Wednesday, January 13, 2010
I’ve been on a bit of a tour lately of wood-burning oven pizzerias, so continuing in that vein, we turn to Benucci’s in Pittsford Plaza.
This is one of those places that’s locally owned and independent, but feels like a chain restaurant. You can take that however you want to - for some people it may be a good thing, for others not. But Benucci’s has been open for over 10 years now, so clearly it’s built a solid customer base.
As I typically do on my first visit to a place doing wood-fired pizza, I ordered a Margherita, which at Benucci’s comes with Roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and roasted garlic. I was glad to see the garlic on the menu, since that’s how I like my Margheritas.
The first thing I noticed about the pizza was its unusual oblong, roughly football-like shape. The crust was thin, as expected, with a well floured underside that was well browned here and there, with just a hint of charring in a couple of spots.
It was crisp but not crackly on the outside. Unlike some wood-fired pizza I've tried, this one wasn't all crunch and no chew; it had a thin but chewy interior. But while some pizza dough will rise or puff up a bit when it hits the hot oven floor, this one hadn’t, and I found it a bit dense in texture, save for the thin, crunchy edge.
Although the menu only mentioned fresh mozzarella, there were actually two different cheeses here, with slices of fresh mozzarella atop a bed of what I took to be processed mozzarella. While that’s a little unusual, the melted, processed mozzarella added a nice tanginess to the overall flavor of the pizza, though it threatened to overwhelm the much more delicate flavor of the fresh variety. I don’t know if it was all the cheese, but the pizza surface was a little oily. (It’s also possible that the chef gave it a quick shot of olive oil when it came out of the oven. If I had a more discriminating palate I guess I’d have been able to tell from the flavor.)
The tomato slices, I’m afraid, didn’t really add much here. They were better than the awful things you sometimes get on salads or burgers, but not especially flavorful, no big surprise at this time of year, I suppose.
The garlic, on the other hand, was a welcome addition. I’ve had some pizzas purportedly made with fresh garlic where I could barely taste the garlic, but here it was unmistakable. This was not a harsh flavor, either, like raw garlic, but almost sweet, the way that roasted garlic should be. The fresh basis was also added in good proportion with the other components, complementing but does not dominating the other toppings.
Besides the Margherita (which the menu misspells as Margarita - that’s a drink, not a pizza), Benucci offers seven other pizzas, from a basic pepperoni pie to a pear and Gorgonzola pizza that’s also topped with toasted walnuts, parmesan and arugula. One slight oddity is the “Sicilian,” which here doesn’t denote a thick, pan-risen crust, but the toppings, which include meatballs and salami. If you’re on a budget, and don’t mind eating a bit late, Benucci’s offers its pepperoni, sausage, and Margherita pizzas for just $5 at the bar from 8 to 10 Monday through Thursday and 9 to 11 Friday and Saturday.
The rest of the menu is almost exclusively Italian, with pasta and other Italian specialties, and more standard American fare with an Italian twist. (The lunch and dinner menus, which are nearly identical, can be viewed on Benucci’s website.)
This was a good pizza. It was well made, and had good flavor. It was pretty well balanced, although with two cheeses, aromatic garlic, and relatively bland tomatoes, it was more like a white pizza than some other Margheritas I’ve tried. I thought the crust was also very good, if not quite great. Not that I want a burnt crust, but I could’ve used the toastiness that you get with a nicely charred - as opposed to simply browned - crust. And while this dough at least had an interior, its texture was a bit dense for my taste. All in all, though, nice job, and I’ll give it a B.
Benucci’s, 3349 Monroe Ave, 264-1300
Mon.-Thu. 11:30 a.m. - 10:00 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11:30 a.m. - 11:00 p.m., Sun noon - 9:00 p.m.