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A Case for White Pizza

December 11, 2017

Believe it or not, but my trip to Phoenix wasn’t all about the food. I forgot about fry bread. I skipped the Sonoran hot dog.

Sure, there was food. And in time, I’m sure I’ll write little Yelp reviews for all the paces I went to visit. Phoenix was surprisingly fun, in part because of my Yelp colleagues, but also because it’s a blast to explore a new part of the country. Especially when accompanied by someone who has recently made it their home.

I remember when my Cousin J. suggested we should eat at a pizza place. In Phoenix. Well, this New Yorker was highly suspicious. Until, that is, I started digging around a bit and came to realize that Pizzeria Bianco is one of the best pizza places in the country. It quickly shot up on the list of things I had to do before leaving.

The pizza menu was short, containing just three red pizzas and three white pizzas. Even so, I can only eat so much. So I felt fortunate to have my old friend LH and Cousin J along for the meal. Decisions are hard. In the end, we decided on two white pizzas, and one red.

It’s not surprising all the pizzas were delicious. And it’s probably not surprising that I walked away from that meal with a few key learnings. But the learnings themselves might be a bit surprising.

There are people out there who don’t consider white pizza to be pizza. Mrs. Fussy is among them. And I get where they are coming from. I do. I can’t recall if I ever made that audacious claim myself at any point in the past, but there are some instances where I hold the line when it comes to the integrity of classic foods.

Take the Mexican street taco for example. It’s meat, onions, and cilantro on soft corn tortillas. Ideally, they would come with lime, radish, and carrots on the side. No lettuce. No pico de gallo. No wheat tortillas.

For me, pizza is about the crust. Above all else. I know for others it’s about the toppings first. And then there are the people who are all about the sauce. For them, I understand the reluctance about white pies carrying the pizza mantle.

But they hold the minority opinion. And in their heart of hearts, I think they know it.

The Process
The order we placed at Pizzeria Bianco was more about flavor combinations and diversity than it was about ideology. I had to get the Rosa, with parmesan, red onions, and Arizona pistachios, because Jon in Albany made me a version of this pie without having had it himself. It was delicious in his garage, and I was eager to try it at the source.

The margherita pizza is a great standard bearer. So simple, and such a great way to highlight the basics. It would be hard to come to Bianco and not try this classic. Classics are classic for a reason. Right?

Then it was between the two meaty pies. The red came with salami, olives, and fresh mozzarella. The white came with fennel sausage, caramelized onions, and smoked mozzarella. Since we were already getting a pie with fresh mozzarella and I do love a sausage and onion pie, this was an easy call.

The remaining red that we skipped was just sauce on a crust, which is kind of badass. I’d love to try it, but it didn’t make the cut for top three. And the Biancoverde is the other white pie that’s topped with arugula, and looked so good that at first I was tempted to order it instead of the margherita. Part of me still thinks we could have taken down a fourth pie.

The Twist
Over the years I’ve learned a few things about ordering pizza.

Some are obvious, like don’t order pizza to go. If a place doesn’t have seats, make sure you arrive before the pie is out, and open up that box as soon as it’s in your hands, and start chowing down on it as soon as humanly possible. Sometimes, that’s standing up at the cash register. Other times it may be at a bench outside, or even the trunk of a car. For good pizza, you do what you have to do.

Others are less obvious, like ordering with your eyes. There was that one time I decided to be a purist and ordered a meh cheese pizza. Then I noticed every other table around me enjoying pies topped with some of the best pepperoni I had ever seen. That’s a mistake which will not happen again.

But if you are ordering several pizzas in a sitting, there is one super important thing you need to do. Ask for them to be coursed out. Bring one. Then the other. Then the other. And so on. There should never ever be two hot-from-the-oven pizzas on the table at the same time, unless, for some reason you are eating with a large group that requires multiple pies for everyone to get a hot first slice.

The server at Pizzeria Bianco was more than happy to oblige. It’s a serious pizza place. This surely wasn’t the first time she had received this request.

The Results
First, I’ll admit to making a mistake. Cousin J. called me out on it, and he was right. We asked for the Rosa first, then the margherita, then the sausage. Ideally the Rosa should have switched places with the margherita, since that classic pie was more delicate in flavor, and probably tasted a little washed out by comparison.

But wow.

As a crust guy, this place is pretty magical. The bottom crust is super super thin. The end crust has such a light and elastic crumb, I could just hang out there all day and eat people’s discarded crusts. The flavor is also fantastic. And the entire shell seems impossibly light.

All the toppings were super flavorful. I wish I loved the sausage more. It had good heat, and picked up plenty of caramelization, but it was on the dry, denser side. The onions worked well flavor wise, but they were larger than I would prefer. Still, with the smoked mozzarella, and all the flavors coming together, this was great.

The margherita introduced us to Bianco’s sauce, which is perfectly simple and light. Loved it. So delicate. I even loved the fresh mozzarella, which I almost never like. It melted beautifully and helped to mellow any acidity from the tomatoes. The basil too was super aromatic, especially considering it’s December. But I guess in the desert, they don’t have the same problems with getting good basil in winter.

The Rosa is one of those pizzas that looks meh on paper, and is just incredibly balanced and delicious. And if you want to call this cheesy onion bread with pistachios, I’d be cool with that too. But it’s clearly pizza, given the form the crust takes when the pie is pulled from the oven. Charred, crisp, tender, and light. Thin on the bottom, puffed around the edges. If it didn’t deliver such a flavor punch, I might be tempted to call it ethereal.

The Big Learning
Here’s the thing. As good as the margherita may have been, the tomato sauce totally weighed down that crisp thin crust towards the center of the pie. This is not a criticism unique to Bianco. This is a criticism of all pizzas with tomato sauce. If you are a person who goes gaga for a thin, crisp crust, tomato sauce is your sworn enemy.

Which does not mean there aren’t ways to contain tomatoes on a super thin crust pizza. The good folks of Trenton have a great technique of laying down a bit of cheese first to protect the crust from the moisture. And of course, you can always make a crust thicker to provide better support for wet ingredients.

As I said before, I’m a crust guy. And I’ll fight to the pain that crust is the most critical element for a good pizza. Given that sogginess is the enemy of the pizza crust lover, I’m left with one rather unexpected conclusion.

White pizza may very well be the best pizza.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2017 11:32 am

    I think in a true, old school NY slice, the way a sauce is seasoned is important. Especially on a cheese slice. That said, I’m with you that the crust is the most important element of a pizza.

    I haven’t made a version of a Rosa in awhile. Definitely not in the wood oven yet. I should try again. Sadly, the next bake is at least 2 weeks away. The Rosa photo you posted looks great.

    Pretty sure Whole Foods sells the Bianco line of tomatoes if you are interested in trying them on their own.

  2. December 11, 2017 12:25 pm

    I had a mini-epiphany while eating the pizza at Bianco’s; I realized truly great pizza is light. Bianco’s crust is impossibly light, while still being crispy, and chewy. It was a revelation of sorts for me. It’s misguided to think good pizza is loaded with tons of cheese and toppings, and too many pizza places are especially egregious when it comes to handicapping their pies with far too much cheese. Even many good pizzerias use too much cheese.

    If, (and it’s a big if) white pizza is lighter than a red-sauced pie, then yes, white pizza is better.

    • December 11, 2017 12:45 pm

      To follow Steve’s line of thought, it depends on what your definition of a white pizza is. I’ve seen pizza that replaced the tomato sauce with an Alfredo-ish sauce. I’ve seen perfectly good white chicken/bacon pizza covered in a disturbing amount of ranch dressing. I wouldn’t really consider a white broccoli pie light. That mushroom pie I make has a thin coat of creme fraiche (I love that pie)…is that a white pie? I’d say ithat has about as much “sauce” as my red pies. True, it isn’t as wet as tomato. I guess my point is you may want to clarify “white pie” because just not having tomato sauce might not be enough. There’s white pie like a Pepe’s clam/bacon and a Rosa, and there are other tomato sauce-less pies.

  3. December 14, 2017 8:54 am

    I’m glad you found acceptable pizza in Phoenix, but please tell us you enjoyed other foods too!!? What I would give to be able to enjoy a meal right now at Cien Agave, Barrio Queen, Blanco tacos, or the Pig and Pickle!

    Also, fry bread is best eaten freshly made, with roasted green chile, grilled mutton, and a dash of salt.

    I miss the SW so much-I just moved to Albany a year and a half ago from Flagstaff. I still find myself craving green chile (I have some now in my freezer). I find what passes for breakfast sandwiches here is a tasteless, sad combination without any flavor so now I carry hot sauce with me.

    It’s great to find your blog as a new resident of NY
    Thank you

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