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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lucca, Victor

Lucca Wood-Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon
Lucca is a wood-fired pizza place in Victor. If I have my facts straight, it used to be Slice of Napa, which was the second location of Napa Wood Fired Pizza. Napa is now back to just one location, in Fairport, having sold the Victor business to new owners, who changed it over to Lucca in May 2009.
You can get slices here at lunchtime, but to my way of thinking, wood-fired pizza is something that needs to be ordered as a whole, freshly baked pie. A NY-style slice can actually improve when it's been out of the oven for a while and then reheated for a minute before serving, but not so with this kind of pizza. That's especially true of a margherita, which is what I ordered, since it's typically made with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, neither of which is going to get any better once the pizza comes out of the oven.
The crust on my 10" pie was very thin, which is typical of wood-fired pizza. It was dry, crackly, and crunchy, which was pleasant enough as far as that goes, but it had almost no interior chewiness.
For a wood-fired pizza, it was also not particularly charred. The underside was fairly pale, with just a few scattered charred spots, and the crust had a more doughy than toasty flavor. The outer edge was also thin, dark brown, and crunchy.
Sauce was optional on the margherita (I suppose everything's optional on a pizza, but the person taking my order asked if I wanted sauce), and I opted for it. It had a straight-ahead, concentrated tomato flavor that was reminiscent of tomato paste.
I don't mean that as a putdown, and the menu describes the sauce as San Marzano tomato sauce, which is high-quality stuff. It's just that it was very tomatoey, meaning it didn't have much in the way of herbs or sweeteners, and it had a strong, concentrated flavor, as if much of the water in the tomatoes had been cooked out.
With that assertive flavor, the sauce might've been better left off this pizza, as it tended to dominate the other components, but then again the slices of fresh tomato weren't all that great. I can't fault Lucca much on that one, I mean, try to find a decent tomato around here in December, but if I had it to do over I think I'd ask for them to go easy on the sauce.
The fresh mozzarella seemed a tad overcooked. Rather than liquefying into little pools of creamy cheese, it was a bit browned and somewhat rubbery. (This was no more than a few minutes after I picked up the pizza, so I don't think it was simply a matter of the cheese having cooled.)
The basil here was applied with whole leaves rather than shredded, which was pleasing to the eye, although it meant getting a real mouthful of basil flavor on some bites and little or none on others. That was OK with me, though - it's nice to get some variation as you work your way through a pizza.
According to the menu, the margherita toppings include garlic, but I really didn't notice any here, either visually or on my palate. The pizza appeared to have been lightly dusted with parmesan, although I didn't pick up much of its flavor.
Lucca offers ten different pizzas, which generally are more high-end than you'll see at your average pizzeria, without venturing into the bizarre category. For example, the funghi pizza is topped with garlic, roasted red peppers, spinach, prosciutto, white and portobello mushrooms, truffle oil and Italian cheeses. That sounds awfully busy for any pizza, much less one with a very thin crust, but if you're more of a minimalist, you can design your own pizza, choosing from among four sauces, eight cheeses, eight meats, and fourteen vegetable toppings. They also serve salads, soup, wood-fired chicken wings (which can be ordered with one of six sauces), panini sandwiches, and the intriguing-sounding wood-fired pork shanks, "seasoned Sicilian style." Oh, and they have cannolis, too. There are some tables, but the dining space is limited.
I liked this pizza, but to me, it didn't live up to its full potential. One problem that I sometimes have with wood-fired pizza is that the crust can be too crackerlike, all crunch and no chewiness. My ideal pizza crust has a contrast of crisp, crunchy exterior and chewy, doughy interior. I know a fast-baking, thin crust is not going to have a lot on the inside, but there ought to be something there besides just that crackly exterior; otherwise, it's just an empty shell.
This pizza came pretty close to that line. That may be how some people like it, but I want a little more chew in my crust. And as crisp as this was, I'd like a smidgen more charring as well. It's all too easy for a wood-fired pizzeria to take things to extremes and turn out what amounts to a burnt crust, but this was really rather pale. So I'd like a bit thicker crust, baked, perhaps, at a somewhat higher temperature for a little shorter period of time.
But that's just my personal preference, and I can't say that this pizza was poorly made. If you like a super-thin, crackly crust, this should be exactly what you're looking for. So while I can't give Lucca a top grade, I will give it an above-average B.
Lucca Wood-Fired Pizza, 90 West Main St., Victor 924-9009
Mon. - Thu. 11:30 a.m. - 8:00 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Pizza Guy Note, 7/6/11:  Lucca is now under new management. The owner informs me that the pizza recipe has not changed but I have not tried it yet since the change.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Chili Pizza & Hots

Chili Pizza & Hots opened a few months ago in what had been a Mexican restaurant on Chili Avenue, in the plaza opposite the 390 ramp. I stopped by to check it out and picked up a pepperoni slice.
It looked good at first, big and thin, something like a NY-style slice in appearance. The underside, however, was downright burnt. I like a little charring, but this was more like burnt toast. I would’ve refused it except that I didn’t take a look until I’d gotten it out to my car, and I didn’t really feel like going back in.
The crust also showed that the pizza had been screen baked. It was thin, as I said, and certainly crisp. The burnt part was mostly on the half nearer the outer edge, which makes me think that they may have been a hot spot in the oven, or that someone wasn’t paying enough attention and needed to rotate the pizza more as it was baking.
It’s too bad, because this could’ve been a good pizza. The sauce and cheese were moderately applied, in good balance with the thin crust. The sauce had a mild flavor and the cheese was lightly browned. The pepperoni was OK but didn’t seem to contribute much in the way of flavor or texture. Despite the burnt portions, the crust had some internal breadiness. The edge was, unsurprisingly, tough and very crunchy.
CP&H has a basic array of pizza toppings available, and they also serve wings, hot subs, “sloppy plates,” salads, wraps and sides.
I wish I could’ve liked this pizza more. It had good flavor and all the basic components of a good thin-crust pizza. It was just overcooked. I’d chalk it up to inexperience, but while I can forgive screwing up a pizza, I have a harder time with the fact that they even gave this to me. They should’ve (1) realized that the pizza was partially burnt and (2) told me, and given me the option of taking this one (at a reduced price, perhaps), waiting for the next (presumably unburnt) one to come out of the oven, or saying better luck next time and leaving.
I hope this was just an aberration, and I will stop by again for another try. As I said, I think the basic ingredients are there. The counter person, who may have been the owner, was young and seemingly enthusiastic, which may come in handy because this looks to me like a possibly tough location, squeezed in among a bowling alley and other more prominent establishments.
Based on the execution alone, I would give this one a D, but because it’s a relatively new business and because I’m hoping this was just a one-time screwup, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt, and refrain from giving CP&H a grade for now. I'll stop by again sometime and I’ll see if my cautious optimism was well founded.
Chili Pizza & Hots, 1297 Chili Ave. 328-1944
Not sure of the exact hours, but I know they're open till 10 p.m. most nights
Update, Mar. 23, 2010: see my later review of a full pie from CP&H here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

JTB's, West Henrietta

OK, my notes on this one have been sitting around for a good month now, so it’s time I finished it. JTB’s has the distinction of being, as far as I know, the only pizzeria in Monroe County on the grounds of a golf course. It’s at the Riverton Golf Club, which is about a mile east of Scottsvillle on Rt. 253.
I got a large, half-pepperoni pizza from JTB’s back around Thanksgiving. The crust was on the thin side of medium, except for the thick outer lip. The underside was pretty pale, with a few darker areas here and there, and just a bit of oven soot. It was dotted with pin pricks, which I assume are meant to prevent the dough from bubbling up.
That probably wasn’t very likely to happen here in any event. The dough here didn’t seem to have risen very much, was rather dense, and had an overly chewy texture. It was not overly soft, but not especially crisp either, and the bottom had a slightly oil feel. The lip was well browned and crunchy.
There wasn’t much sauce on this pizza, but from what I could tell, it had a mild, slightly acidic flavor with some faint herbal overtones. The pizza was relatively heavy on the cheese - straight mozzarella, I think - and the wide and thin slices of pepperoni were nicely crisp along the edges.
JTB’s has the usual list of pizza toppings, and a handful of specialty pizzas. They also offer wings, hot and cold subs, calzones, wraps (“wrappers” on the menu), quesadillas, grilled items, fish fry, and “trasher” plates.
JTB’s is in the Riverton clubhouse, the interior of which is dominated by a large, wraparound bar. It’s an attractive space, with high ceilings and natural wood giving it a vaguely rustic feel. On my late November, late afternoon visit there were just a couple of people at the bar but I imagine you’ll find it more crowded during golf season. JTB’s also delivers for lunch and dinner, to a “limited delivery area.” (Are there any pizzerias that have unlimited delivery areas, by the way?)
This wasn’t bad pizza, but it was nothing special. The biggest problem was the crust. The dough simply hadn’t risen enough, and it lacked any bready qualities. And a pizza is only as good as its crust, so I’m going to have to put this one at a just-below average C-.
JTB’s Pizza ’n’ Grill, 514 Scottsville-Henrietta Rd. (Rt. 253), at Riverton Golf Club. 334-8433
Open year round for lunch and dinner.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Pizza Shack, Spencerport

Pizza Shack I on Urbanspoon
Not long ago, I stopped at the Pizza Shack I on West Ridge Road in Spencerport, and picked up a couple of slices. Before I get to the pizza, I should mention that there used to be a Pizza Shack II on Buffalo Road in Gates, right next to DeLinda’s, but that appears to be closed. There’s also a Hamlin Pizza Shack, and although I had assumed it was connected somehow with the one in Spencerport, I see that Hamlin Pizza Shack’s website says “Established 1986,” and the Spencerport Pizza Shack’s menu states, “Since 1970.” Their logos also differ in appearance. So maybe they’re not connected. Looks as if I’ll be driving out to Hamlin sometime, then.
OK, so back to the Spencerport "Shack." I foolishly ordered two pepperoni slices before finding out how big their slices are. Turns out a “slice” is really two slices, in other words, a quarter of a pie, cut down the middle. So I ended up with quite a bit more pizza than I wanted. Always ask first.
Oh well, that just meant that I’d be having cold pizza for lunch the next day. The slices, which were very fresh out of the oven, were thin to medium in thickness. The underside was just lightly browned, a little crackly, and just slightly crisp. There was some grease on top from the pepperoni, which I let drip off, but the underside was not greasy. The crust had a certain breadiness to it, not outstandingly so, but not bad.
The slices were topped with a thick layer of chewy, melted mozzarella cheese (described on the menu as “100% real mozzarella cheese” - are there pizzerias around using artificial cheese?). Beneath the cheese lay a stratum of sauce, moderately applied, with a medium consistency and flavor, neither too salty, acidic, nor herbal, but very straightforward and tomatoey.
Pizza Shack has a pretty standard array of pizza toppings to choose from, and no specialty pizzas as such. They also offer hot and cold subs, wings, calzones, a long list of munchies (mostly fried), and a handful of other items, including a Friday fish fry. They deliver within a seven-mile radius, which takes in Spencerport, Hilton, and western Greece. There are no dine-in facilities, and in fact the interior has a certain ramshackle appearance befitting the name of the place.
This pizza fell into the OK-but-not-great category. It had no real flaws to speak of, but the components somehow didn’t seem that well integrated with each other. There was a crust, and sauce, and cheese, and pepperoni, but somehow they didn’t quite come together into a unified whole. I know that’s rather vague and subjective, but it was just my impression. My other quibble is with the crust, which was decent but rather pale underneath. Perhaps I would’ve liked this better had I arrived 10 or 15 minutes later, and gotten the slices reheated for a minute or two, to allow the bottom to bake a bit more and the components to come together a little.
Anyway, as I said, there was nothing “wrong” with this pizza, as such. All in all, it was decent enough, perhaps a notch above average, so I’ll give it a C+.
Pizza Shack I, 5008 Ridge Road West, Spencerport 352-5005
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 1 a.m.
Pizza Guy Update:  for a more recent review of a full pie from Pizza Shack, go here

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DeLinda's, Gates

De Linda's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
There are two DeLinda's locations, one in Gates and one in Greece. It's your pretty basic pizza & wings kind of place.
A while back, I picked up a large, half-pepperoni pizza from the Gates DeLinda’s. This turned out to be a square pie, with a fairly thick crust. I wouldn’t call it a sheet or Sicilian pizza, however, as it didn’t seem to me that it had risen in a baking pan. I could be wrong, but I think typically a pan-risen pizza will be a little oily underneath, because the pan has to be greased to prevent the dough from sticking. The underside of this pizza was dry and floury, which is more indicative of a pizza that’s been baked directly on the deck of the oven. It was light to medium brown in color, and was not especially crisp, but it had a fairly bready taste and texture.
The pizza was on the cheesy side, at least toward the center of the pizza. The cheese had pooled a bit away from the edges toward the center, leaving the outer slices more sauce- than cheese-dominated. The cheese was just slightly browned, but still pretty stringy and viscous, rather than rubbery or congealed.
The sauce had a distinctive, prominent flavor, with a sharp, acidic tang and some herbalness. The outer edge was not particularly crusty, but was pleasantly chewy without being tough. The cup & char pepperoni was nicely crisped.
Again, DeLinda’s has a pretty standard menu, with the usual list of toppings and seven specialty pizzas, the most exotic of which might be the “Mad Dog Special,” with Country Sweet sauce, fresh garlic, chicken, ham, and jalapenos. Pizzas can be ordered thin, thick, or regular (presumably I got the regular, since I didn’t specify a preference). They also offer wings, calzones, and fried sides. No subs, and no slices. The Gates location is pretty much a takeout and delivery place, not sure about Greece.
All in all, this was a pretty good pizza. Not outstanding, perhaps, but certainly enjoyable and well made. It rates a solid B.
DeLinda’s, 2997 Buffalo Rd. (between Elmgrove & Coldwater) 247-3637
3725 Dewey Ave. at English Rd. 581-0820
Sun. and Tue. - Thu. 3 p.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 3 p.m. - 11 p.m. Closed Mondays. Extended hours in summer.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Magnolia's Deli, Park Ave.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Nino's, Culver Rd.

Nino's Pizza on Urbanspoon
Nino's Pizzeria has been turning out its signature Sicilian pizzas from a small storefront on Culver Road since 1973, making it one of the older pizzerias around (though not the oldest). I lived for about a year a few blocks from Nino’s, a number of years ago, and though I’m positive I gave them some business during that period, I stopped going there after I moved out of the neighborhood, and over the ensuing years I pretty much forgot what their pizza was like, except that it was thick.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Nino's pizza; it was just that, well, Nino’s doesn’t open till 4:00, doesn’t serve slices, and has limited seating, so it’s pretty much a place to go pick up a pizza to take home for dinner. But because of its location, which isn’t very convenient to any of the expressways, it’s tough for me to get a pizza from there and get it home while it’s still warm.
But it was high time that I went back, so I ordered a pizza from Nino’s on a recent Friday night after work (my nighttime photo of the exterior didn’t come out so great, so thanks to RocWiki for the photo at top left). Three rush-hour accidents on 490 and an ensuing traffic jam killed any hopes I’d had of a fast commute, but I stuck the pizza box in one of those insulated pizza delivery bags that I keep in my car, and cranked up the heat, so the pizza was still reasonably warm by the time I got home.
Though Nino’s offers several cheeses to pick from, I didn’t specify any, but just ordered a large with half pepperoni, half fresh garlic. It was thick, but not dense, and the countless tiny air holes in the crust were evidence of a good, slow rise. The crust was browned, not charred, underneath, which is typical of a pan-baked pizza, but it was not greasy at all. The edge was very good, crunchy, crusty and bready.
What was perhaps most immediately striking about this pizza, though, was the sauce. It had a thick consistency and a distinctive, sweet/herbal flavor. The sauce was applied rather liberally, though not excessively, and in good proportion to the thick crust and the cheese.
That cheese seemed to me to be a blend - I'm guessing “melting” cheese, probably mozzarella, and another, sharper cheese - provolone, perhaps? for flavor. (I need to work on my ability to identify cheeses by their flavor. Note to self: pick up a variety of cheeses from Wegmans some night for a little at-home cheese tasting.)
The cheese had been applied last, which made it a bit difficult visually to the pepperoni slices from the garlic slices. Like the sauce, the cheese had a distinctive flavor, with a noticeable, but not overpowering lactic tanginess that added complexity to the overall flavor of the pizza. It was applied a little thickly, but again in balance with the other components, complementing but not overwhelming the crust, sauce, and other toppings.
Speaking of the toppings, I had expected small bits of diced garlic on the garlic half, like the kind that you can buy in jars at the supermarket, but these were paper-thin slices of fresh garlic, with a more pronounced garlicky flavor than the stuff in the jars, though it had been cooked enough that it wasn't harsh, like raw garlic. The pepperoni had a mild, meaty flavor, and a chewy texture. Though I generally like my pepperoni crisp, I must admit that the pepperoni here was more fully integrated into the pizza, both physically and from a sensory standpoint, than if if had been laid on top of the cheese and allowed to crisp in the oven.
As I mentioned, you can pick from several different cheeses for your pizza - mozzarella, ricotta, feta, provolone, grated Asiago, or grated Locatelli, which is a well-regarded brand of imported Romano cheese. The other available toppings are pretty standard, though Nino's does offer three types of mushrooms (one of the few foods I really can’t stand, I'm afraid), and homemade Italian sausage. The rest of the menu included several hot sandwiches, salads, pasta, wings (nice and meaty), and a few sides, as well as a pizza frittata and a “focaccia gourmet white pizza” with mozzarella and Locatelli.
Seating is, as I said, limited, though on my visit the two wooden tables were unoccupied. If you do choose to eat there, or are waiting for your order, you’ll find a variety of pizza trade-related publications on hand to help pass the time. I was sorry I hadn’t arrived sooner, in fact, so that I would have had more time to read what looked like an interesting article in one of the magazines about the proper use of a wood-fired oven for making pizza.
According to Nino’s website, they offer “delivery when available,” though I’m not sure what that means. If delivery isn’t available when you call, don’t let that stop you from heading over to Nino’s sometime. Yes, I’m a thin-crust guy at heart, but I appreciate Nino's focused commitment to what they do best, which is thicker, Sicilian-style pizza. And regardless of style, I also love distinctive, well-made, local pizza, all of which aptly describes Nino’s. I’ll give it a A-.
Nino’s Pizzera and Focacceria, 1330 Culver Rd. 482-2264
Sun. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m. - midnight

Monday, December 14, 2009

Corn Hill Market

I always like to get pizzeria suggestions, and some time ago a reader mentioned Corn Hill Market. I followed up and tried their pizza, but the other day I realized that I’d never posted a review. I mention that to explain the presence of green grass in the photos, and to make clear that the lag time between my visit and review is typically not nearly that long.
Anyway - Corn Hill Market is not strictly a pizzeria, rather more of a grocery store and deli, but they do serve pizza made on the premises, you do see a fair number of people getting pizza there at lunchtime, and it’s also noteworthy as one of three places selling pizza within a stone’s throw of each other, the other two being Panzari’s next door and Tony D’s across the street.
I got a couple of pepperoni slices, which were fairly thick. The crust had a soft texture, though the underside had a bit of oily crunch. The outer edge was particularly crunchy, almost like fried dough. The slices weren’t exactly dripping with oil, but there was enough that it left my fingertips somewhat greasy. The dough had clearly risen a bit, as there were visible air holes in the interior, but it wasn’t particularly bready in character.
The cheese seemed to be straight mozzarella. It was a little browned on the surface, and separated easily from the crust. The sauce was lightly applied, and pretty much got lost between the crust and the cheese. From what I could tell, it seemed to have a mild, tomatoey flavor. The pepperoni was moderately applied, averaging about 3½ slices per slice of pizza, but was nicely crisp. The slices appeared to have been lightly dusted with dried herbs, though they didn’t impart much flavor that I could detect.
There is a little seating in the market, but this is mostly a place to grab something to go. CHM also offers everything you’d expect at a deli - sandwiches and such, self-serve coffee, and a range of grocery items, plus convenience store staples like Lotto, beer, and an ATM.
If you’re in the area, have a hankering for pizza, and not much time and/or money to spend, this’ll do. It wasn’t great, but it was okay overall. And I got two slices and a 20 oz. soft drink for five dollars, which makes it a pretty good value. I’ll give it a C-.
Corn Hill Market, 319 Exchange Blvd. 454-2708
Mon. - Fri. 7 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. Closed Sun.
Update 12/17/09: according to this week's edition of City, Corn Hill Market closed earlier this month, so I guess I could've saved myself the trouble of posting this review. Though the pizza wasn't the best, Corn Hill could use a decent grocery/deli, it seems to me, so this comes as a bit of a surprise.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A little Rochester pizza history

(Pizza Guy note: be sure and read the comments to this post for some updated information on this topic.)
In the course of doing this blog, I’ve been to some pizzerias dating back to the 1970s and even ’60s, and I got to wondering - what’s the oldest pizzeria in Rochester? So one afternoon I stopped by the Central Library downtown to do a little research among the old city directories.
Supposedly pizza’s widespread popularity in this country dates to the post-WWII years, with the return of GIs who had discovered it while serving in Italy. By the 1950s, it was enough of an American staple to show up on popular sitcoms like the Honeymooners, though it also took some pretty bizarre forms in those days (tuna pizza, anyone?)
So I started with the 1950 directory. No business heading for pizzerias - no surprise there - and none of the restaurant listings mentioned pizza, either. That’s not to say that pizza wasn’t served at any local Italian restaurants, but there’s no evidence of it from the 1950 directory.
Moving forward, the first place calling itself a pizzeria, by the name of Giuseppe’s, shows up in 1954, at 324 Lake Ave. I doubt if the building's even there today. Now there is currently a Giuseppe’s in Gates, and they do serve pizza, but at this point I don’t know if there’s any connection. The Giuseppe's website claims that Giuseppe's was "est. 1927," but it doesn't provide any detailed history.
The year 1958 brings us a Perri’s Pizza at 1899 East Main St., which now is the address of Main Place Tavern. Again, there are a few Perri’s in existence today, but can they trace their lineage back that far? I don’t know. The Perri’s website has a “Perri’s History” link, but it’s one of those “Coming Soon!” pages (why is it that when a web page says “Coming Soon!” you know that it’s not coming anytime soon?).
The first mention of a pizzeria that I’m sure is still in existence comes in 1961: Pontillo’s, at 3194 Lake Ave., an address that, according to Google, today is that of a vacant movie theater. Pontillo’s started out in Batavia in 1947 - unfortunately the original location closed a while back, due to unpaid taxes, I believe, though the building’s still there, vacant - so within 14 years Pontillo’s had reached Rochester, making it perhaps the first local pizza chain, if not the first Rochester pizzeria.
Also of note, Amico Pizza appears on Waring Rd. in 1965. Amico is now located on E. Ridge Rd. in Irondequoit, and it’s still in the family. Their website says that Amico Pizza was founded in 1962, but the first listing for it I could find in the directory was in 1965.
There’s also a mid-1960s listing for a Proietti’s Pizzeria at 1717 N. Goodman (where today you’ll find an insurance office), and these days Proietti’s Restaurant in Webster does serve pizza. Again, the connection, if any, is unclear to me as of now.
Finally, the year 1965 also brought us Mama Taccone’s at 495 Monroe Ave., the present-day address of Acme Bar & Pizza. I remember Mama Taccone’s, which closed in the early '90s, I'd guess, and this reminded me of the likely reason why Acme has always served pizza - it inherited the pizza ovens from Mama Taccone's.
So here’s how things stand right now: (1) Giuseppe’s, or Perri’s, might be able to lay claim to the title of oldest existing pizza purveyor in Rochester, but their connection to the originals by those names is not established. (2) If they’re not the oldest, then Pontillo’s is. They date back in Rochester to 1961. (3) Barring any claims by Giuseppe's or Perri's, the oldest family-run pizzeria originating in Rochester appears to be Amico. Proietti’s may be in the mix as well - again, the connection is uncertain - though today Proietti’s is a full-service restaurant rather than a pizzeria. (4) The geographical location with the longest history of serving pizza seems to be Acme.
When I have time, I’ll try to follow up on some of these leads with the current owners of some of the places mentioned. In the meantime, if anybody can shed any additional light or has any memories to share, please do.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Max Market

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

Monday, December 7, 2009

Perinton Pizza

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Perinton Pizza is a family-owned and operated pizzeria that’s been in business since 1985. Technically the address is Courtney Drive, but for practical purposes it’s in a small plaza on Pittsford Palmyra Road (Rt. 31), between Turk Hill Road and Rt. 250.
I picked up a couple of cheese slices at lunchtime. While waiting for them to come up, I noticed that the pizza here is baked in a conveyor-belt oven, which you don’t often see around here.
The results, in this case at least, were not impressive. My slices had a faint scent of frying oil, and the underside was soft, browned, and oily. The crust was pretty thin, except at the thick outer lip. It had a soft, spongy texture, except again for the lip, which was crunchy. The lip - which was probably the best part - displayed some air holes inside, but the rest of the dough didn’t seem to have risen much, and even the lip didn’t have much in the way of breadiness, with a bland, white-bread flavor and texture.
The sauce, which was modestly applied, had a mild tomatoey flavor. The cheese was rather thick, and was well browned and congealed into a solid mass.
Perinton Pizza has a fairly extensive list of pizza toppings, and quite a few specialty pizzas, which cholesterolically speaking run the gamut from a veggie pizza to the potato skin pizza, with potato skins, chives, bacon, mozzarella, cheddar, and sour cream.
There’s also a long list of specialty subs, as well as wings, wraps, calzones, salads, appetizers, “landfill plates,” Italian dinners, fried fish or shrimp, and a few desserts too. All items are available for pickup, delivery, or eating on the premises.
According to the menu, Perinton Pizza has won the “Perinton Pizza Poll” five of the past six years. I don’t know who the other candidates were, but Perinton Pizza must have its fans. Based on this visit, I can’t count myself among them. As always, it all starts with the crust, and this one was too soft, spongy and greasy, and the cheese was overcooked. I also got the impression that the yeast hadn’t been given enough of a chance to do their thing before the pizza went in the oven.
Speaking of which, I don’t know to what extent the oven itself is to blame, but to my way of thinking, a conveyor belt system really takes away any ability of the pizza maker to control the final product once the pizza has gone into the oven. In effect, it renders the pizza maker little more than a machine operator, rather than a chef or true pizzaiolo. That may be convenient, if you’re staffed with inexperienced help, but it doesn’t bode well for the pizza.
But again, just my opinion. Presumably these folks haven’t stayed in business for nearly 25 years by making pizza that nobody likes. But based on my idea of good pizza, I’ll give it a D.
Perinton Pizza, Courtney Commons Plaza, Fairport 223-8118
Mon. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Salvatore's to open pizzeria/bar

I mentioned not long ago that there are surprisingly few bars around here that serve pizza. Lately, they've been sprouting up in some numbers, though, and now comes word of another.
If you pay any attention to local news you must've heard about the recent fire in a Family Dollar plaza in Rochester. Now comes word that one of the plaza tenants, Salvatore's Pizzeria, is relocating that particular operation to the old Maxwell's Bar & Grill around the corner on E. Ridge Rd. This will be Salvatore's first location with a bar. Remarkably, it's supposed to be opening this Wednesday. Whatever you think of Salvatore's pizza, give "Soccer Sam" Fantuzzo credit for a quick turnaround and keeping his staff employed over the holidays.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dragonfly, Park Ave.

Dragonfly Tavern & Pizza Factory is a relatively recent addition to Park Avenue in Rochester. The Tavern opened last January in the space formerly occupied by the Park Bench, which has since moved to Monroe Ave., thus continuing the Rochester tradition of businesses with geographically misleading names (in addition to the ones listed here, I recently discovered that Park Avenue Pets is also located on Monroe Ave.).
The Pizza Factory opened somewhat later in the front of the building where Pontillo's used to be. The wall separating the bar from the pizza place has been knocked down, so you no longer have to go outside to get from one to the other, but they still each have their own space and identity.
I stopped in for a lunchtime slice not long ago. It was shortly after noon, and the first pepperoni pie of the day had just come out of the oven. It was somewhere between a standard slice and a “huge” slice in size, making the $3.50 price seem a tad steep for this area, although everything seems to cost a little more along Park Avenue.
Given its neighborhood, I thought that perhaps Dragonfly might turn out something along the lines of an “artisanal” pizza that would appeal to the local pizza cognoscenti (that’s Latin for “snobs”). So I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, to see that this pizza had been baked on a screen, which left heavy indentations on its medium-brown underside. One of the fundamental problems with a screen, I think, is that it prevents the dough from coming into direct contact with the oven floor, so that it bakes more by radiant than conductive heat, and can’t develop a nice, crisp bottom.
Still, lots of places use screens, so I can’t fault Dragonfly too much there. But even screen-baked pizza can be a little crisp underneath, and this wasn’t. It was soft and floppy, and a bit oily, leaving my fingertips a little greasy. The crust was thin but dense, and didn’t appear to have risen much.
This was a cheese-dominated slice, with a thick layer of congealed cheese on top. Though the menu describes the cheese as a blend of mozzarella and provolone, this slice had a strong aroma of what I took to be parmesan cheese, which also imparted a sharp, tangy flavor to the pizza.
The cheese lay atop a comparatively thin layer of sauce, which had a good tomatoey flavor. The pepperoni slices were embedded in the cheese, making them more soft than crisp. The thin lip of the crust was rather chewy and somewhat tough in texture.
Dragonfly has an extensive list of pizza toppings, some of which are frankly bizarre (how do peanuts, hash browns, or mandarin oranges sound on your pizza?), and a correspondingly long list of specialty pizzas, ranging from standards like breakfast pizza (which surprisingly does not include hash browns, though I’m sure you could ask for them to be added) to more exotic fare such as Jamaican chicken and clams casino pizzas. All the specialty pizzas can be ordered “half and half,” so you can try two at once, or split with a friend who doesn’t share your culinary predilections. Pies come in just two sizes, 10.5 or 16 inches.
Depending on your perspective, the rest of the menu is either a more sophisticated, or simply self-consciously trendy, version of a typical bar menu. French fries, for example, are offered here as “Boursin Cheese Fries,” with a sauce made of said cheese, white wine and shallots, “topped with scallions and a swirl of RedHot.” If burgers are your thing, the Buddha burger comes topped with seaweed salad, shiitake mushrooms and a kaffir lime soy glaze. There are also three desserts on the menu, which are more conventional: carrot cake, cheesecake, and a chocolate-peanut butter brownie, all of which are baked in house, from scratch. Oh, and if you want regular French fries or a plain ol’ cheeseburger, they can do that too.
Getting back to the pizza, this wasn’t bad, really, but it had its share of problems. Too soft, too floppy, and unbalanced, with too much cheese relative to the other components. The list of toppings and specialty pizzas suggests that Dragonfly is trying to appeal to a more discriminating clientele than your average pizza ’n’ wings crowd, but the execution here left something to be desired. But they’ve only been at it a short time, the service was friendly, and their heart seems to be in the right place, so I’ll check in on them again somewhere down the line. For now, I’m giving Dragonfly a C-.
Dragonfly Tavern & Pizza Factory, 725 Park Ave, 563-6333
Daily 11:00am – 2:00am
Limited menu 12:00am – 2:00am
Sunday Brunch 10:00am – 3:00am

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bella Pasta Cafe, Greece

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Bella Pasta Café opened last March in a small plaza on West Ridge Road, across from Ridgemont Plaza in Greece. It’s a family affair, owned and operated by two brothers, Randy and Danny Connor, with other relatives pitching in or employed there.
I ate dinner at Bella Pasta on a recent Sunday evening with my family. As we approached the entrance, all I could see on the inside was a walk-up counter near the front door, and I began to wonder if this was a less formal restaurant than I had expected - one of those places where you order at the counter and they bring the food to your table on a tray.
Thankfully, it wasn’t. It’s just that Bella Pasta has kind of a split personality, with a takeout counter on one side, separated by a partition from the dining area on the other.
The food offerings reflect the same dichotomy, with takeout staples like wings and subs sharing the menu with more substantial, mostly Italian dishes, many of which were mainstays at the old Portico Restaurant on St. Paul Street, where Danny Connor used to head-chef.
But we know what I was here for: the pizza. I ordered a medium (I always like to order at least a medium for review purposes), and though Bella Pasta bills itself as the “home of the 4 free toppings,” I went with straight pepperoni.
The thin to medium crust was fairly pale - “golden brown,” shall we say - underneath, but surprisingly crisp. It seemed a bit shiny with oil, but was not particularly greasy to the touch or in flavor. It was dotted with a number of small puncture holes, which I assume is done to keep the dough from bubbling up or blistering as it rises or bakes. The crust was not especially bready, but it had a pleasant, freshly-baked flavor, and was enjoyable. The outer edge was crunchy and formed into a thin, narrow lip.
This was a verrry cheesy pizza. It was topped by a thick layer of melted, stringy, slightly browned mozzarella. The cheese might’ve overwhelmed the whole thing had it not been balanced out by the sauce, which was also pretty generously applied. Like nearly everything else on the menu, the sauce is made on the premises, and it had a pronounced tomatoey flavor, neither very herbal nor too sweet. The pepperoni was of the cup-and-char variety, though sliced more thinly than I’m used to seeing it. It was just a bit crisp along the edges.
The plentiful sauce and cheese made this the kind of pizza that might best be eaten with a knife and fork. My silverware, however, stayed clean, though I can’t say the same for my napkin, as I stuck with the hands-only approach.
Bella Pasta offers 12 pizza toppings, and seven specialty pizzas, including a calamari pizza. Somewhat surprisingly, given the takeout and counter service, they don’t serve slices, even at lunchtime, though I suppose that ensures that when you do get a pizza, it’s going to be fresh, not something that’s sat in a warmer for an hour or more.
As for the entrees, all the usual Italian favorites are here, such as lasagna, Chicken Marsala, eggplant parm, shrimp scampi, and veal french. On that note, though I generally try to stick to the pizza, the food in general seemed to be of very high quality here. My wife raved about her Chicken Asiago, my daughter’s steak fries were crisp but not greasy, and my tiramisu was among the better examples I’ve tried around here. Service was good too - our waitress handled our six-year-old’s spilled chocolate milk with aplomb, and the owner checked in on us during our meal and gave us a warm goodbye upon leaving.
As I mentioned in my post on Rizzi’s, there tends to be a certain difference between the pizza you get at a restaurant and what you typically get from a takeout pizza joint. That held true here. It’s hard to put my finger on it, but this was “restaurant” pizza. But it was good restaurant pizza, and that’s the important thing. I can’t say I’ll go back for more of it, if only because I want to check out some of the other items on the menu. I will, however, give it a solid B+ for its crisp crust, tasty sauce, and ample but balanced toppings, enhanced by friendly and efficient service.
Bella Pasta Cafe, 2846 West Ridge Road. 340-6100
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 1 p.m. - 8 p.m.

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