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Friday, May 22, 2015

Pi Craft, Henrietta


A few weeks ago, I spotted a new pizzeria in Henrietta, Pi Craft. It looked like it might be a chain pizzeria, though I'd never heard of it. But obviously I needed to check it out. So I  soon stopped by for lunch, with two friends, who are my usual, willing pizza guinea pigs.
Before I get to our food, a little more about Pi Craft. This is Pi Craft's second location, the original being in Tonawanda, just north of Buffalo.
The restaurant is part of the Develder Restaurant Group, which also owns Ember Woodfire Grill in Livionia. I reviewed Ember back in 2011, and was pretty pleased with it.
Pi Craft is aiming to tap into the "fast casual" trend. In their own words, "Pi Craft is dedicated to making healthy delicious menu items such as hand crafted pizzas, focaccia sandwiches and salads using fresh ingredients, served in a fast casual style. With our state of the art revolving pizza oven we can cook our American-Italian inspired fare in about 6 minutes. The toppings are unique and always fresh giving you thousands of topping combinations to create your own pizza for one price." So that's the concept.
You order your pizza at the counter. You can choose from a 12-inch round pie, or a smaller "Pi size," a 13 x 6 inch oval. Aside from its having a few digits in common, I have no idea whether or how that relates to the mathematical π, which is roughly equal to 3.1416. I'll leave that to the math majors to determine.
As you move along in line, to reach the cashier, you can see your pizza being hand-stretched, tossed, and put into Pi Craft's oven. The oven is an essential part of Pi Craft's formula, and again I'll let Pi Craft speak for itself:
"Our state of the art revolving stone oven reaches temperatures upward of 1000˚F, while the floor temperature typically ranges between 600˚ to 800˚ F. Because of this high temperature, we can cook pizza or sandwiches in about 3-6 minutes."
As I was standing in line, I could see that the oven uses a gas flame at the back of the oven. Kind of like a wood-fired oven, without the wood.
Pi Craft's oven also uses a revolving deck. I guess the concept is, with a flame in the back of the oven, you can cook several pizzas at once, without having to keep switching them around. But they still require attention from the pizzaiolo, i.e. the chef or oven attendant, who needs to rotate the pizzas, so that each pie bakes evenly.
I was surprised to see how fast Pi Craft's oven deck revolved. I don't have vast experience with revolving-deck pizza ovens, but I suppose that a faster rpm means that a pie won't burn too quickly along one side. But it's hardly foolproof, and still requires an attentive pizzaiolo to achieve optimal results.
I got my usual Margherita, and my friends got their usual pepperoni pies. We're not always the most imaginative folks when ordering pizza, but those pies do serve as useful benchmarks.
The crust was very thin, with a nicely formed, thicker cornicione along the edge. Aside from the cornicione, the crust was so thin that it didn't have much of an interior texture to speak of.
The undersides were generally pale with darker areas, and not very uniform in that regard, as you can see. Some areas were quite pale, others darker. It was dry to the touch.
On the positive side, the crust was crisp yet pliable. And the corncione was nice and breadlike, not just a "pizza bone" throwaway. So while the crust wasn't an exemplary work of the pizzaiolo's art, all in all it was decent.
The toppings were tasty, not applied in abundance, but in balance with the thin crust. The sauce was tomatoey and light on seasoning. The basil was good, as far as it went, but there wasn't much of it.
All our pizzas were topped with fresh mozzarella. To me, fresh mozzarella on pizza is best when it slightly liquefies in the oven. The trouble with that is, if it then cools, it tends to turn rubbery. And if it browns, well, it's overcooked.
This cheese had neither liquefied nor browned, and it wasn't rubbery. It was basically heated fresh mozzarella, and I liked it. But if you prefer your pizza coated with a blanket of melted, processed mozzarella, you won't find that here. The closest you can get is probably the white cheddar; your other options are ricotta and feta, or Parmesan.
You can peruse Pi Craft's menu here, but it's extensive, with an emphasis on creating your own pizza. There's a choice of sauces, meats, cheese, veggies, and the "afterbake," i.e. toppings added when the pizza comes out of the oven (like olive oil, fresh basil, hot sauce, etc.). Most items are included in the basic price, with a few premium items, like bacon, prosciutto, and blue cheese. Aside from pizza, Pi Craft offers a few sandwiches, salads and bruschetta.
In general, I think that Pi Craft's aim is to create handcrafted, "artisanal" pizza quickly, at a relatively low price, and to create a more or less foolproof method for doing so. I'm not trying to diminish the skills of the employees who make the pizza, but the setup seems to be based on an assembly-line system and a formula, which is typical of the fast-casual model. Based on this visit, I'd say the results are mixed. I liked this pizza, in some respects, but I wouldn't mistake it for a pizza made by a master pizzaiolo, from start to finish. It was, in short, about what I would expect it to be. Decent, but not stellar.
I generally don't rate places right after they open, and Pi Craft did just open recently. So I'll forego a grade here. I think my review speaks for itself, so I'll close by saying that if you're in the area and have a hankering for pizza, Pi Craft is worth a stop. You may not be blown away by the pizza, but I don't think you'll be too disappointed either.

Pi Craft Pizza
100 Marketplace Drive
Henrietta, NY 14623
(585) 424-2942

Open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Beer Market

As anybody who's driven along Mt. Hope Avenue in the past year or two knows, there's been a lot of development along the corridor from Crittenden to Elmwood Avenues. The result is College Town, which depending on your point of view is either a great asset to U of R students and Rochester residents, or just a sign of the homogenization of America. Within a two-block stretch, you'll now find a mix of mostly national chains, from bookstores to coffee shops, restaurants and bars. Whether that's a good or a bad thing, you can decide for yourself.
With a name like College Town, you knew pizza and beer would figure into the mix, and you'll find them both at The Beer Market. The Beer Market is apparently a franchise operation, with five locations at this point:  three in Illinois, one in Pittsburgh, and now one in Rochester.
Besides offering a wide variety of beers (I saw the long tap line, but didn't examine it too closely, but I assume they offer a good mix of beers), TBM gives pizza a prominent place on its food menu, which is what brought me here for lunch recently, with two friends.
I ordered "The Queen," an apparent reference to Queen Margherita, the namesake of Margherita pizza. It's topped with fresh mozzarella, Roma tomatoes, and fresh basil. My friends ordered a "Goodfella," with mild sausage, pepperoni, bacon, tomato sauce and herbs, and a simple pepperoni pie.
These companions have accompanied me on past excursions, and we don't always see eye to eye on pizza, but this time we were mostly in agreement. We found the pizzas very tasty (by which I mean they tasted good), thanks mostly to the toppings, but the crust left something to be desired. So I'll start with the latter.
The pizzas arrived at our table on pans, and it appeared they had been baked on those pans. The undersides had the golden-brown, bubbly look of pan-baked pies.
I'm OK with that; I've had many a fine pizza that was baked in a pan. I'm more concerned about the end result.
And the end result here was acceptable, especially given the overall flavor of the pies, but these were not great crusts. They weren't bad; they just weren't particularly good.
Why? Well, the crusts were medium thick and pliable. They didn't have the typical faults --  they weren't greasy, brittle or spongy -- but neither were they crisp or bready.
To me, the crust should be the shining star of the pizza. After all, it's the first thing to hit your tongue.
But these crusts were little more than vehicles to deliver the toppings. As such, they were OK, but it seemed that the preparation and baking had not really maximized the potential flavor and texture of the dough. I hate to resort to trendy linguistic cliches, but my reaction was, "meh." A little chewy, a little firm, but not memorable.
As I said, though, the toppings were good, and they elevated the pizzas overall. My "Queen" was abundantly topped with mozzarella and sliced tomatoes. This certainly wasn't a minimalist, less-is-more pizza, but the toppings were appropriate and in balance with the crust. A little more basil would've been welcome, but there was enough to add some flavor.
I took a slice from each of my friends' pizzas, and again I liked the toppings, as did my friends. The meats were crisp and flavorful, the cheese was stretchy, and the sauce was tomatoey with some mild herbal accents.
That brings me to the rating, which is where things get a little difficult. Without getting into a lengthy discussion, I'll go back to my standards, which involve whether I'd avoid this pizza, or whether I'd go out of my way to get it.
Measured by that standard, I'd put this pizza in the middle. It's OK; it's just not great, in my opinion. It's more about the toppings than the crust, but the toppings are pretty good. So I'll give it a C. 

The Beer Market, 1401 Mt. Hope Ave.

Mon-Wed: 11:00 a.m. - Midnight
Thursday: 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 a.m.
Fri-Sat: 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 a.m.
Sun: Noon - Midnight

Friday, May 1, 2015

TC Hooligans Winner!

Terri is the winner of a $25 gift card to TC Hooligans at the Greece Ridge Mall. Terri, I'll be sending you the gift card in the mail within 24 hours. Whether you use it for their wood-fired pizza, or anything else on their menu (if you get wings, let me know what you think), enjoy!

Thanks to all who entered, thanks for following the blog, and thank you, TC Hooligans for this generous donation. Look for more giveaways in the next few weeks, from Rochester's best pizzerias.

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