Prague, Czech Republic via Jasmin Bauer
Prague, Czech Republic via Jasmin Bauer
Happy National Cake Day, everyone!!! In celebration, I tried something new at Tee & Cakes ~ lemon meringue! As usual, it was damn tasty! White cake topped with vanilla-y marshmallow-y pillow-y meringue with a delicate little crisp, filled with sweet tart fresh lemon curd. Ah, drool! I love the holidays.
Without flourishing introduction, let me just say that I went to Pizzeria Bianco. More like - I achieved the feat of dining at Pizzeria Bianco. I… me… moi went to Pizzeria Bianco.
For the six years that I have been going to Phoenix, I’ve been trying to make it to this legendary establishment. On my first visit down, my cousin Jessica told me about it and tried to get reservations for us. Apparently, getting a table there is more challenging than getting into skinny jeans the day after Thanksgiving. You also have the option to wait standby for a table if you’re unable to get a reservation. I’ve literally heard people utter the phrase “I love it there, it’s the best pizza I’ve ever had, but I can’t wait the five hours to get in anymore because we have to get home to the babysitter.” While most of my excuses are reservation-related, I think there was one time where it was just too hot to move or do anything - breathing or blinking included - so I just laid prostrate on the floor and watched Flight of the Concords for a couple of days. (Only the draw of a blue-eyed guitar-playing artist can get this girl to Phoenix in July.)
Well, thanks to good business sense and good luck, Owner Chris Bianco, the original pizzaiolo and James Beard award winner in 2003, has decided to open Pizzeria Bianco at 11 am - making it entirely possible for me to find out if the food deserved the copious amounts of hype it was receiving. (Side note: a great quote from Phoenix magazine’s September 2011 issue, p. 130, “He closes his eyes, breathing deeply, practically smelling the aroma in his imagination. ‘When I’m in front of the oven, it’s mindless, but it’s mindful.’ ” This is the Zen moment that a baker lives for!)
At exactly 2:00 and without reservation, my lovely Sicilian cousin Jessica, the one who started it all, her friend Julie, Julie’s mother, and I marched through the door with all the exultation of weary pilgrims laying their eyes on the holy land. I swear it all happened in slow motion…hair blowing back in the gusty exchange of hot dry Phoenix air and yeasty-dough-and-wood-fire-scented pizzeria air as we crossed over the threshold, lifting up our sunglasses, rolling eyes taking in all that gorgeous exposed brick and perfectly patina-ed décor. “Four, please.”
The rustic charm was spot-on. Spare and perfect, warm and inviting. What looked like a hand-carved bar stood in front of a basic collection of liquor bottles and a shiny espresso contraption. A large, round, red brick oven filled the restaurant with it’s presence and it’s promise. Across from our table in the back was the low wooden hinged door into the kitchen, paint worn away at hip-level from years of busy servers, cooks, and hostesses butting it open ~ hands full and eyes two steps ahead. And no wonder why it was so hard to get a reservation - there were only about ten tables balancing out the right side of the restaurant. Hard to believe at first, but certainly welcome as it added to the intimate atmosphere and behooved the mindful staff.
Just as charming as the décor was our waiter, Tyler. Polite, attentive, and casual, he danced around the small dining room in a way that can only be the result of years of experience. When he presented us with our menus, my eyes glossed over the no doubt tasty wine and beer section, bypassed the salads and small plates, and instantly zeroed in on the “pizza” section. There were about a half-dozen enticing choices in addition to what I had come there for – the classic Margherita. We each decided on a different pie with the intent to share a slice or two, so as to maximize our experience. Jess’ choice was the SONNY BOY - Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Salami, Gaeta Olives. Julie and Jane got the ROSA - Red Onion, Parmigiano Reggiano, Rosemary, AZ Pistachios, and WISEGUY - Wood Roasted Onion, House Smoked Mozzarella, Fennel Sausage.
Our pizzas were out before we knew it, thanks to a screaming hot wood-fired oven and thinning mid-afternoon crowd. Oooohs and aaahhhh’s were issued in unison as four women dug into 24 slices of pizza. (Only 3 would remain. Good work, ladies.)
I started and ended with my choice, the Margherita. While all the pies were incredible, I think mine was undoubtedly the best. The Margherita is a classic for good reason.
All our crusts were perfect. Perfect! They were a little chewy on the outside rim while the rest was thin and crispy. Even as we slowed down and took time to breathe, the crust never got soggy half an hour later. Just the right amount of smoky black char, too. The crushed tomatoes literally tasted like they were plucked from under the hot Arizona sunshine immediately before gracing our pizza with their presence. Just the right amount of fresh mozzarella lingered in your mouth long enough for you to appreciate it’s rich milkyness and ethereal simplicity. Less mozzarella wouldn’t have been enough; more mozzarella would have upset the symbiosis between the tomatoes, the crust, and the basil. Oh, and the basil! Big, soft, flavorful leaves delicately folded in on themselves like waving flags on a breezy day.
It was as if this perfect little pizza flew in from Italy, touched down on the table in front of me, and confidently said “Ciao, Bella. Si, I am the pizza you’ve been waiting for.” Not since Reggio Calabria has my yearning for pizza been so perfectly satisfied. Actually, only those two pizza occasions stand out in my mind at the moment. There’s Reggio, there’s Pizzeria Bianco, and everywhere else.
Pizzeria Bianco has been the subject of numerous “best of” lists in magazines, on TV shows, dining guides, etc. ~ all proclaiming it the best this country has to offer in terms of authentic Italian pizza. Many of these are trusted sources. Of course, I concur. This is not news. Perhaps what I can contribute personally is this…
I don’t love Phoenix. First of all, it’s way way way too freakin’ hot. The monochromatic color scheme leaves me nonplussed and I’ve never connected with the desert like I do the mountains, forests, or even the ocean. However, I know it takes all kinds and I certainly do not knock people who call Phoenix their “place.” With this said, Pizzeria Bianco is an oasis.
I’ve always gone to Phoenix for my people (and this time add an unspeakably awesome concert to the mix!). If you find yourself in Phoenix and are feeling a little uninspired, without people or comfort, let Pizzeria Bianco be your oasis. Let it be x 3! If you’re anywhere in the southwestern portion of the United States and are in the mood for pizza, set your GPS to 623 E. Adams St., Phoenix, Arizona. I truly feel that this is a place incapable of disappointing - on any level, at any time. However long your journey, Pizzeria Bianco is an ample reward.
Please know that if there is one thing that is true about me it is that I do not exaggerate when it comes to cake. I take cake very seriously. I am a very harsh critic when it comes to this topic and I have high expectations. Call me a food snob if you like, but I am at the point now where there is no way I will waste calories on supermarket cake. Frosting out of a can? Get outta my face.
For cake to truly earn my praise, it must be the perfect textural combination of soft, fluffy, dense, and spongy. To be dry, would be death. It must have a delicate crumb but not be insubstantial and airy. Further, I require the appropriate cake to frosting ratio. The frosting must never ever contain shortening or margarine. It cannot be grainy or so saturated with powdered sugar that it tastes like sidewalk chalk…or that’s exactly where I’ll send it. To the curb, man!
There are a few places in this country that I’ve found absolutely lovely cake, and I intend to devote a blog post to each one… starting with my nearest and dearest. There is one place that I refer everybody to for the best cake in town…nay, the state!
Tee & Cakes; Boulder, CO. http://www.teeandcakes.com/blogosphere/
There are so many things to love. I’ve been a faithful patron since they first opened their doors and am very much impressed by their consistency. The quality never disappoints. I’m positive there have been changes in staff, but you’d never be able to tell. Always the same ~ always delectable!
The buttercream is a gift. Sugar and butter whipped into a frenzy - it is light and sweet like a perfect little kiss! Whether it be vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, coconut, or mint, it’s not overpowering and a perfect complement to the cake it is matched with.
The cake is rich and flavorful, but that’s not to be confused with “heavy.” It’s everything you want it to be. The satisfaction achieved when sinking my teeth into it is akin to… well, definitely more than a little kiss! The all-natural diary products have to be a contributing factor as much as the chef’s 10+ years of experience.
Tee & Cakes is the brainchild of graphic designer Brian Wood and Chef Kim Boos, hence the “tee” and “cakes.” She’s the genius in the kitchen and he’s the clever guy who creates all the fabulous apparel for sale in their store front. Every day, you can find about 8-12 flavors of cupcakes in the case (provided they haven’t run out!). Trust me, there is something for everyone!
There are traditional flavors like white on white, triple chocolate, coconut, carrot, yellow with fudge, and red velvet. If you travel slightly off the beaten cupcake path (which, trust me, is well-worn), you’ll find cookies n’ cream, Coca-Cola, strawberry milkshake, and hautestess. These flavors are not what you’d expect. Flavors like these could easily taste “artificial,” but no. They taste well-rounded … they taste just wonderful! The difficulty of picking a flavor is second only to that of limiting myself to just one cupcake. Or two.
The decoration is simple. These gateaus don’t need to be dressed up with gaudy embellishments. The special occasion cakes are chic and unexpected. They are close to familiar but with a unique twist. I especially love the extra tall layer here and there. There’s a special sense of personality here. Kim and Brian’s style and undeniable hip-ness manage to come through every little thing that sails out of the oven and flies out that door.
Celebratory days, rainy days, paydays, Wednesday, any days…I will be at Tee & Cakes and I will be satisfied.
Red Mill Burgers. Seattle, WA; April 2009.
Everything truly is better when shared with a friend.
Happy Birthday to my best friend! I love you…even though you never read my blog. ;-)
Boulder has the best vandalism.
“Glass Beach is a beach in MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg, California that is abundant in sea glass created from years of dumping garbage into an area of coastline near the northern part of the town.”
This is how the Earth treats its traitors, by taking our trash, and turning it back up onto our shores in the form of smooth, beautiful jewels. How forgiving of a mother.
RIOMAGGIORE, ITALY: Several years ago, I noticed that I have the convenient talent for knowing exactly what I wanted to eat at any given time. This is particularly useful in a situation when I’m in a group of friends and they’re trying to decide on a restaurant. "Where do you want to go?" "I don’t care. Where do you want to go?" "I don’t have a preference." "Megan, what do you feel like?" Boom. I will tell you and case closed. Ta da!
Starting about six months ago, I noticed this capability also extends to where I would like to be at any given time. Sometimes I will have a Vienna type of feeling. Or I can see the even mosaic sidewalks of Prague stretched out in front of me ~ leading to the architecture that achieves it’s delicate beauty from a meticulous combination of tall and narrow. Many days I will burn for the art, history, and light in Firenze. Tonight just so happens to be a Cinque Terre night.
What I wouldn’t give to be sitting on a brick wall, staring out at the Mediterranean Sea. Taking in that heady combination of salt water, citrus, and thyme before settling into a slow walk back to my bed, perfectly exhausted from a long day of walking up and down all hundreds of steps.
Don’t get me wrong - Colorado on a late summer night is a lovely place to be, too. Not that long ago, I was wishing I was in this place exactly…the cool mountain breeze refreshing after a long hot humid-less day.
Ah, c’est la vie. I suppose it is our nature to dream of the next thing on the horizon. Whether your next thing is traveling, starting a new job, opening a book you’ve been thinking about, beginning a friendship, or setting out to make some self-improvements… all this keeps us in motion, moving forward, keeps us alive.
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre; Italy. …Until I see you again…
"With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts." Eleanor Roosevelt
Capilano Suspension Bridge, Vancouver via janusz l
I was here a couple of years ago. My first suspension bridge. How nice it would have been to have walked it all alone without a hundred other yahoos shakin’ it all around! Ah, well. I guess that was part of the experience, right? Definitely more exciting to say that I was on a jumping jostling shaking writhing suspension bridge than a stationary one. Hm, yes.