Pizza probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of kosher food, but yes, there is such a thing as kosher pizza, and yes, you can get it in Rochester. Yesterday I made it over to Rochester's first, and I believe only kosher pizzeria, Abba's Pizza, at the Chabad Center on Winton Road, just south of Monroe and Elmwood.
Abba's is open to the public, but don't expect to see any signs for it outside; simply look for the Chabad Center, go in the front door, and follow your nose down the hall to the kitchen.
The operator of Abba's is a Rochester native who spent some time in the photography business in L.A., then moved back here with his wife to raise a family. Despite a lack of experience in the food service industry (rare in L.A., I guess, which is full of actors waiting on tables), he accepted a job taking over the kitchen at Chabad. Since then, he's managed to "reinvent" himself, in his words, as a chef and pizzaiolo.
So what makes a pizza kosher? Well, most obviously, there's no meat. No pepperoni, no sausage, no meatballs. Second, all the ingredients are kosher - the flour, salt, you name it. Where that makes the most noticeable difference is probably the cheese, which is under rabbinical supervision from the milking of the cow to the production of the cheese. More significantly, in terms of taste, texture and appearance, the cheese on Abba's pizza is also made without rennet, which is an animal product commonly used in cheesemaking.
My slice (topped with red bell pepper and onion) had a very thin crust, which is a nod to the tastes of the many transplanted New Yorkers at the Chabad Center. Although Abba's started out with a crust described as a "compromise between thick and thin," that's no longer the case; there are no compromises here, and this is decidedly a thin crust. (And in case your knowledge of Jewish dietary laws is as poor as mine, no, it's not unleavened. Yeast is OK. Most of the time.)
The underside of the crust, which was given a one- or two-minute reheating in Abba's large commercial pizza oven, was firm and crisp on the outside. It wasn't exactly charred, but there were bits of what seemed to be burnt cheese underneath.
The crust was topped with a tomato sauce that was somewhat thick, not so much in a cooked-down way, but just in a not-watery way. It had a good, tomatoey flavor, with a certain background taste of herbs that I couldn't quite pin down.
Atop the sauce lay the cheese, which I found a bit bland, without the tanginess of most pizza cheese, but which partially made up for its relative lack of flavor with a melted, smooth, creamy texture. The vegetable toppings actually worked quite well with this slice, since a strong-flavored topping like pepperoni, even if it were available, would simply have overwhelmed the other components.
Abba's sells pizza by the slice, as well as in whole 16" pies, which might go up to 18" at some point, in response to consumer demand (those NYers love a big, foldable slice). They also offer soups, salads, sandwiches and fries. Prices are a bit above what you might pay elsewhere, largely because of the cost of the kosher ingredients, the cheese in particular, but the pizza is certainly not outrageously expensive, either.
In the months since it opened, Abba's has gotten a very good response from its Chabad clientele, and when school is in session it also does a steady business with students from Brighton High School across the street. Outside business has been slow, but given Abba's low public profile, that's not surprising.
This was pretty good pizza, and certainly distinctive. There was not a single aspect of it that stood out as particularly noteworthy or unusual, but the total blend of flavor and texture made it different from any other pizza I've had around here. I'm looking forward to going back to Abba's sometime for a full, made-to-order pie, but for now I'll give it a B-.
Abba's Pizza, 1037 Winton Road South, 14618 360-9723
Mon. & Wed. 10:30 a.m. - 2 p.m., Tue. & Thu. 10:30 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sat. 7 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.