Dan and I had to start off somewhere on our Wild West Americana adventure earlier this month (we couldn’t road-trip the whole way out from New Jersey to the Grand Canyon, unless someone is willing to subsidize that trip). And that somewhere was Phoenix, land of Cactus League spring training, a curvaceous bulldog named Oliver who was more than happy to share his home, and the food empire of Chris Bianco.
His award-laden Pizzeria Bianco has been joined by two younger siblings, Bar Bianco and Pane Bianco, over the past decade, and with two days and two nights in the city to bookend our trip, we thought, hey, why not eat at all three? All in the name of science, dear readers.
The original and beloved. When Dan and I first ate here five years ago on a January weeknight, we easily made it in for the first seating. This time, we snagged a seat at the bar by the skin of our teeth, being the seventh couple in line behind two large parties when we arrived an hour and a half before opening time.
No matter. We love to eat at the bar and our bartender kept pouring the light, bouncy Four Peaks Sunbru Ale down our throats at our request. Armed with the recommendation for the spiedini appetizer (prosciutto wrapped around fontina, AKA awesome wrapped around awesome), we settled in happily.
Sadly, my Rosa was bogged down by too many toppings this time around, the sharp red onions and the salty Parmesan threatening to drown out the rosemary and pistachio. Whether this is a side effect of Chris Bianco no longer being behind the counter on a regular basis or just an off night, I’m not sure—Dan’s Margherita was still perfect, and the rest of the pies ordered by our new friends at the bar (including the Wiseguy and the Sonny Boy) met with no complaint.
But I’m worried; if we can barely make it in for a 5:00 pm seating when we show up at 3:30 pm in the off-season, what comes next? Camping out at noon? A Momofuku Ko-like reservations system? It seems like a lot to go through for pizza—albeit really, really good pizza—and I think you’ve all heard my repeat refusals about waiting in the Shake Shack line. After being lucky enough to sample this pizza twice in my lifetime, I may have to beg off.
An ancillary space in a restored home beside the historic machine shop that houses Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco was designed to deal with the overflow that spills into the piazza outside the restaurant every night. But it’s also a gorgeous and welcoming space in its own right with its own reservation-worthy menu (reservations which, of course, you don’t need—stroll right in, it’s casual!).
Cozying up to an after-dinner glass of Lagrein on a low-slung couch, I made the executive decision that next time we’re in Phoenix, we’re skipping the nail-biting wait at the pizzeria and will sample the apps and snacks at Bar Bianco, relaxing in the house’s former dining room with its built-in Craftsman cabinets and hutches, and pretending that it’s my own. A few good glasses of wine, a few bowls of cured olives, some carefully-dressed salads and maybe a few more orders of that spiedini—sounds about right to me.
Eating wood-fired focaccia stuffed with Laura Chenel goat cheese, roasted tomatoes, and arugula on a picnic bench under the Arizona sun—that’s one of life’s great pleasures. Pane Bianco is the newest member of the Bianco family, a short drive from its sister restaurants and open for lunch with a weensy menu of four sandwiches, two salads, and a special or two.
The bread was spectacular as befits an outpost of a restaurant made famous for its pizza crust, and the soppressata on Dan’s samwich was greasily outstanding, but my favorite discovery was the kumquat-flavored Dry Soda on the menu. Not juice, not seltzer, and not really soda either, it was crisp, cool, slightly perfumed by the kumquats—washing down the thick smear of goat cheese and dripping tomato juices, forcing that last bite, it was near perfect. And no wait in line.
Pizzeria Bianco, 623 E. Adams St., Phoenix, AZ. 602-258-8300.
Bar Bianco, 609 E. Adams St., Phoenix, AZ. 602-528-3699.
Pane Bianco, 4404 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ. 602-234-2100.
NOTE: For more Phoenix dining and drinking recommendations, Cracking Good covers the local scene with wit and intelligence.