Two days ago I was in San Fransisco. Two days ago I was a free man. Today I am parked under the fluorescent-lit drop ceiling that is the pestilence of modern living, a blight that causes the slow deaths of countless psyches across the developed world. Yup. There's nothing like a good road trip to remind you how dull and inane your daily life actually is.
Two Friday's ago I met Kyle at the Phoenix Airport Alamo Rental Car desk. After driving in circles trying to figure out how to get on I-10, we headed over to Pizzeria Bianco, a place often tagged as having the best pizza in these United States. We arrived on their sun baked front patio around 4pm, a good hour before they opened doors, and we weren't even the first in line—already there was a small collection of people hanging out under a canvass awning. Kyle and I did some catching up, interrupted periodically by a couple of very nice guys—fledgling pizza enthusiasts—asking me questions about pizzerias and pizza making. By the time Bianco's opened, the line to get in stretched maybe 60 people down the block.
How could Bianco's wood-charred pies live up to the hype surrounding them? Well, they couldn't. But I can't think of any pizza that could. We kicked off the meal with a couple of cokes and an antipasto (olives, cheese, soppressata and fire roasted asparagus, bell peppers, and onions) that turned out to be the star of the meal. A wild-haired Chris Bianco was manning the oven and stretching out paper-thin 12 inch rounds of dough. Our pizzas came out beautifully cooked, with the puffy edge having a slim crisp outter shell and soft, spongey innards. Between the two of us we split the Rosa (Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, Arizona Pistachios), the Wiseguy (Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage), and a Margherita (Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil). The Margherita was excellent and the best of the lot, with a fresh-tasting sauce and a nice sauce and cheese balance. The Wiseguy was heavily loaded with thick strips of sausage and onion, both of which were delicious in their own right, but were detrimental to the pizza's pizza-ness. Their heft overpowered both the crust's structure and its flavor. I wondered why they bothered to put them on a pizza crust to begin with. The sausage and onions would have made a tastey meal by themselves. The Rosa is without a doubt the richest pizza I've ever had. The oils from the reggiano and pistachios mixing with the sweetness of the red onion were overwhelming and gave me that feeling of thickness at the base of the jaw where it meets the throat. I could only manage to down two of its six slices. Kyle seemed happy to play clean-up on that one.
The nail in the coffin for me though was crust, which while cooked to perfection, was simply bland. Maybe it was just this day's batch, but it lacked both the yeasty flavor and saltiness that combine for that satisfactory umami-ness one searches for in that last bite. The best pizza in America? No. But when it was all chewed and swallowed, it was still a damn fine dinner and certainly a pizza worthy of praise. Great service too.