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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Hole in the Wall, Perry

I'm not sure how I discovered this, but some time ago I ran across a reference to The Hole in the Wall restaurant in Perry, serving wood-fired pizza.
Now that  name caught my eye, because I remember as a little kid having a meal at least one time in the Hole in the Wall, which back then was located in the two- or three-block "business district" along Main Street in Perry. I remember the name more than the place, but as I recall it, it was aptly named, small, with good food, but mostly of the diner variety:  burgers, sandwiches, and so on.
So a new, relocated Hole in the Wall? With wood-fired pizza, no less? Pizza or no, I had to check this out.
And so my wife and I went one night, recently, for dinner at The Hole in the Wall. And were we glad we did.
This was a far different Hole in the Wall from what I remembered going to as a kid.  The new incarnation of the HlTW is not on Main Street, but is down a side street leading to nearby Silver Lake. It's also much bigger than what I remember.
While the building itself is rather nondescript,  it was clear upon entering that the owners are aiming for something higher than than the diner of my youth. The interior has an airy, comfortable feel, with high ceilings and a muted color scheme. Add a few sunburned guys in polo shirts and khaki shorts, and this could've been the clubhouse at a local country club.
I wasn't surprised to see that the owners weren't trying to replicate the atmosphere of the old HITW, since the original, as good as it was, was one of the last places I would've expected to find wood-fired pizza. Of course, back then, nobody'd even heard of wood-fired pizza. Not around here, at least. But if you're now offering wood-fired pizza and craft beers, that's a pretty good indication that you're striving to be something more than just a diner.
When a restaurant decides to go upscale, it can go well or badly. If they can pull it off, great. If they overreach, as they often do, it can be a disaster. But based on this visit to the Hole in the Wall, I'd say it's gone very well indeed.
Upon entering, we were promptly greeted and asked if we preferred the bar area near the door, or the dining room, which is entered via a ramp just off the bar. The bar area looked pleasant enough, and was pretty quiet at the time (a little after six), but we opted for the dining room.
My wife and I were ushered to a table near the window, which gave us a view of the farm fields and trees across the road. I wouldn't call it scenic, exactly, but it was eye-pleasing enough.
Even before I got the menu, I knew I was getting pizza; it was only a question of which one. The pizza bianca (olive tapenade, green olives, broccoli, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan) was tempting, but I ended up going with my usual Margherita (as at so many other places, misspelled "Margarita" on the menu).
While we were waiting for our food, we were given a complimentary appetizer of grilled flatbread with tapenade. I love good olives, so I enjoyed this.
Next up was our salads. Often, a "side" salad is unremarkable, but I asked for crumbly blue cheese on mine, and was happy to find that it was sprinkled with smoked blue cheese, something I'd never had before. I was informed that it was Moody Blue from Wisconsin. While I like to see places use local ingredients, I couldn't complain about this out-of-state choice. The smokiness of the cheese was not overpowering, but added a layer of complexity that elevated the entire salad.
But on to the pizza. My Margherita was thin and crisp, and lightly, spottily charred. It was topped with a thick, somewhat sweet sauce, which was most noticeable near the edge. In the center of the pie, the sauce was very thin and had mostly evaporated.
Dollops of fresh mozzarella dotted the pie, and were nicely baked, neither runny nor rubbery.
The basil, often little more than a garnish, if not an afterthought, was the most interesting part. Here, it consisted of basil sprouts, tender but with long stems. They were OK, but a little bitter, and somewhat awkward to eat, as they tended to fall off the slices. I preferred them to the dried basil flakes or burnt shredded basil leaves that I've had on some pizzas, but I think I'd still rather have full-grown basil leaves, added as soon at the pie comes out of the oven.
My wife ordered the stuffed chicken breast (bacon, spinach, onions, provolone, sun-dried tomato, and cream sauce), which was very good, and we shared a tiramisu for dessert. I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, but I do love a good tiramisu, and this was a good one. A little oddly presented, parfait- style in a tall glass, but it was still among the best I've had, with a creamy but light texture and a flavor that was sweet but not cloying.
Luckily, we happened to go on a Wednesday, when pizzas are half price. So my pizza was only $5.50. Amazingly, our bill came out well under $40.
I'm not one to overemphasize price - I'd rather pay more for a good meal than pay less for a mediocre meal - but this was one of the biggest bangs for the buck that I've had. The food was uniformly good, and our total bill came to about what I've paid in the past for one person's meal, of equal quality, at some other restaurants.
Ah yes, the grade. This pizza wasn't perfect - I think I've explained why - and yet I would drive out of my way to go here. I'm giving it a B, for now, but it's not much short of an A. And that's the pizza, not the restaurant as a whole, which I would give an A. But I rate pizza, not restaurants.
Let me conclude by saying that I hope that the local community is supporting the Hole in the Wall, because it's a treasure. It's about a 30-mile drive for me, but I know I'll be back.

Hole In the Wall Restaurant
7056 Standpipe Rd, Perry, NY 14530
Phone:(585) 237-3003

Wed. & Thu. 11:30 am – 8:30 pm, Fri. 11:30 am – 9:00 pm, Sat. 11:30 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday 11:30 am – 8:00 pm

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pizza Stop Winner!

Diane Gelose, who entered a comment here on July 11 at 1:15 p.m., is the winner of two $10 gift certificates to The Pizza Stop. Congratulations, Diane!
All I need you to do is send your mailing address to me at, and I'll get them in the mail asap.
Thanks to everyone who participated and thanks for reading The Rochester NY Pizza Blog. Keep watching for more giveaways in the future.

Interview: Angelo "Sonny" Veltre

In 2011, I did a post about Veltre Bakery, one of Rochester's original pizzerias. A few weeks ago, I sat down over lunch with Angelo "Sonny" Veltre, who ran that bakery for many years, and worked or helped out there more years, both before and after he was in charge. He's a wonderful guy, and it was a pleasure to speak with him.
The old Veltre Bakery used to be on Parkway St. in Rochester, just off Lyell Avenue. When Angelo's parents bought it in the 1930s, it had been in use for some time, and had incorporated a coal-fired oven, built into the wall, from the start.
Angelo's father learned his trade at the long-gone Bond Bakery in Rochester, which seems to have been something of a training ground for bakers around here.
Angelo, who was born in 1928, started working at the Veltre Bakery as a young boy, and part of his tasks included taking small pizzas around the neighborhood for sale.
In the beginning, pizza was no more than an adjunct to bread, which was Veltre's mainstay. They'd offer small pizzas, which in those days were as simple as can be, topped with little more than tomatoes and oregano. To make a little more money, Sonny was tasked with taking pizzas around to local bars at the end of the day, offering them for sale to patrons for ten cents apiece. At that time, pizza was a novelty, and many customers didn't even know what it was at first. But they quickly came to like it; Sonny recalled one night when a bar fight broke out over the sale of his last pizza (fortunately for him, Sonny got out before the fists started to fly in his direction).
Notably, Sonny also told me that Veltre sold some of its wares out of a truck. As the saying goes, eventually everything old is new again. Veltre was operating a food truck decades before the current food-truck trend took hold.
In the 1940s, Sonny got drafted, though he never made it overseas. He got in late in the war, and stayed stateside. But thanks to his military service, Sonny was able, under the GI Bill, to attend a bakery trade school, where he honed his craft. In fact, he learned so much that he was able to bake his own wedding cake on a Friday for the next day's reception.
And he learned how to use Veltre's coal oven. Sonny described it as a "primitive" oven, which to me makes it sound all the more intriguing. He'd show up for work at around 4 or 5 a.m. to start the fire, with wood, before adding the coal. The oven did incorporate a blower to blow off the coal smoke, but besides smoke and heat, coal produces ash, and cleaning the grates was a daily task.
How hot did Veltre's coal-fired oven get? Sonny didn't know. It had no thermometer, and he didn't need one. The baker had to use his judgment regarding where to place the loaf, or pizza, and when to turn it or take it out. Pizza went to the back, the hottest part of the oven, and bread closer to the front.
It was after WW2 that pizza started to change. Sonny doesn't give much credence to the theory that this was due to GIs returning from Italy, and I've had my doubts about that myself. But for whatever reason, the pizzas got bigger, and mozzarella and pepperoni became more common toppings.
The post-war years were the peak of the bakery. There was a spate of weddings at that time, and it wasn't uncommon for soldiers and their brides to order a few sheet pizzas for the reception. As Sonny put it, "pizza and beer, and you're all set." Veltre was also supplying bread to local restaurants and delivering downtown, turning out 100+ loaves a day.
Interestingly, in those days, apparently pizza boxes hadn't yet been invented, or at least they weren't in widespread use. Instead, to-go pies were typically put on a cardboard disk, tied with twine. Sonny recalled one winter night when a customer in a hurry grabbed a pizza to go, tied only with one string, instead of crossways. To Sonny's horror, he saw the pie slide off the base, right under the customer's car, into the snow and slush along the curb. Sonny ran out and offered the guy a new, fresh pizza.
Things continued to go well for Veltre Bakery, but change was in the wind. In the old days, amazingly, Veltre didn't lock its doors at night. As Angelo put it, "Who would rob the guy next door?" And neighbors were welcome to use its ovens. It truly sounds as if Veltre was a genuine neighborhood institution.
But as time went on, the neighborhood became less neighborly. Whether real or perceived, crime in the city was on the increase. Neighbors didn't know each other as well, if at all. At age 62, Angelo retired, more or less, and his son Dave took over. Angelo stayed on as a consultant.
The end came in 1999, when Dave decided to pursue a career as a sheriff's deputy. Angelo completely supported that decision, and I can't fault him for that. There's no more honorable career than law enforcement.  But with no buyers stepping forward to take over the bakery, Veltre closed its doors, and they've remained closed since.
But that was hardly the end for Sonny Veltre. For the past fifteen years, he's worked as a lifeguard at the Northwest Family YMCA on Long Pond Road, where he's saved several people from drowning. Most of these were not dramatic, "Save me, I'm drowning!" kinds of rescues of the type we imagine, and I suspect that few are. Mostly they've involved heart attacks or seizures in the water, with the swimmers silently slipping under the surface, which requires diligent attention by the lifeguard. When that's happened on his watch, Angelo has pulled out the swimmer and called for additional help. But in describing one such rescue, he half-jokingly added that he was "only" 78 years old at the time.
As far as I know, the Veltre Bakery building, including the oven, is still intact. I'd love to find a way to go inside - legally of course - and take some photos. I'll continue looking into that possibility.
I'm also going to watch a movie. Mr. Veltre told me that back in the 1980s, a movie, "Moving Target," used the bakery as a shooting location at one point. I've found a movie by that name on Neflix, and have added it to my queue, but I haven't been able to confirm that it's the movie he's talking about. When I watch it, I'll keep my eyes out for anything that looks like a bakery.
I wanted to meet with Angelo "Sonny" Veltre to discuss pizza and baking, and I did, and that was indeed very interesting. But I also got to meet an amiable man who's lived a very full and productive life, and who's still going strong at age 87.
I'm sure I wasn't the first to do so, but I couldn't resist asking Angelo to what he attributes not just his longevity, but his vitality. His response was, in effect, "Just lucky, I guess." I hope we call all be that lucky. And I know I consider myself lucky to have met this fine gentleman.

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