We're not here to discuss any of those, however. It wasn't but three short years ago that famed food journalist (and Anthony Bourdain nemesis) Alan Richman made waves by claiming that the best pizza in the world, not just America, but the entire planet could be found at our very own Great Lake Pizza. A bold claim, but an even bolder claim was that the fourth best pizza in the world could be found at Pizzeria Bianco, in Phoenix, Arizona of all places. On a recent trip to my home state I was fortunate enough to make it over to Bianco and had the brilliant idea to compare these two giants of the modern pizza game.
Usually when comparing food, I like to keep things similar. However, since both of these pizzerias have such different menus (with only Pizzeria Bianco offering a traditional margherita) I simply picked the most comparable pizzas available, in this case, two onion pies that I wouldn't usually touch with a ten foot pole.
(wood roasted onion, house smoked mozzarella, fennel sausage)
Toppings: Onionphobes like me eat our onions two ways and two ways only: 1. picking them up with chopsticks or pool cues and placing them oh so gently on someone else's plate, or 2. with our mouths if, if they have been well roasted, caramelized or stewed thereby rendering them void of any of their pungent onion flavor. With this in mind, Chris Bianco's wiseguy pie suited me just fine indeed. The boldly smoked mozzerella was the first flavor to crescendo followed shortly by the toothsome finocchiona salami. The roasted onion comes last and despite my deep dwelling aversion to it, was very delicious.
Crust: PB's crust was rustic, flaky and had an etherial texture to it that called to mind a good loaf of French bread. The flavor was strongly italian and not over oiled (as is the case with most neopolitan pizzas). Like my mother, I have always loved the crust more than the pizza itself and Bianco's crust only reaffirmed that position.
(spinach, onion, créme fraiché, dante aged cheese, house made chorizo)
Toppings: Like a good prison Great lake dispenses with smartass labels/proper names and gives their pizzas numerical identifications. In our case the number 3 was pizza topped with thinly sliced onions, fresh spinach and a young sheep's milk cheese from Wisconsin. We added house-made chorizo because we're spicy like that. The onions were graciously mild, the spinach added a warm richness, the cheese was delicate and salty while the chorizo was high quality but you don't need it to make this pizza work. The total effect was spiced, warm and discombobulating.
Crust: Great lake distinguishes itself from other "artisan" pizzerias (including Pizzeria Bianco) by making its crust game less like Kevin Durant's and more like Shaquille O'Neal's– unapologetically big, but polished with great interview skills. The result is filling but not in the self hating way most of us are familiar with.
While I'd be hard pressed to pick one of these places to live with for the rest of my life, I think in the end I'd have to go with Pizzeria Bianco because of its product. It would seem that far away from the immense pizza related pressures and competition of Chicago and the east coast this little slice of heaven has bloomed like a desert flower. Both places use high quality and ingredients and put tremendous love and pride in their pies. The allure of Great Lake is that it's so small and uncompromising that demand and expectations will always be high, and so, hopefully, will be its food. While Bianco's place isn't nearly as exclusive, it's food and atmosphere are equal to, if not higher, than the competition, no matter how far away.