Profound Pies 

The best pizza in America--even the world?--may be a two-hour drive away

It's almost a four-hour drive, round trip, and once you get there, the wait can be just as long.

I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

It takes a lot to get me to go to Phoenix. It could be the result of hundreds of increasingly loooong drives up and down Interstate 10 during the past 40-some years. Or maybe it's my secret fear of being captured by East Valley Republicans and forced to read their legislative proposals in any given year. It's easier to decide to go to Spain, and a much more enjoyable prospect.

But when my best metro bro Noah suggested a road trip with the goal being Pizzeria Bianco at 623 E. Adams St. (602-258-8300; pizzeriabianco.com), I was in for the ride. Noah's my fave traveling bud, whether it's New Orleans, Alaska, Las Vegas, Santa Fe or checking out the animals at Best Friends and the polygamy in Colorado City. Neither of us likes to share rooms, food or be tied to each other's hip when we travel. Meals are always a matter of careful preplanning and much discussion (Marx Brothers in Anchorage? Almost anything in Vegas?); breakfasts are not too early, and we go our own ways after dinner. We share a certain healthy cynicism, pretty much enjoy the same movies and appreciate the absurd in similar amounts.

"We're going to have a long wait once we get there," Noah promised, having been to Bianco previously. "But we can use the time to check out Nordstrom and the Biltmore shops." An excellent travel companion!

The trip up was effortless, thanks in part to the fact that he has Sirius and introduced me to a world of radio I never knew existed. Actually, we listened to a channel on which there was a discussion about sexual practices that made me cringe and semi-anxiously glance over at him to see if he was OK with it. He was laughing, of course.

We got to the restaurant a little before 6 p.m. I stayed in the car while he joined a long line to simply get our names on a waiting list (no reservations). We were told to come back at 8:55, nearly three hours later, and we set off for a few hours of retail exposure. The shopping was successful.

We got back to Bianco on time, had a glass of wine at the Bar Bianco next door and were seated at almost exactly the time promised. Pizzeria Bianco is a small place of 42 seats, housed in a former machine shop in Heritage Square. It has a huge reputation centered on the unstinting excellence of its owner-chef Chris Bianco. He's become a cult figure with a legion of fans and a dedication to finding the best and freshest of products for his menu, from the homemade mozzarella and fennel sausage to Valley-grown vegetables.

The menu is small and elegant, and the fanciest thing may be the spiedini--fontina cheese wrapped in prosciutto, served warm. His pizzas, which he cooks himself in the wood-burning stove in the dining room, are glorious. There is one size, exactly right for a hungry person. A simple Margherita (tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil) has a majesty befitting the legend of its origin: perfect crust, robust fresh sauce, creamy rich cheese and basil that bursts with flavor. I can't wait to try his Biancoverde: mozzarella, parmigiano, ricotta and arugula. The wine list is short and smart, and prices are amazingly reasonable--the most expensive pizza on the menu is $14. Adding extras will bring it up, but not by much.

Last June, The Arizona Republic crowned Chris Bianco the prince of pizza, two years after a New York Times food writer called his the best pizza in the country. A Vogue writer lost it completely and said it was the best in the world.

No question about it: It's extraordinary and easily worth the investment of time. This was a memorable trip, also, for the fact that it was our first since Noah settled everyone's hash by becoming engaged to the lovely Havah a few weeks back. I was, frankly, a bit concerned about the future of our trips. However, he's assured me that the taking of such trips is guaranteed in the prenup. And how metrobuddy is that?

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