Restaurants & Bars

Review: Classic Italian Pizza - Tempe, AZ (w/ photos!)

Seth Chadwick | May 5, 200612:19 AM     7

Since moving over to the new format for my food blog, I have had a vew inquiries regarding my list of restaurants to try in the near future. Most are suggestions, but a common theme has been, “How come you don’t have Pizzeria Bianco listed?” To be honest, it isn’t that I don’t want to try their pizza. I do.

The issue for me is that I don’t want to have to wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… for pizza. No matter how good it is, I simply cannot see lining up for two-plus hours to have pizza. Am I being stubborn? Perhaps. But the last time I waited that long for food was when Claim Jumper first opened and after that nightmare, I start to twitch, sweat and break out in hives at the thought of waiting two hours for food.

But thanks to fellow food blogger JK Grence - The Cosmic Jester, I was alerted to a small, hidden gem in Tempe that really has some of the finest pizza I have ever had.

Classic Italian Pizza is one of the most hidden restaurants in Phoenix metro. Unless you know right where to look, you could easily miss it and then there would angels weeping in heaven. This little delight is in the most extreme northeast corner of a cookie-cutter strip mall on the northeast corner of Baseline and Rural in Tempe. At night, the place is nearly impossible to find because their sign only occasionally flickers on the facade of the strip mall announcing their presence. But it is worth every moment to find the place.

Dave the Roommate and I were determined to have pizza, but weren’t going to wait with the masses at Pizzeria Bianco. So, we drove over to Classic Italian Pizza and spent a few minutes trying to find the place. When we did, we opened the door and entered another world.

The interior is warm, pleasant, woodsy and romantic. The places had several tables open and we chose one toward the back next to a picture window. The server was busy helping a party of 10 or so at the front of the restaurant but assured us she would be with us as soon as possible. We took in the interior and laughed over how you wouldn’t even think this place would be in a strip mall in Tempe, Arizona.

Our server brought us water and menus and we were busy trying to decide what kinds of pizza to get. First, however, we needed beverages. Dave and I both ordered the Lemonade ($2.00 each) and Dave decided to have a Vanilla Italian Soda ($3.00). Our server let us think about our dining choices while getting our beverages.

Upon her return, we were presented with our Lemonades and Dave got his Vanilla Italian Soda. It was served in a tall glass and was bubbly and creamy looking. Dave took a sip and smiled. He said the soda was excellent, noting that it was not overly sweet with a great vanilla taste. The Lemonades, although fairly institutional, were decent.

We had made up our minds and placed our order. Dave thought the Four Cheese Pizza ($14.00) looked good, while I was drawn to the Prosciutto Pizza ($13.00). We also got two Dinner Salads ($3.00 each). After a brief discussion, we also chose the Brick Oven Bread ($6.00) for a starter.

After our server left, we watched the staff work their magic. A tall man handled the brick oven pizza and was busy rotating pizzas and checking on the bottoms of the crusts. Another was busy restocking items in the prep area. Our server was scurrying about tending to the tables and making small talk.

On one of her many trips around the restaurant, our server brought us fresh drinks and our appetizer. In front of us sat a big basket of little squares of hot bread from the oven and a flat plate of marinara sauce with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar in the middle. The bread itself was a winner. Hot, crispy exterior and yeasty interior made us determined to get more bread before we had even finished the first basket. The dipping sauce was an incredible mix of a rich, tomatoey sauce with bits of garlic. The balsamic vinegar gave the dish an interesting sweetness that really brought out the best in the sauce. In just under a few minutes, we had polished off the basket of bread and our very kind server was quick to give us another basket so we wouldn’t waste a drop of the sauce.

Next up were our House Salads. Leisurely spread out on a large plate, beautiful pieces of Butter and Romaine lettuce laid the foundation for a salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and pepperocinis. The vinegrette dressing was in a small serving cup on the side. Dave and I dressed our salads and were overjoyed with the dressing. Slightly tart, slightly sweet and with a great rounded flavor, we devoured the fresh salad and then mopped up dressing with the remainder of the bread. It isn’t often you get a salad with a decent amount of Butter Lettuce, so it was a treat all the way around.

We had completely annihilated the bread and sauce and salads and were counting down the seconds until our pizzas arrived. I was really hoping not to be disappointed. Our server appeared and the scent alone was wonderous. My Prosciutto Pizza was simple. Atop the crust sat a thin layer of sauce, cheese and strips of thinly sliced prosciutto. Fresh basil leaves had been torn and scattered on top. I took my first piece from the plate and took a bite.

Amazing. Simply wonderful and bursting with flavor. The crust was thin, but not so thin it would get overlooked. It was crusty on the bottom and somewhat chewy on the top. The sauce was rich and delicious. The cheese and prociutto made wonderful toppings, while the basil just added a subdued herbal kick to the whole thing. After finishing a second slice, I was hooked. This was grand pizza and just well executed all the way around.

Dave’s Four Cheese Pizza was a work of art. On the same crust as mine, olive oil had been brushed like paint on a canvas, bits of garlic were placed, and a thick coating of mozzarella cheese sealed it all in. The top had been dotted with large dollops of ricotta cheese. The result was a cheese lovers delight. It was creamy, salty, sweet and savory all in one. Dave and I swapped a piece and found there wasn’t a clear winner. Both were outstanding and we tried hard to finish our respective pizzas, but gave in and called for the pizza box to cart our treasures home.

We sat contented and thought about the marriage of both pizzas. It probably would be flavor overload, but it was tempting. The pizza was some of the best I have ever had. We got our box and our bill. The total, including tax, was a very respectable $56.21, considering the quality and craftsmanship of the food.

Classic Italian Pizza was a huge success for us. The food, the service, the atmosphere and the value was superb. We had no complaints at all.

I know that someday I will get to try the wares of Pizzeria Bianco. Until then, Classic Italian Pizza would more than suffice, even though it is the most hidden restaurant in Tempe.

Classic Italian Pizza
1054 East Baseline Road
Tempe, AZ 85283
Dress: Casual
Notes: Very difficult to find. Go to the extreme northeast corner of the strip mall and walk into what looks like a courtyard. You will see the entrance once you pass the pillar facing the parking lot.

Link: http://www.feastinginphoenix.com

Image: http://i28.photobucket.com/albums/c20...

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