Monday, July 19, 2010
Humphrey House, Penfield
Humphrey House has been serving food in Penfield for over 30 years now. It closed for a while in 2007, and reopened under new ownership in 2008.
Recently, the Humphrey House installed a wood-fired oven, which they use to create a variety of thin-crust pizzas. This of course necessitated a visit on my part.
I’ve had mixed results with wood-fired pizza around here, so I didn’t know what to expect. At one extreme are those pizzas that come out dry, thin, brittle and crackerlike. Me no like. At the other are pizzas that are so soft, chewy and pale that you wonder what the point was of baking them in a wood-fired oven. That’s kind of like buying a Ferrari and never driving it over 30 m.p.h.
But then there are the pizzas that fall in between, with a nice char on the outside, a whiff of smokiness, a crisp bottom and a chewy interior. Except for the smokiness, that can be done in any good pizza oven, but with the right technique, a wood-fired oven is perfect for achieving that result. So I was cautiously optimistic.
Of the seven pizza choices on the menu, I chose the Margherita, as I usually do for wood-fired pies. It’s a classic, and simple enough that the toppings won’t get in the way of the crust.
My pizza measured a foot across, and the crust was very thin, making it just about right for a satisfying lunch for one person. The crust was quite charred and heat-blistered on the bottom. The charring was a bit uneven, but was confined entirely to the underside - the edge was not charred at all.
As thin as the crust was, though, the charring was only on the surface of the underside. The crust was not burned through, and in fact it remained supple, even floppy, especially toward the tips of the slices. By all indications, then, this pizza had baked very quickly, at very high temperatures - long enough on the hot oven floor for the underside to char, but without burning the toppings or drying out the crust.
I’ve never been to Italy, sad to say, but that made me wonder if this was closer to genuine Neapolitan pizza than the really crisp pies turned out by a lot of wood-fired pizzerias in this country. Contrary to what I’d thought, I’ve read that most pizza in Naples has a rather soft crust, mostly because of the flour that they use, which is one reason that it’s typically eaten with a knife and fork. Again, I can’t confirm that from first-hand experience, but if that’s true perhaps this pizza was not too far from that mark, as far as the crust is concerned.
In more “American” fashion, though, this was a fairly saucy pizza. Instead of the fresh or crushed tomatoes found on some Margheritas, this was topped with a relatively generous layer of cooked sauce, which had a slightly sweet yet tangy flavor. It was almost too much sauce for such a thin crust, but I like sauce, so it was OK with me.
As I mentioned, the top side of the pie was not nearly as well-done as the bottom, and the fresh mozzarella slices were more softened than melted. The shredded basil was wilted enough to blend with the other components, but still green enough to retain its fresh flavor.
HH’s other pizzas include a “Traditional” pepperoni pizza, and yet another take on “Sicilian,” with pancetta, red onions, mozzarella and garlic sauce. You can peruse the rest of the menu on their website, but it’s wide-ranging, with steaks, seafood, chicken and pasta. A white-tablecloth dining room takes up most of the space, with a small, informal bar in a separate room in back.
It’s funny - in some ways, this wasn’t really the kind of pizza I like best - I like more of an interior in my crust, for one thing - but I think it was well executed, and I give credit to the pizzaiolo for not being afraid to make good use of the wood-fired oven, while avoiding the danger of simply burning the pizza and calling it “artisanal.” No doubt some people would take one look at the blackened underside and pronounce it inedible, but I found it well executed, and I’ll give it an A-.
The Humphrey House, 1783 Penfield Rd., Penfield, 267-7415
Mon. - Thu. 11:00 am - 9:00 pm, Fri. & Sat. 11:00 am - 10:00 pm, closed Sun.