As I’ve mentioned before, Rochester is blessed with some great old Italian bakeries, and one of the oldest is Di Paolo. Its roots go back to 1910, when an Italian immigrant couple set up shop on Ontario Street, just north of where the Inner Loop is today. Ten years later, the bakery moved into an old church building on North Plymouth Avenue, then known as Frank Street. The original building was torn down in the 1950s and replaced by a new, modern facility (which sadly did not include the original’s coal-fired ovens - *sigh*), where it remains today, still owned by descendants of the founders.
In addition to a full range of breads and rolls, Di Paolo makes pizza, slices of which are available at lunchtime. On a recent visit, there were two types available: plain cheese, and pepperoni with sausage. I got a cheese slice.
The crust was medium thick, with a cratered, browned underside. It was a bit crisp underneath, and the outer edge was very crunchy, but it was not quite the kind of crunch you’d find on a loaf of crusty Italian bread. It seemed to me more reminiscent of a bread or roll made with an enriched dough, in other words a dough made with oil or some other fats, which tends to produce a softer crust.
The dough had clearly risen some, but the interior was not especially bready. The air holes were tiny, and the crust lacked the subtle yet complex flavors you’ll typically find in doughs that have gone through a long, low-temperature fermentation.
(Let me pause here for a second and say that I don’t pretend to know how Di Paolo or anybody else actually makes their dough. Nor do I claim to have anywhere near the experience or knowledge that the professionals do, where baking is concerned. These are just the impressions and speculations of an amateur baker who’s eaten a lot of bread and pizza over the years.)
The slice was topped with a heavy layer of browned cheese. It was a bit overcooked for my taste. I wondered if Di Paolo’s had used part-skim mozzarella, as it lacked any creaminess or smooth texture, and had hardened along the outer edge, not so much, it seemed, from burning as from losing liquid through evaporation during the baking process.
The sauce was moderately applied. It was a basic tomato sauce, and was thick and concentrated.
My overall impression of this pizza was that, well, it was OK for a quick lunchtime slice, but that’s about all. The flavor and texture just weren’t quite there, and the crust, cheese and sauce weren’t what I would call great, any individually or collectively. It wasn't bad, exactly, just kind of disappointing coming from a good Italian bakery.
Now don’t get me wrong - Di Paolo’s is a fine bakery, with a proud history, and they produce some excellent breads. If you haven’t been there, I can honestly recommend that you check it out sometime and pick up a loaf. I just wasn’t crazy about the pizza.
Funny thing is, Di Paolo is not the first Italian bakery where I’ve been let down by the pizza. You’d think it would be a no-brainer: good bakery, good bread, good pizza. But for some reason it doesn’t always seem to work that way. I don’t want to speculate on why that is, and after all, just because I’m not crazy about it doesn’t mean that somebody else might not think it’s the best stuff they’ve ever eaten. But for me, the pizza at Di Paolo rates a respectable, if disappointing, C.
Di Paolo Baking, 598 N. Plymouth Ave. 232-3510
Mon. - Fri. 6 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sat. 6 a.m. - 2 p.m.