Legendary chefs and groundbreaking bakers are among America’s top breed of pizza makers, who are as obsessed with the temperature of their designer ovens as they are fanatical about ingredients.
The pies at Pizzeria Bianco in Arizona are arguably the country’s best, and pizzaiolo Chris Bianco made Phoenix an unlikely center of the artisanal pizza movement when he opened the restaurant in 1994. The Bronx, New York–born Bianco turns out beautiful, wood-fired crusts that are made with organic flour and topped with meticulous ingredients like fresh mozzarella and house-made sausage. There’s almost always a line out the door, and powerhouse chefs like Mario Batali name the destination among their favorite restaurants.
“Chris Bianco uses all the Neapolitan ideology to make as perfect a pizza as you can find in America,” says Batali.
Batali’s own Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles also warrants its outstanding reputation. Run with wine-loving restaurateur Joe Bastianich and bread expert Nancy Silverton (co-founder of Campanile and LaBrea Bakery), the packed restaurant turns out spectacular Neapolitan-style pies with bubbly, charred crusts. Toppings range from the semi-traditional (house-made fennel sausage with sweet red onions) to the cult (squash blossoms with creamy burrata).
Scott Conant, chef at New York City’s Scarpetta and host of the Food Network’s 24 Hour Restaurant Battle, is a fan of Pizzeria Mozza and its sister restaurant, Osteria Mozza. “I love these places; Nancy Silverton’s touch at Osteria makes it all pop,” he says.
In NYC, Conant also raves about Kesté Pizza and Vino, where the signature pizza is the Regina Margherita with tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, grape tomatoes, basil and extra-virgin olive oil. Chef and co-owner Roberto Caporuscio worked as a cheese salesman in Italy before he opened Kesté, one of the best Neapolitan options in the city.
Conant agrees: “Authentic, fun and perfect. Kesté’s pizza is executed flawlessly.”
Even Chicagoans, reputed sticklers for deep-dish pizza, have softened to the allures of thin-crust pies. At Great Lake, husband-and-wife Detroit natives Nick Lessins and Lydia Esparza keep erratic hours and don’t take reservations — thus assuring long lines.
Lessins assembles pies to order and then chars them in his beloved gas oven, which is cranked up to 650°. Some toppings are baked onto the airy, crisp crust; others, like Mona cheese on a spinach pie, are added when the pizza is just out of the oven.
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