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Monday, July 12, 2010

Pontillo's: Bushnells Basin vs. Alexander St.

Pontillo's Pizza (Pittsford) on Urbanspoon
One thing that bedevils smaller pizza chains is lack of consistency from one location to another, and one pizzeria that I've seen that complaint leveled at in particular is Pontillo's. Part of the issue with Pontillo's seems to be that each shop is independently operated, without a lot of central control or oversight. At least that's the contention I've seen raised on occasion.
So I decided to conduct a little test, by visiting two Pontillo's locations and comparing their slices. First, I went to the Bushnell Basin Pontillo's, which consistently gets high marks for its pizza. Then I stopped at the Alexander Street Pontillo's, about which I've read a fair amount of negative comments.
If you've never been to the Bushnells Basin Pontillos, be aware that, this being a tony East Side suburb, it's not marked by any big red-and-white signs as at other Pontillo's. Instead, you'll find only a discreet sign above the door to let you know that this is a pizzeria and not a real estate agency or a chiropractor's office.
Inside, it was quite busy, with a knot of customers around the counter awaiting their slices from the several types of pies sitting on racks on the left. Service was friendly and efficient, however, with pies emerging from the ovens to keep pace with demand.
My pepperoni slices had a thin-to-medium crust that was somewhat crisp and slightly charred underneath. Some oil from the top of the pizza had seeped down around the edges, although the underside didn’t seem greasy otherwise.
The toppings were all moderately applied, in good balance with each other and with the crust. The sauce had a slightly sweet flavor, and the mozzarella was nicely baked, just enough to brown a bit without losing its so well-baked as to tighten up or lose its "meltedness." (Anybody got a better adjective for me there?) The slices were lightly dusted with what I took to be Parmesan.
The edge was formed into a small lip, which was enjoyable. The dough in general had pretty good, bready flavor.
The Alexander Street Pontillo's is located half a block from East Avenue, in the heart of the East End. It's open late on weekends, so clearly much of its business comes from patrons of the many bars in the area. But it's open during the day too, which is when I stopped by.
Unlike the Bushnells Basin location, this Pontillo's was not busy at all on my lunchtime visit. In fact I was the only customer there. Again, I'm sure it's a different scene altogether at 2:30 on a Saturday morning.
There were, I think, four types of slices to choose from, cheese, pepperoni, Buffalo wing, and veggie. I took a pepperoni slice. 
Rather than two ordinary size slices, here I was given one big one, although I was offered the option of having it sliced in two, which I declined.
Otherwise, the biggest difference between this slice and those I got at Bushnells Basin was that the underside was considerably more charred, with some nearly black areas scattered around the bottom.  
The crust was medium thick, about the same as at BB. It was, however, of uneven thickness, with some spots noticeably thicker than others.
Given the charred bottom, it was no surprise that when I folded this slice, it broke right down the middle. The underside was dry and crackly, though it had a pleasingly toasty flavor, especially along the edge. Although not as pliable as I would've preferred, I did like the flavor and texture of this crust.
The sauce on this slice had a thick consistency, with a tomatoey flavor that was both slightly sweet and slightly salty. There was a noticeable flavor of dried herbs, though I'm not sure if that came more from the sauce or the sprinkling of herbs on top. The cheese was applied in a thin but pretty uniform layer, and the pepperoni was evenly distributed as well. Despite the well-cooked underside, the top was not so well done, and the pepperoni was more chewy than crisp.
So, what did this little experiment indicate? Well, this may not be a scientifically valid result, but I found the two locations pretty consistent with each other, and where they differed, I'm not sure that the Alexander Street Pontillo's came out on the short end. The only major difference was that the latter was more charred and crackly underneath, which may or may not be a bad thing, depending on your tastes.
I will say that the BB Pontillo's struck me as a smoothly run operation. Depsite the throng of customers, things were run efficiently, and the counter guy was courteous and friendly.
Service at Alexander Street was fine too, but I have no idea what it's like late at night on a weekend. Then again, the customers you get at that hour are not necessarily as easy to deal with as those you get at lunchtime. So I have to wonder if some of the complaints might have more to do with that than with the pizza itself. As far as the pizza's concerned, these were comparable, and though I wouldn't rate either among my favorites, they were both pretty good.
My inclination was to give them both a B, but I did give the Spencerport Road Pontillo's a B+, and I think these were about as good as that one, so for the sake of consistency I'll give them a B+ as well.


  1. Alexander`s Pontillo`s pizza is good but the location is in a slum area. They missed the boat by not staying on Park Avenue or finding another spot on Park ave. Too bad.

  2. They Park Ave Pontillo's Pizzeria owner didn't 'miss the boat'. The owner of the Pontillo`s pizzeria on Park Ave, was forced..out of neccessity(not choice) to relocate. A couple of years back, before the economy fell off the cliff, the owner/landlord of the building that
    housed the Park Ave Pontillo's/Park Bench(pub),opted not to re-new the lease for Pontillo's Pizzeria and the Park bench(pub)with the intent to convert the building in apartments. When the economy took a severe 'hit' and floundered, the owner/landlord abandoned their 'conversion plans. However,for both Pontillo's and the Park was too late. Both establishments had allready re-located to their current locations, so in a word, essentially, the only real winners are the current bar/pizzeria that now occupies the former Pontillo's Pizzeria and Park Bench(pub) locations and perhaps the owner/landlord which once again has a business tenent under lease.

  3. Very chewy crust. Bland sauce. I have never been impressed with any of the Pontillo's. The Bushnell local is very cool perched up on the hill. A great spot to sit and watch traffic. It's a big hit with locals and kids on their way to the mall. I can't be swayed by the atmosphere and would rather get my pizza from a run down hole in the wall if it were good. The place that sits in Pontillo's shadow (great northern) has great atmosphere, but lacks quality control with too many pricey pizzas to choose from. At least they weren't able to push out the little guy. The average person just likes bad pizza and keeps places like Mark's, Salvatores and Pontillo's alive. I could plug most people's pie holes with a chain pizza or one from pizza stop and they wouldn't care either way. A select few people really know or care about food, wine, beer........or they say they do and have no idea what they are promoting. I think you should start from scratch and really do this site some justice by refining your choices and leading the few people who care, to only the best places to eat a pie. Then focus on some other types of food. I know you eat more than pizza. Stick to Rochester and the burbs and leave out your side trips. It takes up too much space. Oh, I just wanted to mention. Someone must have heard my comment on the pizza at ACME. I had a couple slices with some friends and the cheese is much lighter and doesn't slide off in one big glop. ACME and Pizza Chef are my top two still. I won't shell out the "dough" for any of those over-priced wood fired, burnt offerings scattered throughout the area. My pizza stone works just fine.

  4. Thanks for your comments but I'll respectfully decline your suggestion to start over. There's plenty of room on the web for another blog so if you or someone else wants to start a "best of Rochester" type of food blog, by all means go for it and good luck. I'll be one of your first followers.

  5. Ok, I'm bias - I have history with Pontillo's. Pontillo's was on the scene well before Marks and, if they had gotten their act together, could have dominated Monroe County - but they didn't - it has always been a divided, contentious relationship. The recipes are not standardized - you should basically consider them all individually owned shops. Some of the owners only hang on to the name for the sake of "name recognition." I grew up about 200 yards from the Pontillo's Bushnell's Basin location which opened in 1982. I won't mention names but, the owner at the time hired a young man in his early 20's to run that store as well as three other locations. That young man, once the general manager, is now the owner. His right hand-man was about 18 in the Fall of 1986 when he transferred to the Bushnell's Basin location. They've been a solid team for a long, long time. I remember when the sign on the window said "We Do Not Deliver Because We're Worth The Trip!" It wasn't long before it was changed to read "We Deliver Because YOU'RE Worth The Trip!" As for pizza - no one does it consistently better than "Tillos in the Basin" as it's often referred to. The current owner and his wife are terrific people who have done wonderful things for high schoolers from Pittsford-Mendon, Pittsford-Sutherland, Fairport and Victor - there are usually some of those super thick college search manuals in the office upstairs and, countless hours have been spent discussing the futures of young men and women - not to mention sports, politics and other fun stuff. While I enjoy pizza from J&Ls and Guidas, there is simply nothing better than Pontillo's Bushnell's Basin.
    Right now I literally live next door to Pontillo's Alexander Street -- they are horrible - the only thing they have I like is Pepsi in the soda cooler - their crust has no flavor, nor does their sauce, their slices have no life - it's very sad.

  6. I will always be faithful to the Tillos in the Basin...I feel like I grew up there in a lot of ways. So many great milestones in my life have something to do with Tillo's....I never thought about it that way until I read this blog by Ron....all of those names you left out, well, I know who you are talking about and they are great people who put their heart and soul into the business ....I am thankful I was a part of that has a lot to do with where I am today.

  7. Eric, umm, snob much? I think you should tilt that schnozz a bit higher in the air. Geesh, get a grip and give the Pizza Guy some props.

    I have never been a big fan of many of the local chains, but the Pontillo's in Bushnell's Basin holds a very dear spot in my heart. Their pizza is really good and really consistent. There is just something about those slices that come out of the over with that perfect crispiness to them. The veggie white pizza and pepps (pepperoni and hot peppers) are fantastic. The guys and gals that work there are really cool and remember you and what slices you like too.

    Frankly, I don't even know how Great Northern can even stay in business, eww.

  8. I have been a Pontillos fan my whole life. Even as a kid I preferred it over everything else that my parents would get. I've tried it from many different locations in Rochester and yes each store is different but overall they are all still pretty good.

    I find the sauce to not be the best, but its classic pizza sauce and not some jazzed up version that excites people who are just looking for something different. The key, for me, is that Pontillos has very good crust. I am a pizza purist and I believe that the crust is 80% of what makes a good pizza. If the dough is not to my liking, then the entire pizza isn't either. Loading up on exotic toppings does NOT make a good pizza, if you like authentic pizza. "Authentic" pizza means a great dough/crust with simply some sauce, herbs and cheese on top to add to it. Pontillos falls in this category, for me. I also view Bay Goodman, on Winton, the same way. Funny part is that a lot of people I know don't love either one, but, again, I'm a purist.

    I find that making my own pizza, on a pizza stone or quarry tile in my oven, ensures that I will enjoy the meal.