Heres the latest from Andrew From AZ. (This might shock you, but that’s not his real name.) Plucked from the obscurity that is our comments board, Andrew is snarky, single and a bit of a (reluctant) scenester. In other words, he’s the perfect person to document the trials and tribulations of life in the world’s hippest suburb.
Pizza isn’t one of those sexy ethnic foods (Korean BBQ! Tapas! Peruvian!) that people who live in real cities fail to fully appreciate, but there is certainly more to it than the ubiquitous Pizza Hut would suggest. Pizza has to be among the most popular foods in the US (what picky teenager won’t eat pizza?), and yet, too few Americans are willing to experiment and explore the flavors, textures, and variety it can offer.
I don’t remember how I heard about the tiny little place next door to the Arizona Science Center in Downtown Phoenix – it was during a time when Pizzeria Bianco hadn’t gotten a lot of new press for a couple of years. Since I liked to read about people having fun and enjoying themselves instead of actually going out the front door and experiencing new things, I did some searching to learn more about the place. Among the first things I came across was an article in the NY Times, which immediately made me sit up a little straighter at my computer. It may have been a couple weeks later when I finally convinced a friend to check it out with me. “It’s supposed to be a couple hours’ wait,” I told her. “Can you handle that?” She could (I sent her some of the press, which may have helped), and off we went. I ordered the Sonny Boy, careful to avoid anything remotely resembling a vegetable on my pizza, and a kinda-crappy Italian beer. A few minutes of awkward conversation passed, punctuated with a strangely light bread we dipped in olive oil, before our pizza arrived. In the first bite I burned the shit out of the roof of my mouth.
The middle of one of Chris Bianco’s pizzas is almost like a soup – the crust has no body and the ingredients nearly run. The outer edge of the crust, in contrast, is dry, light, puffy, and crispy, with a deep char from the wood-fired oven. By the time I finished the first slice I was in heaven. The salami had just a hint of spice. The black olives were so salty that the tomato sauce seemed sweet in comparison. The fresh mozzarella was simply perfect. When I finally stopped eating for long enough to speak, I told my dinner companion (who was similarly floored) that I would never look at pizza the same way again.
What I didn’t realize was that I would never look at any food the same way again. Over the course of the next few years, I went from eating from a very short list of vegetables prepared in a very specific manner (the more cheese the better), to ordering a pan full of grilled beets and fawning like an idiot over a few heirloom carrots. I still order burgers, but now I look for bleu cheese and deep greens and ask for them to be cooked medium rare, whereas before I was far more prone to say “ketchup only.” I started eating guacamole and even plain avocado. I still remember my dad saying “Since when do you eat salad?” one time when I decided that’s what I wanted for lunch. It all came full circle one day when I popped into La Piazza al Forno in Downtown Glendale for a pie to take back to work with me for lunch. “Arugula? Mmm, perfect.”
Pizza is a lot like the late Rodney Dangerfield: it’s round and nobody respects it. Eventually we all grow up and have to stop calling it the perfect food. It’s a little ironic that it was a lowly slice of pizza that turned me into a insufferable food snob, but there you have it.