What and who makes the best pizza? This question sparks arguments far and wide. My family and many of my non-foodie friends probably think Pizza Hut and Papa John’s make a mean slice. Indeed they do, tasty, greasy, familiar, but not really all that great. If you fall into this category, hear this, a good pizza can be every bit as satisfying as a filet mignon!
My pizza odyssey began in 1993 when I first visited the Northeast and had my first truly regional/traditional pizza at Modern Apizza in New Haven, CT. Home of the white clam pie…cracker crisp crust & pancetta. Truly a transformational visit. Having grown up in North Georgia, my exposure to seafood was fried bream/bluegill/bass/catfish & occassionally some shrimp. I probably would have never tried anything as exotic as a “clam” at that stage…it’s fishy and gross looking. Right? Had it not been for Rob Defrancesco the 3rd, of proud Italian-American heritage and his cousin, the mafiosoesque Guido Espizito, I may have never began my pizza odyssey.
In the South, Athens at the time, a good pie could only be had at Peppino’s; basically a New York slice, however, no wood or coal burning oven and lackluster ingredients relegated this place to a late night beer sopper. It served that purpose well…Saga continued into med school, a place similar to Peppino’s opened downtown Augusta in 1998? “The Pizza Joint”. Good, but not Northeast good…it was around this time that I began to experiment. Being a baking novice, I tried many frozen pizza doughs available in our supermarkets (crap, btw) and could never achieve what is key to a really good pizza- a thin crust with the right amount of chew and a good sourdough flavor.
Years past, hundred of pizzas were made & eaten. Continued to get better and better. OG got into the act in Nashville and improved the process by making pizzas on his BGE-like grill. That worked pretty well and gave a nice charcoal flavor to the pies. (One of the best I’ve ever eaten was OG’s squid pie, for more info see previous posts). I continued to try different dough recipes and even dabbled with the famed Verasano’s recipe. I finally developed a recipe that I was happy with and one that was reproducible (again see past posts for recipes here if needed). This led me to build this monstrosity in my back yard…I’m still trying to tame the beast, but it does produce a tasty pie.
Finally, I decided that I needed to get out into the pizza world and try what many consider the best in America, so on a trip to Phoenix, I decided to pop in and give Pizza Bianco a try.
Don’t these guys look happy (Dr. Matt Diamond & Dr. Anup Manoharan, they’re actually married to women).
Located in Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix, Chris Bianco has been firing up some of America’s best pizzas for the past decade. If you google this guy, you’ll get hundreds of posts & articles in the NY times, Serious Eats, FoodTv, you name it and they’re on board with what’s happening here. The square is a hip conglomeration of specialty shops/stores/bars/restaurants which is well worth the visit even if you don’t get into the pizzeria. If the wait is too long, and believe me it’s not too long…you can simply hang out at Bar Bianco next door and have some killer apps & microbrews. Matt, Anup, and I had a few beverages and were in the pizzeria in a little over an hour after arriving at 530 on a Friday night (not bad, eh?). Finally to the pizza. Well, it didn’t suck. We had a Margherita, a Rosa, and a Sonnyboy. For descriptions, see menu. The most interesting was the Rosa: red onion, Parmigiano, rosemary, and local Arizona pistachios. A crazy combination & not my overall favorite, but I can still taste this thing if I think about it a few months later. So we’ll rate it as memorable. I’m not yet prepared to call this a true destination restaurant, but if like me, you are in Phoenix and perhaps want to catch a Diamondbacks game (which is one block from the pizzeria), by all means, DON’T MISS THIS PLACE.
Finally, if you ever have the misfortune of being in Buckhead (Atlanta, not Green County) and find yourself even remotely hungry, you can visit the man who led me to build it…Jeff Verasano. Doesn’t have the atmosphere of a NY pizzeria, nor does it have the cool factor associated with Bianco. What it does have is a fantastic pizza. Almost perfect in every way. If you spend time going over Jeff’s pizza recipe development you might wonder what kind of nut puts this type of dedication into pizza dough development? If you happen to meet Jeff and you taste these pizzas, you’ll understand…when Jennifer and I arrived, he had just sat down to greet a former waitress who popped in for lunch. She pulled from her purse some sort of modern-age Rubik’s cube that appeared insolvable. Jeff said, “Huh, haven’t seen one of these before.” He proceeded to solve the thing in about 90 seconds. Everything made sense at this point. My favorite pizza?
the Nucci. Garlic, Olives, Emmenthaler, Arugula, Capicola, Herbs & and a to die for crust. BTW: he also has suggested beer pairings for the different pies.