Today's post is a little unusual, for a couple of reasons. First, this is about a restaurant/ pizzeria in Binghamton, considerably outside of what would normally be the geographic scope of this blog. Second, this pizza comes par-baked or half-baked, so that you can finish it in your home oven.
The pizza in question is from Cortese Restaurant in Binghamton, courtesy of a friend whose family are Cortese aficionados. As I said, it was partially cooked at Cortese - the cheese had clearly begun to melt - and, following the instructions on the box, I placed it on a baking sheet and gave it about 15 minutes in the oven at 350 degrees (it may have been 375, I don't remember).
Removing the pizza from the oven, I found that the cheese had browned nicely, and the underside had turned a medium shade of golden brown. It had the somewhat cratered, bubbly underside common to pan pizzas.
The edges on this pizza were deceptively thick, as the interior part of the crust was quite thin, surprisingly thin in fact for a pan pizza. Even more unusual was the crust's biscuitlike flavor and texture; I was told by my friend that Cortese is said to use a biscuit mix in making its dough. It was soft and pliable, but not greasy or gummy.
The bright, tomatoey sauce on this pizza was moderately applied. The entire pizza was blanketed by a fairly thick layer of melted cheese. Although the cheese had browned considerably in some areas, it was still somewhat stringy and almost creamy in texture (of course it was still pretty hot out of the oven, too, which helps).
Because Cortese is well outside of the Rochester area, I'm not going to assign a grade to this one, though I did enjoy it. Importantly, it was quite distinctive, particularly with its biscuitlike crust. I don't think I would mistake this for any other pizza I've had around here. And their distinctiveness - the sense you get that nobody else makes a pizza quite like this one - is one of the things I love most about independent pizzerias.
If you go, Cortese has 15 or so pizza toppings, including Genoa salami and (of course) that Binghamton staple, chicken spiedies. They also offer several specialty pizzas, including a Florentine with fresh spinach, sour cream(!), onions, and Romano and mozzarella cheeses; a pesto pizza with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Romano and mozzarella; and "the Cortese Special," with pepperoni, sausage, meat sauce, mushrooms, green peppers, onions, and black olives, covered with a thick layer of mozzarella and Romano. You can also order "double dough" if you prefer a thicker crust. The rest of the menu is extensive, with plenty of Italian dishes as well as steaks and seafood.
On the pizza page of Cortese's website, there is a link labeled "Nate Cortese talks about pizza at Cortese," but sadly I couldn't get it to play properly - the sound was garbled. Too bad, because I'd like to hear it. Failing that, next time I head down that way maybe I'll get a chance to stop at Cortese and see Nate in person.
Cortese Restaurant, 117 Robinson St., Binghamton
Reservations (607) 723-6440
Pizza & Take-Out (607) 723-6477
Mon. - Wed. 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Thu. - Sat. 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.