Pizza in Phoenix

Here’s a summary of Pizza-cation 2010: Phoenix Edition!

My first Phoenix pizzeria was Organ Stop Pizza, truly an incredible restaurant that combines my love of pizza with my love of pipe organ music. While it may seem like it is a gimmick (it is, they won “Best Pizza Gimmick” in several local papers), Organ Stop certainly makes every restaurant-goer happy! And how can you not smile when you’re being entertained by this guy:

But what about the pizza? I wish you hadn’t asked. Notice how the bubble completely overtakes 1.8 slices. I ordered half cheese half “combination,” which seems to be just about every topping they carry. It’s first on the menu so it must be important. As it turns out, it’s gross.

My next stop was a place I’d heard about from several pizza tour alumni. Cibo’s is a lovely Neapolitan pizzeria located downtown. The menu was pretty average Neapolitan fare. The pies look lovely, but crust was a bit limp and lacking flavor. Every bite was just a bit underwhelming, although the service and outside seating were a real treat!

After Cibo’s, I decided to follow the advice of a friend at PMQ Magazine and visit Oregano’s, a Chicago-style pizzeria that serves both thin crust and deep dish. I opted for a simple thin crust pie, but within two bites I was reminded that thin crackery cruts just aren’t my thing. It’s a shame because I like the vibe here and they are the first Phoenix pizzeria I visited that serves Coke instead of Pepsi. Notice the “party cut” of the circular pie shopped into square pieces.

The purpose of this trip is to cover some pizza ground in cities with which I have little experience, but I also like the idea of exploring New York’s influence on the Left Coast.

While I was in Scottsdale, I checked out an outpost of Grimaldi’s. Their goal is to replicate as closely as possible the experience of eating pizza under the Brooklyn Bridge and I have to say the place looks and smells a lot like the original location.

Because Arizona’s tap water is so terrible, just about every restaurant filters their water with reverse osmosis. Grimaldi’s goes a step further and has a chemist test their water every other month to make sure it’s as close to NYC tap as possible. Nice!

And of course, the pies look lovely:

Phoenix has some other glaring odes to New York, but none are quite as direct as the frequent appearance of the most familiar name in Pizza: RAY! That’s right, there are no fewer than 12 Famous Ray’s pizzerias in the greater Phoenix area, each of which claims a different association with other Ray’s in Phoenix and New York. It’s pretty amazing.

The cheese slices I tried fell somewhere between “good” and “bearable.” They all had too much cheese, which was quite greasy. This is what most people think of as being New York pizza, so in that respect Ray’s did a good job of emulating an image presented by television and film. It was actually better than some pizza I’ve had in NY/NJ, but certainly nothing worth traveling for.

However, a pizzeria worth the flight exists in Phoenix and it’s the place every pizza enthusiast has on their wish list. Pizzeria Bianco occupies a beautiful building in the Heritage Square district of downtown Phoenix. They open at 5PM and the line is legendary so I did what any freak would do and arrived at about 2:15. Yes, I was first on line. I knew I had a wait ahead of me, so I came prepared with a sandwich and cane cola from Pane Bianco. That might be the best idea I’ve ever had. Waiting in line for Bianco to open is a real treat because everybody else in line is also a pizza enthusiast. It’s hard not to start a conversation with everybody in line and before you know it, everyone in the group knows everybody’s story.

Since I was flying solo, I had to find a group of people who would let me join them so we could sample each of the six pies offered at Bianco. It wasn’t long before pizza conversations led me to a group half from Phoenix and half from Rochester, NY. They agreed to let me become part of their family for a night, so I relinquished my #1 position in line to join them at spot #4. Once we got in and ordered our pies, I fell into somewhat of a trance. Here I was, sitting with a gang of new pizza buddies in a pizzeria across the country that I had only read about. But the trance ended when the pies arrived at the table. My new pizza family, from left to right, is Joe, Meghan, Emily, Pat, Susan, Nicole, Terri and Joe.

The pizza was wonderful and the service was excellent! It’s hard to visit a pizzeria with this much hype, but I had taken the edge off with my Ray’s morning and the Pane Bianco sandwich so hunger wasn’t an issue. My favorite pie of the visit was the simple, elegant, fragrant, zippy Marinara. It had such focused flavors and played no games whatsoever. The Rosa (with onion and pistachio) was excellent but a bit too strong for me. I also enjoyed the Biancoverde, a white pie with arugula. Oh what the heck, here are a bunch of pizza pictures:

Sonny Boy

Biancoverde

Margherita

Marinara

Rosa

Wiseguy

Although this is an unlikely city to begin a pizza-cation, there ended up being a surprisingly good spread of options around the greater Phoenix area. You can get pizza by the slice (Famous Ray’s), coal-fired pies (Grimaldi’s), wood-burning oven beauties (Pizzeria Bianco and Cibo), bizarre pizza gimicks (Organ Stop Pizza) and even Chicago-style pies (Oregano’s). Variety is the spice of life!