It isn’t about the pizza, here.
Well, it is.
But see if you can follow me here…it…isn’t.
Last weekend, beginning Saturday morning, in a span of 36 hours, about 14 of which were spent in the car, I clocked over 800 miles, crossed state borders, and sat on countless truck stop toilet seats (yes, with the covers!) before crawling into my bed on Sunday night. For what, you ask, dear readers? For food, of course.
My tolerant and curious friend, Heather (whom I have known for 20 years), and I went on this kamikaze mission for... pizza. To be specific, we traveled from LA to Phoenix to experience The Pizza; Pizzeria Bianco. Well, Heather probably went more for the spirit of adventure and BFF times, but so what – at least she went with me. Hard to believe, but it’s not easy to get someone geeked about driving six hours merely to arrive at dinner. Let’s not even go into the awareness that we would, more than likely, have a multiple hour wait. But it’s all about the excitement, the journey! Right?
Hello, is this thing on?
Hello, is this thing on?
Heather is great with travel escapades as she excels in departments that I don’t even consider. Directions, hotel accommodations, reservations, hotel and restaurant proximity (directions), car stuff, and directions (although we almost had a situation en route to Bianco’s from our hotel. See more below.). She doesn’t care as much about the meals as long as they exist and that she have a nice place to stay and a cocktail upon arrival. Me, I would have driven my car, which would have broken down (no dinner for me), gotten lost (no dinner for me), and stayed in the scariest hotel ever (think Norman Bates) no dinner for me)). I mean, we were already in the car and on the way before I asked if she had dealt with maps and directions. It had not even occurred to me. Don’t worry, she had it covered.
After a Chick-Fil-A stop (who knew they had any SoCal locations?!), a couple of gas ups, some curious signage and driver switcharoos, we arrived at our hotel around 4pm. I had called the restaurant to inquire as to the ideal time to show up to ensure a seating. They do not take reservations, you see. I was told that it would be best if I showed up after 9pm. Good news. This meant Heather and I could lounge by the pool and enjoy a few libations and explore the hotel before heading to dinner. Everything was smooth like butter.
Our hotel was in Scottsdale, “15 minutes from our restaurant in Phoenix”. Maybe it was the tired factor, maybe it was the booze, let’s blame it the iPhone’s GPS, but - bless her heart - Heather was having a time finding our restaurant in this new landscape. I did get to see Chase Stadium; home of the Diamondbacks, though. Twice. I would have been having a small anxiety attack but we stumbled across the most amazing, old school, hip hop, radio station that saved the day and distracted me from acting like a ball of neurosis in front of poor Heather (they played Lords of the Underground's "Chief Rocka", for Christ's sake!). Hindsight being 20/20, we were fine all along and could have gotten even more lost, if we wanted.
And then there it was, beautifully illuminated with a cluster of happy-wine-glass-holding-people outside, on a bewitchingly, temperate evening. For me, it was like seeing one of the great wonders of the world because I had TRAVELED and RESEARCHED and PLANNED for this. The hostess told us we’d have about an hour wait – no problem. We just sauntered over to Bar Bianco next door to have a glass or two of wine during our dally. The bar shares a lot with the Pizzeria and was established for the extreme wait that most of the pizzeria’s loyal customers endure. There are benches outside where we sat, enjoyed our wine and watched the goings on. It was a beautiful environment, and I could have sat there for a few hours and sipped my wine before dinner. I actually had a glass of Muscato that that blew my mind which I need to call and inquire about. Come to think of it, I also had a glass of Zinfandel I wanted to find again. I believe it was from the Green & Red Vineyards.
It was right about an hour when the hostess asked if we would like the two available seats at the bar or if we wanted to wait a hair longer for a table. Well you guys know I usually prefer to dine at the bar. Heather wasn’t as thrilled about it but she conceded knowing this was my special time. At the bar I feel closer to the energy of the restaurant, I can interact with the people that work there, the people around me, things seem paced more leisurely, and it’s all a bit less formal. It’s about the recreation of the food, the wine, and the atmosphere.
The menu is tiny, and we ordered about half of the things on it, on the suggestions of the staff. We also ordered a bottle of the Titus Old Vine Zinfandel, 2006 (Napa Valley) ($36). Food wise, here we go:
Antipasto – Wood Roasted Vegetables, Soppressata, Bite of Cheese … $13
Spiedini – Italian Fontina wrapped in Prosciutto di Parma, served warm … $9
Margherita – Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil … $12
Sonny Boy – Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Salami, Gaeta Olives … $14.00
Biancoverde – Fresh Mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta, Arugula … $15
Wiseguy – Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage … $15
Even the staff thought this was a bit of an obscene amount of food for us to order. But-I-drove-six-hours-for-it-and-planned-it-for-weeks-so-lay-off!! I will add that as perfect and delicious as it was (actually BECAUSE of that), I really over ate. Think two Thanksgivings in one day. My stomach is still a little distended.
Seriously, this food was celestial – down to the baby arugula upon which the Spiedini rested. Without giving a bite by bite play of the meal (or you will have computer butt), I will just say that upon tasting that first bite (and every bite following) of that margherita pie, every mile driven, every hour in the car, every minute waiting outside, and every second anticipating was more than worth it. I can say essentially the same for everything I tasted, but I think it’s all very clear at this point.
Brooklyn-born Chris Bianco hand makes every pizza that comes out of his kitchen. Maybe I should repeat that. Chris Bianco makes every pizza that comes out of his kitchen. Once that has sunk in, also know that he makes his own mozzarella cheese and grows his basil and other herbs on the grounds surrounding the restaurant. They do not take reservations and they do not offer delivery or carry out service. This is all to preserve the integrity of each pie. I suppose when you are the namesake behind the establishment and responsible for each and every pizza being produced, you had better make sure you don’t let any external element affect your product. Maybe that’s why the New York Times and Vogue (to name a few) have named his pizza “among the world’s best”. Respect.
For the last 30-45 minutes of the meal, Heather found herself so much in the throes of a food coma (read, "over-served") that she went to “get some air” (read, sleep in the car). This was perfectly fine with me as I was able to sip my Zin, finish off the margherita, and chat with the staff as they closed down the front of the house. In fact, the woman I spoke with on the phone remembered me (I was “that girl on her way in from LA for pizza”), and gave me a great brunch recommendation for the next day.
The next morning, Heather and I sipped mimosas and watched the Food Network in our room. We giggled with Paula Deen, y’all. We also had a blast cooking with The Neely’s. That Pat is always gettin’ at Gina’s sugar! Anyway, from there we took the Pizzeria Bianco folk’s advice and had brunch at The Orange Table before we hit the road leading back home. Brunch was great, by the way. Good Bloodys, really nice, thick sourdough toast and impressive corned beef hash. Our server was the sweeter than the sun inviting the moon over for tea. Sweet tea, of course.
With our bellies full of food and the appropriate, pre-noon, libations, Heather and I hopped back in our little car and headed back to the City of Angels. I was fecund with food, love and happiness. We even got to stop in Quartzsite, AZ for some super fresh jerky to aid us in our salt requisite for the remainder of the way home.
Around 8pm last night, I walked through my front door to find my roommate, Chris, standing in the kitchen. “I have something for you”, I chirped. He looked at me inquisitively. That’s when I handed him a pizza box, clearly labeled “Pizzeria Bianco”. “What the…” he responded. “I told you I was bringing back pizza”, I told him. He replied, “Well, yeah, but I didn’t really think you were going to bring pizza back from Arizona!” To which I smugly replied, “Told you so.” I was probably responding more to the fact that most of the people who heard tale told of this adventure, just stared at me, blinking their eyes; either thinking I was a bit nutty or simply stupid obsessed. Perhaps I am a little of both. But I tasted and experienced something amazing and I will never forget it. And, as most things, the journey was half the fun. Fete accompli!
And you know what? It's fun to get away from the camp, even if it's just for 36 hours.
P.S. I have Chris Bianco’s recipe and will be trying it out soon (jealous much?!). I will certainly keep you posted. And here are some fun tips from Chris on Jimmy Kimmel.