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Friday, October 29, 2010

Lemoncello, East Rochester

Lemoncello Cafe and Lounge on Urbanspoon
Lemoncello Café in East Rochester has gotten a fair amount of press lately, with recent reviews in both the Democrat & Chronicle and City. But neither of those gave a tremendous amount of attention to Lemoncello's pizzas, so, with that in mind, I hope to avoid going over ground that's been covered by others.
Before I get to the pizza, though, allow me to digress for a moment. Just a pet peeve, but if you're going to choose a foreign-language name for your establishment, don't "dumb it down" by misspelling it. According to an earlier piece in City, Lemoncello is named after Limoncello, an Italian liqueur and digestif, but the owners "decided to change the spelling to make it more accessible for non-native speakers." In similar fashion, Le Bon Vie restaurant in Penfield misspells the French phrase "la bonne vie" ("the good life"), presumably because "le bon vie" - which improperly mixes masculine and feminine word forms - is supposed to be easier for non-French-speakers to read or remember. I'm not sure why that bugs me; maybe it's because it strikes me as condescending to the clientele, though I'm sure that's not the intent. But if you're a business owner, and you honestly think that your customers are going to have trouble with a correctly spelled foreign name, then why not pick a different name? I know, I'm probably the only person in the area who's pedantic enough to be bothered by that, but what can I say? We all have our hangups.
OK, back to the matter at hand:  a couple of friends and I recently had lunch at Lemoncello, one of the latest entrants onto Monroe County's suddenly burgeoning wood-fired pizza scene (which *sigh* remains almost entirely east of the river). The day being a bit too chilly to enjoy Lemoncello's patio, we were escorted past the front dessert-and-coffee bar to the back room, a cozy spot with an eclectic, distinctive decor, a small bar, and several tables.
One of my two companions and I each ordered a pizza, while the third member of our party got a panini and fries. I ordered a Napoli, which is essentially Lemoncello's version of a Margherita, as it is topped with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil. My friend, meanwhile, got a "Berlin," with tomato sauce, mozzarella, hot ham and mushrooms. (Nearly all the pizzas at Lemoncello are named for cities, though the connections were not always apparent, at least to me.)
Both pizzas were very thin, though the crusts were a little bit different from each other. The crust on the Napoli was dry underneath, and well browned in some areas, suggesting some hot spots in the oven. The underside was not really crisp or crackly, though it was quite firm, and didn't bend easily. The Berlin had a softer, somewhat floppy crust, but neither crust seemed to have risen much, and they lacked any real interior or crusty chew, with a texture that brought to mind a thin biscuit or chemically leavened flatbread.
Again, both of these were red pizzas, topped with a mildly seasoned tomato sauce. Despite being applied rather thickly, the sauce on the Napoli seemed a bit dried out, perhaps simply from evaporation in the oven. That's not necessarily a bad thing, since it concentrates the flavors and helps keep the dough crisp. The sauce on the Berlin, on the other hand, lying under a thick blanket of cheese, presumably hadn't lost as much water through evaporation, and the crust had indeed turned a bit gummy after spending a while on the plate.
The fresh mozzarella was plainly visible on the Napoli, but didn't have much of a presence. It seemed to have been sliced rather thinly, and tended to hide behind the more prominent flavors of the sauce. The same is true of the fresh basil, small shreds of which were scattered here and there, but not in enough quantity to make much of an impression on my palate.
As mentioned, the Berlin was covered by a thicker, more widespread layer of (processed) mozzarella. Not being a fan of mushrooms, I only sampled it, but in general it was characterized by bolder, more assertive flavors than the relatively understated Napoli.
Lemoncello features 13 red and 6 white pizzas on its menu, with some interesting topping combinations, perhaps the most unusual of which is the eponymous Lemoncello pizza, with olive oil, prosciutto, shaved Parmiggiano, fresh arugula, fresh tomatoes and lemon juice. First time I've seen lemon juice on a pizza, I think. Prices for each personal-size pizza run from $10.95 to $14.95. There's a fairly broad selection of other, mostly Italian, selections on the menu, including the aforementioned panini (which my friend enjoyed, along with his crisp, lightly seasoned fries). A full dinner menu is available after 5 p.m.
This is another review where I look back at what I've written and think, gee, this reads a lot harsher than I intended. I think that happens because it's often easier to find fault with pizza - well, with just about anything, really - than to identify what's good about it. Perfection, after all, is often simpler than imperfection (think of a perfect circle, for instance), as well as harder to describe (what's easier to describe - a beautiful face or an ugly face?). The more that a thing falls short of its Platonic ideal, then, the easier it is to point out its various flaws.
All of which is my way of saying, these weren't all that bad, but they did have, from my perspective, some flaws. The crust seemed rather lifeless, for one thing, and though the toppings tasted all right, they were a bit out of balance on my Napoli, with the fresh mozzarella and basil overshadowed by the tomato sauce. While the Berlin had good flavor, its crust also committed the sin of being gummy, which is particularly noticeable when the crust is that thin. On the plus side, there were some good flavors at work, and the crust on my Napoli was at least somewhat crisp. So while I wouldn't call these "average" pizzas (in the sense of being "typical" of local pizza), I think they deserve an average grade, and I'll give them a C.
Lemoncello Café and Lounge, 137 W. Commercial St., East Rochester 14445, 385-6741
Café open Mon. - Fri. 9 a.m. till (?), Sat. & Sun. 11 a.m. till (?). Back bar and lounge open 4 p.m. till (?) daily. Kitchen open Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. noon - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.


  1. Next time you're there, take a brake from the za and get arancini (rice balls) from the appetizer menu. Deelish.

  2. Just left Lemoncello, and my table ordered 2 pizzas to share... One was the Toronto and the other was the Lemoncello pizza which was talked about earlier in this article... Honestly, this guy is waaaay to picky. they were both amazing, especially the Lemoncello. It was a very creative pizza. This article makes it out to be a bad thing that it is unique, but in reality it is a great new thing.

  3. Well, one of my dining companions, who also had pizza, thought I was way too easy on them, so I think I'm probably being pretty fair.

  4. I was at Lemoncellos on a Friday night. I later found that they had charged me twice; one amount on the Friday night I was there and a different amount on Saturday night. After calling 5x and speaking with managers and two owners, nothing has been done to correct this.