Pizzeria Bianco Spins World Class Pies Downtown
August 7, 2014
by James J. Jefferies
Bread. It’s the one thing that ties together an endless array of disparate cultures from around the world. From a mass-produced loaf of flavor-free Wonder Bread being trucked to a grocery store, to a legitimately handmade tortilla crafted by any number of fine folks on Grande Avenue in one of Tucson’s oldest neighborhoods, it remains the staff of life. A foodstuff capable of any number of shapes, configurations, textures, fragrances, and consistencies. Of these, one of the most popular would be the humble pizza, the staple of thousands of average college freshmen shuffling into one of the dorms at the University of Arizona for the very first time in just a few weeks.
Pizza all by itself is a universe of possibility. For most of us, it’s a convenience food, a thing to order a bunch of when having some kind of big get-together or to soothe the hardworking flock at a busy office. It tends to be pretty good whether cold or hot, and there’s a few very predictable toppings we see time and time again. However, for others, namely James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef Chris Bianco, it has become a blazing neon sign, a cause to be championed, and a form of art to be elevated, ever since he opened his first pizzeria in the back of a neighborhood grocery store in 1988.
At Chris’s latest Pizzeria Bianco location, having opened in Downtown Tucson the day before the official launch of the SunLink streetcar, pizza is very serious business, as simultaneously a palette for fantastic and unusual things, with a strict foundation of tradition that they insist upon observing.
My friends and I piled into the new pizzeria last Thursday close to 5pm, and though it opened at 4pm, it was already heaving at the seams with excited diners who were chomping at the bit to learn what the previous 18 months of media coverage was truly all about. The air was thick with the heady scent of fresh-baked pies, cooking oils, and perhaps just a pinch of stray flour. We sat down and began to pick apart the visually simple, tastefully basic menu, which actually had far more choices for wines and beer than pizzas or other dishes. We chose a dry white wine, going easy as we were still flush from our cocktails downed nearby while we waited for a table.
The emphasis here is on generating that kind of noisy, open-air, convivial environment amid simple surroundings typically seen in bigger cities, from the rustic wooden sign that hangs above the entry on Congress Street to the wall of charming wooden doors with peeling paint that separate the back kitchen from the side/bar area. The waitstaff were knowledgeable and ready with specific recommendations that pertained to the wine list, but also lively in their own way.
We decided to start with a veggie plate, which consisted of some fire-roasted corn with a cream sauce drizzled on it, along with a very large Anaheim chile, which came filled with goat cheese and served on a bed of bread crumbs and tomato sauce. The corn was pretty tasty, but the real star was that massive chile. My party gobbled that up rapidly, along with a small plate of bread and olive oil. The bread itself was a great preview of things to come: it was soft at the core, but had a really terrific, perfectly chewy texture, and the last of it was gone just before our two pizza pies arrived.
For many, the Margherita pizza, with tomato sauce, fresh basil, and mozzarella, remains the absolute classic bellwether of great pizza, and at Pizzeria Bianco, this was also terrific.Once the ‘za arrived, it was, as The Flight Of The Conchords would say, ‘business time’. We had vegetarians among us, so we ordered one pizza sans meat, the Biancoverde, which was topped with fresh mozzarella, parmigiano reggiano, ricotta, and arugula. Needless to say, with three varieties of cheese in tow, it was exhibiting an insanely buttery quality, with the arugula just providing enough of a leafy presence to cut through all that rich flavor.
The other pizza we ordered was the Wiseguy, which came with wood-roasted onion, smoked mozzarella, and fennel sausage. Again, an absolute riot of flavor going on, between the smokiness of the cheese, the caramelized quality of the onion, and the meaty fennel rounding it all out. The sausage wasn’t at all greasy, just really delicious. The crust itself on either pie is light and dusty, and serves as far more of a palette for the high-quality toppings than making its own presence felt, while still lending the entire affair a flame-kissed magic.
We knocked out the two pies between the four of us, without a scrap left to be towed away from the restaurant in a sad box. This wasn’t just food, this was oven-based art to be savored with your face, and it very much delivered after the incredibly long prelude to the big opening here in Downtown Tucson. There’s a great deal more offered by Pizza Bianco, in terms of small plates, wine, and other kinds of pies, and we look very much forward to another visit.
Pizzeria Bianco is located at 272 E. Congress (near 5th Avenue & Congress), and is open Tuesday through Thursday from 4pm-9pm, and until 10pm on Friday & Saturday, with expanded hours coming this fall. Find them on the web here.