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Review: Classic Italian Pizza - Tempe, AZ (w/ photos!)

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Seth Chadwick May 5, 2006 12:19 AM

Since moving over to the new format for my food blog, I have had a vew inquiries regarding my list of restaurants to try in the near future. Most are suggestions, but a common theme has been, “How come you don’t have Pizzeria Bianco listed?” To be honest, it isn’t that I don’t want to try their pizza. I do.

The issue for me is that I don’t want to have to wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… for pizza. No matter how good it is, I simply cannot see lining up for two-plus hours to have pizza. Am I being stubborn? Perhaps. But the last time I waited that long for food was when Claim Jumper first opened and after that nightmare, I start to twitch, sweat and break out in hives at the thought of waiting two hours for food.

But thanks to fellow food blogger JK Grence - The Cosmic Jester, I was alerted to a small, hidden gem in Tempe that really has some of the finest pizza I have ever had.

Classic Italian Pizza is one of the most hidden restaurants in Phoenix metro. Unless you know right where to look, you could easily miss it and then there would angels weeping in heaven. This little delight is in the most extreme northeast corner of a cookie-cutter strip mall on the northeast corner of Baseline and Rural in Tempe. At night, the place is nearly impossible to find because their sign only occasionally flickers on the facade of the strip mall announcing their presence. But it is worth every moment to find the place.

Dave the Roommate and I were determined to have pizza, but weren’t going to wait with the masses at Pizzeria Bianco. So, we drove over to Classic Italian Pizza and spent a few minutes trying to find the place. When we did, we opened the door and entered another world.

The interior is warm, pleasant, woodsy and romantic. The places had several tables open and we chose one toward the back next to a picture window. The server was busy helping a party of 10 or so at the front of the restaurant but assured us she would be with us as soon as possible. We took in the interior and laughed over how you wouldn’t even think this place would be in a strip mall in Tempe, Arizona.

Our server brought us water and menus and we were busy trying to decide what kinds of pizza to get. First, however, we needed beverages. Dave and I both ordered the Lemonade ($2.00 each) and Dave decided to have a Vanilla Italian Soda ($3.00). Our server let us think about our dining choices while getting our beverages.

Upon her return, we were presented with our Lemonades and Dave got his Vanilla Italian Soda. It was served in a tall glass and was bubbly and creamy looking. Dave took a sip and smiled. He said the soda was excellent, noting that it was not overly sweet with a great vanilla taste. The Lemonades, although fairly institutional, were decent.

We had made up our minds and placed our order. Dave thought the Four Cheese Pizza ($14.00) looked good, while I was drawn to the Prosciutto Pizza ($13.00). We also got two Dinner Salads ($3.00 each). After a brief discussion, we also chose the Brick Oven Bread ($6.00) for a starter.

After our server left, we watched the staff work their magic. A tall man handled the brick oven pizza and was busy rotating pizzas and checking on the bottoms of the crusts. Another was busy restocking items in the prep area. Our server was scurrying about tending to the tables and making small talk.

On one of her many trips around the restaurant, our server brought us fresh drinks and our appetizer. In front of us sat a big basket of little squares of hot bread from the oven and a flat plate of marinara sauce with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar in the middle. The bread itself was a winner. Hot, crispy exterior and yeasty interior made us determined to get more bread before we had even finished the first basket. The dipping sauce was an incredible mix of a rich, tomatoey sauce with bits of garlic. The balsamic vinegar gave the dish an interesting sweetness that really brought out the best in the sauce. In just under a few minutes, we had polished off the basket of bread and our very kind server was quick to give us another basket so we wouldn’t waste a drop of the sauce.

Next up were our House Salads. Leisurely spread out on a large plate, beautiful pieces of Butter and Romaine lettuce laid the foundation for a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and pepperocinis. The vinegrette dressing was in a small serving cup on the side. Dave and I dressed our salads and were overjoyed with the dressing. Slightly tart, slightly sweet and with a great rounded flavor, we devoured the fresh salad and then mopped up dressing with the remainder of the bread. It isn’t often you get a salad with a decent amount of Butter Lettuce, so it was a treat all the way around.

We had completely annihilated the bread and sauce and salads and were counting down the seconds until our pizzas arrived. I was really hoping not to be disappointed. Our server appeared and the scent alone was wonderous. My Prosciutto Pizza was simple. Atop the crust sat a thin layer of sauce, cheese and strips of thinly sliced prosciutto. Fresh basil leaves had been torn and scattered on top. I took my first piece from the plate and took a bite.

Amazing. Simply wonderful and bursting with flavor. The crust was thin, but not so thin it would get overlooked. It was crusty on the bottom and somewhat chewy on the top. The sauce was rich and delicious. The cheese and prociutto made wonderful toppings, while the basil just added a subdued herbal kick to the whole thing. After finishing a second slice, I was hooked. This was grand pizza and just well executed all the way around.

Dave’s Four Cheese Pizza was a work of art. On the same crust as mine, olive oil had been brushed like paint on a canvas, bits of garlic were placed, and a thick coating of mozzarella cheese sealed it all in. The top had been dotted with large dollops of ricotta cheese. The result was a cheese lovers delight. It was creamy, salty, sweet and savory all in one. Dave and I swapped a piece and found there wasn’t a clear winner. Both were outstanding and we tried hard to finish our respective pizzas, but gave in and called for the pizza box to cart our treasures home.

We sat contented and thought about the marriage of both pizzas. It probably would be flavor overload, but it was tempting. The pizza was some of the best I have ever had. We got our box and our bill. The total, including tax, was a very respectable $56.21, considering the quality and craftsmanship of the food.

Classic Italian Pizza was a huge success for us. The food, the service, the atmosphere and the value was superb. We had no complaints at all.

I know that someday I will get to try the wares of Pizzeria Bianco. Until then, Classic Italian Pizza would more than suffice, even though it is the most hidden restaurant in Tempe.

Classic Italian Pizza
1054 East Baseline Road
Tempe, AZ 85283
Dress: Casual
Notes: Very difficult to find. Go to the extreme northeast corner of the strip mall and walk into what looks like a courtyard. You will see the entrance once you pass the pillar facing the parking lot.

Link: http://www.feastinginphoenix.com

Image: http://i28.photobucket.com/albums/c20...

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  1. j
    JK Grence (the Cosmic Jester) RE: Seth Chadwick May 5, 2006 12:59 AM

    Ooooo, I haven't had a good pizza in eons... now I'll have to go back over there. I have figured out a couple of tricks for handling the wait at Pizzeria Bianco. I think the best way is to get a group of six together and get yourself a reservation. This is how we did it for a CH meet years ago. The almost as easy way that requires more careful planning is to go on First Friday. It is likely that the wait may be even longer than usual, BUT... the Arizona Science Center next door to Bianco's has free admission on First Friday. You'll never notice two hours has passed. What I've done in the past is to just bring a deck of cards and played Gin over a glass of wine or two... extra distractions makes the wait go muchmuch faster.

    Link: http://thecosmicjester.blogspot.com

    1. r
      rramirez4444 RE: Seth Chadwick May 5, 2006 12:06 PM

      Thanks for the review.

      I went to a pre-Suns dinner last week at Pizzeria Bianco. My in laws really like it so they act as the catalyst. They show up at opening and grab the table as we're walking up.

      I was reminded at just how great the pizza is there.

      :)

      1. d
        dustchick RE: Seth Chadwick May 5, 2006 01:29 PM

        Great review! I'm glad you liked Classic Italian - I live within walking distance, but don't get there nearly often enough. Just to let you know, the veggie toppings for the pizzas are wonderful - they're wood-roasted. I usually get spinach and mushrooms. Mmm...might have to go there this weekend.

        1. b
          Bax RE: Seth Chadwick Feb 10, 2008 02:43 PM

          Went to CIP last night with my boyfriend ("C") and our friend "N." Having read lots of recommendations on this site I was very much looking forward to it.

          Luckily "N" (who drove) had been there before so we didn't have to hunt for it. Unfortunately, a large family (10 people or so) had come in just before us so although we were seated promptly, we had to wait a VERY long time for our pizzas (still not as long as a wait at Bianco, though!). On the plus side, the waitress kept our water glasses filled and checked in with us periodically (though it was a long time before she informed us that the large table had delayed our order; if we'd known sooner we might've gotten salads or some bread or something).

          "N" and "C" are both vegetarians (I used to say that I could never love anyone who didn't love bacon, but we've managed to find a way to live with each other's "dietary quirks;" ha) so we ordered one eggplant pizza and one "spinach" (which also comes with mushrooms and zucchini), adding fresh garlic to the spinach pizza as the menu recommended (mmmmgarlic...I may love it even more than I love bacon!). I'm a light/moderate eater and "N" wasn't very hungry so 2 pizzas ended up being just the right amount (no leftovers).

          When the pizzas finally arrived I had a hard time deciding which to try first; finally opted for the spinach (the garlic was calling to me!). I tend to prefer a slightly thicker crust, generally, but this was nice -- light and crisp without being too "cracker-y" and with a little chewiness to the edge crust. It was a little soft/soggy in the middle from all the vegetable toppings but not to the point of unpleasantness. Unfortunately it was a little overdone -- I had to leave some charred crust bits on my plate, alas -- but not so much so that the pizza was ruined. The vegetables were all very tasty and there was a nice, punchy garlic kick that I very much enjoyed.

          The eggplant pizza was cooked just right and was a surprising contrast to the bold garlicky flavor of the spinach one; mild and cheesy, with the thinly-sliced eggplant providing a mellow undertone. It was hard to pick a favorite! I surprised myself by downing 2 slices of each pizza and was left feeling sated but not stuffed. Had the boys been willing I might've given dessert (shared) a try but they were ready to leave by then. I can't say how much it cost (the guys picked up the check) but I think pizzas averaged around $12-16 and will feed 1-2 people depending on how hungry you are.

          I haven't been to Bianco in a long time and it would be an easier comparison if I'd had the same type of pizza at both places (have had sausage/onion/mushroom at Bianco -- before vegetarian boyfriend!) but from what I can recall they're pretty comparable. Honestly I'm not as huge a Bianco pizza fan as some -- the toppings are great but since it's thin-crust pizza (not my preferred type) I don't feel like it's worth the bother. So yes, CIP is a good alternative. I'd like to go again and try the sausage to get a better comparison.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Bax
            silverbear RE: Bax Feb 10, 2008 08:01 PM

            In terms of pizza, I find CIP competitive with Bianco and not nearly as much hassle. Where I think CIP could improve, however, is in the salads. They've always seemed rather routine compared to those at Bianco. You probably didn't miss much by skipping that course.

          2. ccl1111 RE: Seth Chadwick Apr 25, 2008 09:42 AM

            Just to chime in, the family and I finally made it to CIP (been meaning to forever after reading about it here) and had a delightful meal. The food was great. The ambiance was great. Even liked the house zin. Sat on the patio in the evening & it was beautiful out & super laid back & casual.

            While we really enjoyed the food, the service was the thing that stood out most. They were ridiculously nice. With our 2 little ones having allergies to dairy & more, the chef went out of his way to come out & visit us & let us know what he could do & gave us different options. Ended up with a no sauce kalamata & black olive pizza with olive oil that the little ones devoured. It was very good! He even sent a desert treat out for them. The servers were also ridiculously nice & helpful. Has to be one of the best service experiences we've had anywhere.

            The other pizza we shared was a 1/2 4 cheese and 1/2 white pizza with garlic. Can't remember the exact names & can't find the menu online anywhere. I really want to go back & try one of their pizzas with sauce - especially the one with egg.

            I also love, love, love the fact that it was very quiet & relaxed. While we love PB, Humble Pie & LGO's pizza, at CIP, it's nice to have another option in that realm that is super relaxed & casual.

            1. Grey RE: Seth Chadwick Apr 26, 2008 12:30 AM

              Good review Seth. Glad to see you were finally able to give the place a try (and liked it so much). CIP is one of the best pizza spots in town, hands down; one of my personal favorites.

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