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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Nick's Deli, Chili Center

Nick's Imports & Meat Market on Urbanspoon
Nick's Italian Deli is a family-run place that’s been in business now for over a quarter century. It’s on Chili Center Coldwater Road (what a mouthful) near the corner of Chili Ave. In addition to being a full-service deli, they also offer homemade pizza.
When I stopped in at lunchtime, the only single-serving pizza choices were pepperoni slices and “mini pizzas.” I think I’m going to do a review of some local mini-pizza places (it seems to be a west side phenomenon), but I wanted a more representative sample of a whole pie, so I got a slice.
Oddly, the slice was thicker toward the tip than toward the outer edge. It was very soft, with no real crispness to speak of in the crust, except at the very lip, which had a fried crunchiness.
The underside had a medium-brown, fried-dough color, though it was not particularly oily. There was some oil or grease on top, though, enough that I sopped it up with a napkin.
The crust was more doughy than bready in flavor and texture. It was not undercooked, but didn’t have the visible air holes that you typically find in a breadlike crust.
What was perhaps most noticeable about this pizza was the sauce, which had a distinctive, slightly sweet flavor. It contained small bits of crushed tomato, and what appeared to be diced onion.
This was a fairly cheesy slice, but most of the cheese was on the “inner” half of the slice, i.e., nearer the tip. That was a little odd too, since I would've expected the cheese to pool toward the thinner outer edge as the pizza baked. I suppose the cheese was probably just distributed more toward the middle of the pizza prior to going in the oven, and that’s where it stayed. Anyway, the cheese was lightly browned, and literally fell off the pizza as I was holding the slice, which had flopped straight down. As I said, it was a very soft slice of pizza.
The wide and thin pepperoni was unremarkable. It shared the surface with a dusting of dried herbs, the flavor of which was definitely noticeable, forming a counterpoint to the sweetness of the sauce.
Nick’s has a pretty basic list of pizza toppings and several specialty pizzas, including the “Four Seasons,” which is described as “New York Style dough with white garlic sauce split into four quarters: ¼ Artichoke, ¼ Prosciutto, ¼ Olive, ¼ Sausage.” Four pizzas in one? Sounds good to me.
The menu at Nick’s runs the gamut from pizza, subs and wings to pasta and seafood dinners, and a variety of Italian pastries and cookies.
Nick’s also deserves mention as the only place in Monroe County (to my knowledge) that offers gluten-free pizza, as well as gluten-free pasta, bread, meatballs (think bread crumbs), cookies and other items. I’ve tried the gluten-free pizza here, and it’s not bad. (The bottom photo here is of the underside of Nick's gluten-free pizza.) The overall flavor is very similar to the slice that I’ve described here, the only real difference being in the texture of the crust. It’s hard to describe, but it’s kind of like biscuit dough, only not as crumbly.
Nick’s also has a small grocery section, with some imported Italian foods and other items, including the aforementioned gluten-free pasta. There’s an informal dining area, as well as a covered outdoor patio.
Although, by my standards, this pizza had some flaws, I liked it nevertheless. Yes, the crust was way too soft for me, and lacked breadiness, but, as a whole the pizza tasted good. It also had a distinctive flavor, and I prize that too - I wouldn’t mistake this for anybody else’s pizza. So on balance, it comes in, for me, at about a B-.
Nick’s Italian Deli, 1098 Chili Center Coldwater Road. 247-6270
Mon. - Thu. & Sat. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 3 - 8 p.m.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cobbs Hill Pizza, Park Ave.

Cobbs Hill Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon
Quick, what do the following places around Rochester have in common?
Park Avenue Bike Shop
Park Avenue Bakery
Pittsford Seafood Market
Midtown Athletic Club
Irondequoit Country Club
Bay Goodman Pizza
Cobbs Hill Pizza
Answer: none of them are in the places they're named after. I don’t know what it is around here, but if you go looking for a business in the area it’s named for, you’re apt to end up miles away from its actual location.
In the case of Cobbs Hill Pizza, the explanation lies in the fact that it started in Cobbs Hill, and at some point moved to Park Avenue, but kept the same name. It’s currently on Park Avenue, in the plaza next to the laundromat near Berkeley St., in the epicenter of the Park Ave. neighborhood.
I have a vague recollection of eating Cobbs Hill pizza when it really was in Cobbs Hill, and I remember it being kind of thick, but it’s been too long to be sure. If it was thick, then it’s changed a great deal since then, because it’s quite thin now.
I got one cheese and one pepperoni slice. I’ll get to the details in a second, but the best short way to describe them is that they were like very greasy New York style slices. I mean, your average NY slice will have some grease on top, but these were particularly greasy.
The crust was thin, as I said, and the slices were quite foldable. The underside was a uniform dark brown, though not at all charred. It was a little bit crisp, at least until the grease soaked in completely. There was a definite bready flavor in there somewhere, but it was effectively camouflaged behind the dominant flavor of grease. (I don’t want to get into the debate again over whether it’s “grease” or “oil.” Grease. Oil. Whatever.)
Likewise, I detected a slightly sweet, herbal flavor of the sauce, but it, too, was difficult to pick out. I thought I might’ve noticed a slight garlicky aftertaste, but if I did, I’m not sure where it originated.
The slices were topped with a thin, even layer of browned cheese. The pepperoni slice was very generously loaded with wide, thin slices of pepperoni, more than you would probably get at a lot of places even if you ordered extra pepperoni. The pepperoni was a little crisp, and seemed a bit spicy, although maybe that’s just because there was so much of it that the spices in the pepperoni collectively made more of an impression on my palate. The edge was thin, crunchy and toasty.
Cobbs Hill’s menu describes it as an “Italian Bistro” and “not just a pizza stop,” and it does have a pretty extensive menu. There’s a long list of hot subs, including “egg subs” (which sounds sort of like an omelet on a roll), panini sandwiches, pasta and other Italian entrees, plus more typical pizzeria-type items like wings (advertised as jumbo “roaster” wings), burgers, stromboli, wraps, salads and sides.
With a few artificial plants about, the atmosphere is a little more, well, “bistrolike,” perhaps, than your typical pizzeria, although it’s hardly what you’d call chic or hip, especially in this neighborhood. I was a little surprised to see that they’re not open very late, even on weekends. There aren’t too many bars on Park Avenue, but I imagine a lot of people in the neighborhood might want a pizza when they head home from Alexander Street or Monroe Avenue. Maybe the owner(s) figured that late-night drunk customers are more trouble than they’re worth.
This is another tough call. In some ways, I liked this pizza. As I said, it’s roughly like NY-style pizza, and that’s my favorite. And at $4 for my two slices, it was a pretty good deal.
It was just so damn greasy, and I couldn’t figure out why. If I’d just gotten the pepperoni slice - which was loaded with toppings - I would’ve said that it was from all the fat melting out of the pepperoni. But the cheese slice was greasy too, so I don’t know. The menu claims that the pizza is baked on a stone hearth, and if so, that makes it even harder to figure, since you really shouldn’t need much, if any oil; dough is not going to stick to a stone oven floor the way that it might stick to an ungreased metal pizza pan.
[10-01-09: I've since been informed by an emailer that the likely reason for the oil is the use of whole-milk mozzarella, which has a higher fat content than the part-skim stuff that most places use. I probably should have known that; some months ago, after I complained that another local pizzeria's product was greasy, a reader posted a comment essentially calling me an idiot for not realizing that what I called grease was actually oil from the "high quality" cheese they used.
My emailer states that there are steps the pizzeria can take to reduce the amount of oil/grease on the pizza after baking, like sopping it up with a paper towel, though I don't think I've ever seen that done other than by the consumer. At any rate, while I can appreciate the use of "better" cheese, and I can certainly tolerate some oil on top of the pizza, I do have a problem when the oil from the cheese ends up seeping into the crust. When I bite into the crust, I want my palate to be met by the flavor and texture of good bread, not of grease. If they can't find a way to avoid that, then I for one would prefer that they use the part-skim cheese. Just my opinion.]
If they could make this without all the grease, I think I'd really like it. As it was, I still liked it, but I couldn’t help thinking how much better it could’ve been. I’ll give it a B-.
Cobbs Hill Pizza & Pasta, 630 Park Ave., 442-6730
Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Rochester Pizza Guy note:  see my June 2010 review of a Cobbs Hill pie here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Why is local TV station shilling for chain pizza?

I try to keep tabs on local news stories that involve pizza. So I checked out a new "story" on 10nbc.com about a national pizzeria chain "giving away free food." Turns out it's just an ordinary promotion, buy a sub and get a free drink, or something along those lines. Whatever. Yippee.
(I don't want to add a link to the "story" and give the chain any more of a boost - not that I have that many readers, but it's a matter of principle. If you want to find it I'm sure you can.)
The only thing truly free that I see in all this is the free advertising that Channel 10 is giving to this chain. I'm sure that some local independent pizzerias would like some of that, but I guess they don't carry the clout that a national chain does.
I have to say, of all the local TV stations, when it comes to news, I have the least respect, by far, for Channel 10. I don't want to launch into a huge diatribe here, but a lot of their "stories," including some of their "investigative journalism," just seem to me to show a real lack of journalistic integrity. So it doesn't surprise me to see this, but it still annoys me.

Interview: Jim Staffieri of the Pizza Stop

It occurs to me that there's a certain tension in my attitudes toward pizza. On the one hand, I think that pizza is one of those foods, like hot dogs and chili, that absolutely should not be homogenized. A grilled Rochester white hot is not the same as a Chicago dog with everything or a boiled Nathan's frankfurter in Coney Island, and that's how it should be.

The same goes for pizza. It should differ from region to region, from city to city, and from pizzeria to pizzeria. That's my primary objection to the whole concept of chain pizzerias.

On the other hand, I love New York style pizza. I'm not talking here about the high-priced, "artisanal" pizza that's all the rage in New York these days - wafer-thin, irregularly shaped pies made with Italian "00" flour, mozzarella di bufala and spring water and baked in under two minutes in a coal-fired oven. Don't get me wrong, that's great stuff too, or at least, in the right pizzamaker's hands, it can be.

But when I talk about New York pizza, I mean the kind of stuff you can get at an average slice joint in New York City. Crisp yet bready, a little charred underneath, with a perfect balance of crust, sauce and dough. Simple yet sublime, and at two bucks and change per slice, still one of the best food bargains in the country.

That's where the schizophrenia comes in. As much as I love distinctive regional styles and individuality, I also love finding authentic New York style pizza anywhere, especially near where I live and work.

Which is why I'm thankful for the Pizza Stop on State Street downtown. In business since 1986, it's among the oldest, and best, purveyors of New York style pizza in the area. I've put away a lot of slices on my trips to the City over the years, and Pizza Stop is the real deal.

On a recent late afternoon, while waiting for my pizza to come out of the oven, I had occasion to chat with owner Jim Staffieri about his family background, pizza making, and what the future holds for the him and the Pizza Stop.

I know you have a family background in pizza. Can you run through that?
Well, let’s see. My father, after getting laid off from Grumman, got into the pizza business through my uncle, who got into the pizza business, I don’t even know how long ago. I want to say that was about 40 years ago [for my father], so probably 50 or 60 years ago [for my uncle].

That was in New York City?
Yeah, in New York.

How’d you end up here?
My brother [Joe, who owns Joe's Brooklyn Pizza in Henrietta] had been working at a guy’s pizza place in Long Island. That guy moved up here to Hornell. My brother followed him, worked there for a while. Then he moved to Rochester, was in business for a few years - not pizza - was doing well, and he saw this place up for rent. He said this would be a good location, so I came up and checked it out.

Were you involved in pizza at the time?
No, I was down in New York as an art director for MetLife.

So you were taking a real plunge.
Oh yeah, yeah. I left everything down there and came up here.

Was the Pizza Stop an immediate success?
No, it had ups and downs. Like everything else, it takes a while. Over the years it got busier, but at first, well, we had people who liked it, but it took a while to catch on.

It's certainly popular now. How long do you figure you’re going to be here?
[Laughs] As long as we have to be. There’s no immediate plan to go anywhere else. But right now we’re at kind of a critical point because business has gotten to the point where we have to grow. We’ve got to expand.

The problem is, we’re still downtown. For a couple of hours a day, we could double our space, but what happens the rest of the day? What happens in the winter? What happens at night? So it’s kind of a sticky situation here.

We’re at a point where we could expand, but downtown’s still downtown. We’ve had insane days, at lunchtime, where we’re like, we could do this or that [to expand]. And then you’re empty. It’s kind of a weird thing right now.

You know, you get long lines, people don’t like to wait on line. Like today, we had to turn down orders. We couldn’t even answer the phone. It hurts you. But we just couldn’t do it. We were so jammed, it was just like, no way.

We could probably develop a weekend business, an evening business, get a beer license. We’ve kicked some of those things around. And you’ve got the hotels [nearby]. But it would be a real gamble.

What’s your typical schedule?
We’re here at 9, turn the ovens on, we’re ready to start baking by a little after 10, get everything ready for lunch, lunch is over around 1:30 to 2. We prep everything for the next day, and do it all over again.

When do you start making the dough?
We make the dough today for tomorrow. We let it sit out for a while, then when it starts to move we put it in the fridge. That slows it down - it's called retarding the dough - and by the next day it’s ready to be used. Then we take it out as we need it.

From baking bread at home, it’s always seemed to me that the longer the dough takes to rise, the better the end result.
Oh yeah, two or three days later, it’s the best. If we make dough and use it right away, it’s not as good. Overnight is good, two nights is even better.

How big a batch do you make?
Sixty, sixty-five pounds of flour at a time. I’m not sure what that comes out to [for the total weight of the dough].

Aside from yours, what’s your all-time favorite pizza place?
Oh, that’s a tough question. We had places we went to [back in New York], but outside of my own, I really don’t have a favorite.

How often do you eat pizza?
Every day. Every day.

Never get sick of it?
Never get sick of it.

Favorite topping?
Another tough one. I’d have to say right now, the meatball parm. That’s good.

What’s your biggest seller?
Pepperoni.

Like anywhere else.
[Laughs] Yeah, sure. But we also sell a lot of tomato pizza, tomato spinach is very popular, buffalo chicken pizza, but overall, pepperoni.

I’m going to try that meatball parm sometime.
It’s really good. It’s basically made like a grandma’s pizza. Well, actually, it’s grandma’s pizza with meatballs.

I’ve heard of grandma’s pizza. What is it?
Grandma’s pizza is a thing they do in New York. It’s usually on a thicker crust, where you put the cheese down first, toppings on top of that, then the sauce on top. It’s like making it backwards. Sprinkle on fresh garlic, sweet basil, romano, some olive oil on top. It’s really good. It’s just - it’s a whole different pizza.

Is Sicilian pizza just another name for sheet pizza?
Basically, yeah. The way some places do [sheet pizza], they stretch it out [and bake it] right away. We stretch our dough out, then let it rise. So it is different, yeah. Sicilian is, you stretch it out in the pan, you let it rise, then you bake it. That’s the way they do it in New York.

What do you think of the current fashion for wood-fired ovens and “artisanal" pizza?
Well, everyone’s looking to make themselves different. Everyone’s looking to differentiate themselves. And, you know, it’s also trendy, the wood-fired, all that stuff. People like trendy.

This is what we grew up with, this is what we know, this is what we like. We’re not trying to be trendy, we’re just trying to do what we do. And that was the whole concept of coming up here. We’re not going to come up here and try to make a Rochester pizza, we’re gonna come up here and make what we like. If you like it, good; if you don't, go somewhere else.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Mama Mia's, Churchville

Mama Mias on Urbanspoon
NOTE: This is apparently now Slice Pizza Co.
 
“You can’t be a real country unless you have a beer and an airline. It helps if you have some kind of a football team or some nuclear weapons, but at the very least you need a beer.” - Frank Zappa

In much the same way, a small town’s not really a town unless it has its own pizzeria. A bar and a gas station help too, but you really need a hometown pizzeria.
Churchville’s pizzeria, as of now, is Mama Mia’s. Until fairly recently, this was Krony’s Pizza - in fact, there’s still a clearly out-of-date website for Krony’s at this location - but no longer. (There are currently, I believe, Krony’s locations in Spencerport and Hamlin, at least one of which I will get to eventually.)
Mama Mia’s in Churchville, I should also point out, is not associated with the Geneseo pizzeria of the same name, nor are their pizzas very similar. So if you’re a fan - as I am - of the latter, don’t go to the Churchville Mama Mia’s expecting to find the first-rate New York style pizza turned out by its namesake in Geneseo.
That’s not to say that Mama Mia’s in Churchville is bad, though, because it's not. I ordered a whole pie, half plain, half pepperoni. It had a thin-to-medium crust, the underside of which was well dusted with flour. It was firm, and slightly crisp on the exterior, but had a pretty soft texture overall. There was some bready flavor, but it also bordered on doughy, and for my money, would’ve benefited from another minute or two in the oven. (Sometimes I wonder if places take the pizza out of the oven a little sooner rather than later if you’re there, waiting for it to come out, as I was. Maybe I should tell them when I order to give it as much time as it needs.)
The sauce had a pronounced herbal flavor, and was quite prominent, compared to most other places I’ve tried. The cheese was slightly browned, but tended more toward the melted, stringy end of the spectrum.
Mama Mia’s has a pretty standard menu, with the usual list of toppings and specialty pizzas, wings, appetizers, salads, fried chicken, fish and shrimp, “plates,” burgers, hot dogs, wraps, and subs and sandwiches, including steak and chicken “bombers.”
Mama Mia's doesn’t deliver, but there is ample seating indoors, plus two outdoor picnic tables. And one advantage of going there in person is that it allows you to avail yourself of Mama Mia's selection of ice cream, which can be had in both the soft and hard variety.
For me, this pizza was OK. Not great, but not bad, either, and certainly good enough to qualify as the local hometown pizza, especially when followed by an ice cream cone on a warm summer (or autumn) evening. I’m giving it a right-down-the-middle C.
Mama Mia's, 54 S. Main St., Churchville. 293-1950
Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Closes at 9 p.m. during winter.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Martino's, Webster

Martino's Pizza on Urbanspoon
In my previous post, I reported on my visit to Martino’s on Long Pond Road. Today we go to Martino’s in Webster. From what I was told there, the two Martino’s were originally related - I assume just two locations of the same pizzeria - but there is no longer any connection between them.
The Webster Martino’s slogan, “Where Life Is Worth Eating,” is a play on the Town of Webster’s faintly silly “Where Life Is Worth Living” motto. And on Mondays and Tuesdays, the eating won’t cost you much at Martino’s, as you can pick up a slice of cheese pizza for just one dollar.
A deal like that is pretty hard to beat, provided, of course, that the pizza’s any good. Fortunately, it is. Although not advertised as such, Martino’s slices are a decent approximation of New York style pizza.
My cheese slice (I also got a Coke, almost out of guilt over buying only a single one-dollar slice) had a thin-to-medium crust. It was easily foldable, but not flabby, and the underside was very well charred - perilously close to burnt, in fact - with a prominent toasty flavor. From its appearance, I was expecting it to be crunchier than it was, but it had a nice, crisp exterior and a pleasantly bready interior. The thin lip had some crunch to it, with a hint of oil; perhaps it received a light brushing of olive oil before going in the oven, although I know from baking bread that brushing the loaf with oil (or melted butter) will result in a softer crust, so I don't know.
The sauce was of a thin consistency and lightly applied. It wasn’t missing in action, as at some places, but was certainly more of a supporting than a lead player here. The cheese was more melted than browned, but wasn’t overly stringy or gooey, and had an mouth-pleasingly creamy texture.
While not identical to the Long Pond Martino’s, the Webster Martino’s menu is similar in several respects, evidencing their former kinship. There’s a modest, but adequate range of toppings and specialty pizzas, as well as stuffed pizza (which has a top layer of dough), calzones and strombolis. They also offer wings, appetizers, grilled items, hot and cold subs, wraps, focaccia sandwiches, wraps, salads, fried fish and seafood, and several pasta dinners. If you have a sweet tooth, there are a few selections in that category too, including brownies, cannolis and peanut butter pie. Everything's available for takeout, dining in, and delivery (free for orders of $10 or more).
All in all, I was pretty impressed with this pizza. Nice balance between crispness and pliability, charred exterior and bready interior, topped off with that creamy mozzarella. And for a buck a slice? Fuhgeddaboudit! This one gets an A- from me.
Martino’s Pizzeria, 160 West Main St., Webster. 872-4140
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.
Pizza Guy note:  for an more recent review of Martino's, go here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Martino's, Long Pond Road

Martino's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Look up "Martino's Pizzeria" in the White Pages and you'll see two locations, one on Long Pond and one in Webster. So you might assume it's one pizzeria with two locations.
You'd be wrong. At least now. Apparently they were related at one time, but no longer. And I don't know if the pizzas were pretty much the same back then, but they're not today. Similar in some ways, but definitely not the same.
We'll start with the Long Pond Martino's.
I got a pepperoni slice at lunchtime. It was pretty good sized, though not quite in the "mega" or "huge" category.
Thin and floppy near the tip, the crust got suddenly thicker about two-thirds of the way to the outer edge. I’m not just talking about the lip itself, which was fairly narrow; the underlying crust was simply much thicker for a good three inches or so along the outer edge, then thin the rest of the way to the tip. It was as if a thin-crust slice and a thick-crust slice had been joined together in the middle.
The crust also had a bit of a split personality in tems of the texture. It was crisp on the surface, but doughy inside, especially in the thicker part, which had a distinctive aroma of undercooked dough. The lip in particular displayed this dichotomy, as it cracked and separated in two when I tried to fold it, as you can see in the bottom photo.
In one respect, though, the crust was the same from stem to stern: the underside was rather pale, with heavy screen marks.
This was a fairly saucy slice. The sauce had a tomatoey flavor, with some background herbal notes. The mozzarella cheese was applied moderately and baked just to the point of browning. The slice seemed to be sprinkled with some grated cheese as well. I couldn’t really pick up its flavor, but it looked like a cannned romano or parmesan.
Martino’s has quite an extensive menu. Pizza can be ordered “regular, thick or skinny” (mine was both thick and skinny, so I’m not sure what it was; regular, I assume), topped with one of five sauces: red tomato, white garlic, “zesty” (a mix of the red and white), pesto, or alfredo. There are several specialty pizzas, and they do calzones. Other items include wings and various munchies, quesadillas, burgers, hots, wraps, subs, “plates,” seafood, pasta, desserts, and even breakfast, which is served all day.
Martino’s offers takout, delivery, and dine-in service, and they do catering too. The dining area is fairly large, and on the day I visited it seemed to be a popular lunchtime spot for both police and ambulance personnel.
As for the pizza, well, I wasn’t too crazy about this one, though I didn’t dislike it as much as my comments might make it sound. It tasted OK, it just seemed a little underbaked. And while I like a crisp exterior and a bready interior, this one had more of a crackly shell beneath a doughy interior.
Thing is, too, I’ve had Martino’s pizza before, prior to starting this blog, and I thought it was pretty good. So I have to take some points off here because of the things I mentioned, but I won’t knock it too much. I’ll give it a C-.
Martino's Restaurant, 1742 Long Pond Rd., 247-5030
Mon. - Thu. 8 a.m. - midnight, Fri. 8 a.m. - 1 a.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 1 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Bassetti's, Webster

Bassetti's is on South Avenue in Webster, just off Main Street, right in the heart of the village. If a Google search is to be believed, several pizzerias have occupied this space in recent years, including Costanza's, Goodfellas, and Jimmy G's.
If I were a business owner, I'd be leery of trying where so many others have failed, but that never seems to deter people from trying, so here comes Bassetti's. I stopped recently and got a cheese slice.
The slice - which had one rogue slice of pepperoni attached - was medium thick, with a lightly browned underside. The crust was firm, and a bit crackly underneath. It was a little bland and not particularly bready. The outer edge was fairly thick and somewhat chewy.
While the underside was pretty grease-free, there was plenty on top, so much that I held the slice vertically to let some of the oil drip off onto my plate.
The sauce was liberally applied and had some herbal notes. The cheese was also laid on pretty thickly. It was lightly browned and quite stringy.
Bassetti's has a pretty basic menu, with a modest list of pizza toppings, four specialty pizzas, calzones, wings, hot and cold subs, grilled sandwiches, salads, sides and "plates." There's also a Friday fish fry.
This is pretty much a takeout and delivery place. They deliver free with a minimum order of $10. Service was friendly when I stopped. There's no parking lot, but I had no trouble finding a spot nearby on the street on a weekday.
This wasn't bad pizza, especially for about a buck-fifty a slice. Medium thick, with plenty of sauce and cheese. I could do with a little less grease on top, but that's easily sopped up with a napkin. Likewise, the crust was OK - at least it wasn't greasy, soft or soggy - but not as bready as I'd like. I don't know what kind of pizza the previous tenants turned out, but Bassetti's is pretty decent, and I'll give it a B-.
Bassetti's Pizzeria, 9 South Ave., Webster. 545-4010
Mon. 4 - 10 p.m., Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - midnight, Sun. 2 - 10 p.m.
Pizza Guy Note:  as of September 2010, Bassetti's is reportedly no longer in business.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Jason's New York Pizzeria, Farmington

(NOTE:  this establishment is now closed.)
I don't have occasion to go to Canandaigua too often, but everytime I do, when I get off the Thruway and start heading down 332, that sign catches my eye: "NY PIZZA," in big red letters, right on the front of the plaza at the southwest corner of the Rt. 96 intersection. But I always seemed to be in too much of a hurry to get where I was going, or I was on my way to eat dinner somewhere else, and so I never stopped. But I'd always wonder, what's their pizza like? How good is it? Is it true NY pizza?
So I made a special trip. And now I know.
And the answer is ... it's pretty good. Not outstanding, but pretty good. In my opinion.
I got a cheese slice, which is always the benchmark for NY style pizza. It was thin and foldable; so thin, in fact, that the crust was translucent in spots.
The underside was browned, not quite to the point of charring. It was dry - in other words, not greasy - underneath, which was good, but not quite as crisp as a NY slice ought to be. The outer lip, however, did have some nice crunch and breadiness.
There was a pretty high cheese-to-sauce ratio (not inappropriate for NY pizza, which typically is not too saucy), with a relatively thick layer of slightly browned cheese atop a thin layer of sauce. I had a hard time detecting the sauce on my palate, actually. The cheese was rather oily, which again fits within the parameters of the NY style.
Jason's menu mostly sticks to the basics, with a modest toppings list, nine specialty pizzas, hot and cold subs, club sandwiches, wings, calzones, strombolis, sides and salads. They also offer several dinners including fish fry, eggplant or chicken parm, lasagna and baked ziti.
Jason's has a little seating. It's basically a fast-food type setup, with a small counter and a few booths. I'm not sure if they deliver; the menu doesn't say, nor does it include their hours. I'll have to call them to find out.
So - is this "the small town pizza with the big city taste," as the menu claims? Well, yes and no. In general, they got everything right here to qualify as NY style pizza. But it could use just a little tweaking to make it really top-notch NY pizza. If the crust were a wee bit crisper, slightly charred underneath, maybe a tad more sauce, not quite so thin (although I may have just gotten a slice with an atypically thin spot, which happens now and then), the cheese a little creamier - well, you get the picture. I don't mean to make it sound as if this pizza had a lot of problems, because it didn't. It was good. But to me, judging it as NY style pizza, it fell just a liiitle bit short in a number of respects. I'll give it a B.
Jason's New York Pizzeria, 6081 Rt. 96 (at Rt. 332), Farmington. 924-2002

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Leonardo's, Victor - CLOSED

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Leonardo's, a/k/a Leo's, a/k/a Uncle Leo's, is on Rt. 96 in Victor, just down the road from where 490 meets the Thruway, about a mile and a half or so west of the village. According to their website, they've been in business since 1968, an impressive 41 years, although I think there may have been some moves over that time. For one thing, the building they're in doesn't look that old, and I also found this reference to Leo's having started out as "Joe's" on Thurston road in Rochester. Hmm.
Anyway, they're in Victor now, and that's where I headed for a pepperoni slice, which came very fresh out of the oven. The relatively thin crust bore faint but unmistakable pizza screen markings underneath. It was rather pale - just very lightly browned - and despite a slight outer crispness, quite soft overall, without much "backbone."
Flavorwise, I would describe the crust as more doughy than bready. The tomatoey, somewhat tangy sauce stayed mostly in the background, and the cheese, though not applied particularly heavily, was uniformly distributed across the surface, forming a single, melted layer of stringy, chewy mozzarella. No pockets of sauce poking out here, except at the tip, where the cheese had slid off a bit.
The wide and thin slices of pepperoni were applied fairly generously, and were OK, unremarkable but not too greasy. The outer edge of the slice had a thin lip of dough with a bit of crunch and a smidgen of stray, browned shreds of cheese.
Leo's has a pretty big menu, with a long list of specialty pizzas that include a potato skin pizza and a veal pizza, neither of which I recall seeing before. There are also wings, hot and cold subs, sandwiches and wraps, plus salads and appetizers. The weekend menu expands to include fried haddock, clams, and shrimp, as well as spaghetti and ziti dinners.
Leo's also boasts that it's the "Home of the Bomber," which is described as a homemade dough turnover, filled with your choice of meat and cheese, which is then baked and stuffed with your favorite sub toppings. I'm not sure how they can stuff something that's already been filled with meat and cheese (maybe it kind of cooks down in the oven) - but it sounds like a meal and a half in itself.
Leonardo's also deserves mention as one of the few places I've seen around here that offers gluten-free pizza (and bombers, too), the other being Nick's out in Chili (which I'll be getting to soon).
Leo's has takeout and delivery service, and plenty of tables for dining in. The large dining area doesn't have much in the way of atmosphere, but they do have a decent TV (I don't recall if there was more than one), which I assume is generally tuned to sports, and they offer both draft and bottled beer, so while it's not a bar, you could catch a game here over some pizza and brews.
I can't honestly say that I was crazy about this pizza, but I can't say it was bad, either. A little too soft and "medium rare" for my taste, with the chewy, melted-not-browned cheese taking center stage alongside the thin but doughy crust. On the other hand, the overall flavors were good, and by no means would I turn my nose up at this if you put a Leo's pie in front of me. In a word - and this isn't meant as a putdown - this was average pizza for around here, so I'll give it a C.
Leonardo's Pizza, 7387 Pittsford-Victor Road (Route 96), Victor. 924-1480
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. noon - 9 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Home-grilled pizza

This is not a pizza review, but one of the nice things about having a blog is that it is, ultimately, a self-indulgent exercise, so you get to prattle on about yourself now and then.
I didn't hit any pizzerias over the weekend, as I got the itch to make my own pizza, which I do every couple months or so. I made four pizzas, all different, probably about 10" across on average, which I baked on a pizza stone that I had set in my barrel-style charcoal grill.
Now I know that "grilled pizza" generally refers to a pizza cooked right on the grill grates. That involves putting a "naked" disk of dough on the grates for a minute or two, then flipping it over and adding toppings to the just-cooked side and cooking it a bit longer.
That's not what I wanted. My thinking instead was that I could achieve far higher temperatures in my grill than in my home oven, which tops out at 550. I wanted to get closer to the temperatures that are reached in commercial pizza ovens, or even professional wood- or coal-fired ovens, which are typically in the 800-degree range, resulting in a crust that's crisp on the outside, and slightly charred, but not burnt or dried out (at least if the chef, or pizzaiolo, is paying attention). I put the stone in right after lighting the coals, so it could heat up gradually, to the side of the coal bed. Once I was sure that the coals "took," I shut the lid but opened the side vent all the way to get a good air flow.
The results were good, but next time I need to make some adjustments. I didn't want to start baking the pizzas until the coals had turned gray, but it wasn't long after that point that the temperature inside the grill started to drop. When the first pizza (a white pizza) went in, the built-in thermometer was maxed out; the temperature must have been at least 700, and that's a conservative estimate. It came out great, just what I wanted, but by the time the second one went in, the temperature was already dropping; the coals had passed their peak.
A related problem involves getting at the pizza. With a professional oven, the pizzaiolo can check on the pizza, rotate it, etc. throughout the cooking process, without much loss in oven temperature. In fact, coal and wood ovens don't even have doors, just openings in the front.
I had to open the grill lid each time I wanted to check on the pizza, though, which let precious heat escape. I tried to minimize the problem by cracking the lid open just enough to reach in with my metal pizza peel, but still, time was working against me, and I couldn't afford any unnecessary heat loss. By the time the fourth pizza came out the thermometer was registering a paltry 350. Three-fifty's for baking cake, not pizza.
I did remedy the problem somewhat by finishing the later pizzas directly on the grates, over the dying but still-hot coals. That did give the underside some nice crispness and charring, not to mention some cool-looking grill marks. (Sorry I neglected to take photos, but I had my hands full making the pizzas. My 6-year-old daughter took some, but although she faithfully copied my methods, right down to photographing the undersides, her 1-megapixel Kidizoom camera doesn't exactly produce sharp photos.)
The results here were good enough for me to try this again, but my thought for next time is to try feeding the fire with wood chunks as soon as the coals reach their peak. I'll still start with charcoal because it burns longer than wood, but adding fresh charcoal during the baking process might give off some nasty chemical odors. Since my grill has a side firebox, I can feed the wood in through the side opening. I'll let you know how it goes.

Posella's, Victor

Posella's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
This week we'll take a look at a few places in the Victor / Farmington area. A bit outside my general geographic range, but I wanted to check out Jason's in Farmington, which I'll get to later.
First up is Posella's on Rt. 96 in Victor. It's in a small plaza just east of the village. You can tell we're in an affluent suburb by the discreet appearance of the place, with just a small sign over the door. It looks more like an accountant's office than a pizzeria.
Posella's serves up a thin-to-medium slice that at first glance resembled a NYC pizza. But a peek at the underside proved otherwise. It had that certain shade of brown that comes from cooking in the presence of oil, instead of the more toasted/charred appearance of a NY pizza.
And while these slices were easily foldable, they lacked outer crispness. Except for the narrow, crunchy lip, the crust was soft throughout, a little spongy, and slightly greasy to the touch. I noticed while eating it that there was also a persistent aroma of fried dough.
The sauce, which was applied fairly thickly, had a nice balance of tomatoey and herbal flavors, and the cheese also hit the mark between melted and browned.
Posella's pizza comes with your choice of red, white, pesto or alfredo sauce (the latter two for an additional charge), and there's a fairly modest list, by current standards, of toppings. Specialty pizzas include eggplant parm, steak, and one that's simply described as "Posella's Pizza," with salami, cappicola, sausage and pepperoni. They also offer a "Sicilian" with chunky tomato, fresh basil, olive oil, "italian spice," and parmesan, but I don't know if that's on a traditionally thick Sicilian-style crust.
Other menu options include wings (with a variety of available sauces - jalapeno lime sounds interesting), "plates," calzones, hot and cold subs, wraps, grilled burgers and chicken sandwiches, appetizers, salads, and pasta dinners. There's a small kid's menu.
Posella's does deliver, and there's some seating, including a (very) small outdoor seating area. If you dine in, you can enjoy a bottle of beer with your food.
This is one of those pizzas that I could really love, but for the crust. They were nicely thin and foldable, the sauce and cheese were good, but ... that oily residue on my fingertips, that smell of fried dough, and the complete absence of exterior crispness just combined to keep this pizza from living up to its potential. I don't want to create the impression that these things were oozing with grease; they weren't. I've had far greasier pizza than this. It's just that the use of oil here prevented this pizza (which I'm guessing was cooked on a steel deck) from developing that razor-thin bottom layer of crispness that can give a pizza a nice, bready aroma and a pleasing little crunch with each bite. So while this pizza was, on the whole, not too shabby, I'm putting it at just one click above average, with a C+.
Posella's Pizzeria, Phoenix Mills Plaza, 6385 Rt. 96, Victor. 924-1560.
Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Country Store, Webster

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Search Google Maps for pizza in Webster and one of the places that pops up is The Country Store on Lake Road. Now generally I don't expect much from convenience store pizza, and if they're just heating up frozen or "preassembled" pizzas that they then keep under a heat lamp, I don't even consider it a pizzeria to begin with.
But from what I'd read about The Country Store, they seemed to make their own pizza, and I'd struck gold before out that way at the Union Hill Country Grill, so I was cautiously optimistic about this one.
Apparently, though, the particular vein of gold I'd struck at Union Hill doesn't extend this far north. The Country Store's pizza isn't bad, mind you, but it's not great, either.
The Country Store serves up a thick, heavy slice of pizza that will definitely fill you up if that's what you're looking for. The lightly browned underside was heavily coated with cornmeal, giving it that distinctive cornmeal crunch.
This was a pretty saucy slice, which was appropriate, since the thick dough needs some moisture to go with it as you chew. The sauce was a bit salty and well cooked. It was topped with a medium to thick layer of cheese and slices of wide and thin pepperoni, and the whole thing was generously dusted with dried herbs.
The outer edge of the slice was formed into a very thick lip that had a soft, spongy interior. It had the large air holes characteristic of good bread, but seemed to me not to have a whole lot of bready flavor or aroma. I attribute that in part to relatively low oven temperature and/or short baking time, because the pale color of the crust indicated that the natural sugars in the dough never had a chance to caramelize in the oven. That's the tricky thing with thick pizza, though: bake it hot and long enough to brown the crust and the toppings are liable to get overcooked.
As the name suggests, The Country Store offers a wide range of products besides pizza. The food menu includes wings, hot and cold subs, soup and chili, a full complement of grilled and fried items, and a Friday fish fry. And of course you can pick up your groceries and Lotto tickets and fill your tank while you're there. If you live in the area, they'll also deliver, not just pizza but groceries too.
I like places like The Country Store. They help create a sense of place that you can't get from chain stores. But if I lived nearby and had a hankering for pizza, this wouldn't be my first choice. It's not just that it was thick - I've had some excellent thick-crust pizza, including the aforementioned Union Hill Country Grill's - but a thick crust, especially, needs a good bready texture and flavor, and this just didn't have it. Still, the overall flavors were OK, and it wasn't overly greasy or defective in any way, so I'll put it at just a notch above average, with a C+.
The Country Store, 1319 Lake Road, Webster. 265-3512
Sun. - Thu. 6:30 a.m. - 9:00 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 7 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Galleria, East Main St., downtown

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Galleria Pizza is in the Reynolds Arcade building on East Main St., a half block east of State Street, which puts it right at "Four Corners," in the heart of downtown Rochester.
Like the Pizza Stop a couple of blocks away, it's mostly a daytime spot, but Galleria also does breakfast, and with its wider menu, it's more of an all-around lunchtime destination, though pizza takes center stage.
Given its heavy lunchtime traffic, this is very much a slice joint, although they can do whole pies, many of which I suspect go to local offices. If you do stop by for a slice, you can get it to go or "for here," in which case it's brought out to you on a genuine dinner plate.
It's hard to say how thick my pepperoni slice was, since it was thickest in the middle, and thinner toward both the tip and the outer edge. The underside was buckled and cratered, and was well browned where it had come into contact with the cooking surface, but pale in the concave areas.
The underside was also very crunchy, but it was more of an oily crunch than a baked crunch. It comes down to the difference between dough that contains a lot of oil, or that's been in contact with oil during the baking process (which essentially fries the dough) and dough that develops a crunchy crust from the baking process itself, during which the natural sugars in the dough caramelize and the water inside the dough evaporates. This seemed to me like more of an oily crunch.
Atop the dough was a cooked-down, thick, herbal sauce, with lots of flaked herbs that were most noticeable toward the outer edge. The more-melted-than-browned mozzarella was applied moderately, more thickly in some places than others. The pie having sat out for a bit, the cheese had congealed, and was a tad oily. The thin and wide slices of pepperoni were OK but unremarkable.
The slice ended in a medium-thick lip, which was quite crunchy, and finally, here, I found some welcome bready flavor, unobscured by the sauce or cheese.
Galleria is a little unusual in that it has a daily schedule for specialty pizza slices and for strombolis. On Monday, for example, the pizza du jour (or di giorno) is chicken wing, and the stromboli sausage & sweet pepper. Tuesdays it's steak with boss sauce or chicken alfredo pizza and pepperoni & sausage stromboli, and so on. They also offer a pretty wide variety of specialty pizzas by the whole pie, but you need to give them 24 hours' notice for that. Another option is the "Little Foot Pizza," which consists of two 6" pieces of French bread with mozzarella and one topping.
Besides pizza, Galleria offers hot and cold subs, salads, wings, various sides, grilled items, and dinners that include pasta dishes, fried chicken, clam strips, and a Friday fish fry. The menu also touts "after 3pm Super Specials," which I take to mean whatever's left over from lunch that day.
This pizza was all right, I had no real problems with it, but it was nothing special either. Maybe the specialty slices are big sellers, but my pepperoni slice was just so-so, with a less than outstanding crust and an overall flavor and texture that really didn't wow me. Galleria does a steady business and must have its fans, but for me, Pizza Stop remains the place to go for a downtown slice. I'll give Galleria a C.
Galleria Pizza, 16 E. Main St., 262-2222
Mon. - Fri. 8 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

La Famiglia, Latta Road, Greece

La Famiglia Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
First off, La Famiglia Pizzeria in Greece is not the same as the Famous Famiglia chain that you see at Thruway rest stops and the airport. No, this is an independent place on Latta Road, across from Wegmans, near the intersection of Long Pond.
I got a cheese slice and a pepperoni slice. I had to wait a few minutes, but that was OK since it meant they were fresh out of the oven.
Though La Famiglia doesn't advertise "huge" slices, they were in fact rather big, and it was a pretty good deal: two slices and a 20 oz. drink for about $6.
The slices were thin and foldable, a little singed on the bottom, but pretty light in color overall. The crust was not at all greasy, and a little crisp on the outside, with what I'd call a "cornmeal crunch." That sounds like a breakfast cereal, but what I mean is that much of what crunchiness there was seemed to come from the dusting of cornmeal that the dough had received prior to going in the oven. (Cornmeal acts like tiny ball bearings and keeps the dough from sticking to the pizza peel, but as a side effect it also gives the underside a certain crunch.) On the whole, though, this crust was more pliable than crisp.
As I said, these were hot out of the oven, and the heavy layer of melted mozzarella was still semi-liquid and gloppy, though it became more rubbery as it cooled. Below that was a thin, somewhat oily sauce - or maybe the sauce had just mixed with the oil from the melted cheese - making for a rather wet slice overall. In fact, by the time I got these out to my car, the moisture from the slices had soaked right through the paper to-go sleeve.
A few flecks of dried herbs could be seen here and there, but generally the sauce had a pretty straightforward, right-down-the-middle flavor. The pepperoni seemed a little spicy, and had good flavor.
La Famiglia has ample seating, and they also deliver. If you eat in, you order at the counter and the food will be delivered to your table. I believe they serve soft drinks only, but don't quote me on that.
If you're looking for a whole pie, La Famiglia offers four thicknesses: thin, regular, thick and extra thick. I assume mine were thin; if they were "regular," then "thin" must be super thin. You can also choose from red, white, or pesto sauces, and a pretty standard lineup of toppings. There are six specialty pizzas, nothing too exotic.
Besides pizza, they do calzones, hot and cold subs, "steak bombers" (is that a local thing? I see it a lot around here), fish fry, pasta, wings, salads, a few sides, and if you're up for dessert, cannoli and "pizza fretta," which are described as "pillows of fried dough coated with confectionary sugar & cinnamon."
As for the pizza, bottom line, it's decent thin-crust pizza. Not exactly NY style, nor do they claim it to be, but pretty good flavor and texture. It should especially appeal to those who like a high cheese-and-sauce-to-dough ratio. If you like your pizza a little more well-done than rare, I'd ask for it that way. I'm not saying these were undercooked, but the cheese was more melted than browned, and the crust more browned than charred, but that's strictly a matter of personal preference. Whichever way you like it, I'd say La Famiglia is among the better places around, and I'll give it a B.
La Famiglia Pizzeria, 3208 Latta Rd., Greece. 225-9200
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. noon - 11 p.m., Sun. 3 - 10 p.m.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

MoJoe's, Genesee St.

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Mojoe's Pizza is on Genesee St., about two blocks south of West Main St., in Southwest Rochester. It's kind of a fast-food-style operation, with counter service offering pizza and other, mostly fried items, though I believe they deliver as well.
I got a pepperoni slice, which frankly wasn't very good. The crust, which was on the thick side, was very soft, floppy, spongy, and wet, and fairly greasy as well. Only along the crunchy outer edge was it at all firm, and that was more of a greasy, fried crunchiness than genuine crispness.
The sauce was applied somewhat thickly, but had a thin consistency and not much flavor. The cheese was a bit browned and rather chewy. It was OK, but like the rest of the slice, fairly greasy, and it simply didn't blend or mesh well with the other components.
The pepperoni was actually the best part. It, too, was greasy, but that's more acceptable with pepperoni, particularly of the cup-and-char variety, which tends to form a little bowl that holds its own melted fat, and it was nice and crisp along the edges, with good flavor.
Besides pizza, MoJoe's offers fried chicken, chicken wings, burgers, hot and cold subs, and one item I've not seen at any other pizzeria, Jamaican patties (which I guess are basically meat-filled pastries, something like an empanada).
Perhaps the Jamaican patties or some of the other items are worth a visit to MoJoe's, I can't say. They did seem to be doing a steady business when I stopped by. But as far as the pizza goes, I can't recommend it. I'm giving MoJoe's a D-.
Mojoe's Famous Pizza & Chicken, 337 Genesee St. 235-3930

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