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July 13, 2011

Taylor Street in Tempe

Chicago Style Hot Dog Dominic Armato

One of the things that always drives me nuts is when people refer to the Italian neighborhood on Taylor Street in Chicago as Little Italy. It's not as though I knew everybody in the city of Chicago, but I certainly never heard anybody call it Little Italy when I was growing up. It was Taylor Street. Then, somewhere along the line (we may have the University Village Association to blame... I'm a little fuzzy on the history) "Little Italy" caught on, and where the term used to be an instant tourist identifier, I'm now shocked by how many Chicagoans use it. Yes, I realize that I'm going all "get off my lawn!" here, but the point is that there's a breed of Chicagoan for whom "Taylor Street" will never be replaced by "Little Italy." It's a breed of Chicagoan that can't stomach the city's signature foodstuffs being done any way but the right way. And this is why I nearly ran my car off the road last week when I drove by a brand new place called "Taylor Street."

Positive IndicatorsDominic Armato

Taylor Street, speaking this time of the sandwich shop that just opened in Tempe a month ago, popped up out of nowhere with zero fanfare, like so many little hot dog and beef stands back home. It's taken over a strip mall space formerly occupied by a Quiznos, which left behind some of the kitchen equipment, all of the wall decorations, and apparently even a few boxes of the paper they used to wrap the sandwiches (Hey, why waste?). The story of its genesis is a familiar one. The owner and chief kitchen operator, Joel, used to run Luke's of Chicago on Indian School and 16th Street along with his brother, before selling off his half of the business and setting out on his own. When I learned this, a little light went off. Luke's had been my favorite Italian Beef in the valley, a very respectable if less than stellar version that guaranteed a taste of home wasn't too far away. But it's been slipping lately. My last few visits left me with underwhelming sandwiches and I was starting to worry that the magic was gone. Turns out the magic moved to Tempe. And got better.

Italian BeefDominic Armato

That I've even had the opportunity to be mildly frustrated by the hunt for an Italian Beef sandwich in Phoenix is a blessing. I made the mistake of turning a love into an obsession right before leaving Chicago, creating intense cravings that couldn't be even remotely satisfied in Baltimore and Boston. Then we get to Phoenix, and suddenly it's Southwest Chicago, with hot dog and beef stands everywhere. There are a lot of places around town that serve a decent dog, but Italian Beef, for lengthy reasons I'm not going to get into at the moment, is deceptively tricky to get right. And man, does Taylor Street get it right. I picked up a beef, sweet, hot and, most importantly, dipped (I try not to state opinion as fact, but I don't see the point of a dry Italian Beef). And this sandwich is fabulous. The beef is tender and flavorful, roasted fresh daily and sliced thin before going for a brief swim in the gravy (what non-Chicagoans may know as seasoned beef broth). The sweet peppers are big, lush and actually sweet, avoiding the bitterness that so many beef stands fail to avoid. The giardiniera is a good bottled variety, big chunks of peppers and vegetables with the right amount of vinegary tang and plenty of heat. The gravy is bold and well-seasoned and, in oft-overlooked fashion, contains enough oil to make the sandwich rich and succulent. Really, the only knock is the bread, which could stand to be a little more crusty and a little less spongy. But as I've mused before, the bread is the hardest thing to replicate halfway across the country, and the loaf they've chosen possesses the requisite absorbency and resilience to make the sandwich work. Bottom line is that this would be an excellent beef in the heart of Chicago, to say nothing of the middle of the desert. It's head and shoulders above anything else I've had locally... Luke's, Lobby's, Casella's, Chicago Hamburger Co., Joey's of Chicago, the now departed Al's franchise and more... this one beats them all in my book. And at $5 (an absurd price for the most expensive item on the menu), it's a steal.

Maxwell Street PolishDominic Armato

I could close the book here and be absolutely thrilled with the place, but it gets better, as Joel extends that care to a bunch of other Chicago standbys as well. I love a good Maxwell Street Polish, on a poppyseed bun with grilled onions, mustard and sport peppers, and while there's nothing like grabbing one from Maxwell Street Express and then sauntering next door to Jim's Original for an encore, this one's on point. I don't know where they source their sausage, but it's a good one, a thick, garlicky beef and pork kielbasa that's split lengthwise and griddled until crispy around the edges, dressed with a conservative amount of mustard, hot and tangy sport peppers, and a mix of griddled onions and bell peppers that, while non-canonical, strikes me as perfectly acceptable substitute (I believe the same grilled vegetables are used for a few sandwiches, hence the mix). Again, I'm not completely without complaints. The onions need to be cut thicker so they stay a little sweeter, moister and more voluminous, but even if no improvement is made -- and one gets the sense from talking to him that Joel is constantly testing and improving -- I'm more than happy with it.

Pork Chop SandwichDominic Armato

Happy as I was to see a Maxwell Street Polish, I was practically giddy to see a pork chop sandwich on the menu, another Maxwell Street standby that languishes in the shadow of its Polish brethren. When you get one of these fellows in Chicago, typically you substitute a griddled pork chop for the sausage and a hamburger bun for the hot dog bun, and everything else remains the same. Taylor Street takes a little liberty with convention, putting two thin-cut pork chops side by side on a long roll. This lame picture doesn't do it justice, because it's pretty darn good. I've had juicier and I think I prefer the hamburger bun, but this one's a fine specimen that's deliciously seasoned and appropriately dressed.

CheeseburgerDominic Armato

The more typical offerings are also well-represented. The cheeseburger's nothing fancy, but it's good, a freshly-griddled patty with two slices of cheese, vegetables and condiments, on a toasted sesame bun. There's nothing special about it beyond the fact that it's just like the burgers you might get from any neighborhood stand in Chicago, which just makes it right somehow, even if it probably won't be a standout to anybody who didn't grow up with it. The hot dogs are more obviously good, a skinless Vienna beef five-to-a-pounder dressed with the usual suspects. I much prefer the sublime snap of a natural casing dog, but the early returns apparently indicate that most of Joel's customers thus far prefer the bigger dog (Vienna's natural casing dogs are only available in a smaller size). But I understand the natural casing dogs will be making an appearance later this week on a trial basis. Here's hoping they stick around.

Italian SausageDominic Armato

Lastly, the unexpected surprise of the menu was the Italian sausage sandwich. When you've been spoiled by places like Johnnie's back in Chicago, where skewers loaded with sausages are charred over live coals, you don't want to set unrealistic expectations for a brand new place that doesn't even have a grill. And Taylor Street isn't Johnnie's. But this sausage -- at least the way he prepares it for those he identifies as Chicagoans -- is both a killer sandwich and one of the best in Joel's arsenal. No tub full of par-cooked sausages to be found here. He takes a raw Roma's sausage (another Chicago import), splits it down the middle, griddles it to a crisp and serves it on a roll with your choice of peppers and -- most critically -- a healthy splash of the Italian beef gravy. It's messy and spicy and rich and absolutely delicious. Just be sure to specify that you want it with gravy if you don't sound like one of the superfans.

Onion RingsDominic Armato

I don't want to get carried away. The place isn't perfect. The fries are frozen fare, if super hot and crisp. And then the aforementioned items like the good but less-than-awesome bread, the (current) lack of a natural casing dog and the issues with the onions are frustrating, but only because so much is right here that the few things that aren't ideal stand out more. But across the board, this is a great Chicago-style sandwich shop -- the best I've encountered in Phoenix -- anchored by an unconventional but surprisingly delicious sausage and an almost unimpeachable Italian beef, and overseen by an owner who obviously wants to do things right and seems to be experimenting and tweaking with the aim of further improvements. The only thing that worries me with a place like this is that folks who don't have a lot of experience with these sandwiches as they're prepared in Chicago will bring a different set of expectations and put pressure on them to change. And that's why I offer these words of advice: No matter your pepper preference, order your Italian beef wet or dipped. When ordering a Polish or pork chop sandwich, specify that you want mustard, grilled onions and sport peppers. Ask for some gravy on your Italian sausage. And most importantly, don't get antsy if your sandwich takes ten minutes to come out. When it's the lunch rush in Chicago, you can keep cranking out the sausages and people will keep streaming in the door to eat them fresh. When you're in Phoenix and the orders are less predictable, you need to cook to order and that takes a little time. Believe me, you don't want them making the sacrifices in flavor that would be necessary to finish that Italian sausage in two minutes. Speed is often the enemy of good, and that definitely applies here. This is already a great place, and I have a hunch it will become even better so long as there aren't too many people demanding dry beef, lean sausage and hot dogs with ketchup. Tell Joel you want it the way you'd get it back in Chicago, and you might see why these sandwiches, when done well, can inspire such devotion.

Taylor Street
914 N. Scottsdale Road
Tempe, AZ 85281
Mon - Thu10:30 AM - 9:00 PM
Fri - Sat10:30 AM - 10:00 PM
Sun10:30 AM - 7:00 PM

July 07, 2011

The Quarterly Report - Q2 2011

Lobster Roll @ Noca Dominic Armato

An unusually robust report this quarter! In terms of volume, anyway. I actually cut a few because I intend to get back to them, so it's perhaps a little heavier on the negative than the positive... something I want to avoid developing into a habit. And yet, two themes have emerged over the past few months. One, some restaurants need to do less, and do it better. Two, ethnic eats are making me crabby. In any case, here they are, in order determined by random.org as always:

Spicy PorkDominic Armato

4214 W. Dunlap Avenue, Phoenix, AZ 85051

Takamatsu was actually pretty darn tasty despite the staff's best efforts to the contrary. We landed at Takamatsu because it's one of the few K-BBQ joints in town that's open past 9:00... barely (another rant for another time), hitting the west side location because it was more centrally located for the evening's crew than Chandler, and we ended up with a pretty good meal and a better story. Takamatsu does, oddly, Korean BBQ and sushi, which seem rather incongruous partly due to the cultural disconnect and partially because one's very fresh and delicate and the other is extremely smoky. And I suspect the staff's fears of the latter interfering with the former were the source of our troubles. In any case, I can't speak to the sushi bar, and the panchan's a little anemic (4-5 items and passable, I suppose), but the meats were plentiful and delicious, particularly their spicy pork, even if we nearly had to get into a confrontation with the staff to make it happen. Apparently, we were under the mistaken impression that K-BBQ is supposed to be grilled. The staff, in contrast, felt the meat should be slowly simmered in its juices on the grill plate (this is not an exaggeration). After an epic, passive-aggressive back and forth struggle with the gas control, I finally asked them to please leave it alone so that the meat would, you know, actually cook. Next time, I'm turning it up and removing the knob. Korean BBQ... if you're trying to prevent smoke from forming, you're doing it wrong.

Italian SubDominic Armato

Niccoli's Italian Delicatessen
6102 N. 16th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85016

I want to like Niccoli's more than I do, which isn't to say that I don't. Though I champion authentic Italian, my love for Italian-American is also formidable, and a good neighborhood Italian-American deli is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Niccoli's has been around forever, it's run by an older couple, and it's... okay. Perusing the shelves, at times it looks like they just checked every box in the Cento catalog, but there's enough variety to keep it from looking like a product showroom and there are definitely a few gems to be found amidst the noise. There were a few different types of pecorino in the cheese case, and I was disappointed/annoyed when the fellow running the place (and pictured on the walls) was unable or unwilling to tell me who the producers were, before finally saying, "After you grate them, you can't tell the difference anyway." Ooooookay. Despite these less-than-encouraging signs, they make a decent if unexceptional Italian sub. It's on the cheap end of old school, and the cuts aren't exactly of the highest quality. But the bread is fresh, it still has a certain downscale charm, and I'd pop in for another if I were in the 'hood. That said, it isn't going to pull me across town, and the deli case leaves an awful lot to be desired.

La Condesa Shrimp TacoDominic Armato

La Condesa
1919 N. 16th Street, Phoenix, AZ 85006

La Condesa is another place I wish I liked more than I do, and it's particularly consternating since so many folks whose opinions I respect love it. By manner of mission statement, they're trying to get folks out of the Tex-Mex rut, which is fabulous, and I appreciate the care and cojones necessary to fire up a menu that collects regional specialties from far-flung corners of Mexico, but perhaps that's the problem right there. Though my tastes undeniably tend towards very focused, regional ethnic joints, it's not a matter of eschewing a place that's gringo-friendly. Heck, I think Gallo Blanco is great. It's just that I sampled too many tacos that were barely good enough. First off, for somebody who loves a good salsa but is historically puzzled by salsa bar obsession, I have to concede, this one's pretty impressive in variety, scale and flavor (even if there are a few throwaways). But I'm not feeling the tacos, which are of the 6" variety and $3 apiece. The fried dogfish taco, with crema and cilantro salsa, was very nice, and I would've been more excited about it had I not recently come upon Tacos Atoyac. But that was the only one I find myself anxious to eat again. Carne asada hit a nice balance of charred and tender, but was served with nothing but shredded cabbage and was criminally underseasoned, almost as though it was intentionally positioned as a blank slate for the salsas. The La Condesa shrimp taco, with onions, mushrooms, poblanos and the same cilantro salsa, was well-conceived but just came off a little flat and was similarly underseasoned. More problematic for me were the cochinita pibil and black mole chicken tacos, which had the opposite problem. Tender and abundant, yes, but both had serious balance issues. Achiote can be some pretty heady stuff, which is why citrus and vinegar are such great foils, but here the annatto was so overpowering that the meat took on an unpleasant, almost musty character. And I adore the chocolate notes in a good black mole, but a taco shouldn't taste like a candy bar. When the chiles are overpowered by chocolate and sugar, that's a problem. In both cases, if the meats weren't quite so saucy perhaps they might've worked better. Given the saucy nature of some of these tacos, the chicken tinga, predictably, fared better, but gosh, something non-liquid on top sure would be nice... a little fresh onion, some cilantro, a crumble of queso fresco... some kind of contrast. I love the ambition here. I just feel like it exceeds their grasp. Or it could just be that they're trying to do too much... a hypothesis that isn't exactly refuted by the fact that they offer more than a dozen salsas.

Veal ChopDominic Armato

Rancho Pinot
6208 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, Arizona 85253

It was the constant swooning of Eric Eats Out (sorry this photo doesn't do your true love justice, Eric) and a three and a half hour wait at Pizzeria Bianco that led us to Rancho Pinot, and it's a nice spot! Nobody's reinventing the wheel here (except maybe Travis at the bar, who can mix a mean cocktail), it's just straightforward, hearty Cal-American fare that's (mostly) deftly prepared and very satisfying. Grilled squid and shrimp salad with slivered celery, white beans and preserved lemon was crisp and refreshing, though I would have preferred that the seafood played a larger role. A rustic pate with all the trimmings hit the spot, and the object of Eric's affection, the veal chop, is a fine specimen, with caramelized shallots, asparagus, polenta and a hearty jus. The only issue was my ladylove's badly overcooked halibut which, had it been mine, would have been the first dish I've ever sent back to the kitchen. But given the flawless execution on everything else and the experience of many of those whom I trust, it seems we happened to catch a rare mistake that somehow snuck out of the kitchen. There's nothing challenging here, which I think is exactly the point. It seems that it's meant to be very straightforward, casual and comforting, and it hits that nail on the head.

Fried Chicken & WafflesDominic Armato

Lo-Lo's Chicken & Waffles
2765 N. Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, AZ 85257

There are those better versed on the finer points of the genre than I, but I know enough to know that Lo-Lo's turns out some pretty darn good fried chicken. It's of the deep-fryer school (I'm not sure how you'd do pan-fried for this kind of volume), but it's hot and crisp, well-seasoned under the skin (too rare a phenomenon), and usually moist and tender, though I've had a rogue piece on a couple of occasions. At first I was a little taken aback by the waffles' lack of texture, but I've come to appreciate their warm, steamy character and almost aggressive hit of cinnamon and nutmeg. I feel a little guilty for not getting past the menu's centerpiece, and for not heading down to try the original location as well, but I get a craving, I stop by, and that craving is satisfied by delicious, juicy fried chicken with a shake of hot sauce every time. Good stuff to be found here.

Chicken Keema with Tikka Masala SauceDominic Armato

Bombay Spice
10810 N. Tatum Boulevard, Phoenix, AZ 85028

Bombay Spice has been getting a lot of love lately, and I'm going to be the big jerk here. I think the place is terrible. Yes, there are fresh ingredients, and yes, some of these dishes are executed at a reasonable if uninspiring level, but it's a frustrating dumbing-down of ethnic cuisine that drives me up a wall. The first time I went, seeing the word "curry" used rather loosely around the menu, I asked my server what type of "curry" the "lamb curry" was. After a blank stare, I elaborated, "Korma, vindaloo, pasanda... what?" His response? "They're all the same." Thanks, buddy. That was before a menu reboot that now takes a build-your-own approach where you, the customer, choose first your meat and then your "sauce," guaranteeing that rather than carefully matching meat seasonings with sauce components and cooking them together slowly to develop flavor, the kitchen is tossing generically prepared meat chunks into a sauce to warm for a few minutes before being served to you. Unless, if my math is correct, they have more than 30 simmering pots back there covering all of the combinations available (and that's lumping all of the vegetables in together). But that strains credulity, and it sure doesn't taste like it. Look, curries aren't "sauces." And if you want to get pedantic about it, the dishes these purport to be aren't even really curries. When it comes to Indian, curry is a catchall term lazily imposed on the vast and impossibly varied cuisine of an entire subcontinent. Leave it to British colonialists to reduce the hundreds of distinct dishes of an entire culture to "curry." But this goes beyond pedantry. These are complex, developed dishes that completely lose their depth when broken down into individual components so you can play mix and match. Approaching these as meats + sauces rather than the unified dishes they should be results in flavors that are oversimplified and underdeveloped. Plus, some of their non-traditional variations are downright horrifying (fruit cocktail in korma?!?), and accompanying breads are tasteless and weak to boot. I get that it's "healthy" food prepared from fresh ingredients, and despite sampling some pretty poor dishes, yeah, I suppose you could do worse. And I get that there's an audience out there that would rather have 30 mediocre choices than five good ones. But the result is only sort of Indian, and it's completely insulting, and I'm unwilling to set the bar that low.

St. Louis RibsDominic Armato

Hap's Pit BBQ
4801 E. Washington Street, Phoenix, AZ 85034

Phoenix has an odd relationship with barbecue that I'm still trying to sort out. The stuff is everywhere. I mean everywhere. But despite its ubiquity, so little of it is worthwhile, and I'm not sure Hap's is one of the exceptions. They're actually smoking meat low and slow, which is a lot more than I can say for some places that use the word barbecue. But something here doesn't quite sit right with me. The menu's full of the usual suspects, and I've gotten around it a bit. The chicken is nice and smoky, if a bit dry, but there's an awful lot of hardcore char going on for something that's ostensibly "slow hardwood smoked." I find the grind and seasoning on the hot links underwhelming, but more importantly there's none of that juicy snap that I love from a good smoked hot link. As for the ribs... well, I have yet to find a BBQ place with a Southern Pride where the ribs don't taste more baked than smoked to me. But I realize that honest to god pitmasters are an increasingly rare breed these days, and maybe I should just adjust expectations accordingly. They were okay, if a little lean and dry. But I was more thrown by the quality of the smoke, which struck me as more acrid and dirty than sweet and flavorful. Hap's scratches the itch, I suppose... barely.

July 05, 2011

Pizzeria Bianco

Sonny Boy Dominic Armato

Does more really need to be written about Pizzeria Bianco?

Either way, I'm going to try. This blog's a personal journal as much as it's a public site. More, actually. So while I'm not sure I have much to add beyond another opinion, I can't pretend one of the world's premiere pizzerias doesn't exist a scant ten minutes from my front door. Not for more than a year and a half, anyway, which is how long it took me to stop by.

Whether or not Pizzeria Bianco deserves such far-flung attention (and the crushing throngs that result) is a common topic of debate, but its high profile is undeniable. Plenty of other Phoenix institutions, both restaurants and chefs, have garnered national praise over the years, but the valley's undisputed culinary flagship is none other than a little pizza joint opened in the late '80s. Despite my best efforts, it needs no introduction. It's not a restaurant. It's a shrine. Which means that reviews and comments fall almost exclusively into two categories: It's amazing, or it's not all that. I really, really hoped for the former.

The OvenDominic Armato

After hearing reports of the dreaded 3+ hour waits, what finally got me in the door was the recent introduction of lunch hours, which have had the dual effect of making Chris Bianco's pizzas attainable with a reasonable 30-45 minute wait during lunchtime on weekdays, and also taking a little pressure off dinner service. Reportedly, the wait times at night have come down a bit since they extended their hours. So in the short span of a week, I went twice, first for an early lunch and then for a late dinner. And no wonder the waits are long... the place is small! Of course, restaurants come plenty smaller, but combine a modest size with national acclaim and you've got yourself a long line out front. It's one big room, the oven in one corner and the bar in another, and though the tables are densely packed, a lofty ceiling keeps it from getting claustrophobic. It's a great space, appropriate to the food. It's a little busy, a little loud, and plenty casual. There isn't much to the menu... a couple of salads, a couple of antipasto options, and a handful of pizzas, though they aren't sacrosanct. There's a list of toppings from which you can substitute or create your own. Still, it's a minimal menu and this is an approach I enthusiastically support. Do less, and do it better.

Farmers Market SaladDominic Armato

And they do it better right from the get go. The antipasto plate, which is only available at dinnertime, is a wonderfully simple presentation of whatever produce is seasonal and/or fabulous, roasted in the oven and treated with little more than olive oil and a little salt and pepper. On the evening I went, there was cauliflower, padrón peppers, mushrooms and fennel, along with a little eggplant parmesan, olives, and a bit of cheese and cured meat. Simple, fresh and delicious all around, touched with the smoke and occasionally the char of the wood burning oven. The farmers market salad was a similarly minimal treat, this particular seasonal iteration composed of arugula, peaches, goat cheese and pistachios. In both cases, they were killer ingredients, very simply presented. For a pizza place, this bodes well.

MargheritaDominic Armato

And then the pizzas started arriving. And then they disappeared almost as quickly as they arrived. On the first lunchtime visit, three of us ordered three pizzas. And then we ordered a fourth. And we might have spent a grand total of ten minutes actually eating. This was driven in no small part, I'm sure, by the incredible color of what hit the table. It was as though Bianco has somehow developed a way to turn up the saturation in his restaurant, so that every pizza is awash with the most brilliant reds, greens, pinks and oranges you've seen on a plate. Whether or not he can cook a pizza, he apparently has the ability to alter your perception of reality, which I suppose is a feat in and of itself. But thankfully, the flavors were as outstanding as the colors, a perfect combination of killer toppings and killer bread.

RosaDominic Armato

The bread, of course, is all-important, and on our lunchtime visit, it was truly remarkable. Though plainly inspired by, this isn't a Neapolitan with blistered but chewy crust and (hopefully!) soupy center. Rather, the cornicone on these pizzas lent the impression that it had survived an even more brutal trial by fire than usual, heavily charred and dark brown in most places. The flavor was perfect, and the texture was truly exceptional, a firm and extremely crisp exterior with just a touch of tender dough inside, almost more crunchy than chewy, but not in a way that lent the impression it had been taken too far. It was walked right to the precipice of being overdone, and then left hanging on the edge, as texturally developed as it's possible to get without venturing into cracker territory. Further inward, the dough was thin, lightly charred underneath with a great chewy texture, and not a hint of a wet center, which I'm sure will please the infidels who insist that means a pizza is underdone. (To be clear, this is not a negative... I fully embrace both.)

WiseguyDominic Armato

With such a solid foundation, these would be great pizzas with only acceptable toppings, but they were equally excellent above the crust. The tomatoes, mozzarella and basil on the Margherita were shockingly fresh and vibrant, even if I (narrowly) prefer this particular set of toppings on a more traditional Neapolitan. Also fairly simple but better suited to the crust was the Biancoverde, a mix of parmigiano reggiano, fresh mozzarella and ricotta strewn with fresh arugula. Stacking cheeses is dangerous work, and often done clumsily, but they nailed the balance, mixing the creaminess of fresh mozzarella, the sweetness of ricotta and the sharp, nutty pungency of melted parmigiano reggiano. Less traditional was the Rosa, matching fresh, local pistachios with the nutty parmesan and fresh rosemary for an herbal accent. Surprisingly critical to this one was what seemed at first like a token amount of shaved red onion, giving just a hint of sweetness without which the rest would have come off just a touch flat. The Wiseguy seems to be a popular favorite, with caramelized onions, Schreiner's sausage and smoked mozzarella, and though I agree with the oft-presented criticism that it's a little heavy for the bread, it's still a heckuva pizza. My total amazement, however, is reserved for the Sonny Boy, with tomato, mozzarella, thin slices of salami and the salty punch of gaeta olives. What floored me here was the salami, subjected to heat that rendered some of the fat, basting the pizza and almost frying the meat, giving it a light crispiness that made it a textural delight.

These were, without question, some of the best pizzas I've tasted. If I'd been limited to the first lunch visit, I'd find myself wondering how anybody could possibly take shots at the place. The second visit provided, perhaps, a bit of a clue. We just barely caught the end of dinner service on a weeknight, and though the restaurant was packed to the gills when we were seated, within 30 minutes we were the only table remaining. The pizzas were excellent, but they weren't as stunning as the week before. As the lone stragglers, I suspect the fire that cooked our pizzas had started to die. The incredible char and texture wasn't quite there, leading me to believe that the oven perhaps wasn't quite as hot as it was for the lunchtime rush. And I don't fault the restaurant. We arrived closer to closing time than I would have liked, and had I realized that every other table in the joint was so close to finishing, I wouldn't have held them up. Catching (again, I suspect) a cooling oven at this late hour resulted in a pizza that I could see the hardcore enthusiasts seeing as underperforming the reputation. But let's be absolutely clear about something. Across two visits, the worst pizza I've had at Pizzeria Bianco is still one of the finest pizzas I've had anywhere. And I'm really, really glad that lunch service means I don't have to wait three hours for it, because if I had to, I probably would.

Pizzeria Bianco
623 E. Adams Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Tue - Sat11:00 AM - 10:00 PM

July 04, 2011

Stars and Bars and Sugar

Cookies by The Lady Doux, Inspired by www.sweetsugarbelle.com Dominic Armato

When you're the executive chef of the house, it sure is nice having a talented pastry chef working alongside you.

Happy 4th, folks!