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Friday, May 29, 2009

Pizza Map added

I have added a map of local pizza places. It's at the bottom of the page. The green markers are for places I've reviewed, the red ones for places I haven't. Yellow means I've reviewed a different location of the same chain.
I'll try to keep the map accurate and up to date, but I don't guarantee that every local pizza place is on there (chain pizzerias mostly aren't marked), that the locations are completely accurate, or that the places marked are still in business. In other words, it's meant to be a useful tool, not a definitive guide. If you see any mistakes or glaring omissions let me know.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

J&L's Pizza, Fairport

J & L's Pizza Korner on Urbanspoon
J&L's Pizza, which has been serving pizza since 1978, is at the corner of Hogan Road and Route 31 in Fairport. It's a delivery and carry-out place with an extensive menu of pizza and other items.
My pepperoni slice, which was pretty fresh, was quite thin and floppy, with a soft crust that couldn't really hold up under the weight of the toppings. It was also one of the "wetter" slices I've had, with a pretty generous layer of sauce.
But let's get back to the crust. As I said, it had a soft texture, and was just a little browned on the bottom. The edge was relatively thick and crunchy.
The sauce, which was the dominant component, had a sharp, acidic flavor with some herbal notes, and, it seemed to me, a slight spiciness to it. The cheese - straight mozzarella as far as I could tell - was moderately applied and took a back seat to the sauce. The cup-and-char pepperoni had a good flavor, though it wasn't really cooked to the point of charred-around-the-edge crunchiness.
As I mentioned, J&L's has a big menu, with salads, wraps, calzones, a wide variety of subs, deli sandwiches, wings, quesadillas, fried fish and shrimp, and various sides. They also offer a lot of pizza toppings to choose from, including kalamata olives, fresh garlic, feta, ricotta and romano cheeses, and meatballs, to name a few. There are a few specialty pizzas, nothing too wild. The menu also says that they have a "new" "New York style thin" pizza available, but I can't imagine it being much thinner than my slice.
If this slice was supposed to be New York style, I'd say it fell short. I've said it before: New York style pizza does not just mean thin crust.
But leaving aside any preconceptions, this wasn't bad pizza. Not great, either, mind you; kind of a wimpy, floppy, nearly undercooked crust, and without a great crust you're never going to get great pizza. Still, it was decent, and the predominance of the sauce made it interesting and different from most other places. I'll give it a C+.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Clawson's Deli, Ayrault Rd., Fairport

Clawson's Grocery & Deli on Urbanspoon
Although the Clawsons themselves are no longer around - at least in an ownership sense - Clawson's Deli is still going strong after 40 years in business at the corner of Ayrault and Hogan Roads in Fairport. For that, you have to give it credit for surviving as an independent convenience store in the age of cookie-cutter mini-marts on every corner.
The pizza, I'm afraid, is not so great, at least in my opinion. Pies are made in the back, and slices are available up front near the cash register. I got a cheese slice.
The crust was barely browned underneath, and was very soft, with a somewhat spongy texture. It was what I would call medium thick.
The sauce, which was applied a little sparsely, had a slightly orangeish tint, and faintly reminded me of SpaghettiOs sauce. I don't say that to be critical, mean, sarcastic, etc., that's just what popped into my head as I was eating it. And I like SpaghettiOs, by the way. But this sauce had a tangy, cheesy flavor - was there some Romano in there? - that made me think of SpaghettiOs.
The cheese was well browned, and the flavor of slightly burnt cheese was quite prominent, maybe the dominant player here flavorwise. From the looks of the available slices, the degree of doneness of the cheese seemed to bear an inverse relationship to the number of toppings; pepperoni slices were slightly browned, and the cheese on some multi-topping (sweet peppers, black olives, and more) slices was not browned at all, and looked to be a little stringy.
Besides pizza, Clawson's offers subs, and maybe some other deli-type items; I neglected to see if they had a printed menu. And of course it is a convenience store, so they also have the usual snack foods, drinks, etc., as well as videos for rent.
Props, then, for sticking around and adding to the sense of community in the area. But to me, the pizza was, well, the kind of pizza I'd expect to get from a convenience store. Which is to say, it was OK, but nothing special. I'll give it a C-.

Fire at Mojoe's Pizza

The D&C reports that there was a fire at MoJoe's Pizza, 515 Portland Ave., early Tuesday morning.
No injuries were reported, but the pizzeria sustained "moderate fire and heavy smoke damage." No word yet on the cause or if or when it will reopen.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Pomodoro, University Ave.

Pomodoro Grill on Urbanspoon
Pomodoro is a full-service restaurant on University Ave. serving "contemporary Italian cuisine." It's been in business for at least ten years, although I’m not sure if it’s had a wood-fired brick oven for all that time. Still, it’s not a latecomer to the wood-fired oven pizza scene, at least around here.
I shared a lunch with a friend this time, so I got to try two pizzas: the margherita and the “tradizionale,” which is basically a pepperoni pizza. We ordered the margherita with a regular crust and the tradizionale with a whole wheat crust.
The bottom of each pizza was dotted with charred spots (the one in the bottom photo is the margherita), and the edges were also somewhat charred, but the crust had a surprising lack of crispness. Pizza baked in a wood-fired oven can sometimes be too crunchy and crackly for my taste, but these were just the opposite. They were quite soft, and easily foldable, though the whole wheat flour in the tradizionale did lend it a bit of crispness.
Pomodoro’s margherita is similar to a “white” pizza, with olive oil, “regular” (a/k/a low-moisture) mozzarella, asiago, diced tomato, fresh basil, onion and garlic. Though a departure from the classic tomato, basil and fresh mozzarella, the toppings worked well together. My only complaint in that department is that it was pretty heavy on the cheese, which was just melted, soft and stringy, like the filling in a grilled-cheese sandwich. With its thin crust and relatively mild toppings, this pie didn't need quite so much cheese, and again I wished that it had spent a little longer in the oven, as I prefer my cheese a bit browned.
The tradizionale was good, not exceptional maybe, but good. The whole-wheat crust had a pleasant, slightly nutty flavor and aroma, with a bit of crunch. Here the cheese, though again generously applied, was better balanced against the tangy, slightly herbal red sauce and slightly crisp, tasty slices of pepperoni.
Overall, these were good, enjoyable pizzas, but they fell short of greatness, mainly because they just weren't sufficiently done, in my opinion. I'm not sure if that was due to the oven not being hot enough, too little baking time, or both. The charred spots suggested a pretty hot oven floor, so I had a hard time figuring out why the crust (which otherwise had a good flavor and texture) was so soft. I suspect that the thick layer of cheese didn't help, either. As a general rule, I think that pizza baked in a very hot oven should not only have a thin crust, but a thin layer of toppings, because the pizza can only stay in the oven a few minutes before the crust starts to burn from the heat of the oven floor. A thick layer of cheese and other toppings won't have time to cook properly.
Then again, maybe the customers are to blame. Though it may be starting to change as people become more familiar with the concept, a lot of local diners, I'm afraid, are apt to complain that their pizza is "burnt" if it shows much charring. I don't like burnt pizza either, but a nice char will give the pizza a crisp exterior and a toasty flavor that was lacking in Pomodoro's pizza on this visit. I liked it, but it didn't quite live up to its potential. I'll give it a B.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Big Deal Pizzeria, Monroe Ave.

Big Deal Pizzeria & Grill recently opened in the old Sal’s Pizzeria location on Monroe Avenue, just up the street from Mark’s Texas Hots (and a few doors up from Acme Bar & Pizza, which I’ll get to eventually). I used to like Sal’s, which turned out a pretty decent NYC-style pizza, but the service left a lot to be desired, you never knew if they were going to be open, and I always just got kind of a weird vibe there.
According to its sign, Big Deal also claims to be a New York-style pizzeria, but it’s not. It’s another big-slice joint, not one of which, that I’ve tried, produces authentic NY pizza.
On my lunchtime visit, they had cheese, pepperoni and Buffalo chicken pizza slices available. I got a pepperoni slice, which goes for 3 bucks.
This is a heavy slice of pizza. The crust is on the thin side of medium, but not NYC thin. The cheese - all mozzarella from what I can tell - is laid on pretty thickly.
The well-browned underside showed that the pizza had been baked on a screen. It had a certain greasy crunchiness, but otherwise its appearance, flavor and texture were reminiscent of Piatza’s, which is to say, it lacked real crispness, body, or structural integrity. Despite the outer crunchiness, it could not sustain its weight, and had to be folded to prevent it from flopping over. The edge had a bit more character, a little like a breadstick, but overall the dough was not very bready in flavor or texture.
The cheese was the dominant player here. It was thick and chewy. The sauce was there, but virtually unnoticeable on the palate. The pepperoni was basic wide-and-thin.
Overall, this pizza lacked zing. The texture wasn’t there, and it lacked character. Worst of all, it was bland. Pizza shouldn’t be bland.
Big Deal does offer a lot besides pizza. There are hot and cold subs, wraps, sides, salads, wings, burgers and hot dogs. There’s some seating, and although parking can be tough, they either do, or plan to, deliver. And they’re open till 3 a.m. on Thursdays and 4 a.m on Fridays and Saturdays.
Big Deal hasn’t been open long, and I’m not sure what to make of its long-term prospects. It has some competition from Acme, as well as fellow big-slice places Mark’s and Rookies Express.
I won’t presume to give business advice, but speaking solely as a pizza lover, I hope Big Deal changes its approach while it’s young and starts to offer a more authentic NYC-style pizza than just another big, heavy greasy slice. But I guess with a name like Big Deal, they’ve kind of painted themselves into a corner in that regard, and for all I know maybe that’s just what the Monroe Avenue bar-hopping crowd wants. From me, though, Big Deal gets a D.
Pizza Guy note, 11/25/09: since this review was written, I've revisited Big Deal, and given it a B-.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Head-to-head, Part II: Phil's Pizza, Chili Ave.

Phil's Pizza on Urbanspoon
Phil's Pizza is on the north side of Chili Ave., right across from the plaza where Good Guys is located. I got a lunchtime slice here, just after my Good Guys slice.
Eating one after the other like that accentuated the differences between the two pizzas. For one thing, Phil's was thicker. Not thick, exactly, but definitely not thin either. This was a medium-thick slice.
Phil's was also cooked on a screen. It had a little exterior crispness, but overall it had a pretty soft texture. Since I like a crisp exterior, this lent further support for my belief that pizza screens are not conducive to a good crust.
The edge, in contrast to the underside, was actually kind of hard and dry, although that might partly have been due to the pizza having sat out for a while, whick I'll get into later.
Biting into it, the first thing I noticed was the sauce, which is unusual, since the sauce at most places tends to take a back seat to the crust and cheese. The sauce here was applied a little thickly, and had a fairly thick consistency, but it also had a very distinctive flavor - heavy on the herbs, and a little on the sweet side.
The pepperoni was thin sliced, but had a nice crunch around the edges. It was a little greasy, as pepperoni will be.
Slices seemed limited to plain or pepperoni, but if you're ordering a pie, Phil's has a pretty ample list of toppings. They also have several specialty pizzas, including a diet-busting bacon cheeseburger pizza.
Besides pizzas, there are wings, subs and wraps, salads, quesadillas, grilled and fried stuff, and some pasta and seafood entrees. It's pickup and delivery only, and they open daily at 11 a.m.
So who wins this battle of cross-street rivals? Well on this visit, I have to give the edge to Good Guys. Part of that, I suppose, is due to my predisposition to thin-crust pizza.
Part of it, too, was also the relative freshness of my Good Guys' slice, which was so fresh out of the oven that I had to be careful not to burn my mouth. In contrast, when I got to Phil's, all the slices were sitting on unheated racks, and they looked as if they'd been there for some time. My slice was lukewarm at best, and the cheese had pretty well hardened. (The counter guy didn't offer to reheat it, by the way, not that reheating is any substitute for fresh, mind you.)
I hate to say it, but while eating my Phil's slice, "frozen pizza" popped into my head. I'm not saying that this was frozen pizza, just that it reminded me of a frozen pizza. It lacked the - how to put it? - vibrancy of a fresh-out-of-the-oven, baked-from-scratch pizza.
So in a way, this was not a fair comparison. If my Phil's slice had been as fresh as Good Guys', this might've been a tougher call. I still think I would've preferred Good Guys, but maybe not by as much.
But if a pizzeria is going to serve slices, it only seems it fair to judge it by what you happen to get when you walk in the door and order a slice. Especially if, like Phil's, it advertises on the menu that its slices are "fresh, hot and ready to go!" And especially at lunchtime, when slices ought to be fresh.
I don't mean to come down too hard on Phil's. It was OK and all. But as I said at the beginning of this two-part post, when two pizzerias are within a stone's throw of each other, it's hard not to make comparative judgments, especially if you try them back-to-back. Based on this one-time experience, Good Guys gets the nod over Phil's, which I'll give a C.

Head-to-head, Part I: Good Guys, Chili Ave.

Good Guys Pizza on Urbanspoon
There is an old parable, attributed to a 14th-century French priest, that goes as follows:
"Imagine a donkey equidistant between two barrels of hay. Now imagine that this donkey is a rationalist, someone who will do nothing if it is not in accord with the dictates of reason. He cannot reason why one mound of hay is superior to the other. He stays in the middle trying to decide which should be his supper. Since there is no reason to move to one or the other, in time, the donkey starves to death."
Now what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with pizza? Well, this. My intent here is to judge each pizzeria I try independently, without judging one against the other. But when two pizzerias are across the street from each other, it's hard not to compare them, as I did recently with Carbone's and Caraglio's on Dewey Avenue in Greece. I mean, if you were halfway between them, which one would you choose? Hopefully my experience will help you make that decision, should you ever find yourself in that predicament, so you don't end up like the donkey.
So now we come to two more such pizzerias, on Buffalo Road in Chili: Good Guys and Phil's. First up is Good Guys. It's in a strip plaza on the south side of Chili Avenue, about half a mile west of Paul Road.
By the pie, Good Guys offers thin or thick pizza, but like most places, its to-go slices are all thin. Very thin, to the point that they almost have to be eaten folded. My slice had literally just come out of the oven, which probably made it a little sloppier to eat, but this was clearly "folding" pizza.
The underside was browned here and there, with an odd, almost tortoiseshell-like surface, with crackly islands of raised brown spots separated by pale areas where the dough hadn't come into contact with the cooking surface.
The cheese was applied to a medium thickness, but when the slice was folded, it naturally made the cheese thicker and more of a dominating presence. It wasn't greasy, had a bit of crispness to it, and the edge was crunchy in texture and toasty in flavor.
The cheese seemed to be straight mozzarella. It was applied to a medium thickness, although when the slice was folded the cheese naturally doubled in thickness and took on a more dominant presence. It was pretty well browned and was fairly chewy and a little stringy (of course it was still hot, as I mentioned).
The sauce was a little on the thin side, enough to lend some lubrication and moisture, but definitely a back-seat player here.
The pepperoni was basic wide-and-thin stuff, and made the surface pretty greasy; you could hold this pizza by the edge and let a good amount of grease drip off.
Good Guys advertises a "large New York style cheese pizza" for pickup every day for $7.25, so I assume that is the same as the thin. Judged as a NY style pizza, it's not bad. It's not charred at all, but the overall flavor and texture weren't far off from your typical City slice.
If you're ordering a pie, Good Guys has a respectable range of toppings available (including "newly added cup-n-curl pepperoni"), and a handful of specialty pizzas, nothing too exotic. They also do wings, subs, wraps, quesadillas, salads, various sides/appetizers, and even a little seafood. Delivery or pickup only, open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., 11 p.m. on weekends.
All in all, not a bad slice, though I was just a bit put off by the texture of the crust. Let's call it a B-.
Good Guys Pizza, 3313 Chili Ave. 889-2940
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Next up: Phil's Pizza.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Surace's Pizza & Subs, East Rochester

Surace's Pizza & Subs on Urbanspoon
Surace's is in East Rochester on West Commericial St., which is actually more of the "main drag" than Main St. I had a couple of pepperoni slices at lunchtime. (These are not "mega" slices.)
The crust was pretty thin, and didn't seem to have risen much, except along the edges, which were fairly thick, and where some big blisters had developed. One slice also nearly had a hole in the middle, and I'm guessing there had been a CO2 blister there that had been stretched nearly to the breaking point.
Obviously, no thin crust can have risen very much, but even a thin crust can have a nice, chewy/bready texture. This crust seemed a little gummy to me, especially on top. Maybe it sat too long with the sauce on it before going into the oven. The underside, which had just some faint charring, was a little greasy, although that seemed to be from sitting on a greasy pan after it came out of the oven rather than during the baking process, which would have made it crunchy. Where it wasn't greasy, the underside had a nice, slightly crisp surface.
The sauce was pretty good, a little herbal, about what I would expect on a typical New York style pizza. The cheese, which seemed to be 100% mozzarella, was laid on pretty thickly, a little too much for a thin pizza, in my opinion. As a consumer I hate to complain about being given too much for my money, but I could've done with a little less cheese.
The pepperoni was OK, pretty basic.
Surace's also offers hot and cold subs, wings, pasta dinners, and a Friday fish fry. They have a few specialty pizzas, but nothing too exotic. (The menu has something called an "Italian style pizza," but I have no idea what that is.) They're open 7 days a week till 10 p.m. and 11 on weekends.
This is going to sound more negative than I mean it to, but my impression of Surace's pizza was of a NY-style slice, only not quite as good as what you'd likely get in NYC. It had the thinness, and the overall flavor was good, but the crust was a little too gummy and not quite crisp/charred enough underneath, and to me the heavy layer of cheese threw it a bit out of balance. Don't get me wrong - put a Surace's pie in front of me and I would easily down several slices without complaint - but for me, this was pretty good, not great. I'll give it a B-.

Trotto's, Fetzner Road, Greece

Trotto's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Trotto's is another one of those little family-type pizza joints with which Greece seems to be particularly blessed. It's in a small strip plaza on Fetzner Road near Maiden Lane.
The pizza at Trotto's is what I call "Rochester style" pizza - on the thick side, with healthy doses of sauce and cheese, nothing too fancy, and they're often "square" rather than "pie" cut.
Trotto's particular take on Rochester pizza is maybe a little thicker and breadier than average, and a little lighter on the cheese.
The underside was a uniform golden brown and not greasy, except for a couple spots where the pepperoni grease had soaked through between the slices. It had just a little exterior crispness, not much.
Eating this, the word that came to mind here was "bready." This was very bready pizza. And by that I'm referring to the kind of Italian bread turned out by your local bakery. Not some complex, airy, chewy "artisanal" bread, but not bland, characterless white bread either. Just a good, solid, straightforward Italian loaf.
If you like bready pizza, that's a good thing. If you don't, well ... I guess you could ask them to make it thin, but as I've said before, I believe in letting a pizzeria do what they do best. Personally, I'm a thin-crust guy, but I liked this, although to me the breadiness of this pizza nearly overwhelmed the toppings.
Speaking of which, the sauce was a basic, tangy tomato sauce, bright in color and flavor, with a medium consistency. The moderately-applied mozzarella was dotted with browned spots, and the wide-and-thin pepperoni was, well, pepperoni.
Trotto's is open from 4:30 till 10 Monday through Thursday, 4 till 11 on weekends, and 3 to 9 on Sunday. There's no seating, so this is a takeout and delivery place only. Pizza and wings are pretty much all that they do, although you can get some appetizers, mostly of the fried variety, including pizza fritta, which apparently is a kind of deep-fried mini pizza.
Like the pizza itself, then, Trotto's is a pretty down-to-basics kind of place, which I kind of like. Better to do one or two things well than to do 20 things poorly or inconsistently. And Trotto's pizza and wings are obviously neither poor nor inconsistent, because it's been in business, in the same location, for about 20 years.
I love Italian bread, and I enjoyed the bready quality of this pizza. Still, for my taste it seemed a tad out of balance, so bready was it. I'll give it a B-.
Trotto's Pizzeria, 861 Fetzner Rd. 227-4095

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gallo's Pizza & Subs, Greece

Gallo Pizza & Subs on Urbanspoon
Gallo's is a takeoput and delivery pizza place on Stone Road in Greece. It's in a small strip plaza that it shares with Frear's Garden Center, a very popular spot this time of year.
I went at lunchtime, and arrived just in time for a couple of pepperoni slices that had just come out of the oven.
The crust on these was medium thick, with a brown underside that showed that it had been cooked on a screen. The crust was fairly soft, with just a slight crispness on the bottom surface. (At this point I must mention that the more pizzas I try, the more I think that cooking a pizza on a screen is not a good thing. It just doesn't give the crust the same outer crispness that you get from cooking it directly on the floor of the oven. In physics terms, I suppose it involves the difference between convective and conductive heat.)
The edges had a bit of crunch to them and were thick enough to lend a bit more bready flavor, though this appeared to be a fairly fast-rising dough that was closer in flavor to white bread than to a slow-rising loaf.
The cheese, which seemed to be 100% mozzarella, was not browned at all, just melted, and very stringy, which was not surprising since the pizza had just come out of the oven. The sauce had a mild tomato/herb flavor. It was of a fairly thin consistency, and formed a water-based barrier between the crust and the fat-based cheese, so that the cheese would easily slip off the crust. The pepperoni was wide and thin, and added a healthy amount of grease on top.
Gallo's offers a few "gourmet" pizzas, including "FPC's Signature Pizza," which comes topped with spinach, artichoke hearts, alfredo sauce, roasted garlic, nutmeg (!) and quattro formaggi (four cheeses). There's also an "Old World Style" pizza with a "crispy crust, topped with fresh herbs & spices in a traditional red sauce and grated parmesan." Might be worth a try sometime.
Besides pizza, Gallo's has cold and hot subs, wings, salads, fried sides, and a few dinners, including chicken parm, several varieties of pasta, and a beer-battered fish fry.
Gallo's has been open since 1990, and appears to be a true neighborhood pizza place. Its sign and menu advertise it as being run by "John and Alfia," who I assume were the middle-aged couple behind the counter on my visit, making it a genuine mom 'n' pop joint in the best sense of the term. They turn out a solid, traditional Rochester-style pizza, and I hope the folks in the area continue to support them. I give Gallo's a B-.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Carbone's, Dewey Ave.

Carbone's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Carbone's Pizzeria is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, which means they must be doing something right. They have three locations in the Rochester area, on Dewey Ave. and North Greece Road in Greece, and in Hilton, as well as a Buffalo-area location in Alden.
I made a lunchtime stop at the Dewey Ave. location, which is right across the street from Caraglio's.
This is not a "huge slice" place, but they do have pepperoni slices available at lunchtime, which right now go for $1.75 a slice or two slices plus a 20 oz. drink for $4.25. As I've said before, I don't love pepperoni, but if you want a slice pepperoni tends to move the fastest, so you can be pretty sure of a fresh one with the pepperoni.
This was a medium-to-thick slice, browned on the bottom and quite browned on top. The dough was pretty nondescript, with small air holes and not much flavor. It was a little greasy underneath, with a bit of greasy crunchiness along the edge.
Texturally, it was pretty chewy, both from the dough and the cheese, which was fairly thick, plus the cheese had been baked to the point that it became more chewy than stringy.
The sauce definitely took a back seat here, and provided more lubrication than flavor. I'm not saying I didn't like it, just that it was very much in the background, though I did pick up a bit of acidity, which was good, to cut through the fattiness of the cheese.
The pepperoni was, surprisingly, one of my favorite parts of this pizza. It was thick and flavorful, with a nice crunch. The slices weren't all entirely uniform, which also indicated that it had been sliced on the premises, not pre-sliced. Between the thick, browned cheese and the pepperoni, this was definitely a toppings-dominated pizza.
Carbone's has a pretty basic menu. No weird pizza toppings or gourmet pizzas here, unless you count white pizza, plus hot and cold subs, wings, fried sides, and salads. You can also order your pizza with "double dough" for an extra $0.75, but that would be way too much dough for me.
The Dewey location, at least, doesn't deliver, which is too bad but it also shows that they have a steady clientele of people who are willing to pick up. There was no seating, as far as I noticed.
So if you put me half way between Carbone's and Caraglio's across the street, what would I do? Well, get the hell out of the middle of the street, for one thing. But I'm honestly not sure which way I would go. Caraglio's has the thin crust, which I like, but Caraglio's crust was also a little too floppy for my taste, and I liked the toppings at Carbone's, even though it was a bit thick and too chewy/gummy. Like Caraglio's, then, Carbone's gets a C+ from me.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Caraglio's, Dewey Ave.

Caraglios Pizza of East Greece on Urbanspoon
Caraglio's has three area locations, the one I visited on Dewey Ave., on W. Ridge Rd. in Greece, and on Main St. in Hilton.
They're another "big slice" place, and unlike some pizzerias, Caraglio's big slice isn't just two slices that haven't been cut in half, it's a big slice, probably at least a foot along the side.
It's a thin slice, too, very thin. The dough didn't seem to have risen much at all, except along the edge, although even that was pretty thin.
The underside was soft, a pretty uniform light brown, and showed that it had been cooked on a screen. The cheese was rather browned on top.
Biting into it, I picked up a
toasted-cheese flavor, which I didn't mind, and the cheese, which was nearly as thick as the dough, had an almost crunchy texture. The crisp slices of cup 'n' char pepperoni added to the overall pleasing texture.
This was a very foldable, even floppy slice, and it was a good thing that it came partially wrapped in foil, which allowed me to eat it like a burrito or gyro.
The cheese layer easily separated from the dough, from which it was separated by a thin layer of tart, tangy sauce with a flavor reminiscent of Campbells’ tomato soup. I also picked up a bit of herbal flavor that I would guess was oregano. The slice as a whole was a little greasy, but not too much.
Caraglio's has a pretty wide menu, with specialty pizzas (including a "garbage pizza"), wings, subs, burgers, hots and sides. The Dewey location is for pickup and delivery only. You can also ask for thick crust if you're ordering a whole pie.
Although my expectations of "big slice" places are always low, this really wasn't bad. It was a cheese-dominated pizza, but it wasn't the heavy, gloppy, gooey cheese that a lot of places use, and I kind of liked the browned, toasted flavor and texture of the cheese.
At the same time, pizza like this makes me think how close some of these places are to making really good pizza. My favorite part of this pizza was the edge, the only part where I was able to pick up a bit of genuine breadiness in both flavor and texture. A bit more time for the dough to rise, baking on the floor of a really hot oven instead of on a screen, and then you might really have something great.
I know I've said that I don't want every pizza place to be the same, and that I like individuality. But I don't like trying to cut corners or emphasizing quantity over quality, and, frankly, a lot of megaslice joints turn out pizza that isn't all that distinctive. I'd rate Caraglio's a little better than most as far as that goes, and since they've been in business for a while, far be it from me to give them advice. But to me, this pizza was juuust tantalizingly good enough to make me think about how good it could have been. I'll give it a C+.
Caraglio's, 2882 Dewey Ave, Rochester 14616, 663-8390 Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ralph & Rosie's Deli, Bergen

Ralph & Rosie Delicatessen on Urbanspoon
Ralph & Rosie's Deli in Bergen, Genesee County, is a little farther away than I would ordinarily travel for a pizza, but I'd run across more than one online review saying how good their pizza was and I had to give it a try.
When I ordered, the guy asked if I wanted "regular" or "sweet" sauce. I wasn't expecting this question, so I asked what was more popular, and he said the sweet. Although the idea of a sweet pizza sauce wouldn't typically appeal to me, I figured if that's what the locals like, let's check it out.
I went to pick it up in Bergen, which is one of those sleepy-looking, Mayberryesque villages that makes you feels as if you've stumbled into a John Cougar Mellencamp video. It's the kind of place that has one of each "hometown" business: one bakery, one bar, one antique shop, and, of course, one pizzeria, Ralph & Rosie's. R&R's sits next to an American Legion post in the middle of the two-block long business district, which consists of a row of well-preserved brick buildings along the main drag, Lake Ave. (the lake in this case being Lake Ontario, about 20 miles north).
Well, you get the picture. Let's move on to the pizza. On first look, it wasn't too visually impressive. It had a puffy thickness, and the golden brown bottom showed that it had been cooked on a screen. The cheese was lightly browned here and there.
Taking a bite, one of the first things I noticed was the sweet sauce. Now admittedly I was paying extra attention to the sauce, but I think I would've noticed it right away even if I hadn't been. It wasn't super, sugary sweet, but it lacked the acidic tang of a typical pizza sauce. I guess "sweet" here is a relative term, then, as I would only call this sweet in comparison to most other sauces.
The sauce was a major player here, as was the crust. It was soft and doughy, with a dinner-roll-like texture, and a slightly oily crunchiness along the edges.
The cheese was applied moderately, and definitely took a back seat to both the sauce and the crust. The pepperoni was the wide-and-thin variety.
The verdict? Well, I wouldn't call this world-class pizza by any means, as I was not too crazy about the crust. Too soft, doughy and bland for my tastes.
But more important than that, this pizza was distinctive. I didn't drive half an hour just to get a generic pizza, and that's not what I got. In this era of homogenization and retail chains, it's important to hold onto some things that are unique, and to my mind pizza is one of the most important parts of everyday life that needs to stay that way. I can still remember vividly the pizzas I had from a number of pizzerias in my home town when I was growing up, most of which are now gone forever. And I can see why for Bergenites (Bergenians? Bergeners?), Ralph & Rosie's sweet pizza will always be their hometown pizza, like no other.
Trying to stay objective, I'll give this a C+, though I can understand why locals might consider it an A+.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chester Cab, Park Ave.

Chester Cab Pizza on Urbanspoon
According to its menu, Chester Cab traces its roots back to 1982, when the owner opened The Pizza Station in Seabreeze. At some point he moved his operation to Park Ave. and renamed it Chester Cab.
Chester Cab's specialty is "Chicago Stuffed Pizza," which the owner learned how to make at "Glorandono's" (I think he means "Giordano's") in Chicago. But they also offer "regular pizza" that is advertised as "baked on the hearth." A slice - billed as a "Slice of Heaven" - is described on the menu as a "Crispy New York style pizza Ray would be proud of." I presume that's a reference to the mysterious "Ray" whose name adorns many New York City pizzerias.
On this lunchtime occasion, I had to break my own rule about ordering whatever a pizzeria's "standard" pizza is, and opted for a thin slice instead of the stuffed pizza. For one thing, the menu says that they need 45 minutes to an hour to make a stuffed pizza. For another, I didn't want that much for lunch, nor did I want a lot of leftovers. Plus, to me, the stuffed/deep dish/pan stuff isn't exactly pizza. It's more like lasagna made with dough instead of pasta. I'm not saying it's bad, mind you; I just don't think "pizza" is the right word for it. (Which is not to say that Chicago has no "true" pizza, as you can see here.)
Anyway, that's a long introduction to my cheese slice (from what I could tell, Chester Cab's slices all start out as plain cheese, and if you want a topping, it is added to the slice, which is then reheated in the oven). Size-wise, it fell somewhere between an "ordinary" slice and a "mega" slice.
The first thing I noticed about it was the paleness of the cheese. No brown spots at all, and it was fairly thick, with a resemblance to the just-melted cheese you might get on a restaurant cheeseburger.
The crust was thin-to-medium, but the slice itself seemed thicker because of the thick layer of cheese and sauce. The underside bore a fair amount of charring, which was kind of surprising given the barely-melted appearance of the cheese. That indicates that the floor of the oven is pretty hot, but not too much of that heat seemed to make it to the top surface, where the cheese is. As is often the case with "hearth baked" pizza, it wasn't greasy at all.
Though fairly thin, the crust wasn't really foldable. It was more crunchy/crackly than pliable.
Biting into it, the first thing I noticed - aside from the crunchiness - was the sauce. That was also kind of unusual, since sauce tends to stay in the background at most pizzerias. This sauce was laid on rather thickly, and had a sweet, herb-infused flavor. The crust, on the other hand, was on the bland side, as was the cheese, which seemed to be straight mozzarella.
If the sauce provided the dominant flavor, the crust and cheese provided the two contrasting textural elements. Each bite brought a crunch-crunch-crunch of the crust, as well as the offsetting texture of melted mozzarella (I can think of no perfect adjective for the texture of melted cheese - if you know of one, please leave a comment). Surprisingly, the cheese was actually the least dominant of the three components.
Chester Cab also offers subs, wings, salads and a few other hot and cold items. Seating is pretty much limited to some outdoor picnic tables. They have a pretty wide delivery area, though the $2 delivery charge is on the steep side for this area. On the other hand, my $2.50 slice was pretty reasonable, and their online menu has several printable coupon deals.
All in all, this wasn't bad pizza, and it was certainly distinctive. It was one of those pizzas where each of the three main components - crust, sauce and cheese - stands out individually, rather than melding into a unified whole. I would definitely not call this NY style pizza, though; for starters, there was just a little too much of everything - crust, sauce, and cheese, as if betraying its "stuffed" roots. But on its own merits, though, it was pretty decent. I'll give it a B-.
Pizza Guy note:  see my review of Chester Cab's Chicago stuffed pizza here.

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