Chris Bianco is the most recognizable chef in Phoenix, with stacks of accolades that other area chefs could only dream of accumulating. Customers gladly wait more than two hours for a table at Pizzeria Bianco, but Pane Bianco is nearly as good, and in some ways better, because you can grab-and-go in 15 minutes or less, and the focaccia is nearly the pizza’s equal.
A blackboard touts market specials. Order at the counter, which is decorated like a tiny barnyard, complete with pig and sheep statuary. Off in the distance, in the sunken kitchen, you’ll see a meticulous baker hand-forming focaccia in front of a boxy oven with a small mouth that casts a soft glow from the burning embers.
Pane Bianco shares a picnic table-lined patio with Lux Coffeebar, a trendy espresso house and bakery that features a DJ deck and a projection screen that displays puzzling films that only Andy Warhol would appreciate.
As it turned out, my favorite taste wasn’t even a sandwich. It was Pane Bianco’s state-of-the-art Focaccia del Giorno ($3.50), a greasy but mind-blowing flatbread loaded with molten Raschera cheese, tangy pitted olives, sweet onion strands and a judicious application of tomato sauce. The focaccia was similar to Sicilian-style pizza, with a crisper crust and a supple core.
It might seem strange to crave a Tuna ($8) sandwich, but Bianco’s version was several notches above the home version, mixed with red onion, Gaeta olives and lemon instead of cloying mayo. The sandwich was packed with arugula, which contributed welcome roughage.
Pane Bianco’s Market Sandwich ($9) changes on a regular basis. During our visit, the sandwich involved tangy Laura Chenel goat cheese, roasted tomato and another thatch of arugula. Since they substituted such a creamy cheese and actually cooked the tomatoes, it was a good twist on an overexposed sandwich like a Caprese.
Pane Bianco was at least as good as my first trip in 2007. It’s also more easily accessible than the pizzeria. As a result, it will become a much more frequent stop.