Monday, November 2, 2009
Cam's, Lyell Ave. and Spencerport
Cam’s Pizzeria is a small chain with about a dozen locations in Upstate New York, ranging from Rochester as far away as Watertown. They’ve been in business since 1980, and may be the first pizzeria around here to specialize in New York style pizza.
Right now there are three Cam’s locations in the Rochester area, on Lyell Ave. (the oldest of the three, and I’m guessing one of the oldest overall), on Titus Ave. in Irondequoit, and in Spencerport at the corner of Rt. 31 and S. Union St., just off the 531 expressway.
I recently tried the Lyell Ave. location, and took some notes for a blog post, but I also unexpectedly had occasion to visit the Spencerport location, so this is kind of a hybrid review.
The Lyell Ave. slices (photos 2 and 3) had a very thin crust, with a well-browned, crackled underside and a crunchy, crackly texture. They had been rewarmed in the oven prior to serving so that may account for some of the dry crackliness.
The sauce was applied in enough quantity to be noticeable, but moderately so. It had some tomatoey and herbal flavors; I thought I detected some basil, and maybe some oregano in there.
The cheese was likewise moderately applied, in pretty good balance with the other components. It was not especially thick or stringy, and in that respect resembled a typical NYC slice. The thicker, chewier lip was less well-done than the rest of the crust, which is a bit unusual, since oftentimes the outer edge is nearly blackened, even when the rest of the crust is relatively pale.
I found the Lyell Ave. slices to be a very respectable version of NY style pizza, but the crust seemed to fall just a bit short, as it lacked a certain depth of bready character, and was instead a bit bland or white-bready. Good, certainly, but not quite great.
All the more reason, then, for my pleasant surprise by what I got at Spencerport (photos 3 and 4). I figured, newer location, younger staff, won’t be as good, and in fact I remember going there shortly after it opened a In fact, it was better. The crust was very nicely charred underneath - more so than the lower photo indicates - and it had a nice exterior crunch without being excessively dry. It was a rather well made pizza overall.
I didn’t really look much at the ovens at Spencerport, but the Lyell Ave. Cam’s uses an oven with a rotating deck, which I don’t recall seeing elsewhere. From what I’ve been able to determine, this is intended to be kind of a cross between a conveyor-belt and a standard deck oven, getting the benefits of a deck oven’s convection heat without the labor intensity and skill that deck ovens require. It seems to work; not to put them down, but the Spencerport employees didn’t exactly look like experienced pizzaioli, yet they turned out a pretty darned good pizza. (I wonder, though, if the rotation has something to do with the lip being not that well baked.)
Cam’s offers NY style pizza in 12", 16", and 20" sizes, as well as sheet and Sicilian pizzas (not quite sure how the latter two differ). The toppings list is fairly standard, and the list of specialty pizzas includes a garlic lovers’ pizza (yum) and a breakfast pizza (the Lyell Ave. location opens early if you’re into that; not sure about the other locations). They also do calzones and strombolis, wings, pasta and chicken parm dinners, salads, subs and wraps, plus a few desserts. All of their area locations offer dine-in as well as delivery (the Lyell Ave. location seems to be a popular RPD lunch spot, and I imagine they know the best places - kind of like truck drivers).
Look, you can’t beat a skilled pizza maker tending to each pie, rotating it as needed and taking it out of the oven at just the right moment. But if you’re going to try to offer good NY style pizza at multiple locations, then you’d better find a way to get some consistency in the final product. Cam’s seems to have figured out how to do that. I don’t want to get too hung up on the letter grade, but at this point I’m giving Cam’s a B+, with an eye toward possibly bumping that up a bit, subject to future visits, including the Irondequoit location, and maybe trying a full pie as well. But regardless of the grade, this was good pizza, and all the more impressive for having come from a chain. A small chain, yes, but those are often the most bedeviled by inconsistency, and from my samples thus far Cam’s has been the best of the “chain gang.”
Cam's Pizzeria, 1219 Lyell Ave. 458-8900
According to the menu, Lyell Ave. hours are as follows: Mon. - Thu. 7 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. - 10 p.m.
2273 S. Union St., Spencerport 349-1040. I tried to get the Spencerport location's daily hours over the phone but was given a rather brusque "We close at 10, *click*," so call ahead to make sure.
Beer and wine available (Spencerport only)