there are so many ways to deal with it. Organize a bigger party, go solo, put your name in and check out the bar next door, heritage square, whatever. I have also heard people say it is "just pizza". We isn't any food, "just any food"? The fact is, although it is a subjective measure, some people feel that this is the best pizza in the US and most people say it is the best they ever have. Everyone says Chris is friendly and a good host.
I say plan accordingly and enjoy this awesome experience we have in our backyard.
I don't know guys, but I just can't see it. If they were paying for my alcohol at the bar next door, I'd perhaps consider the wait. But have any of you considered how much money Mr Bianco is making with off the alcohol markups in the bar while he keeps food patrons waiting 2 hours due to his no reservations policy? And how much damage has the alcohol done to my taste buds by the time I finally get in to taste the glorious food that I've waited hours for? Isn't that how Red Lobster makes its food taste better?
Even with a large party reservation, the original poster had to wait for his table - did the restaurant pay for his bar tab in that situation? I think not.
Maybe I'm harsh, and I admit I'm a bit impatient. But if a restauranteur truly wanted me to taste his preparations and ingrediants to their fullest degree, don't make me soak up 2 hours of alcohol first. Pizza or not - I wouldn't wait 2 hours for any kind of food - even if it were free.
For starters, I haven't been there yet, so i can't comment on the worthiness of the wait. But it is his place and he does what he wants. Maybe he doesn't want YOU to taste his perparations and ingredients to their fullest degree. Presumably, he wants to have exactly what he does have. I don't know of him complaining about not enough people coming, or the wrong kind of people coming. No one is forced to go there and wait, nor does he have an implicit responsibility to change anything.
Is it not just a matter of supply and demand?
Would initiating a reservation policy eliminate the wait or just create a two month waiting list like the French Laundry?
Guess it's just a matter of personal preferences. As for myself not only was I willing to wait in line but was willing to travel across the country this past summer. But had to cancel at the last minute.
I think you're right about personal preference. For me, a two-month waiting list is preferable to a two-hour wait. I like to plan ahead and have little patience for businesses that inconvenience me. Nevertheless, I know that there are others who are more spontaneous and who enjoy the journey (the wait) as much as the destination (the meal).
A lot of restaurants deal with these different consumer preferences by making half their tables available for reservations and keeping half open for walk-ins. In this case, I don't think such an approach is realistic given the small size of Bianco, but I can always wish.
First of all, what a great report. Reading it really brought back memories of going there. Thanks for putting in the time and effort. A few comments:
1. Agree its great pizza. Best anywhere?? Who knows if thats the case, but who really cares. Its the best in PHX area for sure.
2. Part of its greatness is the friendliness of the staff and especially how down to earth the owner is.
3. Reservations wouldn't work so well for a place like this. The policy they have is proper.
4. Is it worth waiting 2 hours? That's up to the customer. Obviously, there are enough people who think so. Me? I wouldn't do it, but I do love their pizza, so I'd go super early or late. Didn't know they take reservations for larger groups, so would def look into that too. Thanks for that tip!
5. Wine list... ok for a pizza joint. Pricing seemed fair.
6. When evaluating a place of "greatness", ie. Best Pizza, or Best Ice Cream, Risotto, etc. I try to stay as simple as I can. So, here ordering the Marg Pizza. [In the same vein, when tasting ice cream, try vanilla (unless you are a chocolate fanatic). Basic items are the true tests... nothing to cloud the true nature and flavors of the pizza. Then, go from there.
To SETH: Regarding, Mary Elaine’s. I wouldn't lose too much sleep over not having been to ME's. I realize we're talking apples and oranges here, but if you go, I think you'll find that you were happier at Pizzaria Bianco.
PhoenixHoundGathering at PB, Round 2, has a reservation for 8 people at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, Nov. 14. There are 3 chairs open, at the time of this writing. You have to join the Google group. See my post earlier in this thread for more information.
It's a stellar joint run by stellar people.
It's not an everyday event, so the 1-2 times a year I visit, I plan accordingly and either arrive at a time my body swears is a late afternoon snack, or I suck it up and wait.
My husband wastes* countless hours on the golf course, so and hour or two waiting for PB is a drop in the bucket.
*IMHO, of course :p
Mom always said, "You don't like it? Good, more for me then."
Chris Bianco was charming. The lines are unlikely to shorten.
Just FYI, Mariella's, the pizza place profiled in New York, is an utterly average slice place, a totally out of left-field choice.
The Pizzeria Bianco PhoenixHoundGathering Part II was another success. I think I have tried all of the pizzas, now, thanks to the free Marinara we received.
Thanks to Adam for setting this up.
Now the bad news. I can hardly believe it, myself, but, I didn't like my pizza. It was the Rosa (Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, AZ Pistachios). I struggled to eat half, whereas, I'm sure I would have been able to inhale a whole Margherita.
It was obvious that you were less than thrilled about your pizza, John. I am sorry it didn't pan out as expected. I thought Eric felt the same, but since he added the fennel sausage to his, that may have been the saving grace.
I was caught off guard when that couple walked in at 8 PM and they told them it would be 2.5 to 3 hours for a table. Yikes!
Adam saved the day with the reservation.
John, I am sorry as well - what a disappointment! :( In any case, I promise next time to be more about 'sharing' my Margherita pizza and less about 'inhaling' it!! What can I say that pizza brings out the appetite in me...
Thanks to all for a wonderful PBII dinner!