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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Romeo's, Ridgeway Ave.

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Although there are now quite a few places around Rochester making pizzas in wood-fired ovens, almost none of them are on the west side of town. They’re all either downtown or on the east side. In part, I think that’s simply a reflection of the broader culinary landscape, which finds more upscale or trendy places in the city or eastern suburbs, and more traditional fare on the west side.
At this point, the only place doing wood-fired pizza west of the Genesee is Romeo’s on Ridgeway Avenue. This location in a Greece shopping plaza was formerly the home of Bogey’s Wood Fired Grill. When Bogey’s closed in 2006, Romeo’s, an Italian restaurant with a long history, moved in from its previous location in Irondequoit, and inherited Bogey’s wood-burning oven.
I recently picked up a Margherita pizza from Romeo’s. Measuring ten inches across, it had a crust that was thin in the middle and a little thicker toward the edge. The underside was dry, not oily, with a little surface flour and some moderate charring. It was a bit soft in texture, leading me to wonder if there was perhaps some oil in the dough. The edge was formed into a soft, chewy lip, and the interior of the dough had some small air holes and bready flavor.
This was another Margherita made with sauce rather than fresh or simply crushed tomatoes, and it was indeed saucy. With less cheese than a typical American pizza, a Margherita probably calls for a somewhat lighter hand with the sauce. On the plus side, the sauce had a very straightforward, no-nonsense tomatoey flavor that didn’t get in the way of the cheese and basil.
The cheese consisted of five islands of thick-sliced, fresh mozzarella, which had melted quite nicely, with some shredded parmesan that added a little bit of cheesy tang. The moderately applied, shredded basil was a bit dried out, and contributed rather less flavor than on some Margheritas I’ve had. I also picked up a hint of garlic (I neglected to ask for fresh garlic on this one), suggestive of garlic powder, either in the sauce or lightly dusted over the pizza.
Romeo’s offers nine pizzas, nothing too exotic. Some of them have retained their Bogey’s-era golft-themed names (again, cutesy menu names are one of my restaurant pet peeves - I’d feel slightly ridiculous asking for an “Out of Bounds” pizza. Plus an “Eagle” pizza sounds like something that could get you.in trouble with the Fish and Wildlife Service). Or you can create your own from Romeo’s modest list of twelve toppings.
The rest of the menu is divided between Italian standbys (a friend of mine give the tripe here a thumb’s up - I’ll take his word for it) and basic American fare, including hot and cold sandwiches, burgers and other grilled items, and N.Y. strip steak.
If you choose to eat on the premises, you’ll find a dining area on the right, and a bar area with additional seating on the left. The atmosphere is casual throughout, and despite the strip plaza location, Romeo’s has a “neighborhood” kind of feel.
Most of the wood-fired pizza that I’ve tried around here has fallen into the “good but not great” category, and this was no exception. In theory, the high temperature of the wood fire should produce a fast-cooking crust that’s slightly but evenly charred, crisp yet chewy, perhaps with some subtle smoky overtones. Although a handful of local places (Tony D’s and Veneto come to mind) manage to pull that off, the majority, in my experience, do not. Instead, they tend to produce pizza that’s either crackerlike - nothing but crunch - or disappointingly soft.
This pizza fell into the latter category. It was tasty, and I enjoyed it, but it was virtually indistinguishable from pizza cooked in a conventional oven at relatively low temperatures. If this had been my introduction to wood-fired pizza, I’d have been left wondering what’s so special about it.
Again, though, I don’t mean to say that I didn’t like this pizza. The flavors were good, and on the whole it was well balanced, if a bit heavy on the sauce. I’d have liked to see better advantage taken of that wood-fired oven, but I still liked this enough to give it a B.
Romeo’s Restaurant & Bistro, 2500 Ridgeway Ave. 342-9340
Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. (Bar stays open later.)

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