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March 31, 2010

Pane Bianco

Soppressata with Aged Provolone and Roasted Peppers Dominic Armato

And now, a Phoenix post that will be completely useless to Phoenicians. Bear with me. I'm still getting up to speed. And I'll make it up to you on Friday. Mmmmmmmaybe Monday.

In any case, one of the Phoenix standards I hit pretty early on in our tenure here was Pane Bianco. Pizzeria Bianco clearly needs to happen at some point (despite a number of downhill alerts that have been floating around), but since it seems that it's about as easy to land an audience with a Chris Bianco pizza as it is to land an audience with the Pope or the Easter Bunny (or both), it'll have to wait for an evening when I have six hours to devote to the process. Pane Bianco, on the other hand, is a quick and easy stop and rather highly regarded 'round these parts. Which is why those who live in Phoenix can tune out. I'm just joining the choir, here.

The Front DoorDominic Armato

It's a stripped-down establishment, open only for a few hours around lunchtime, five days a week. They have a spartan industrial chic thing happening in front of the counter, even if things look a little chaotic behind. And the menu's tiny. Three regular sandwiches, two of which are also repackaged as salads, one market special and a foccaccia of the day. You place your order, wait a few minutes, and walk out the door. Orders are exclusively to-go, and the few picnic tables out front are usually busy... in the wintertime, at least. But thus far, every sandwich we've had has come home with us. Every time we've gone. Which has already been quite a few times.

Housemade Mozzarella, Tomato, BasilDominic Armato

The sandwiches are freaking great, and their success is due to three things. First, the bread, which is freshly baked in the wood-fired oven behind the counter. Positioned somewhere between ciabatta and pizza dough, it has great flavor and a great chew on top, but is still thin and supple enough that it's not a challenge to consume. Second, they're of the minimal school. No overworked messes with 37 different ingredients, here. And third, the ingredient sourcing is fantastic. I'm not one to play the "oh, sandwiches are so much better in Europe blah blah blah" card. Sometimes those 37 ingredients can work great together. But there's no denying that these are sandwiches with old-world sensibilities. Simple, fresh and ingredient-focused, where the bread is as important as what's inside of it.

Tomato, Onion and Raschera FoccacciaDominic Armato

My least favorite of the three regular sandwiches, the soppressata with aged provolone and roasted peppers, is still a pretty freaking good sandwich. Delicious meat, great cheese, sweet roasted peppers with perhaps a little hit of vinegar. Moving on up the ladder is a killer caprese on bread, a tender and milky house-made mozzarella with fresh basil, tomatoes that are way too good for the dead of winter (though I understand the growing season out here is a little wonky), and killer olive oil. The one I keep coming back to is the tuna with red onion, Gaeta olives, lemon and arugula. A little acid, a little oil... good tuna doesn't need much more than that. And the market sandwiches have been similarly delicious. But the stealth star of the menu, straight across every trip I've made there, has been the focaccia of the day, sitting in a small pile right on the front counter. My kid, predictably devoted to pizza, has been the recipient of this particular morsel every time. And every time I've hovered over him, waiting for the "All done!" so I can pounce. Moist and flavorful bread, doused with olive oil and topped with more stellar ingredients, and the bargain of the menu at $3 a slice.

I certainly don't mean to give the impression that somehow Pane Bianco has it right while those sandwich shops more focused on recipes somehow have it wrong. There's room for everybody's contributions to the sandwich pantheon, here. And I also don't mean to make it sound as though these are jaw-dropping works of genius. They're just great sandwiches. And simple ones at that. But that's what makes them so refreshing. Their deliciousness is as much a function of what Bianco doesn't do as it is a function of what he does do. But he's doing (and not doing) the right things, and Pane Bianco is already part of our regular rotation.

Pane Bianco
4404 N Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85012
Tue - Sat11:00 AM - 3:00 PM


Yeah I don't know if it helps Phoenix residents, but I love these—it helps me think about what to eat when/if I go there. Like that hot dogs post—that was fascinating, as was this.

I think those sandwiches might be the only thing I miss about Phoenix. Well, that and being able to use the pool year round (and, uh, having a pool). But that tuna is to die for.

Spot on review and great pictures. Looking forward to more posts.

I used to work down the street from there and was regularly tasked with sandwiching the whole office, which I didnt mind as Id patiently smoke in the parking lot, pacing back and forth anxiously like an expecting father in a hospital waiting room.

I once asked a friend: "why is Eric Clapton considered such a giant of guitar soloing? Its not like he plays that fast or acrobatic or anything."

To which my friend replied: "It's because of the notes he doesn't play. Its the space between that makes him great."

I suppose the same logic applies to sandwiches (and food in general really) as you point out. Not to say there's isn't room for the Steve Vai's and Bucketheads in the world of guitar. They all have their place but you have to respect the ones who keep it simple and tasty.

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