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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"The Pizza Capital of the World" - Old Forge, PA

For any self-respecting pizza lover, there are certain cities or regions that you hope to get to someday. Naples. New York. New Haven. Chicago. Anywhere in Sicily.
And Old Forge, Pennsylvania.
If you weren't expecting that last one, then you must be unaware that Old Forge, PA (not to be confused with Old Forge, NY, in the Adirondacks) is the self-proclaimed "Pizza Capital of the World." That's right. The World.
On what basis, you may ask, can a town of some 8300 people, just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, make such a bold claim?
You can read an account of the background here. I'm still not sure who came up with the slogan, but the gist of it is, Old Forge has an amazing concentration of pizzerias in a relatively small area. So it's not that the pizza is necessarily better than elsewhere, or that it's the birthplace of a style that's spread across the globe. It's just that there literally seems to be a pizzeria - sometimes more than one - on every block here. Apart from the actual pizzerias, other restaurants - diners, family restaurants, and the like - also seem to make a point of advertising that they offer pizza. I think the Chinese restaurant may be the only place in town that doesn't sell pizza (and for all I know, maybe they do).
So, I'd long wanted to visit Old Forge, but it's just far enough away (about 3 1/2 hours), that I'd never found much of an excuse to make the trip. A recent drive to and from New York City with my wife provided the opportunity, as Old Forge is just a short detour off I-81, near Scranton.
After doing some preliminary research, I settled on a few pizzerias I wanted to hit. We ended up stopping at three, getting one slice (or "cut" as it's typically called in Old Forge) each. Typically the choice is red or white. I stuck with red, the better to compare them.
All three were roughly similar, evidence of the fact that there is an Old Forge style of pizza. It's roughly what Rochesterians would call sheet pizza, but that doesn't quite capture it. It's rectangular, baked on a pan, with a thick but airy crust. Those are the basics. From there, each pizzeria has its own take on the style.
We started at Mary Lou's, which got the highest ratings online. I don't necessarily trust online ratings, but it seemed like as a good place to begin as any. Mary Lou's uses the term "slices," so I asked for two red slices.
A couple of observations, before I get into the details. At Mary Lou's, it took maybe five minutes for our slices to come up. I'm not complaining; they were worth the wait. It just struck me that at all three places we went to, the slices took a bit of time. Mary Lou's was probably the quickest but it still took a while. None of these places had slices ready to go. And I never witnessed the process. So I'm not sure if they had unbaked pizza sitting there, and baked the slices individually, or how they did it.
Also, though this was around the noon hour on a Friday, we were the only customers at each location. I was surprised not to see some other customers. I don't draw any particular conclusions from that, it's just something I noticed.
Anyway - when our Mary Lou's slices came up, I asked the counter person (who could've been Mary Lou herself - why don't I think of asking these things at the time?) if Mary Lou's is the best in town, and if so, why. The answer to the first question, of course, was yes, and the answer to the second was "Because Mary Lou bakes it with love." I'll accept that.

Mary Lou's slices were topped with well melted, smooth cheese, mozzarella, for sure, but perhaps a blend (Provolone?). The sauce had a  mild tomatoey flavor, neither too acidic nor sweet. The crust was thick but not dense, with a light, airy texture.
There was no seating at Mary Lou's, so we ate these in my car. From there,  we moved on to Arcaro & Genell, just around the block and down the street. Again, there was a wait, I'd say from five to ten minutes. They had a few tables inside and outside, and we ate our slices outside.
These were the same shape, but markedly different from Mary Lou's. Thinner, more oily underneath, with a  crunchier surface. The sauce was again mildly seasoned, but with a more noticeable flavor of oregano. The cheese was more thinly applied, appropriately to the thinner crust. So overall, thinner and more crunchy/crispy.
Kitty corner, or catty corner, or whichever you prefer (there are several variants) you'll find Revello. They have a full bar, where we sat while we waited for our cuts, which took maybe ten minutes.
The server was quite accommodating. She gave us free soft drinks while we waited for our cuts. As I was waiting, I took a photo of the "Peace Love Pizza" sign along the front wall. Then we took our slices outside and ate them on a bench, near the street corner.
Crustwise, these were similar to Mary Lou's; thick, crisp underneath, and airy on the inside. But the similarities ended there.
The cheese was the most noticeable component. It seemed to me that Revello's may use some American cheese. The cheese was well melted, very smooth, with that distinctive, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth texture of melted American cheese. My wife didn't like it at all. For me, well, I can't say I would want to eat this all the time, but I appreciated its uniqueness. It reminded me a bit of Brozzetti's in Johnson City, which I've reviewed before.
The sauce took a back seat to the cheese, but was a little more acidic than at the other two places we visited. A very interesting slice, overall.
After trying these three places, I cannot make any bold claims to being an expert on Old Forge pizza. But Old Forge itself is not shy about making bold claims. Pizza Capital of the World? I don't know about that. But hey,
if you're going to make a claim, go big. And who's to argue? You could spend a week here, and eat at a different pizzeria every day, without even having to drive. So I'm not going to quibble about their self-ascribed label.
What I can say for sure is that if you really love pizza - and are interested in trying different styles of pizza - you really should make the pilgrimage to Old Forge, someday. Next time I head down I-81, I plan to stop back, and continue my exploration.

Mary Lou's Pizza, 209 Dunn Ave., Old Forge, PA
Arcaro & Genell,  443 S. Main St., Old Forge, PA
Revello's Pizza, 502 S. Main St., Old Forge, PA

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Capish!, Le Roy

My daughter and I had dinner the other night at Capish!, which opened earlier this year in Le Roy. It's in a handsome, century-old building on Main Street. (You can see some photos of the exterior and interior here.)
Capish (I'm going to drop the exclamation mark from here on) offers a full menu of Italian dishes, but pizza is the main focus. Interestingly, they do both thin crust pizza and sfincione. I got both. Let me take them one at a time.
The thin crust pies are baked in a combination wood/gas oven. On this visit, I didn't see any sign of a wood fire. But the temp was set at 725 degrees - pretty high - and the results were good.
I suppose you could call these Neapolitan, or maybe neo-Neapolitan pizzas. I got my usual Margherita, and my daughter ordered an a la carte equivalent of a meat lover's pizza, with pepperoni, chicken, ham and sausage.
Both pies had a thin crust with a puffy cornicione.
They were charred underneath. My pie had some "leopard spotting," with some air holes having burst, leaving a small hole in the bottom of the crust. The crust was chewy but not tough, and the charred bottom added some flavor complexity.
Speaking of which, my Margherita had good flavor. A bright tomato sauce, complemented by liquefied dollops of fresh mozzarella, and shredded fresh basil, which was wilted but still a vibrant green. Capish adds a bit of oregano to their Margherita, but not enough to overpower the subtle flavors of this pie.
I sampled my daughter's meat-laden pie, and although I typically avoid that style, it was tasty. The pepperoni was thick-cut, and the well-melted processed mozzarella provided a good base for the meat.
My 12-inch pie was more than adequate for a meal, but I couldn't resist trying a slice of Capish's sfincione. I'd been aware of this close cousin to (or maybe "ancestor of" would be more accurate) Sicilian-style pizza, but by coincidence I got a bit more of an education in the style just recently, as a result of a Facebook post. Google it and you'll find plenty of information and recipes, but here's as good a description as any.
Capish's version comes topped with tomato sauce, oregano, onions, bread crumbs, and Pecorino Romano. So pretty close to style, in that regard. In Sicily, sfincione often includes anchovies, which were left off here, probably in a concession to American palates, but they are available as a topping, if you want to stay traditional.
The pan-baked crust was medium brown underneath, with large air-hole craters. The interior had a spongy texture. Although I can't claim to be a connoisseur of sfincione, this seemed to come pretty close to hitting the mark.
I was too full for dessert, so with some regret I had to forgo trying Capish's tiramisu. Next time.
On my way out, though, I paused to take a look at the oven, and chatted for a moment with the pizzaiolo. If I'm not mistaken, he was the guy seen here, and according to his Facebook page he hails from Sicily, as does Capish's owner Giacomo (Jim) Frascati, so it should come as no surprise they know their stuff, particularly where sfincione's concerned.
I've reproduced here Capish's pizza menu, but their full menu is available on their Facebook page. They offer a variety of pizzas, pasta and meat dishes, almost entirely Italian, with a nod to local tastes (as in, they serve chicken French). Since seafood is so popular in Sicily, I'm a little surprised there isn't more of it on the menu, but then again, Sicily's a Mediterranean island with a lot of port cities, and Le Roy is in Western New York, hundreds of miles from the nearest coast (and no, Lake Ontario doesn't count).
At any rate, that's pretty much a moot point for me, as I think it would take many visits for me to get past the pizza. This is one of those places where I'd like to try every pizza on the list before I even think about branching out into the other parts of the menu. With any luck and a little effort, though, I think I can get there.
I know I've been on-again, off-again with the letter grade thing, but I was quite happy with the pizza here. Capish is well worth the drive west on 490. So I'm giving this an A.

Capish!
49 Main St., Le Roy
(585) 768-1000

Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sat. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Closed Sundays


Friday, July 14, 2017

Old Italy, Latta Road

I took a drive the other day at lunchtime up to Old Italy Pizzeria on Latta Road.
I posted about Old Italy about two years ago, shortly after it opened. A few things have changed in the meantime, perhaps the most obvious being the introduction of Old Italy's "Mamaluke slices." What you see here is a single Mamaluke slice, cut in half. This measured 13 inches along the sides. Figuring this to be a quarter of a 26" diameter pizza, that comes out to about 132.75 square inches, which is roughly equivalent to the surface area of a 13" diameter pie. So figure about the same as, or even a little bigger than, the average medium pie. For $5.
Now I'll be the first one to say, big and cheap doesn't necessarily mean good. But big, cheap, and good ... well, that's very good. And fortunately, this was good.
The crust was on the thin side, with some screen marks on the bottom, and some surface crackling. Mine came fresh out of the oven, so I didn't ask for it to be rewarmed, nor did it need rewarming, but I imagine a minute or two of reheating would further boost the crispness factor. The crust, which is made using high-gluten flour, was chewy but not tough, with some air pockets visible inside.
The components were well balanced, with nicely melted whole-milk mozzarella, a light layer of sauce, and wide pepperoni slices.
Owner Bradley Cedar, who's spent many years in the pizza business, developed his own recipes for the dough and sauce, which are both prepared in-house. The menu mostly sticks to the basics - pizza, wings, calzones, hot subs and sides - but I've found over the years that there's an inverse relationship between the number of items on a menu and the quality of the pizza. In other words, best to stick to what you know, and that's the impression I came away with here. Good pizza, well prepared by an experienced pizzaiolo.
Bottom line, this was good, not because it was big, or because it was cheap, but because it was good. The big size and the low price were gravy.
Bite for bite, compared to other local pizzerias (and considering that the bar is set pretty high to begin with), I'd give it a B. Good crust and good toppings. All this for five bucks kicks it up a notch or two, but I've never rated pizza based on price or quantity, so I won't start now. But dollar for dollar, you can't do much better than this.

Old Italy Pizzeria, 1250 Latta Rd., Greece
(585) 445-8782

Sun. - Thu. noon - 9 p.m.
Fri. & Sat. noon - 10 p.m.