The Pitch It’s got a James Beard award-winning chef at its helm, taste and technique at its core, and critics from Bon Appetit to Vogue have labelled it one of the top spots to eat in America. Is it a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York or San Francisco? Nope. We’re talking about a pizza joint in Phoenix. Chef Chris Bianco is a Bronx-born pizza master who moved to Arizona in the mid-1980s. “What I love about New York is that it doesn’t need you,” he tells me. “I wanted to try something new, to get away as far as I could.” He came out to Arizona for a week. “It was January, there were oranges on the trees. I saw the sky bend, there were wide open spaces…” Long story short, he stayed.
What We Love By 1987, Bianco was making fresh mozzarella and pasta for local Arizona restaurants out of his house, and soon after opened his first restaurant — with nothing but six pizzas on the menu board, all handmade by him. “Everyone likes to try everything and this way they could,” he explains. He still has only six pizzas on the menu on any given day, supplemented by seasonal pastas and salads (Chef Alice Waters once popped by and Bianco whipped her up a salad made from fresh-picked tangerines, fennel, olive oil, a twist of black pepper and a little Maldon. In other words, perfection.) So what goes into his prized pizzas? Great ingredients coupled with thoughtfulness. To wit, the water is put through a filtration system that makes it as soft as the New York water Bianco was missing from his original Arizona dough. They also make fresh mozzarella each morning and smoke some of it with pecan wood. Bianco even cans his own San Marzano tomatoes for the restaurants’ tomato sauce (some local gourmet grocers sell his eponymous cans — the perfect AZ souvenir.) Then these ingredients, along with no more than a few more, top his raised dough before being popped into the wood-burning oven for a couple of minutes. “We work hard to do cool things,” he says.
Don’t Miss We had ordered the handmade mozzarella with local tomato, basil and olive oil, papparadelle with grass-fed bolognaise, a Margarita pizza (tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil), and the Wiseguy (wood-roasted onion, house smoked mozzarella, and fennel sausage). A lovely spread, to be sure. But when Bianco discovers we haven’t ordered the Rosa, he quickly ratifies the situation, as it’s his personal expression of the perfect pizza: “A balance of foundation, structure and design,” he says. A delicate scattering of red onion, Parmesan, rosemary and Arizona pistachios top the soft yet sturdy dough. It’s got a bit of salt, some nice char, and just the right amount of chew. That’s it. And now it’s my everything.
Pizzas starting at $13