Visualize World Pizza

It's what we all look for when choosing a pizza parlor: whether the chef holds a Guinness World Record. The folks at the New Wise Guys in Scottsdale must think so, given the way they emblazon the honor bestowed on chef Robert Tripi in their ads and on the back of their menus.

The funny thing is, the achievement has nothing to do with pizza. Tripi was designated in the 1977-78 book for an enormous gingerbread house he created as a publicity stunt for his employer, a Sheraton hotel in Arlington, Texas. The monster cookie stood 17 1/2 feet high, and used 650 pounds of gingerbread, 750 pounds of candy and 1,030 pounds of icing.

Talking to Tripi, 52, makes me wonder how he ended up at a nondescript pizza joint in a strip mall. Wise Guys serves great pizza, sure, and its hoagies are terrific (try the "assorted," a 12-incher bursting at the seams with ham, turkey, capicolla, salami and provolone), but Tripi was trained at the Culinary Institute of America.

During his 37 years in the restaurant biz, he's been executive chef for George W. Bush (dad loves buffets, he says), catered NFL Pro Bowls, worked as a private chef for a Texas oil tycoon, and has been chef to stars like LaToya Jackson, Tanya Tucker, Crystal Gayle and Buck Owens. He's had his own cooking program, before chefs on TV were the norm, opened the restaurants at the Flamingo Hilton in Las Vegas, and helped found Eatiz, a fashionable chain all across Texas.

A triple bypass three years ago led Tripi to slow down, he says, and he moved to Arizona last January to crank out pizza pies. You can also check out his barbecue stand at Park 'n Swap on weekends, or his catering at next month's Arabian horse show.

While Wise Guys offers the usual party grub, including 16-inch pizzas and six-foot subs, Tripi has no plans for another world record, particularly in the pizza category. That distinction goes to Norwood Hypermarket in South Africa, which in 1990 fashioned a pie that was 123 feet in diameter.

Stick a Fork in It: Chef Robert McGrath has created a cult following with his "Big Ass" burger at Roaring Fork in Scottsdale, serving a 12-ounce sandwich topped with green chiles, longhorn Colby cheese and smoked bacon with French fries. The $6 plate is available at the bar, from 5 to 7 p.m. weeknights only.

Now, Al Dente in north Scottsdale, an Italian restaurant, of all things, has added a "Big Ass North" burger to its menu. The one-pound beefcake comes with Dijon mayo and whipped potatoes, and is in response to the recent opening of In-N-Out Burger. Yes, the name's a direct copy of McGrath's, and McGrath should view it as a compliment, says Al Dente owner Rudy Galluzzo. McGrath didn't return an e-mail seeing comment.


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