Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Nacca Bakery, Jay St.
Rochester has a bunch of old Italian bakeries, which are mostly well known locally, like Gaetano’s, Martusciello, and Di Paolo. Some, like Veltre (whose sign is still visible on the side of Roncone’s restaurant on Lyell Ave.), fall into the “gone, but not forgotten” category.
And then there’s Nacca Bakery, which sits on a mostly residential stretch of Jay Street, near downtown. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard of it, literally - I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about it. But I’ve driven by it, and its red neon “BREAD - PIZZA” sign in the front window particularly caught my attention. My curiosity piqued, I finally stopped by one day around lunchtime to check it out.
Going in was a bit like one of those old Twilight Zone episodes where the character walks through a door and goes back in time. Nacca - which, it turns out, is also a deli - has an old-time feel to it, and with good reason. It’s been in business in that spot since 1966 (and for three years before that on Broad St.), and from the looks of it, hasn’t changed much in the four-plus decades since, thankfully.
The roughly square space is dominated by two large meat coolers, at a right angle to each other, with a vintage butcher’s scale on one end. The cream-colored walls are sparsely decorated, with a few family photos and religious images on one wall, and two clocks - one of which is yellowed and several hours off - on the other.
Above the photos is the menu, also yellowed with age, listing the various meats, sandwiches and pizza on offer. Turns out the only pizza available at Nacca these days comes in the form of “mini pizzas,” plain or with pepperoni, that come warm and sealed in plastic wrap.
I picked up a pepperoni mini pizza. Measuring 7 1/2" across, it appeared from its shape to have been baked in a small pan; in other words, it wasn't just a disk of dough that had been baked directly on the oven floor, but instead had an edge that conformed to the angled rim of the pan.
The crust - which is made from a different dough than Nacca’s bread - was crunchy on the outside and chewy inside, with an aroma that was faintly reminiscent of rye or sourdough bread, suggesting that it had gone through a long, slow rise. The crust was topped with a thin layer of sauce, and a transclucent layer of melted cheese. Several wide, lightly cooked slices of pepperoni lent a spicy counterpoint to the bready crust.
If you're not looking for pizza, Nacca has a wide variety of sandwich meats available. There's also a large soft drink cooler if you want to wash it down with something cold.
Nacca is a true mom ’n’ pop operation. It’s run by a couple hailing from near Naples, and I don’t mean the one in Ontario County. They took over the reins from the the original owner, who was also the husband’s uncle, in 1979.
Though business isn’t quite as brisk as it used to be, there’s still a core of regulars, some of whom no longer live in the neighborhood, but who make a point of swinging by for a sub or a pizza.
At some point, too, the owners cut back on their hours. Nacca used to be open several nights a week, but now it’s strictly a daytime operation. Along with that change, Nacca stopped offering full-size pizza, which is less in demand at lunchtime than it had been in the evening. Too bad. I wonder if they’d accommodate a special request and put together a big one for old time’s sake.
You know what? I'm not even going to give this one a rating. For one thing, to rate this compared with the other places I've reviewed is kind of like apples and oranges. It’s tough to compare the experience of eating one of Nacca’s mini pizzas with eating a slice or two out of a large pie.
For another, it would be hard for me to be objective. I just love these kinds of places. Distinctive, organic to their surroundings, timeworn yet timeless, with a venerable past but an uncertain future. If you share my affection for such places, and you find yourself in the area some weekday lunch hour, stop by and try it.
Nacca's Bakery, 463 Jay St., 436-5981