Restaurant News

Chris Bianco Adds New Italian-American and Inventive Plates at PBVB

Pizzetta with lemon, red onion, and rosemary, new at Pane Bianco Van Buren.
Pizzetta with lemon, red onion, and rosemary, new at Pane Bianco Van Buren. Chris Malloy
Pane Bianco Van Buren has entered its second phase since changing over from Roland’s in the late days of winter 2019. With outpost number two of his dough-centric lunch concept, Chris Bianco has hit the gas and swerved slightly off the road he's been traveling for three decades.

That's not to say he's straying from his core philosophy of simplicity — of exalting the best ingredients and products from near and far and tirelessly honing dishes. Rather, he's inched into new zones of cuisine.

At PBVB, you can now find staples that straddle the gray area between Italian and Italian-American (perhaps closer to the latter than the former). The menu includes a chicken Parmesan sandwich, a smashed pizza burger that comes with Parmesan fries, pasta e fagioli soup, and (hopefully soon) a New York-style pizza that's still in the late phases of painstaking development. At PBVB, you can find Bianco cutting fries, stuffing wings, and devising a sandwich called “Sloppy Giuseppe.”

In short, the menu is more Italian-American and fun. Or, as Bianco, says, “food we like to eat.”

click to enlarge Red brick and checkered tablecloths inside Pane Bianco Van Buren. - CHRIS MALLOY
Red brick and checkered tablecloths inside Pane Bianco Van Buren.
Chris Malloy
The goal? To run a great lunch spot.

“We thought we could build a relationship with people who could jump out of the fray, maybe, of downtown lunch ... and build an experience,” Bianco says.

The New York-style pizza is Bianco's current focus. The chef, who was born in the Bronx and raised in a small town in New York, has been working on a 20-inch pizza blanketed from center to puffy circumference with a mottling of sauce and cheese. His final obstacle is logistical. Bianco is probing how to lower part of his wood oven to the 450-degree base temperature he needs.

This possible future menu feature comes with the tag, “inspired by.” Meaning, a pizza style inspired by what he and others have eaten in New York.

Bianco extends this modifier to all the Italian-American-leaning food on PBVB’s menu. Each item has elements outside its tradition. “I always say everything is inspired,” Bianco says. “It doesn’t always have to be exactly how they do it in south Philly, or the Bronx.”

His chicken Parm sandwich, though, hews pretty close to tradition. A thin breast gets a breading in yesterday’s loaves reduced to crumbs, and is then topped with two cheeses, all tucked into a hoagie roll. The marinara is cooked long, resulting in a clinging density, to jigsaw better into the chicken’s heft.

click to enlarge The new chicken Parm sandwich stays close to tradition. - CHRIS MALLOY
The new chicken Parm sandwich stays close to tradition.
Chris Malloy
The pizza burger is a flat meatball bunned on focaccia, made from the same dough as pizza. A side of thin fries shows a lightly melted dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

The pasta e fagioli soup is something of a Sonoran take on the Italian and Italian-American staple. Bianco skips fresh pasta for Pasta Mancini from Le Marche, a move that allows him achieve the right grade of al dente. He uses black and white tepary beans from southern Arizona and develops heat using chiltepines, provided by local pepper proselytizer and Ghost Ranch Chef Rene Andrade. “It needed a little bit of heat,” Bianco says of the soup. “And why would I not use something in our backyard from great people, that makes it regional but still inspired by another place?”

Three decades into his run in Phoenix — a city he says once seemed as far away as “the fucking moon” from his life in New York — Bianco isn’t above serving wings. The version he serves at Pane, though, he debones and stuffs, almost like a butcher uses sausage casing.

click to enlarge Chris Bianco, dough maestro. - CHRIS MALLOY
Chris Bianco, dough maestro.
Chris Malloy
Elsewhere on the menu — among its columns of soups and salads, supercharged Italian hoagies and whiskey sours doctored with mint syrup made from garden-plucked leaves — “Slices & Pizzettes” beckon.

This section contains a Sicilian slice, made just like the one at Pane on Central. It also includes three pizzettes. They’re tinier than even personal pies, but thick and chewy. Where Pizzeria Bianco’s pizza dough sees fermentations ranging from 18 to 48 hours, PBVB’s pizzette dough sees fermentations of 36 to 48. This makes for a bready base that's more developed and, potentially, edges a bit into sourdough.

Pizzette options are three: red, a white that uses butter, and “AZ Lemon.” A distant and starry-eyed cousin to Bianco’s Rosa, AZ Lemon has circles and curls of razor-thin lemon, slivered red onion, rosemary, and Parmesan cheese. An unshy char touches the bottom and puffy lip, its carbonic punch feeding into the bitterness and florals of the lemon. It's rustic as hell, and — like most everything else on the PBVB menu — it's something that Bianco just wants to eat.

“I love the lemon on it,” he says. “It’s something that’s a little more unusual. But it makes a lot of sense.”

Pane Bianco Van Buren.
1505 East Van Buren Street; 602-441-4749.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
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Chris Malloy, former food editor and current food critic at Phoenix New Times, has written for various local and national outlets. He has scrubbed pots in a restaurant kitchen, earned graduate credit for a class about cheese, harvested garlic in Le Marche, and rolled pastas like cappellacci stuffed with chicken liver. He writes reviews but also narrative stories on the food world's margins.
Contact: Chris Malloy