While the number of local pizzerias seems to be holding fairly steady, pizza as a menu item is popping up all the time. One recent example is The Alley, a restaurant/bar/nightclub in Rochester's East End.
The Alley, which opened in December 2015, is . It's at 1 Ryan Alley, near the corner of East and Alexander. After I spotted an ad for The Alley trumpeting its pizza, I made a mental note to get there, which I did a few weeks ago with my daughter.
We went on a Wednesday, arriving around 6 p.m. That's kind of early in the week, and early in the evening, for the East End, so unsurprisingly, things were pretty quiet when we walked in. In fact, it was empty, save for one employee behind the bar. But he assured me that they were open, and yes, they were serving food, including pizza. So we got a table near the window.
After handing us our menus, he explained that they were unexpectedly shorthanded that night, so at the moment, he constituted the entire staff -- bartender, waiter, and chef. Since we were the only customers, I didn't mind; if nothing else, this would truly be personalized service.
Pizzas at The Alley come in three sizes: personal, regular and large. I got a regular Margherita, and my daughter ordered a personal meat lovers.
While we waited for our pizzas to arrive, we shared an appetizer of arancini. At The Alley, these fried rice balls are filled with Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese, and served with a side of marinara sauce. They were crisp on the outside, moist inside, tasty and enjoyable. So far, so good.
Our pizzas arrived in due course, and as I usually do, I first checked the underside. It was quite pale. Not a good sign.
Further inspection confirmed that the crust was rather underdone. Not raw, but flabby and a little gummy. "Lifeless" might best describe it.
I could've sent it back to bake a while longer, but the cheese was already well browned, so that didn't seem like a viable option. And I could've just sent it back, period. But I didn't, partly because I was intending to review it, so I figured I'd stick with what I had, and partly because it passed my "good enough to eat" threshold.
The overall flavor wasn't bad. This was really more of a cheese pizza than a Margherita, but as such, it was decent. The sauce had a thin consistency, but the chunks of tomato provided some acidity, sweetness and moisture. The cheese was ample, albeit rather browned, as I mentioned. My pie had also been given a sprinkling of what I'm guessing was Parmesan (the powdery kind you get from a cheese shaker, not freshly grated). Alas, the basil was of the dry variety, and didn't add much flavor, which is why I say this was more of a simple cheese pizza than a true Margherita.
The crust on my daughter's meat lover's pie was relatively thick, which is one reason I generally don't order personal-size pizza. Because of its smaller diameter, the cornicione on a personal pizza takes up a greater proportion of the overall pie than it would on a larger pie. I enjoy a good cornicione, but I like the thinner crust in the center of the pie too, and you often don't get much of that with a small pizza. This isn't a universal rule, by any means, but I've often found it to be the case, and it was here.
The crust on my daughter's pie was also on the underdone side, but that seemed less noticeable with hers, perhaps because of its more abundant toppings, which were pretty good. The pepperoni was crisp along the edges, and the meatball and sausage bits were thick and chunky. In contrast to my pizza, the mozzarella on hers was not browned, but was well melted and stretchy.
A few minutes after bringing out our pizzas, the waiter came by to check on us. I am sometimes susceptible in that situation to the American practice of smiling, nodding, and saying that everything's fine, even when it isn't, and I might've fallen prey to that this time, except that he specifically asked about the crusts on our pizza. So we did let him know that they were underdone. He seemed to have suspected as much, and after apologizing, he told us that he was taking 15% off our bill.
We didn't finish either pizza at this sitting, but I did take the leftovers home. I was able to salvage them for lunch, reheating individual slices in a toaster oven, with a layer of foil on top to prevent the cheese from getting overdone. That at least crisped up the bottoms a bit.
Obviously, something went wrong here. I'm no expert, but it seems likely to me that these were baked in an oven that was too cool on the bottom, but hot up above. I'm guessing the oven hadn't been on for very long, and was not sufficiently preheated.
So no, this was not very good pizza. But having said that, I did appreciate our waiter's concern. In hindsight, it might have been better if he had told us at the start that they weren't quite prepared to do pizza, but maybe he honestly didn't realize. I think he tried to do the best he could, under the circumstances.
Frankly, I debated with myself and a couple of other people, whose opinions I value, about whether to post this review, or whether to go back a second time, or to contact the establishment. Ultimately, I decided just to post the review, as is. In the end, this blog remains a record of my pizza experiences. If I describe those experiences accurately and objectively--and I think I have--the reader can decide what to make of it.
So I end this post with that caveat. This is a review of two pizzas, and one visit. Maybe on a different occasion--a different day of the week, or a different time of day, or with more people on staff--the pizza would have proved much better. But this was not too good. I have no complaints about our service, but I think I need to give this pizza a D.
The Alley,1 Ryan Alley, Rochester
Tue. - Sat. 4 p.m. til ?
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
Friday, August 5, 2016
We have a winner! Dave B., who sent me an email on July 29, is the winner of a $25 gift card from Empire Pizza. Dave, I'll need your mailing address, so please send that to me at ROCPizzaGuy@gmail.com and I'll see that your card gets out to you soon. Thank you to everyone who responded and to Ken at Empire Pizza for this donation.
Friday, July 29, 2016
I've also enjoyed restaurant dishes prepared "en papillote," i.e., cooked in parchment. The idea is to cook the food in its own juices, steaming the food without losing flavor. This method also does not generally require the addition of oil or butter.
Using regular parchment sheets, this is usually accomplished by employing two sheets, and crimping the edges to form a seal. I tried this once at home, with mixed results. As I recall, the pouch I'd created leaked, and I ended up with a pool of liquid on the underlying baking sheet. Since then, I've gone back to using parchment strictly for sliding bread and pizza into the oven.
But I was recently offered a free review sample of PaperChef Culinary Parchment Cooking Bags. These are actual bags, made of parchment paper, designed for cooking en papillote.
I tried them for salmon and asparagus, which is something of a classic dish using this method. About ten minutes in the oven at 400 degrees, and the result was very good, with moist, flaky salmon and asparagus that was cooked through but still bright green and crunchy. And happily, no mess, no leakage. (As my wife told me, a little too late, I should've gotten a photo of the finished dish. My bad.)
I haven't tried it yet, but PaperChef recommends using these on the grill as well. The bags should not be exposed to a direct flame, so they suggest placing them on a metal tray or pan, and making sure the temperature does not exceed 425. But it seems like a natural for one of my all-time favorite foods, corn on the cob (especially because I've never been a big fan of roasted corn on the cob -- to me, that just dries it out and makes it too chewy). Not only will the bags allow your food to steam in its own juices, but you'll avoid having the food absorb or impart unwanted flavors from or to whatever else is on the grill at the same time.
On PaperChef's website, you'll find a useful video demonstrating the technique of en papillote cooking, as well as a bunch of recipes utilizing both their cooking bags and their other products, like regular tear-off parchment paper and parchment baking cups. I'll be trying some of those recipes soon, and I'm happy to have added one more arrow to my culinary sling.
PaperChef bags are available at online and brick-and-mortar retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Go to their "Where to Buy" page for more information.