Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Three Hour Wait

Remember "Gilligan's Island?" Our experience last night begins with an introduction set to the theme from this show. So hum along as you begin.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of an endless wait,
That started from a palm tree walk, behind Heritage Square’s gate.
The mate was a mighty truckin’ gal, the Chuckster carried his weight
Five customers found some chairs outside for a three hour wait,
A three hour wait.

The evening started getting dark, the tiny group fought frost,
If not for the patience of the Fearless Few, the evening would be lost,
The evening would be lost.

The group sat around the patio of this top-rated dine,
The first mate Kate and Chuck there, too, a man with a cellular phone,
A travelin’ man, the doc with the slow-moving watch, at the end of Bianco’s line.

In 2007, Bon Appetit magazine named Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix as America’s Best Pizza on a Food Network special. Since then, pizza lovers from around the country have stood in line awaiting entry to this small (about 40 seats at tables and eight more at the bar) restaurant located in Heritage Square. Many of these same tourists ask perfect strangers to take their photographs in front of the building.

Now we are from the Northeast. Home of Pepe’s in New Haven (known for the white clam pizza), John’s or Lombardi’s in New York City, Tacconelli’s in Philadelphia (you need to call ahead and reserve your dough), and De Lorenzo’s in the Chambersburg section of Trenton. Phoenix? Show me the pizza!!

Pizzeria Bianco only takes reservations for parties of six to ten – no more, no less. So we were warned to expect a long wait. We arrived about 5:10, ten minutes after the opening, and saw a line of about fifty. These were just people waiting to get their names on the list. We were two of the last five in line.

At least that many had already registered and were drinking out the wait at Bar Bianco, which is conveniently located next door. (Smart man that Chris Bianco.)

After standing in this line for twenty-five minutes, we were told that it would be a three-hour wait to be seated. So what did we do? Like idiots with no life, we sat on a park bench in front of the restaurant and waited.

By the time we reached the 8:00 p.m. mark, I was suffering from an advanced case of BAD ATTITUDE. I was cold (temperatures in the desert drop rapidly after sunset); I was hungry; I was tired; and I needed a Ladies Room. Twenty minutes later, when we were finally seated on uncomfortable stools at the bar, I would be hard to please.

After convincing our waiter that we didn’t want wine, didn’t want appetizers, and didn’t want salads, we placed our order. Knowing that Pizzeria Bianco shares many suppliers with New Jersey Pizza Company (NJPC) of Flagstaff, in particular the fennel sausage from Schreiner’s, we decided to duplicate our lunch in Flagstaff and ordered one Margherita and one Margherita with sausage. NJPC bakes its pizzas in a traditional gas-fired, stone-floored oven, while Pizzeria Bianco boasts a state-of-the-art wood fired oven.

So is this the best pizza in America? Was this pizza worth a three-and-a-half hour wait? Is any pizza worth a three-and-a-half hour wait? No. No. No.

To give Pizzeria Bianco its due, these were very good pizzas. But they were not--at least to me--perfect pizzas. First, the bottom crust was not crisp through to the center. I have found that this is often the problem with wood fired oven pizza. The high heat would burn the toppings and crust edge if the center was cooked through. Second, sometimes a crust can be too thin, as it was with these pies. And if the crust is this thin, only a schmere of sauce should be used. More sauce makes a soggy crust.

And, while on the subject of sauce, I don’t particularly like large chunks of tomato in mine. This is just a personal preference--others might love the chunks.

My biggest disappointment was the sausage. At NJPC, the sausage was sliced in half-moons. At Pizzeria Bianco it was cut into long strips which made it difficult to bite through. But, even worse, the sausage strips weren’t laid flat on the pizza top so that the hot oven dried the sausage.

So what was good? The fresh mozzarella that topped both was excellent. What a difference this light, sweet cheese makes. And both pizzas were topped with a generous amount of sweet basil. I love basil. I love the taste of basil. I love the smell of basil. I think someone needs to market an eau de Basil parfume.

Would I go back again? Rather, would I wait three hours again for good but not perfect pizza? Not on your life!! (Unless someone wanted to pay me big bucks.) It’s an experience (I think) I’m glad I had, but I’m not anxious to do it again.

So, to rate. I would give the pizza 4.0 Addies. Better than most but not the best. The overall experience only rates 2.0 Addies.

Patience is not my strongest virtue.

No comments: