The Cool Index

Phoenix has always been hot. But can it ever be cool?

"There was also a challenge here to make something happen," she says. Today, they house 20 artists in low-income studios, and when they're done rehabbing their 12 buildings, they'll have room for 10 more. They also own the space that houses the Bikini Lounge, a run-down tiki bar now wildly popular with the First Friday crowd.

There's talk of coffee bars and boutiques, which horrifies Moore. She's worried developers will come in and snatch up old buildings and drive up rents. To that end, she's considering creating a trust that will care for her property when she's gone. Moore likes Grand Avenue exactly as it is.

From left, Kimber Lanning, 
Wayne Rainey, Greg Esser, Beatrice Moore, 
Tony Zahn, Johnny Chu, Cindy Dach, Chris Bianco, Wendy Gruber, Silvana Salcido Esparza, Craig DeMarco, Sloane McFarland.
From left, Kimber Lanning, Wayne Rainey, Greg Esser, Beatrice Moore, Tony Zahn, Johnny Chu, Cindy Dach, Chris Bianco, Wendy Gruber, Silvana Salcido Esparza, Craig DeMarco, Sloane McFarland.


Photograpy by Jeff Newton

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Beatrice Moore may not be interested in high-end cuisine, but many people consider it the mark of a city's success. Used to be, a foodie couldn't find a crumb in downtown Phoenix. Chef Eddie Matney ventured the closest, to Seventh Street just south of Camelback, but after a few years he gave up on downtown and settled in near the Biltmore.

That is changing, with Silvana Salcido Esparza's Barrio Café, Johnny Chu's Fate, and Ruby Beet Gourmet, which recently opened in Heritage Square, across from Pizzeria Bianco.

Chris Bianco started it all, of course, leaving the comfort of Town & Country on Camelback shopping center to come to downtown Phoenix, before the ballpark, before the new town homes, before any signs of life.

He gets a pretty good deal on rent from the city, but Bianco says that doesn't reflect the hundreds of thousands of dollars it cost to relocate his business and make tenant improvements to a falling-down building. Even though, until Pane Bianco, he's always worked in tiny spots, for Chris Bianco, it's all about space. He fell in love with the Heritage Square location, and he had to be there.

It's easy to see how Bianco and Sloane McFarland became fast friends, because they both speak the tough-to-translate language of the creative person. Bianco talks with great passion -- and a Bronx accent -- about how, when he moved to Santa Fe, he learned to cook in a way that respected the earth. He interacted with farmers who grow 15 different colors of eggplant.

"You become the conductor of human beings and their stories and their struggles and how do you translate that into a menu," he says. And when you bite into one of his pizzas, you understand, for just a moment, what he means.

Bianco left Phoenix for Santa Fe, but he came back. He grew up in New York and moved here in 1985, typically, after coming on vacation one January, and spent three months in culinary school before deciding that wasn't for him. He worked at different restaurants and wound up building a pizza oven and starting Pizzeria Bianco in the back corner at EuroMarket on Central and Camelback, which is now A.J.'s.

When A.J.'s bought EuroMarket, Bianco left for Santa Fe.

But he came back to start his restaurant. When he moved from 20th Street and Camelback to Seventh Street and Washington, Pizzeria Bianco got so popular that Bianco and his partner, Susan Pool, opened Bar Bianco, mainly to accommodate the customers willing to wait hours for a table.

Bianco had always wanted to open a bakery, and a place where he and his staff would have space to spread out and work. So when he met Sloane McFarland and saw the old beauty shop next to Lux, he was sold.

Pane Bianco is as perfect as a movie set. The concrete floors are polished, paintings hang on the walls, a pile of tomatoes is a work of art, accented by a simple glass of orange Gerber daisies. At 8 a.m. on a recent weekday, Bianco has been up for hours, although he won't open 'til 11. He stands at the concrete counter and fields calls, orchestrating deliveries.

"Pepper Man, what's up?" he hollers, arranging for a pepper delivery. Apple wood from Willcox burns in the oven behind him, and quietly, Bianco's kitchen workers tend to business.

Bianco says his restaurants are hard to find on purpose, and yeah, you might have to wait a long time to eat, but he'll make it worth it. Same with Phoenix, he figures.

"I love the fact that we might have to dig harder to find things," he says, loves that there's no map to the stars' homes. You have to go out and find it yourself.

And it's all about perspective, the chef adds. Look, he says, pointing to the picnic tables outside -- Pane Bianco's only official seating. You can either sit at a picnic table and complain about the traffic on Central Avenue, or you can sit at the picnic table and enjoy the view of Camelback Mountain. (And by the way, Bianco adds, these gorgeous handmade tables were crafted from spruce wood from an old bridge in northern California.)

Chris Bianco is particularly proud of the ironwork in Pane Bianco, created by a local sculptor named Pete Deise who Bianco met through Wayne Rainey.

Deise grew up in Phoenix, but moved to Los Angeles for a few years to pursue his art. He surfed too much, so he came home to concentrate on work. He has his studio in his house, downtown near the fairgrounds.

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