Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Magnolia's Deli, Park Ave.
Magnolia’s Deli & Café on Park Avenue describes itself as “a unique and upscale cafe located in the heart of the Park Avenue area.” I’m always a little skittish about a place that calls itself upscale, but okay. It’s open daily from 10 a.m., offering a variety of sandwiches, soups, and other items. They also serve pizza - whole pies only, no slices - but not until after 3:30 on weekdays and noon on weekends.
I recently picked up a Margherita pizza, which comes topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil, to which I had them add fresh garlic. The use of tomato sauce rather than fresh tomatoes is a little unusual for a Margherita, but maybe not a bad idea; unless you’re going to use really good, full-flavored fresh tomatoes, and not the rock-hard, pale, flavorless things that pass for tomatoes at all too many restaurants, it's probably better to stick with the sauce instead.
As I rushed the pizza home on a cold, wintry night, my appetite was increasingly whetted by the heady aroma of freshly-baked dough, garlic, and basil. The interior of my car hasn’t smelled that good in years.
Opening the box on my arrival, I found that this was a very thin pizza, one of the thinnest I’ve seen. The underside was dry and lightly dusted with cornmeal. It was a bit charred here and there, though somewhat unevenly, as the edge was nearly burnt along one side of the pizza.
The paper-thin slices were, not surprisingly, rather floppy, and had a pleasant, toasty flavor from the crust. Only at the outer lip was there enough of an interior to allow for some nice, bready chewiness.
They were topped with a mildly flavored tomato sauce and a nicely melted, creamy layer of cheese. The basil was wilted but not dried out or burnt. It had been applied a bit sparingly (though admittedly a little basil can go a long way) and haphazardly, with most of it concentrated on just a small portion of the pizza’s surface. It's possible that it had migrated a little on the car ride home, though, as the cheese also seemed to have gravitated toward one side of the pizza. Maybe I should've taken those curves on 490 a little more slowly.
The flavors of all the ingredients blended very well together, and the addition of fresh garlic turned out to be a good call on my part, providing that little extra oomph to take this from merely good to truly delicious.
Magnolia’s has a pretty good list of available toppings, and sure, you could just order pepperoni, but the specialty pies are the focus here. You won’t find some of the Rochester standards here - there’s no meat lover’s pizza, no garbage plate pizza, and no Buffalo chicken pizza - no wait, there is a Buffalo chicken pizza, only here it goes by the more “upscale” label “Pollo Picante.” (You want a cheeseburger pizza? Go to Piatza’s next door.) But you will find some things here that you’re not apt to see at your average pizza joint, like the “Li Pecuri,” with tomato sauce, mozzarella, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, and baby spinach.
The rest of the menu is mostly of the soup-salad-sandwich variety, but again, of a more - you guessed it - upscale variety than you’d see at a basic sandwich shop. Some of them sound pretty good, but if I have an objection it’s to some of the names. One of my pet peeves is the use of cutesy names for menu items, like Magnolia’s use of local street names for many of their sandwiches. The “Vick Park A,” for instance, is a hot corned beef sandwich with Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on grilled rye bread. Just call it a Reuben, okay?
Magnolia’s also offers a number of desserts, coffee drinks, beer and wine. There’s a small selection of grocery items, and the cooler contains a wide variety of microbrews. If you choose to dine on the premises, there's a fair number of tables, including outdoor seating when weather permits. The atmosphere is casual, as you might expect, and the staff and clientele are mostly of the twenty-something, laid-back subspecies of Rochesterian indigenous to the Park Avenue area.
I did enjoy this pizza, although it fell just a little short of greatness, by my standards. It was almost too thin for my tastes - I like a little more substance to my crust - but between that thinness and its good flavor, I found it easy to devour virtually the whole pie myself (so bear in mind that one pie may not satisfy two hungry people). A thin crust is also well suited to the relatively subtle flavors of a Margherita, though I think it might not work quite as well with some of the spicier or more assertive toppings. It seemed to me that it could also have used just a bit more care in its preparation (I’m thinking of the uneven charring and distribution of the basil), but a good job overall. I’ll give it a B+.
Magnolia’s Deli & Café, 366 Park Ave. 271-7380
Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. - Sun. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.