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Friday, August 29, 2014

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza $30 Giveaway

It's been quite awhile since I ran a giveaway, but thanks to the generosity of the guys at Joe's Brooklyn Pizza, that's now remedied. One week from today, some lucky reader of this blog will win a Joe's gift card worth $30. That'll buy plenty off Joe's menu - say, a 19" large, classic cheese pie with a side of wings, or a 32-slice sheet of thick Sicilian pizza.
And don't ignore Joe's tempting lineup of specialty pies. On my latest visit, I tried one of Joe's latest creations: a white pie with black garlic and fresh figs.
I've seen figs on pizza menus before, and I've even tried them at home, with chopped dried figs, which turned out pretty well.
Now I know that not everybody's a fan of figs. But a lot of people are also only familiar with the dried variety.
Fresh figs are qualitatively different. It's like the difference between a plump, juicy grape and a raisin. You can find them, sometimes, in the produce section of the supermarket. They're expensive (I think I've paid $6 for four of them before), but worth it.
And they worked very well here. The figs were sweet, but not cloyingly so. They both complemented and contrasted with the aromatic and flavorful black garlic, making for a surprisingly good combination. I've said many times that great pizza is all about balance, and this one beautifully straddled the line between sweet and savory.
By the way, I should mention that, whatever you order, if you choose to eat it on the premises, Joe's now offers several beers on tap to enjoy with your meal, including locally brewed Naked Dove, and, of course, several offerings from Brooklyn Brewery. Look for the lineup to change on a regular basis.
Now about that gift card: I'll pick a winner at random in one week, on Friday, September 5, in the early afternoon. To enter, simply leave a comment at the end of this blog post, anytime before noon next Friday. You need not leave your full name here, but you cannot leave a purely anonymous comment. One entry per person, please.
I will announce the winner on this blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter. If you want, you can email me at (or include your email address in your blog comment) and I will notify you directly if you win. Otherwise, it's your responsibility to check and see if you've won.
If you do win, you will need to get me your full name and mailing address, via email. If I don't hear from the winner after several days, I may award the card to another reader.
Finally, if you win, please let the guys at Joe's know, when you use the card, that you won it here. For that matter, anytime you go to a local pizzeria based in part on something you read on this blog, please mention the blog. I'd appreciate it. The more pizzeria owners know that people read this blog, the more apt they'll be to agree to do these giveaways.
OK, now let loose with those comments!

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza, 1100 Jefferson Rd., Henrietta
585-424-JOES (5637)

Mon. & Tue. 11 AM - 9 PM
Wed. - Sat. 11 AM - 10 PM
Sun. noon - 8 PM

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Branca, Bushnells Basin

Branca on Urbanspoon
If nothing else, the current trend of wood-fired pizza is giving local pizza lovers more options to choose from, and it's giving me more and more places to check out; sometimes more than I can keep up with. One such is Branca in Bushnells Basin, which opened this summer in what had been a Great Northern Pizza Kitchen location.
It’s funny how some new places get so much more buzz than others, but I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when on a recent Sunday around 5:30 my wife and I showed up and were told that Branca could “not accommodate walk-ins until 8:30.” Branca was opened by the owners of The Revelry, a Rochester hotspot, and it’s in Bushnells Basin, which I described to my wife as “Pittsford on steroids.” Put those together and you’re talking about a place where you don’t just walk in and expect to get a table right away, even on what’s an off-night for many places. (We left and went to another place not too far away, which I’ll report on soon.)
Several days later, the opportunity again arose for use to go out for dinner, and this time I made a reservation. So with some smugness on my part, we sauntered past the ignorant masses waiting for a table and were quickly ushered to our seats.
We were seated not too far from Branca’s oven. I didn’t take a photo, since you can see several good views of the oven on Branca’s Facebook page. But the fire was blazing, and pizzas were steadily going in and out.
There was no question that I was going to get a pizza; it was only a matter of which one. Aside from the Tartufata (it’s got mushrooms - a no-go, for me), they all sounded good, but I went with my usual Margherita.
Initial impressions:  thick, blistered cornicione, very thin interior, some spotty charring on an otherwise pale underside. The cornicione was chewy, pleasant enough but a bit bland, and I found it a little wide and thick, relative to the overall size of the pizza. I like a good outer crust, but this was a little much for me.
The interior crust was supple, thin, and chewy. I understand that Neapolitan pizza is typically not crisp and crackly, like New York style pizza, but I found this pie just a bit soupy. Branca’s oven runs at about 900 degrees, which can evaporate some of the water in a sauce, but the sauce here was a little more liquid than I would’ve liked. 
But the sauce, which is made from San Marzano tomatoes, was flavorful, and the dollops of fresh mozzarella were nicely melted. I could’ve used a little more basil, but what basil there was had been added at the right time to wilt it and bring out some flavor, without drying it out or browning it.
I should mention that the rest of our meal was very good. I started with a Panzanella Toscana salad, with heirloom tomatoes, bread, cucumber, red onion, and red wine vinaigrette, which made for a nice combination. I think I may have set a personal record for carb consumption, between the pizza, that bread-based salad, and the crusty complimentary bread that we were given for starters. My wife enjoyed her salad with goat cheese, and her vegetarian, farro-based main course proved to be an excellent choice as well.
As long as this is turning into a full-blown review, I’ll say a bit more about the place in general. No complaints about the service; the staff did a good job at keeping up with the crowd, and our server checked in on us from time to time. The feel was upscale casual, but don’t go here for an intimate dinner. Tables are close together, and although my wife and I didn’t find conversation difficult, the noise level was fairly high. Branca claims to evoke the spirit of "Old Hollywood watering holes," but I'm not sure if I even know what that entails, much less whether it's an accurate description.
So is Branca worth the hype? Hard to say, after just one meal, but it’s certainly worth a visit.  I tend to avoid rating pizzas until a place has had some time to sort itself out, so let’s just say that at this point, I’d recommend checking it out, even if I’m not yet putting Branca on my must-do list. Just make a reservation first.

Branca, 683 Pittsford-Victor Rd., Bushnells Basin

Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - midnight
Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Casa Italiana, Canandaigua

Casa Italiana on Urbanspoon
Pizzawise, few things get me as interested as finding out that there's been a pizzeria around for a long time that I never even knew about.
So I was very pleased to learn recently about Casa Italiana in Canandaigua.
Occasional visitors to Canandaigua could easily be led to think that everything of interest is on Main Street or near the lakeshore. But you'll find some gems on the side streets as well.  And Casa Italiana is one of them.
Casa Italiana comprises two side-by-side places, a deli and a pizzeria. Most of what you'll find on their website relates to the deli. 
Since I didn't have a menu, I just showed up and ordered in person. I had planned to order a pepperoni pie, but upon seeing a Margherita on the chalkboard menu, I impulsively went with that. A classic Margherita is one of my favorite styles of pizza, and though I often go with a simple cheese, or maybe pepperoni pie, a Margherita sounded good.
And it was good, although it had a few, relatively modest shortcomings.
The underside bore some screen marks, which in general raises a red flag with me. In my experience crusts with those telltale cross hatches have often been soft, but this one was not. In fact, it was rather crisp, with surface crackling.
Nonetheless, I would've liked this crust a little darker. Not necessarily charred, but at least a darker shade of brown. As dough darkens, it develops more complex flavors and aromas. Now, I've had pizzas with dark bottoms that tasted and smelled unpleasantly of oil, so darkness does not always equate to good flavor, but this crust wasn't at all oily, so I don't think that would've been an issue here.
The crust was thin, as was the outer edge, or cornicione. The dough didn't seem to have risen much. I like some crackliness, but this was a bit brittle for my taste, and a little more chewiness would've been welcome.
Having said all that, this wasn't a bad crust, overall. A bit too stiff, for me, but it wasn't crumbly, and it was certainly preferable to a soft, greasy crust.
On top, this was an unusual Margherita in that the greens consisted of spinach rather than basil. But stylistic matters aside, it was pretty good. I like spinach (I've come a long way since childhood), and this was tasty indeed. The spinach was wilted but not burnt.
The scattered slices of fresh mozzarella were not silky smooth, but neither were they watery or rubbery. So pretty good, there. The sliced fresh tomatoes weren't especially flavorful (think typical supermarket tomatoes), but the moderate layer of sauce was pleasant, with a straightforward tomatoey flavor. A light smattering of chopped garlic added additional aroma. I'll rarely complain about the addition of garlic.
This is a tough pizza to grade. I liked it, and I'd like to go back, so a C seems a little low to me. But I had some issues with it, and a B seems a tad high. Therefore I'm going to depart from my usual avoidance of pluses and minuses, and give this one a C-plus. And I'm intrigued enough to go back, for a more standard pie.

Casa Italiana, 40 Parrish St., Canandaigua
Pizzeria: 585-396-3670
Deli/store: 585-396-0411

Pizzeria hours: Wed. & Thu. 11-7, Fri. & Sat. 11-9, Sun. 12-7

Deli hours: Mon.-Fri. 8-7, Sat. 8-6, Sun. 8-4

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