Monday, July 12, 2010
Pontillo's: Bushnells Basin vs. Alexander St.
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.