Wednesday, December 9, 2009
“Max” is a brand name for a local culinary mini-empire founded by chef Tony Gullace. There’s Max of Eastman Place, Max Chop House, Max at the (Memorial Art) Gallery, and Max at High Falls, making the pseudonymous Max something of a Rochester version of Emeril.
Then there’s Max Market in Pittsford, which combines a specialty/gourmet food store with a café and deli. Somewhere I noticed that they serve pizza, so I decided to give it a try.
The sign outside advertising brick oven pizza looked promising. Inside, I walked past shelves of sourdough bread (also promising), imported Italian tomatoes, and Pittsford Dairy ice cream to the counter in back, where I ordered a small Margherita. To me, the Margherita - traditionally, fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil - is to “gourmet” pizza what the basic cheese, or cheese-and-pepperoni pie is to “regular” pizza, kind of a benchmark.
My order came up surprisingly quickly. Now a super-hot pizza oven can bake a pizza in a couple of minutes, but this was still pretty fast, making me think that the pizza had been at least partially premade. That inkling was somewhat confirmed by the relatively thick crust, since I don’t think it would’ve been possible to prepare and fully bake a pizza this thick in the time it took for my order to come up. Not that it’s a big deal, I mean if it’s good, that’s all I really care about, I was just a little surprised that it was ready so soon.
As I said, my pizza, which measured about 9½ inches in diameter, had a fairly thick crust. That was also a bit of a surprise, since a lot of upscale, brick-oven places seem to make a point of stretching their dough nearly to the gluten’s breaking point (which I don’t necessarily like, as it prevents the pizza from developing a chewy, bready interior). The underside was crisp, and baked to a mottled, medium brown. The interior displayed numerous small air holes.
Visually, the most prominent feature of the pizza was the large slices of fresh mozzarella - larger than on many Margheritas I’ve had, where the fresh mozzarella forms more of an island in a sea of crushed tomatoes. Closer inspection revealed that there were actually two cheeses here, as the fresh mozzarella lay atop a second layer of a yellower, more aged cheese, though I couldn’t identify the variety. Whatever it was, it was pretty mild, as there was not much cheese flavor here at all.
What did have a lot of flavor were the slices of fresh (probably Roma) tomato on top of the cheese. I imagine the cooking process, which would have caused some of the water in the tomatoes to evaporate, would have concentrated their flavor somewhat, but even so these were remarkably good tomatoes, especially at this time of year. If, in this age of year-round produce, you’ve gotten accustomed to tomatoes that are more decorative than tasty, these will come as a revelation. The smaller pieces of sundried tomato furnished comparatively less flavor, and seemed to have caramelized a bit in the oven. The shreds of wilted basil added an herbal note to the overall profile, but were not especially prominent on the palate.
That left the outer edge, which had a nice crunch. It seemed to me reminiscent of a good, French bread dough.
Max’s other pizza offerings are a pepperoni pie, roasted vegetable pizza, pizza bianca (white pizza), and rotating daily specials, in small and large sizes. Other food choices include salads, sandwiches, pasta, and various ready-to-go prepared foods, and desserts as well.
And of course, there are the packaged foods. I picked up some rarely seen, imported “00” flour, which supposedly is a necessity if you want to make “authentic” Italian pizza (I’ll let you know how it goes).
As far as my pizza is concerned, well, there were things I liked about it and things I didn’t. It seemed to have been made from good dough, but as my favorite bread guru, Peter Reinhart, writes, baking good bread is all about manipulating time and temperature in order to maximize the flavor and texture of the finished product. This crust lacked the high-heat charring and toasted aroma and flavor that marks the best pizza, so I’m not sure that Max fully realized this dough’s potential.
And though the tomatoes were very good, the tomatoes and cheese had proportionally been applied in reverse to what I would have preferred. I would rather have had those tomatoes used as a flavorful base for some melted, creamy mozzarella, rather than the thick, double layer of relatively bland cheese that I got here, with the tomatoes adding some teasingly good accents that left me wanting more.
Though I say it often, those are, of course, just my opinions. But since this is my blog, those are the only opinions I can offer. To me, this was good pizza, but it lacked a certain complexity, was not as well balanced as it could have been, and the components didn’t seem to mesh all that well. It struck me as more like upscale fast food than as truly great pizza. So I liked it, but not as much as I'd hoped for, and I’ll give it a C+.
Max Market, 2949 Monroe Ave. , 271-1210
Monday - Saturday: 8am -8pm, Sunday: 8am - 6pm