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Friday, February 12, 2016

The Pizza Stop: an Old Favorite, and Something New

The Pizza Stop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Through a combination of circumstances, I recently went for over a week with no pizza. But after literally dreaming about pizza several times over that time, I knew it was time for a pizza fix.
And I knew it was time to get back to The Pizza Stop, one of my go-to places for great pizza. I've mostly been going to new places lately, which has meant neglecting some old favorites. But I can only stay away from them for so long.
When I walked in the door, I wasn't sure what to get, aside from a plain cheese slice. When I'm craving pizza, a plain cheese slice is still what I want.
But I was hungry enough for a second slice. I was initially inclined to get a Sicilian slice, but on the spur of the moment I got a slice of a more recent creation, a sweet-chili chicken and bacon slice.
I went back and forth between them, but started first on the latter. Both slices displayed the crust that puts The Pizza Stop among my top tier of local pizzerias. Thin, crackly yet pliable, with some interior chewiness, and with some charring underneath, but no burnt areas. If the room had been quieter, or if my hearing were better, I probably could've heard the crust cracking as I folded it. It's a classic New York slice, which to me is as good as it gets.
The chicken slice was generously laden with toppings, but not enough to overwhelm the crust, which still passed the "fold test." The drizzled-on sauce had a complex flavor, with sweet, smoky and spicy-hot notes. It well complemented the chunks of chicken and the crisp bacon bits.
Obviously, this is not for minimalist, pizza purists. But one thing to like about The Pizza Stop is that in addition to their classic pies, they're always trying out new combinations. Owner Jim Staffieri told me that coming up with ideas for new toppings and combinations is pretty much an ad lib process; "ideas just come." From there, it's a matter of gauging customer response.
As I mentioned, I went back and forth between these slices, but I saved the bulk of my bites for the cheese slice. To me, a plain cheese slice is the ultimate NY style pizza.
I will confess to having squeezed a bit of hot sauce between the cheese and the cornicione. I did the same, with sriracha, on the chicken slice. Pizza purists may take issue with that, but it's the eater's prerogative to doctor the slice any way you'd like, and I enjoy the extra kick that a squirt of hot sauce adds to the otherwise naked crust. That's why you see that red ring on the cheese slice.
Which was as good as ever. There's not much I can say about it that I haven't said before. When I'm eating a Pizza Stop slice, I could well be sitting somewhere in NYC. Crackly crust, well melted cheese, and just the right amount of tomatoey sauce to balance it all out.
If you haven't been there in a while, don't forget that The Pizza Stop has moved just up the street into bigger quarters. There's plenty of seating, they've also added a well-chosen selection of draft beer, and they've extended their hours of operation. In short, there's no reason not to go there, soon.

The Pizza Stop
131 State Street
Rochester, New York 14614

(585) 546-7252

Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday, 2 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Perfect Pizza Baking Surface, Found.

As I suspect is true of more than a few of my readers, I not only love to eat pizza, I love to bake it at home. And an ongoing quest among home pizza bakers is to find the ultimate cooking surface, on which to bake your pizza, so as to come as close as possible to what you would get from a professional oven.
For some time now, I've been using unglazed quarry tiles. I liked them a lot, and in fact I've recommended them here before. But -- I'll spare you the details -- I recently had to use them to elevate my new water heater off my basement floor. So it was time for a new solution.
If I could have, I simply would've replaced those tiles; they worked very well. But the place where I'd bought them no longer sold them, and I could find no easy source for new ones. It appeared that I could order a box of 50 from a big-box store for about $50, which would essentially give me a lifetime supply, but I thought, there has to be a better way.
One of the latest materials to come into vogue for a home-oven baking surface is steel. It conducts and retains heat well, it doesn't absorb moisture, it won't crack, and is supposed to produce tremendous results.
It's easy enough to find these online. But the cost can run to well over $100, before shipping. You can find cheaper ones, but they're typically thin. I've seen one online that's only $30, but if I read the description correctly, it's one-tenth of an inch thick. You may as well use an aluminum cookie sheet.
At some point, and it may have prompted by something I read during my research, it occurred to me that it should be possible to get a steel plate custom-made, for a lot less than what those "baking" plates are going for.
After a little more research, I discovered SMC Metal.  It's a locally owned and operated company at the corner of Mt. Read Boulevard and Buffalo Road. You can read about what they do here, but in short, they're metal fabricators.
I called and asked if they could cut me a half-inch-thick, 15 by 15 inch piece of steel. Yes, they could. How much? Thirty-five, plus tax.
I went over, watched them cut it, and 20 minutes later walked out with my steel. It came to $37.80.
During the cutting process, which involves a band-type blade, a water-based solution is washed over the steel, to keep it from overheating. So when I got it home, I washed it down thoroughly with soap and water, then put it in a hot oven for an hour. I figure, steel is not going to absorb chemicals, the way that clay or stone might, so after a good thorough washing I felt pretty confident that it was clean and free of harmful chemicals.
Then it was time to test it out. I went with a pissaladiere, which is kind of a southern French take on pizza. My version was not entirely authentic (for one thing, I didn't use anchovies), but the point is, the crust was fantastic. I heated the oven to the max (550), for an hour, with the steel on the middle rack, and in under eight minutes (it might've been less, I don't recall) the underside was crisp and charred. The crust had risen nicely, and this was a quick, throw-together dough, that I had made in just a few hours.
I haven't baked on it since then, but I have noticed how well the steel retains heat. The other night my wife baked something in the oven, with the steel in there (though she didn't bake it directly on the steel) and two hours later the steel was still too hot to touch. That tells me that this is perfect for baking multiple pizzas. In the past, I've had issues with successive pizza bottoms coming out more and more pale, as the tiles and oven cooled, but I don't see that happening with this. This thing stays HOT. Part of that, I assume, is from the half-inch thickness.
One thing I was a little concerned with was whether SMC would consider such a small job almost more trouble than it's worth. I assume most of their work is more on an industrial scale. But they assured me that no, they didn't mind it at all. They do plenty of small jobs. And when I explained what I wanted this for, one of the employees turned out to be a home baker, who was planning to make a pizza-stuffed bread for his Super Bowl party. He wasn't at all surprised by why I wanted this.  So I think they'd be happy to have the business, if you want to order something similar.
My only other advice would be to measure your oven so you get the dimensions right. I tried to allow at least an inch around all sides of this plate, to allow the air in the oven to circulate well. And be aware that it is heavy. I imagine a smaller thickness would work fine, but again, I think a thicker plate will retain heat better, so I wanted to go big. And the way I look at it, I'll never need to replace this baby. I'm set.

SMC Metal, 95 Mt. Read Blvd. (at Buffalo Rd.)

(585) 328-7550

Mon. - Fri. 7:30 - 4:30

Monday, February 1, 2016

Back to Fiamma

As regular readers of this blog will surely know, Fiamma on Buffalo Road has been one of my favorites since my first visit there in October 2012. So it didn't take any arm-twisting to get me to accept an invitation for my wife and me to join two friends there for dinner on New Year's Eve.
After being seated, we shared some appetizers, a Caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella, and a plate of mussels in a spicy tomato sauce. They were very good, but I did not want to overdo it on the antipasti, or the complimentary bread, because I was saving room for the pizza.
Fiamma is not just a pizzeria; it's a full-service restaurant, and they offer several pasta, meat and fish dishes. I don't doubt that those are very good, but I simply can't bring myself not to order pizza when I'm there.
I was leaning toward the Montanara pizza, which is topped with sliced potatoes, among other things, but instead - maybe it was the festive holiday mood - I decided to try the stella, which is unique among Fiamma's pizzas. The crust is formed into an eight-pronged star, and each prong is wrapped around a nugget of smoked buffalo mozzarella. The whole pie is topped with mozzarella, olives, sausage, arugula and cherry tomatoes.
The pizza was so pretty, I hated to cut into it. But after taking the leftovers home, I realized that the individual slices made for very nice Christmas-tree-shaped pizza.
The toppings provided contrasting flavors, which varied from one bite to the next: a bit of saltiness from the olives, some sweetness from the tomatoes, and the underlying bitterness of the arugula. But there was no sauce, so what I mostly got was the smoky-charred-bready-chewy crust. And it's that slow-risen, fast-baked crust that I love most about Fiamma's pizza.
My stella gave me more than enough to keep me busy, so I didn't sample my companions' pies. But my wife got a Napoletana, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, basil, pecorino Romano, and extra virgin olive oil. One friend got a Carminuccio, with double tomato sauce, spicy pancetta, basil, Parmigiano & a blend of Gran Cru cheese. Her husband ordered a Capricciosa, with tomato sauce, parma cotto ham, mushrooms, olives, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. Each pie displayed the leopard-spotted underside that is Fiamma's signature, and everybody was happy with their pizza.
I'm not a huge dessert guy, but I do love tiramisu, so I couldn't resist that. It was moist, light and appropriately sweet.
At this point, my notes become rather sparse, probably reflecting the effects of a full stomach and carb overload. But my wife and one friend each got the same dessert, which I believe was the semifreddo, chocolate mousse topped with gelato. The fourth member of our party ordered a frozen, fruity dessert. For the life of me I can't think of what it was called but it was stuffed into a tiny, split squash or pumpkin.
Owner Giuseppe Pacciulo was quite busy (they were short-handed that night, due to an employee's illness), but I did manage to chat with him before we left around 10:00. He informed me that a second Fiamma's location, in Rochester, remains in the works, but the date remains TBA. I will pass on any information I get, as soon as I get it.
Someday, I will order something other than pizza off Fiamma's "primi" and "secondi" menu. The baccala al forno sounds especially intriguing. But next time I go, I'm getting that Montanara pizza. I'll do another post, when I've done so.

Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road


Mon-Sat - 11:45am-2:00pm

Mon - Thurs 4:30pm-9pm
Fri - Sat 4:30pm-10pm
Sun 4:00pm-8pm

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