Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dining: The Longest Wait for Pizza

Pizzeria Bianco was lit up by the sunset in Phoenix, Arizona on 8-January-2010

TEMPE, ARIZONA - Many people regard Pepe's and Sally's on Wooster Street in New Haven, Connecticut as the ultimate pizza experience in North America--something I did a number of times while living in New England. One has to arrive well before opening time or expect to wait in line for a long time, potentially hours (the longest I ever waited was two and a half hours at Sally's), before being seated and treated to exquisite thin-crust pizza from a wood-fired oven. The pizza was so good that Frank Sinatra would send his driver to Sally's to take it back to New York on the nights he didn't have time to go New Haven himself. Because of the long lines, the experience is somewhat rushed (though not quite as much as at the borderline-rude service at the similar Regina Pizzeria in Boston's North End), and one has to pay in cash. Some would describe the experience as an adventure.

The wood-fired oven at Pizzeria Bianco was in service in Phoenix, Arizona on 8-January-2010

When I heard that a similar phenomenon was occurring across the United States in Phoenix, Arizona of all places, I knew that on my next visit, I had to see what it was all about. Since moving to the 1929-era Baird Machine Shop building in Phoenix's Historic Heritage Square in 2004, Pizzeria Bianco has garnered accolades as one of the world's best pizza restaurants--and has the lines to match. On Friday, I arrived about 16:45 to find a line of about 80 people already waiting for the 17:00 opening; apparently one has to arrive at 15:00 to be seated in the restaurant's 42 seats when it opens. Rather than having to wait in a line as occurs at the New England restaurants, at Bianco's, they take your name and allow you to wander in the general facility, including their bar next door. In January, this was pleasant enough with mild temperatures, but in the summer with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, that could be a different story. I went with my "brother" cousin and his family, so the ability to let the kids run around in the courtyard was the only thing that made the wait possible to contemplate. What a wait it was! I was told it would likely be three hours when our name was taken, and the estimate was accurate--the total wait was about three and a quarter hours, the longest I had ever waited to get into a pizza restaurant and start looking closely at the wood-fired oven.

Three varieties of pizza from Bianco's were captured on 8-January-2010, the Margherita, Biancoverde, and Wiseguy

So how did the pizza stack up? We had ordered a variety of pizzas from the menu, from a "basic" Margherita (Mozzarella and sauce) to a "Wiseguy" with sausage, Mozzarella, onions, and no sauce. Bianco pizza may have the best thin crust I've ever experienced. The dough was well-composed and well-treated in the wood-fired oven. All of the ingredients were believably local and fresh, and the sausage and salami had great flavor. Yet, I can't put it above the Pepe's and Sally's, or the best of the Chicago pizzerias like Giordano's. The sauce may be fresh and well-presented, but I just didn't find it interesting. Having just eaten last week at Hubby's and its tangy sauce, perhaps the difference seemed more acute.

Bruce Carson enjoyed a slice of Bianco's pizza on 8-January-2010

Pizzeria Bianco is excellent pizza; it belongs in the high echelons that sites like my favorite Pizza Therapy place it. It might even be worth waiting for--though more than three hours is really pushing it. But the world's best pizza? Not in my opinion.

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