About ten years ago, I was driving cross-country and ate dinner at Pizzeria Bianco. I liked Chris Bianco’s pizza so much, I returned the following day for lunch. Years later, and dozens of national write-ups later, Pizzeria Bianco no longer has to serve lunch to generate enough business. Instead, hours are limited to five hours a night, 5-10 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. There are no reservations, and it was a Saturday, so we arrived at 4 PM to score a spot in the first seating. There were already about twenty-five people sitting on benches and metal chairs outside the former home of the Baird Machine Shop, built in 1929. At about 4:30, anxiety settled over the mounting crowd and people began lining up. And lining up. And lining up. There were about twenty people in front of us, but with 43 seats, I wasn’t worried…yet.
By the time the front door opened at 5:02, the line had reached triple digits. A woman emerged from Pizzeria Bianco and asked everybody in line to take three steps back so she could open the door and begin letting people in. As it turned out, seemingly solo diners were serving as proxy for larger groups, and our first seating status was in jeopardy. As diners filtered into the restaurant, it got to the point where there were only six seats left at the bar, and only two pairs in front of us. Or so we thought. A man at the head of the line announced there were TWELVE people in his party. The hostess offered him the final six seats at the bar, and the man took them, with total disregard for the other six people in his party, who were relegated to an hour-and-a-half wait.
At this point, the hostess began writing down names on a list. Securing second pole position, we chose “first available.” We were given an ETA of one hour and told to remain between the pizzeria and Bar Bianco, where they’d call my name.
Bar Bianco is situated next door in a circa-1909 house that was moved to Heritage Square in the ’80s, featuring a shaded porch and a beautiful wood interior. After standing in another long line, to get drinks at the bar, it became obvious why Chris Bianco opened the bar, and why he doesn’t offer reservations. Happily, the porch was actually a pleasant place to pass the time, watching the foot traffic on pedestrian-only Heritage Square, a revamped historic area featuring the Arizona Science Center, the Phoenix Museum of History, and the Arizona Doll & Toy Museum.
I didn’t know this at 4 PM, but Bar Bianco features a short menu of interesting bar snacks: Fra’ Mani charcuterie, cheeses, and a couple creations made using that amazing Bianco bread. This grilled split focaccia with fontina ($6) was served with a skewer of sweet bread-and-butter pickles. It wasn’t pizza, but warm bread and oozing cheese are still a winning combination.
We also scored a bowl of meaty Cerignola olives ($4).
I drank a glass of Thunder Canyon cream ale (Tucson, AZ) on tap, along with bottled Coke.
Less than an hour after I gave the hostess my name, I was led to a table in the back of Pizzeria Bianco.
Chris Bianco, a Bronx native, has made pizzas for twenty years in Phoenix alone, and he still maintains exacting standards when producing his famous pizzas from his wood fired-oven.
While waiting for our order, I spotted a stack of fresh-baked country loaves.
I nibbled on country bread, dipping the crusty slices in a dish of premium olive oil.
I knew we’d encounter some serious pizza, but I never expected to find such an incredible starter. Spiedini means skewers in Italian ($9). Pizzeria Bianco’s current version features Italian fontina wrapped in prosciutto di Parma, served on a bed of arugula that’s dressed with vinaigrette. The cheese was hot, but not hot enough to ooze off the skewer, and the surrounding prosciutto was salty and crispy and just the best shell imaginable.
We wanted one pizza with sauce and one without. For the sauce-laden pizza, we ordered the Sonny Boy ($13), holding a thin layer of robust tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, Gaeta olives and salami shipped from New York, made crispy in the oven. The crust was excellent, with a good chew, and not a dry centimeter to be found.
Our sauce-free selection was the Wiseguy ($14), topped with candy-sweet wood-roasted onions, phenomenal house-smoked mozzarella, and spicy cuts of fennel sausage from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage in Phoenix. The ingredients were so stellar, I actually didn’t miss tomato sauce.
Pizzeria Bianco offers coffee, but no desserts. I needed caffeine fix, but took sympathy on the waiting diners and got coffee elsewhere.On the walk out, Chris Bianco and his staff thanked us for eating there. I told him it was “well worth the wait.” After being reminded of Bianco’s pizza mastery, there’s no chance I’ll wait another decade for a return trip.
Pizzeria Bianco is officially open Tuesday-Saturday from 5–10 PM, but if you get your name on the list by 10, you may be seated past midnight.