Thursday, April 15, 2010
Perlo's, East Rochester
Restaurants that serve pizza are a category unto themselves, separate from "regular" pizzerias. It generally takes me a while to get to these places, since I only go out to dinner a few nights a month, and when I do, it's not necessarily to a place that has pizza on the menu.
But eventually I do get around to them, as I did last week, when my wife and I had dinner at Perlo's in East Rochester. I'd heard good things about it, and I was intrigued by the grilled pizza on the menu (which is slightly out of date on their website - we'd planned on trying the grilled chicken wings, but they had disappeared from the menu on our visit).
As I understand it, to make grilled pizza, you grill the crust on one side, flip it, then add the toppings to the grilled side, while the other side cooks. Before going to Perlo's, I was certainly aware of the concept, but to be honest I don't think I'd ever tried a grilled pizza. I'm not sure that I've ever run across it, for one thing, and for another it's just not something I've sought out. I guess I'm a pizza traditionalist at heart, and grilled pizza always struck me as some bastardized California invention. But, some of Perlo's pizzas sounded good, and in the interest of thoroughness, I had to check it out.
We arrived at our reservation time, 6:45 on a Saturday, and things were in full swing, with a sizeable crowd at the bar, most tables occupied, and employees hustling to and fro.
We were, however, seated promptly. There are several dining rooms at Perlo's, and after squeezing between the bar patrons on one side and a two-man musical combo on the other (think Sinatra and Tony Bennett), we were thankfully ushered into the farthest room, which was a little more than half full and relatively quiet.
I had already decided on the pizza I wanted, but I still took some time to look over the menu, as I'd come hungry and wanted to supplement my pizza with an appetizer. One of my pet restaurant peeves is menus with cutesy names for all the dishes, and while Perlo's menu is full of them (mostly named after people I've never heard of, presumably friends or customers of Perlo's), thankfully the "real" names are given too. That spared me having to ask for a "Father Steve's" pizza, and I was able simply to ask for a Margherita (spelled Margarita on the menu). I considered getting a straightforward pepperoni pizza ("The Car Guys" pizza, on the menu), which the menu proclaimed, in capital letters, to be "everyone's favorite pizza," but I do like a good Margherita, and it's become something of a default choice for me when it appears on a restaurant menu.
When the pizza arrived, I could see that it had indeed been grilled on both sides. There were dark brown grill marks visible on top and bottom of the crust, but the dough having puffed up a bit here and there, it hadn't come into full contact with the grill, so the browned areas were mostly scattered, in contrast to the uniform, parallel or cross-hatch pattern you'll get with, say, a grilled steak.
The crust was firm, but not especially crisp. It was by no means greasy, but I thought I detected a very thin coating of oil on the underside, which I presume was applied to keep it from sticking to the grill.
The menu described the Margherita as topped with olive oil, garlic, crushed tomato, and "fresh basil and mozzarella cheese." I couldn't tell from that if the adjective "fresh" was intended to modify only "basil," or also "mozzarella cheese." And I'm still not sure. The cheese here was not the white, semi-liquefied slices that I've come to associate with fresh mozzarella, but a single, thick mass, with a slightly yellowish hue. It was well melted and creamy.
When we asked our server, though, we were told that yes, it was fresh, not processed, i.e., low-moisture mozzarella, and my wife - who loves fresh mozzarella - was also of the opinion that it was the fresh variety. I'm still not convinced. I think it was high-quality mozzarella, as evidenced by its smooth, creamy texture, but processed mozzarella nonetheless. I'm not saying our server was lying, but I'm also not sure she really understood what I meant by "fresh" mozzarella. As for my wife, well, sometimes husbands and wives disagree.
At any rate, the cheese had either been applied to, or migrated toward, the center of the crust, forming a fairly thick layer surrounded by a wide band of "naked" crust. Particularly as it cooled, the cheese had a tendency to come off the crust in one piece if I didn't cut or bite through it completely and cleanly.
Among the toppings, the mozzarella cheese very much played the lead role. There were a few browned bits of what might've been parmesan here and there, and the other components were pretty low-key. Some garlic was evident in the flavor, but not a lot. The basil shreds were pretty sparse, and the tomatoes, which were sliced, not crushed, I can best describe as OK - not bad, but hardly remarkable. The overall impression was of a very mild pizza, something like a flatbread with melted mozzarella and a few other toppings for flavor accents.
I must mention, though, that my wife absolutely loved this pizza. For her, this one hit a home run. She particularly liked the flavor and texture of the crust, and the cheese as well. In fact, she liked it better than her own entree, the Chicken Verde, which was fine but not as garlicky as anticipated.
Having said all that, both of us enjoyed our meals. We started with an Italian version of a Garbage Plate, which was very good - kind of like a cranked-up version of greens and beans, with chunks of sausage, kalamata olives, banana peppers, and a few other items thrown into the mix. With my bread, I sopped up as much of the light, flavorful sauce at the bottom of the plate as I dared, lest I get too full for my pizza.
I also enjoyed the tiramisu that I had for dessert. Although it was missing the distinctive edge of some, perhaps more traditional, versions that have been soaked in rum or another liquor, it had a pleasantly light, sweet flavor. The texture was moist, light and fresh, unlike some I've had that have clearly spent far too long in a dessert case.
Service was good as well. Our water glasses were promptly and repeatedly topped off, and our server was friendly, helpful and professional.
True to some reviews I'd read before going, the owner, Donna Perlo, was also present, and as I commented to my wife during dinner, she seems like a very hands-on proprietor, always on the move to head off problems and to make sure things are running smoothly.
And, I must add that for what they deliver, Perlo's prices are remarkably good. It took me some time to realize that the number at the bottom of our check wasn't just a subtotal, it was the grand total.
I look forward to going back to Perlo's, especially now that I'll feel free to explore some of the non-pizza items on the menu. I say that not because I disliked the pizza, but because there are a number of dishes on the menu that I'd like to try. I did like the pizza, even if it didn't quite win me over completely to the grilled pizza concept. Based on what I've read, and eaten, I also don't think this was the most authentic Margherita I've ever had - a little heavy on the cheese, a little light on the tomatoes and basil - but I'm not going to quibble much over semantics. The flavors were good, and I was intrigued enough to want to go back sometime and try "everyone's favorite" pepperoni pizza. But before I do that, I've got my eye on one or two of their pasta dishes. So it might be a while. In the meantime, I'm giving this pizza a B.
Perlo's Italian Grill, 202 N. Washington St., East Rochester 248-5060
Mon. - Sat. 4 p.m. – 10 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.