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Pane Bianco (Phoenix)

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As two people who spend the majority of their free time seeking out and eating great food, any trip to a new city is preceeded by a good deal of research so we won't waste a single meal on something mediocre. Last weekend, while in Phoenix for a wedding, we had only a few meals on our own between wedding festivities. Having read about the successes and accomplishments of 2003 James Beard Award Winner Chris Bianco, we knew that our first lunch would have to be an Pane Bianco, a small sandwich shop that he had recently opened. We had no idea what an experience that would be.

The long, spare modern space is dominated by a large wood-burning oven where the breads and focaccia are baked. always tending to the oven, is the chef himself, a very good sign. The menu consists of 4 sandwiches, all $8:

. House-made mozzarella with local tomatoes and basil.

. Tuna with red onion, kalamata olives, lemon and arugula.

. Soppressata, with aged provolone and wood-roasted peppers.

. Market Sandwich, which changes daily.

in addition, there's a focaccia of the day, 2 salads, one of the house-made mozzarella with tomato and basil, and the other of tuna with agugula, drinks, and dessert. The dessert selection on the day we were there, consisted of a choice of blood oranges or homemade almond italian ice. a very simple and streamlined menu. You put your order in, and wait the 5-10 minutes for your name to be called. Seating is all outdoors on communal tables.

The sandwiches were unquestionably the best we've ever eaten.

From the bread to the ingredients inside, the quality of product and the care that obviously went into each and every sandwich just blew us away. The housemade mozzarella was some of the best we've ever tasted, the tuna, imported from Portugal, was incredible, and the bread, well, the only bread that we can legitimately compare it to is the pizza bianca from Forno in Campo di Fiori in Rome. about 8 inches in diameter and about an inch thick, the bread is individually baked loaves, still warm from the oven with a crunchy exterior, golden brown, brushed with olive oil, salt, and rosemary, and soft and chewy on the inside. Put them all together, and it just creates a truly memorable experience. we took our first bites, looked at each other, and just started laughing. They were just that good.

Adding to that experience is the friendly staff, the other carefully selected and unique products that they offer (they also offer loaves of bread baked in the wood burning oven, artisanal olive oils and pasta), and as if that wasn't enough, the two wrapped chocolates sitting in the bottom of our bag that they give out to everyone. We were simply stunned at how good the sandwiches were, and literally didn't stop talking about them for the rest of the day.

I'm sure most people would consider us a little crazy to get this excited over a sandwich, but it is so much more than that. It's obvious to anyone that walks into the restaurant how much Chef Chris care about what he does, and how much he enjoys sharing it with others. This relationship that he has with his dedicated clientelle, obvious by his interactions with them while we were there, is such a great thing to see and be a part of. We were so impressed, that we came back the very next day for another round of sandwiches. And just for good measure, we got an extra one for the plane ride home the following day.

We were expecting Phoenix to be a culinary wasteland dominated by chain restaurants, and came away with one of the most memorable food experiences in recent memory. We were so impressed, that we decided to write Chef Chris and his staff a letter telling them about our experience and how much we appreciated the work that he was doing. Lo and behold, a few days later, we got a phone call from Chris himself thanking us, saying that it's so great to hear people who understand what he's trying to do there, and that it's truly a labor of love for him.

I came across this article earlier this week that just reinforces what i already knew was the truth about him. He's a rare chef who cares more about the product and sharing it with his customers than about having his own Food Network show and creating a global empire of restaurants.


Due to our wedding obligations, we didn't make it over to Pizzeria Bianco. we can only imagine that it lives up to the standards that we saw at Pane and we can't wait to get back to Phoenix to try it. So for those of you living in Phoenix or travelling there, please to check them both out. And say hi to Chef Chris.

Pane Bianco

4404 N. Central Ave.

Phoenix, AZ 85012

(602) 234-2100

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Since the last time we were in Phoenix, the empire of Chris Bianco had expanded with the addition of Pane Bianco, a rustic, bare bones, carry-out only sandwich shop near downtown. As alluded to above, Chris Bianco is the force behind Pizzeria Bianco, which many consider to produce the finest pizza of its type in the US. We knew we had to try Pane Bianco.

The interior of the narrow but deep space is no more finished than a typical warehouse. Even the magnificent oven, which is the heart and soul of Pane Bianco, is vented through the industrial ceiling with a single length of unfinished pipe, which runs straight from the top of the oven all the way out the top of the building.

Pane Bianco does not offer indoor seating but there are several picnic tables in front of the shop, which appear to have been made by hand -- or at least in a very artisanal manner -- from whole sections of tree. The crowd in the seating area was fairly diverse. We weren't the only folks wearing Cubs hats and there were hospital scrubs, business casual attire and torn denim present, as well.

Similar to Pizzeria Bianco, the choices at Pane Bianco are fairly limited and the primary focus is on creating unparalleled, superior-quality food. There are only 3 sandwiches on the menu, plus one daily special. Addtionally there are a couple of salads and -- at least on the day we visited -- a focaccia of the day as well. Unlike at the aforementioned Welcome Diner, beverages are also limited and the strange roster of offbeat choices (bubble up, house cola, hildon bottled waters) gives a slight whiff of pretense, even though the place is just about as bare bones as it gets.

The beautiful thing about Pane Bianco is that the food is absolutely amazing. With hot, fresh bread continually coming out of the oven, it's a lock that your sandwich is going to be served on a round, individually-sized loaf of artisanal bread that is still warm and no more than a few minutes old. The same is true of the focaccia -- it is essentially baked to order and is topped with locally-sourced, organic ingredients. These important details have a huge bearing on the quality, which is remarkably high.

We tried a couple of sandwiches which completely justified the 15-minute wait. I went with the Soppressata with Aged Provolone & Olivada, which was absolutely delectable. The imported soppressata was rich, fatty and funky like properly-cured pork salumi should be. The provolone was perfectly piquant and the olivada was a wonderful foil for these hearty ingredients. I also tasted the Housemade Mozzarella, Local Tomato & Basil sandwich, which was also great. Being March, the tomatoes were not perfect and I thought the sandwich could have used a touch of acidity but the house-made mozzarella was sublime and pretty much trumped any of the other ingredients we tasted.

It's the apparent simplicity of Pane Bianco which makes it what it is. But like a lot of great things in the culinary world, the food at Pane Bianco isn't quite as simple as it seems. The ingredients are extraordinary and the freshly-baked bread and focaccia create a truly distinctive dining experience. Pane Bianco is built on a tight and noble concept and its success is a function of the tremendous amount of hard work being dedicated to fulfilling that concept. The intense level of care given to the food here plays a huge part in its success. There are no tricks or gimmicks. It just comes down to hard work and the vision of the proprietor, which is readily apparent in every bite of food served at Pane Bianco. There is no place to hide anything when you serve food like this. Shortcuts simply cannot exist when the food being served is so 'naked.'

In a perfect world, every sandwich shop -- hell, every restaurant -- emulates Pane Bianco. But since it is far from a perfect world, Pane Bianco really manages to distinguishes itself. It's the shop that exists in spite of all the realities of the restaurant business. It's great to see such a daring vision find its audience. There is no question that I will visit Pane Bianco again the next time I am in Phoenix . . . and hopefully, more than once.


Pane Bianco

4404 N Central Ave

Phoenix, AZ 85012

(602) 234-2100

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Pane Bianco also sells some high quality Italian dry goods, oil and vinegar that I seem to find something that I have try everytime that I go. Pane and now Andreoli are the top two authentic Italian delis in town.

Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"


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I confess I approached lunch at Pane Bianco today with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. For one thing, any place that gets this sort of universal acclaim has a high probability of sucking -- that has been my experience time and again. For another thing, the place was so crowded I had to wait about 45 minutes for a sandwich. And for still another thing, it just doesn't look promising, situated next to a pawn shop, a used-guitar store and a shop specializing in kilts, across from the light rail and generally downtrodden-looking.


Inside, there's a wondrous oven turning out bread for the sandwiches as well as longer loaves to purchase. There was an alarming amount of activity in the kitchen, but the crowds overwhelmed the system and it took forever. It was a little bit Soviet: you order in one place, then you wait to be called to be allowed to pay, then you wait again to be called to pick up your actual food.


The sandwiches were, however, incredible. The only sandwiches I've ever had of this caliber were during the golden age of Melampo in New York City, and that bread wasn't as good. Every ingredient as good as can be. We had the mozzarella and tomato with creamy and still-a-bit-warm mozzarella, the Italian tuna with locally grown greens, and the market special (bresaola today). Not a flaw in anything.


We also took some bread with us, and it was some of the best bread I've had anywhere.


Next, I'll attempt to crack the Pizzeria Bianco system.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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