It is still hot in Phoenix. This is no surprise to those of us who have lived here for sometime. Being a native, I should be used to it, but when it hits 115 F degrees, all bets are off. So, for lunch I decided to simply head out for a sandwich. Then I remembered my good fortune and cashed in a couple of winning scratch tickets. Eight bucks.
I had a little extra time for lunch, so I decided to go someplace to relax. I didnt want another trip to McDonalds or Jack In The Box, so I thought about where I could go. Being only five blocks from Pane Bianco, I decided to go there and check it out. Every since the mothership Pizzeria Bianco got listed in a book as being the best pizza in the U.S., the Bianco group has been doing gangbusters. I figured that since I had a few extra dollars and some extra time, I would treat myself.
I drove up Central Avenue and only spotted the tiny sign for Pane Bianco in the split-second before I would have cruised by it. It is very small indeed. I pulled into the lot and noticed a lot of people walking from Bianco to the coffeehouse next door. I entered the place and noticed two things: 1) the place was huge inside, but most of the space was for work and cooking; and 2) there was no indoor seating. Being that it was searing hot outside, I wasnt pleased, even if they did have the misters going outside. But I persevered.
I struggled to find a menu. There were a few things written on a chalkboard on the wall, but with the exception of one sandwich and one salad choice, the rest of the information on the wall dealt with the purchase of various fresh fruit and a dessert choice. I walked over to the counter and saw a small paper menu attached to string hanging from a basket. On the menu was a listing for three (3) sandwiches, two (2) salads and six (6) beverage choices. I thought the picking were slim. But, I persevered.
After looking over the menu, I selected the Soppressata with Aged Provolone and Wood-Roasted Onions served on wood-fired focaccia. I also selected a Bubble-Up soda, a drink I havent had since I was nine when Bubble-Up was the major competitor to 7-Up and RC Cola was giving Coke and Pepsi a run for their money. I also decided to throw caution to the wind and get a spot of the Organic Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding.
I waited about five minutes looking at the various pre-packaged items they had for sale including preserves, oregano, olive oil and pasts. My order was ready and I headed out the door looking for a spot in the shade and covered by the misters. I did get a nice spot and brought out the sandwich.
The sandwich itself was about 7 in diameter and had a satisfactory portion of meat. Soppressata is a dry salami with a mild, smoky flavor. On top of the meat was the aged provolone which was quite pungent and had a great, but very strong, flavor. Then, on top of that were the onions. These were like candy. Moist, juicy and very sweet. They were large slices - not little slivers - that give me a big burst of flavor when I put them in my mouth. I really liked all of them, but together in the sandwich, it presented some problems.
Clearly, the cheese took control. Aged provolone is very strong in the taste department and on this sandwich the only thing that could compete were the onions because of their sweetness. So, when I ate my first bite, I tasted cheese and onions. The meat and bread could have been left off with no difference in taste. I started eating the components individually just to make sure I could taste the meat and the bread. I was disappointed in this. The components were all excellent, but as a sandwich, they just couldnt produce something spectacular. The bread was outstanding and had a roasted flavor to it from being wood-fired, but that would have gone unnoticed if I hadnt eaten it alone.
After eating the sandwich, I had just enough room for the pudding. The sandwich is quite large and was filling, even for me, who tips the scales at nearly 300 lbs. So, I could have easily been satisfied by just the sandwich and drink. However, rice pudding is one of my favorite desserts and I love any that is homemade.
The pudding came in a small cup with about 5 ounces of pudding in it. Not a large serving, but enough considering the size of the sandwich. Specks of vanilla bean were visible throughout. I tried the pudding and really liked the texture. It was creamy and a tad starchy (a good thing) and the rice was perfect not mushy or crunchy. Very well done. What was missing, though, was any real splash of vanilla. The vanilla taste that was there was no different than the vanilla taste you get from imitation vanilla flavoring. Also, there was no cinnamon or nutmeg taste either which I suspected was sacrificed for the addition of the vanilla. The pudding was good and a nice treat at the end of a hearty sandwich, but it was not spectacular, even with it being organic and containing specks of real vanilla bean.
It is very clear that Pane Bianco is a trendy place. The location, the setting, the clientele. With that goes matching prices. The sandwich was $8.00. The pudding was $3.00. The bottle of Bubble-Up was $2.00. With tax, my lunch bill was over $14.00. Without my scratch ticket winnings, it would have been Big Mac City for me.
I am torn on my experience to Pane Bianco. I certainly liked what I had, but only when it was broken down into its parts, and the sum should have be greater. It wasnt and that was disappointing. For $14.00 and change, the continuity and production could have been done much better.
4404 North Central Avenue