Saturday, March 29, 2008

Best pizza in the USA? I have to check and get back to you - Restaurant: Pizza Bianco (Phoenix)

"Pizza Bianco has the best pizza in the US." Had anyone else uttered these words, I might have laughed them off. But this wasn't the statement of just anyone, but the words of Serious Eats, the all food all the time community headed by Ed Levine. From overnight delivery of New York bagels to same day pick-up of Thanksgiving pies, Ed had never led me astray. Still, these were fighting words, inviting disagreement or at least confirmation. Having eaten my share of great pizzas back in the big apple (Grimaldi's, Lombardi's, Joe's, John's, etc.) and having sampled a few on my trip to Rome (Pizzeria da Baffetto), I was ready to do the comparison myself.

The Pizza Bianco building was surprisingly small at only the width of a roomy two car garage. It was located in a strange part of town where a few isolated brick houses share the same large park area that surround the huge science center. At 4:00 pm in the afternoon, the tables immediately outside of the pizzeria were already populated by waiting patrons. Within half an hour, the line stretched beyond the front door and around the corner (below). Luckily, we arrived just in time to grab the last two seats under the shade.

The only saving grace for the waiting and wanting, especially for those standing, was the fact that Bar Bianco in the next building opened at 4:00 pm to provide much needed hydration.

Five o'clock on the dot, Pizza Bianco swung its doors opened and seated the head of the eager crowd unhurriedly. Fortunate for us, we got the last two top in the corner near the window, close enough to observe the remaining crowd gazing in longingly.

To prolong our waiting even further, we opted for two salads to start. The caprese was fresh tasting, but not too special. The tomatoes were far from mealy, but somehow still lacked the bright flavors from the heat of summer.
The special salad of the day contained surprising gems uncaptured by my photos. The red jewels hidden beneath the arugula were thoroughly red strawberry slices as large as apple rings. Bursting with juices, these babies were awesome.
Finally, our pizza, plain margerita on one side and with added house made fennel sausages on the other. Properly charred bottom, check. Lack of excess gooeyness in the center, check. Crispiness on the edges, check. Tenderness within and throughout, check. Bright acidity in the sauce, check. Fresh cheese in balanced amount, check. Fault? I really can't come up with any. Enjoyment, 100 percent. Was it the best I've ever had? Best I've had in a very very long while, I'll give it that. But in the back of mind, I hold on to memories of exquisite pies ingested in Rome and a few years back at Lombardi's. Perhaps the special surroundings at both of those places contributed to my enjoyment. Perhaps memory has a way of distorting reality to enhance the experiences. But I really just can't say without a direct comparison. What I can and will do is go back to Lombardi's in May to run a quick taste update. Rome may have to wait a couple more years. In any case though, Pizza Bianco lived up to every bit of my expectation, unexpectedly.


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