Review: Pane Bianco - Phoenix
- Seth Chadwick
It is still hot in Phoenix. This is no surprise to those of us who have lived here for sometime. Being a native, I should be used to it, but when it hits 115 F degrees, all bets are off. So, for lunch I decided to simply head out for a sandwich. Then I remembered my good fortune and cashed in a couple of winning scratch tickets. Eight bucks.
I had a little extra time for lunch, so I decided to go someplace to relax. I didnt want another trip to McDonalds or Jack In The Box, so I thought about where I could go. Being only five blocks from Pane Bianco, I decided to go there and check it out. Every since the mothership Pizzeria Bianco got listed in a book as being the best pizza in the U.S., the Bianco group has been doing gangbusters. I figured that since I had a few extra dollars and some extra time, I would treat myself.
I drove up Central Avenue and only spotted the tiny sign for Pane Bianco in the split-second before I would have cruised by it. It is very small indeed. I pulled into the lot and noticed a lot of people walking from Bianco to the coffeehouse next door. I entered the place and noticed two things: 1) the place was huge inside, but most of the space was for work and cooking; and 2) there was no indoor seating. Being that it was searing hot outside, I wasnt pleased, even if they did have the misters going outside. But I persevered.
I struggled to find a menu. There were a few things written on a chalkboard on the wall, but with the exception of one sandwich and one salad choice, the rest of the information on the wall dealt with the purchase of various fresh fruit and a dessert choice. I walked over to the counter and saw a small paper menu attached to string hanging from a basket. On the menu was a listing for three (3) sandwiches, two (2) salads and six (6) beverage choices. I thought the picking were slim. But, I persevered.
After looking over the menu, I selected the Soppressata with Aged Provolone and Wood-Roasted Onions served on wood-fired focaccia. I also selected a Bubble-Up soda, a drink I havent had since I was nine when Bubble-Up was the major competitor to 7-Up and RC Cola was giving Coke and Pepsi a run for their money. I also decided to throw caution to the wind and get a spot of the Organic Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding.
I waited about five minutes looking at the various pre-packaged items they had for sale including preserves, oregano, olive oil and pasts. My order was ready and I headed out the door looking for a spot in the shade and covered by the misters. I did get a nice spot and brought out the sandwich.
The sandwich itself was about 7 in diameter and had a satisfactory portion of meat. Soppressata is a dry salami with a mild, smoky flavor. On top of the meat was the aged provolone which was quite pungent and had a great, but very strong, flavor. Then, on top of that were the onions. These were like candy. Moist, juicy and very sweet. They were large slices - not little slivers - that give me a big burst of flavor when I put them in my mouth. I really liked all of them, but together in the sandwich, it presented some problems.
Clearly, the cheese took control. Aged provolone is very strong in the taste department and on this sandwich the only thing that could compete were the onions because of their sweetness. So, when I ate my first bite, I tasted cheese and onions. The meat and bread could have been left off with no difference in taste. I started eating the components individually just to make sure I could taste the meat and the bread. I was disappointed in this. The components were all excellent, but as a sandwich, they just couldnt produce something spectacular. The bread was outstanding and had a roasted flavor to it from being wood-fired, but that would have gone unnoticed if I hadnt eaten it alone.
After eating the sandwich, I had just enough room for the pudding. The sandwich is quite large and was filling, even for me, who tips the scales at nearly 300 lbs. So, I could have easily been satisfied by just the sandwich and drink. However, rice pudding is one of my favorite desserts and I love any that is homemade.
The pudding came in a small cup with about 5 ounces of pudding in it. Not a large serving, but enough considering the size of the sandwich. Specks of vanilla bean were visible throughout. I tried the pudding and really liked the texture. It was creamy and a tad starchy (a good thing) and the rice was perfect not mushy or crunchy. Very well done. What was missing, though, was any real splash of vanilla. The vanilla taste that was there was no different than the vanilla taste you get from imitation vanilla flavoring. Also, there was no cinnamon or nutmeg taste either which I suspected was sacrificed for the addition of the vanilla. The pudding was good and a nice treat at the end of a hearty sandwich, but it was not spectacular, even with it being organic and containing specks of real vanilla bean.
It is very clear that Pane Bianco is a trendy place. The location, the setting, the clientele. With that goes matching prices. The sandwich was $8.00. The pudding was $3.00. The bottle of Bubble-Up was $2.00. With tax, my lunch bill was over $14.00. Without my scratch ticket winnings, it would have been Big Mac City for me.
I am torn on my experience to Pane Bianco. I certainly liked what I had, but only when it was broken down into its parts, and the sum should have be greater. It wasnt and that was disappointing. For $14.00 and change, the continuity and production could have been done much better.
4404 North Central Avenue
I absolutely agree! Seth did a great review. And, I agree in large part with your review. I'm torn...basically, I think Pane Bianco is taking advantage of the Bianco name and the "trendy" factor that goes with it. Bianco does not appear to respect the clientele -- sitting outside in 115, limited menu choice and the prices are just excessive. The staff is a little on the haughty side for my taste. I don't mind paying $15 for lunch -- but only when there's air conditioning and a server invovled to round out the experience.
Thanks for the compliment. I have been a lurker on Chowhound for a year or so. I am usually the "go to" guy at work when people want restaurant suggestions because I love trying different restaurants.
A colleague suggested I start a blog, which I have, and I thought I would share my experiences here and hope it is a benefit to the community.
I think Pane Bianco is at its best when the weather is nice and you can stroll over to Indian School Park with the sandwich and a piece of whatever fresh fruit they have that day... one of my most vivid chow memories was sitting under a tree happily munching away on the Caprese sandwich (tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, natch), sipping a Bubble Up, and slurping one of the juiciest, most flavorful peaches I have had in years.
But yes, for what you get it's ridiculous. Still, I'd rather drop 14 bucks at Pane Bianco than the 7 I spent on the most lackluster chicken salad sandwich I've ever seen that I got at Atlanta Bread Company recently. The salad itself was micro-sized chicken bits in mayo, nothing else, and the croissant I got it on wasn't much better than the ones one gets from the grocery store. The accompanying chips were a snooze too, almost completely flavorless and greasier than I'd prefer.
re: JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester)
JK, I am totally in agreement - the caprese sandwich is amazingly good. I had the same experience as Seth with the soprasetto (sp?). It is definitely too overpowering. I also didn't love the tuna sandwich. Now every time I go back, which is rarely, I get the caprese and feel like it is a very good deal for $8.
Seth..Thanks for the report. Boy, I know first hand about those amazing misters! I really loved that whole system. that was so neat. But shade? Where did you find that? We ooked all over but could not find it.
It's nice that a local acknowledges that 115 is even too much for you! Sorry the weather has not cooled off ...Yeah, right...It's dry. In Mid-May, we hit the city at 103/109 and 113. We never made it to Pizza Bianco or Pan Bianco or LOS and that was very, very unfortunate.
We just could not deal with straying too far from Scottsdale and our hotel. We liked Bandera...Not bad...and close by. People were walking around with no problem at all. Dining outdoors at lunch...
The fact that they had aged provolone says a great deal about them as far as I'm concerned..That's all good. Obviously, these are owners who care about what they bring into their restaurants. It would be so easy to get that domestic provolone that has no taste, no bite, no flavor. To me, it tastes like plastic.
I think it's incredible that in Scottsdale/Phoenix, they care enought to get the good stuff, the legitimate stuff, send out to them. Sorry I missed eating at either of their places. Now, more than ever, I have to believe all those glowing reports about Pizza Bianco.
You *gotta* try to mozzeralla and tomato and basil ... it's "to die for". I live in northern California and this is a sandwich that Alice Waters would be proud to serve (and that's saying quite a bit!)
I wish that Pane Bianco was the one with the huge lines, then we could make profuse use of the pun "pane tolerance," but, it's just not the case. I had lunch at Pane Bianco today. I was totally set on the caprese, my all time favorite sandwich, but i was wooed by the market sandwich of lamb and salad greens. It was different than any sandwich i've ever had. It was basically a lamb stew with greens and Chris's delicious bread. Flavorwise, it was right on. Good lamb flavor, with little pops of pepper and finishing salt. It was a different texture than I'm used to for a sandwich, but conidering the crust of the bread, the filling did a good job of staying put. I was glad I grabbed the specialty, but i know I must return for the caprese.