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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gallo's Old World Style Pizza

Gallo Pizza & Subs on Urbanspoon
I did a post back in May of last year about Gallo’s on Stone Road in Greece. At the time, I just had a couple of slices, which I liked, but I also took note of their “Old World Style” pizza on the menu, which is described as having a “crispy crust, topped with fresh herbs & spices in a traditional red sauce and grated parmesan.” I mentioned that it “might be worth a try sometime.”
Well, “sometime” finally came, as I went and got myself a medium Old World pizza.
Why did I wait so long? I really liked this pizza, which, along with such other local examples as Pizza Stop’s meatball parm pizza and Joe’s Brooklyn’s grandma’s pizza, is beginning to make me think that my favorite style of pizza may involve much less cheese than the standard American pie.
My Gallo’s Old World pizza had a thin to medium crust that was a little thicker toward the edge. It was screen baked, but the dark brown underside had some exterior firmness, a slight crispness - and a definite crunch along the edge - with a bready interior packed with visible air holes.
Not only that, the crust tasted good. That was most noticeable along the edge, which is always where you’ll know for sure if a pizza crust is good or not, but it was also apparent throughout the pizza, and I think some of that has to do with the simplicity of this pizza. The relative lack of toppings, compared to many American versions that are piled high with meat, double cheese, etc., allowed the crust to really shine here.
This was, obviously, a saucy pizza, but the sauce, like the herbs and Romano cheese, was not overpowering, and everything was kept in good balance. Although it was not “cheesy” in the usual sense, there was enough of the sharp-flavored Romano to balance out the sauce and crust. There was also certainly some garlic in there somewhere, although it may have been powdered or granulated.
What struck me as I was eating this pizza was how simple it was, yet so delicious. I think that we Americans have become so accustomed to pizza with a thick, unbroken layer of melted cheese on top that it’s something of a revelation to eat a pizza that is so good even though (or more likely because) it doesn’t fit that profile.
As the “Old World” name implies, Gallo’s certainly didn’t invent this style of pizza, nor does it claim to. This is Gallo’s take on a very traditional Italian style of pizza. And of course, minimalist pizza doesn’t necessarily mean more sauce than cheese; some white pizzas, for instance, have no sauce, and little more than a brushing of olive oil, some fresh garlic, basil and black pepper.
But I do like tomato sauce, and what I liked about this pizza was the way that the sauce provided flavor and moisture, without the stomach-filling effects of a typical mozzarella-laden pizza. Although I managed to stop eating after downing half my medium pie, it took an effort of self-control, as this was a very easy pizza to eat.
So yeah, I liked this one a lot, and I rank it among my new favorites. It scores an A- from me.
I liked this so much, in fact, that I went back to Gallo’s a few days later to see if I could have a few minutes to talk pizza with the owner. I did, and highlights of that conversation will be coming up in a day or two.
Gallo's Pizza & Subs, 1064 Stone Rd. (in Frear's Garden Center Plaza) 663-5960
Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m. - midnight, Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rhino's, Humboldt St.

Sometimes you just stumble across a pizzeria that you hadn't known existed. Such was the case for me with Rhino's on Humboldt Street, which runs between Culver and Winton on Rochester's east side. I happened to see it a few weeks ago, on my way to get a haircut, so I stopped in for a quick slice.
When I saw the name, I wondered if this was related to the Rhino's in Webster, and yes, it is. Not sure how or why a Webster pizzeria decided to open a second location in this particular spot, but they have.
My slice was roughly similar to the one I got in Webster, but there were some differences. It had a medium thick crust, with a browned, slightly floury underside. Save for a bit of exterior crunch, the slice was more soft than crisp, and quite foldable. It was, I think, just a tad thicker than the one I got in Webster, and it also lacked the slight charring of the Webster slice.
This slice was a little on the saucy side, with a mildly flavored sauce. I detected some herbs in the background.
The cheese was, for lack of a better term, rather "clumped." I'm not sure if this was due to the type of cheese used, the way in which it was applied or baked, or some other factor, but instead of melting into a smooth, uniform layer, it had gathered or congealed into several spots, leaving some areas of the slice cheeseless. The wide slices of pepperoni were OK, but not especially crisp.
I liked the edge of the slice, which had bubbled up in a couple of spots. It had a nice, crisp, bready texture and flavor.
Unlike its Webster counterpart, the Humboldt Street Rhino's is a very small place, with almost no seating, and a bare-bones interior, making it mostly a pickup and delivery place. They offer a fairly standard lineup of pizza toppings, and three specialty pizzas (chicken fajita, buffalo wing, and steak & cheese).
Besides pizza, Rhino's serves wings, calzones, sides, salads, burgers, hots, and fish fry. The sub menu is quite extensive, with the "garbage sub" (hamburger patty, mac salad, french fries and if that's not enough, "your choice of toppings" on a sub roll) being a noteworthy recent addition.
This was not a bad slice of pizza, but I didn't like it quite as much as the one I had in Webster. The main difference was the crust, which lacked the crackly bite and toasty notes of the Webster version. Of course it's also possible that I was just hungrier on the former occasion, but even accounting for such subjective factors, I'm going to call this one "average," as Rochester pizza goes, and give it a C.
Rhino's Pizzeria, 391 Humboldt St. 288-7492
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m. (Open Sunday afternoons during football season.)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Pizzeria Nove, Spencerport - CLOSED

Back in February (as you might guess from the photo) I stopped at Pizzeria Nove in Spencerport, which holds the distinction of being one of the only pizzerias around here that’s in a bowling alley. (There is at least one other that I know of, ZiaMo's in Honeoye Falls). It's located in the same building as Spencerport Bowl, to which it is connected by an interior door and walk-up window.
I’ve known about Pizzeria Nove for some time, but it took me a while to get there, as I never seemed to be able to figure out when it was open. Either they had erratic hours or I was just calling at the wrong time.
I finally succeeded in finding them open on a Saturday afternoon, although it took some doing. I called at about 1 p.m., and got an recording stating that Pizzeria Nove would be closed for the day on the preceding Tuesday due to personal reasons. Figuring that they had simply neglected to update the outgoing message, I called the bowling alley to see if they knew when the pizzeria might be open.
That’s when things got a little strange. The youngish-sounding female employee told me that the guy who runs the pizzeria wouldn’t be in until "after noon." (Again, this was at about 1:00.) The rest of the conversation went something like this:

Me: I’m sorry?
She: He won’t be in until after noon.
Me: Well, it’s 1:00 now.
She: What?
Me: You said he’d be in after noon?
She: Yeah.
Me: But it’s 1:00 right now.
She: Right. He’ll be in after noon.
Me: Uh, OK. Thanks.

And then I hung up.
I never did figure that one out, but a couple hours later I called Pizzeria Nove and the guy was there. Seizing the opportunity, I ordered a large cheese pie.
This pizza had a medium thick, screen baked crust. It was just a little crisp underneath, but a bit gummy at the interface between the crust and the sauce. The crust was rather chewy, making it the kind of crust you tend to tear off with your teeth, more than bite through. The narrow edge, though, did have a nice balance between outer crunch and interior breadiness.
This was a pretty saucy pizza, with a bright-tasting sauce that was more tomatoey than herbal. The browned cheese was moderately applied, with some islands (lakes? ponds?) of sauce poking through.
Pizzeria Nove’s pizza menu offers a variety of choices: red, white or pink sauce; thick, thin or “normal” crust (“regular” might be a better choice of adjective there), as well as deep dish pizza; seventeen available toppings; and ten specialty pizzas. They also serve wings, calzones, burgers and hots, and various sides. The pizzeria itself is strictly takeout and delivery, although you can eat it in the bowling alley if you don’t mind the sound of crashing pins.
There were things I liked about this pizza, and things I didn’t. In spite of the relatively generous helping of sauce, I found this to be a little too crust-dominated. The sauce and cheese seemed nearly overwhelmed by the crust. Probably it would have been better balanced had I ordered a thin crust.
Also, the crust itself was only OK. The dough tasted fine, but the underside was none too crisp, and the interior was too chewy for my liking. The edge wasn’t bad, though, and if the rest of the crust had the same balance of crispness and breadiness as the edge, this could’ve been a rather good pizza. And on the plus side, the flavors as a whole were good, and it was a well made pie, no obvious defects or signs of carelessness, so I’ll give it a C+.
Pizzeria Nove, 45 Nichols St., Spencerport 349-NOVE (6683)
Mon., Tue., Thu. 4 p.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 4 p.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 6 p.m. Closed Wed.
NOTE: Pizzeria Nove closed at the end of March 2009.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chili Pizza and Hots, Revisited

NOTE:  this location is now the site of a Little Caesar's pizzeria. - 2/27/12
About three months ago, I did a post about Chili Pizza & Hots on Chili Ave. At that time, I had gotten a slice, which seemed as though it might’ve been good had it not been burned over much of its underside. But the pizzeria had just recently opened, so, giving them the benefit of the doubt, I chalked that up to inexperience, decided not to give them a rating at that time, and vowed to come back later, after they'd had some time to get their act together.
One recent afternoon, I made good on that promise to myself, and picked up a large cheese pie, with peppers and onions on half. It had a medium thick crust, which surprised me, since the slice I’d gotten last time was quite thin. While I was waiting for the pizza to come out of the oven, I noticed some jumbo slices behind the counter, which looked considerably thinner than my pie. So maybe the oversize pies from which the jumbo slices are cut are made from the same amount of dough as a large, but simply stretched wider and thinner.
But the biggest difference between this pie and my earlier slice was not the thickness, it was the doneness. Whereas the slice had been blackened underneath, the pie was very pale, almost an off-white in color. It was screen baked and dry to the touch, not oily. Perhaps needless to say, it was not very crisp, although the next day I was able to remedy that somewhat by reheating a couple of slices in a nonstick pan. Not surprisingly, the crust also had something of a doughy flavor.
The news wasn’t all bad, though, as the crust did have some pleasant, bready notes to it as well. It was in some ways reminiscent of soft Italian bread. I wondered if perhaps the guy didn’t take it out of the oven a little sooner than he otherwise would have, simply because I was standing there waiting for it. Had I known he was going to do that, I would’ve told him, no hurry, take it out when it’s done.
Moving on to the toppings, this was quite a cheesy pizza. The cheese was applied pretty generously, and was all the more prominent due to the relatively light layer of sauce, which seemed a bit overwhelmed between the bready crust and the thick, melted mozzarella. I did notice a distinct touch of dried oregano, but as I couldn't really see any I wasn't sure if it was in the sauce or simply had been sprinkled on before the cheese was applied.
One minor oddity was that when I ordered this pizza, I asked for sweet peppers and onions, and while I got those, I was also given banana peppers. I’m not complaining, as I like banana peppers, but that was, as I said, a bit odd.
So, what to make of this pizzeria? I’ve now had one slice that tasted like nothing so much as burnt toast, and now a pie that had OK flavor but which was doughy and undercooked.
I guess I’d say it’s still a work in progress. I certainly don't claim that my preferences where pizza is concerned are any more valid than anybody else's, but one thing that is important is consistency. Whether you like thin or thick, well done or doughy, you want to know what to expect when you order from a given pizzeria. And you want to know that if you get a pizza from them today, and then again a week or a month from now, it's going to be pretty much the same as the last one. So I’m hoping that Chili Pizza and Hots finds its style and gets it down cold.
And I do hope that they do, because I still think that they’ve got the basics in place. Pale crust aside, this was  decent pizza, just not made terribly well. To me, it could've used a little more sauce to balance out the crust and cheese, but the overall flavor was good. Most importantly, the dough itself tasted all right; it simply needed more time in the oven.
As I said, maybe the guy thought he was doing me a favor by taking it out of the oven a little sooner than he would’ve had I not been standing there waiting. So I don't want to come down too hard on these folks, who I sense are trying to turn out a good product. And for what it's worth, my family seemed to like this one, so maybe I'm just nitpicky, especially where crusts are concerned. So, I'm giving Chili Pizza & Hots a C-, for now, and making yet another mental note to try them again sometime, maybe next time being more specific when I order about the degree of doneness that I prefer.
Chili Pizza & Hots, 1297 Chili Ave. 328-1944

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Cosimos, Marketplace Mall

Cosimo Pizza on Urbanspoon
Mall pizza? From the food court? Can this be serious?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Can it possibly be any good?
Yes again.
Initially, I hadn’t even considered reviewing any mall pizzerias, or even including them on my pizza map. Probably like most people, when I think of pizza in malls, I think of Sbarro’s. Now I’ve nothing against Sbarro’s, particularly - in fact, it may be one of the better pizza chains around, though that’s damning with faint praise - but I’ve no interest in reviewing national chains.
Thing is, I noticed that in the phone book, the Marketplace Mall pizzeria was listed as “Cosimos,” not Sbarro’s or any other well-known chain. That name rang no bells with me, but still I assumed that if it was at the mall it couldn’t possibly be very good.
Eventually, though, I got thinking that, good or not, perhaps this is an independent pizzeria, and the fact that it’s in a mall doesn’t mean that it’s not worth a review. And as a matter of fact, I have had pretty good pizza at a mall, in Olean, to be specific. (It’s called Renna’s, if you’re ever down that way.)
On arrival, I found a pretty wide selection of slices, from the expected cheese and pepperoni to white pizza, veggie, and several others. I noticed that the specialty pizzas seemed considerably thicker than the cheese and cheese-and-pepperoni pies, which looked much more like NY-style pizza.
I thought about trying one cheese or pepperoni slice and one specialty slice, just to compare the crusts, but instead followed my gut instinct (literally) and got one cheese, one pepperoni. The cheese pie had just come out of the oven, and when I asked for a slice, the guy behind the counter took the entire pie and popped it back in the oven for another minute or so. He was middle aged, and seemed to have a certain amount of know-how back there, unlike the robotic, company-trained servers you tend to find at a lot of fast-food eateries.
My slices were, as I said, thin, but not paper thin, about the thickness of a typical NYC slice. Though the undersides had no charred spots, and were mostly medium-dark brown, they did have a nice, crackly exterior, thanks in part to that quick reheating. Taking a bite, I also found that they had a pleasingly bready interior, with a bit of “chew.”
The sauce was on the thin side, adding more moisture than flavor, but again that reminded me of slices that I’ve had in New York, where the sauce tends not to be too liberally applied or to have too assertive a flavor. The mozzarella cheese was nicely melted, just to the very point of browning. The pepperoni was OK, although rather sparsely applied.
Aside from pizza, Cosimos (it’s spelled without an apostrophe, apparently) has a number of other items on the menu, including pasta, salads, what are described as “Italian sandwiches,” calzones, and wings. I don’t know if those are any good, but I was rather impressed with the pizza. It wasn’t perfect - the crust was missing the toasty aroma and flavor that comes from light charring, as found on most good NY-style pizzas, but it was still pretty good stuff: well balanced, crisp yet foldable, with flavors that blended together well.
After polishing off my two slices, I stopped to chat for a second with the guy behind the counter, who was indeed the proprietor. Turns out that Cosimos is in fact a chain, though based on my Google search, its seems to be a small chain, mostly found in malls in the Northeastern U.S. Each location is independently owned and operated, however, and this gentleman, who hails from Brooklyn, has been at it for some 20 years now. So this is indeed “his” pizza, not some cloned product that’s identical to what you’d find at a Thruway rest stop, like most mall food court pizza.
And as I said, his experience was evident. It occurred to me that even the relative thickness of the specialty pies made some sense, as they tended to have heavier toppings than the plain cheese or pepperoni pies, and accordingly called for a more substantial crust.
So yes, it is possible to find good pizza at a mall, of all places, good enough in this case to rate a B+ from me. If you happen to go to Marketplace, then, don’t dismiss the food court out of hand. Give Cosimos a shot and let me know what you think.
Cosimo’s Pizza, Marketplace Mall (near West entrance to mall) 424-6444

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Grandpa Sam's, Spencerport

Grandpa Sam's Italian Kitchen on Urbanspoon
Grandpa Sam’s is an Italian restaurant in the village of Spencerport. It’s a family-run affair, and while it’s been open for just a few years, there’s a certain family history behind it, as you can read on the back of their menu.
Unlike some Italian restaurants, Grandpa Sam’s serves pizza. I had a Margherita pizza at dinner recently.
This 10-inch pizza had a golden brown underside, which had a little exterior crispness, but not much. The medium thick crust was tasty enough, though like a lot of pizzas I’ve had in restaurants, it was not especially bready. I wondered if the dough had been enriched with shortening of some sort (most likely oil), though I really don’t know if it was. Curiously, the crust was thinnest along the edge - no lip on this one.
The basic Margherita toppings are tomatoes, cheese and basil, for the red, white and green of the Italian flag. The red portion of that triad here was composed of both sauce and chopped fresh Roma tomatoes. For out-of-season tomatoes, these weren’t bad. The sauce, however, got kind of lost between the crust and the cheese, which was laid on rather thickly. It seemed to be all processed mozzarella, and was well melted and stringy. The shredded basil was detectable, but mostly stayed in the background.
Grandpa Sam’s pizza offerings are pretty basic - just the Margherita, a white garlic pizza, and a create-your-own option with nine available toppings. The rest of the menu is quite extensive, however, with pretty much every local Italian favorite represented, from pasta (gluten-free pasta is available) to beef, chicken and seafood. Particularly noteworthy are the eight different ravioli selections, and there are some interesting appetizers too; my arancini (filled, fried rice balls served with marinara sauce) were very flavorful. The dessert case is also worth a look, and I’ll give a thumbs-up to my house-made tiramisu (with salad and bread as well, this was one of the more filling dinners I’ve had lately).
This pizza’s a little bit tough to rate. A lot of the other Margheritas I’ve had have been baked in wood-fired ovens, and I can’t fairly compare this one with them. A better basis for comparison might be other restaurant pizza. I’m still not sure why pizza at a restaurant should be much different from pizzeria pizza, but it usually is. This wasn’t bad, but it did fit that general restaurant-pizza profile, particularly with regard to the crust, which was OK but not superb. And to me, ideally a Margherita, with its simple, basic components, should have a certain understated subtlety to it, which is not how I would describe this pizza, with its heavy layer of cheese and two forms of tomatoes.
I can say from having eating at Grandpa Sam’s before that their food is quite good. It’s a nice place to stop for dinner, with a casual, relaxing atmosphere. So it’s no insult to their pizza to say that I prefer their pasta dishes to their pizza, which I’ll give a B-.
Grandpa Sam’s Italian Kitchen, 138 S. Union St., Spencerport 349-7267
Mon.- Thu. 5 p.m.- 9 p.m., Fri. 4 p.m.- 10 p.m., Sat. 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 8 p.m.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Jim & Ralph's, Elmgrove Road

Jim & Ralph's on Urbanspoon
I've long been aware of Jim & Ralph’s, but I never thought of it as a place for pizza; I always thought it was "just" a diner.
And until recently, that's all it was. But somewhere or other I ran across a reference to it serving pizza. And yes, its website confirmed that. J&R has also moved into a brand-new building on Elmgrove, just off 531. Previously they were is a rather shabby looking little strip mall on Buffalo Road, I believe, and I could swear a long time ago they were downtown, though I could be wrong about that.
Anyway, I stopped in recently for a couple of slices. They had a thin to medium crust, the underside of which showed screen marks, but was also rather charred, and well dusted with flour. The crust had bubbled up here and there as well. It had a reasonably good bready flavor and texture, which was particularly apparent toward the edge.
Both slices had a noticeable garlicky flavor that seemed to me more like garlic powder than fresh garlic. The sauce was moderately applied and had a pretty straightforward, uncomplicated flavor of tomatoes, with some herbs in the background. The mozzarella was a little browned, and had a bit of lactic tanginess to it. The cup'n' char pepperoni was crisp and spicy.
Jim & Ralph's has quite a long list of pizza toppings, including five types of cheese, as well as all the usual selections from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. The menu indicates that pizza is available with regular or "NYC Thin Crust." I would guess that my slices fell into the latter category (although I wouldn't call it truly authentic NY style pizza); if this was the regular crust, then the "NYC thin" crust must be exceptionally thin.
As I mentioned, pizza is a relatively new addition to Jim & Ralph's menu, and they still serve all the old standbys, with "ground rounds," and a wide array of other grilled sandwiches too. They also offer wings, subs, salads, wraps, and sides, as well as more substantial daily specials, like a T-bone or N.Y. strip steak dinner on Tuesdays and a chicken and rib combo on Wednesdays. You can also get frozen custard and milkshakes, and according to the menu, they plan to start serving beer sometime soon. It's counter service, but there is ample seating, in a more or less fast-food-place kind of atmosphere.
This pizza was a pleasant surprise. I wasn't expecting much from a place that made its reputation as a burgers-'n'-hots kind of place. But this had a nice toastiness in the surprisingly bready crust, was well balanced, and had an all-around good flavor. If that was garlic powder I tasted, they could've laid off that a bit, and I could get nitpicky and suggest that they take care to watch the bubbling in the crust. And while the screen-baked crust wasn't bad, neither did it achieve the sublime combination of crispness and suppleness that is the hallmark (to me) of truly top-notch pizza.
But those are relatively minor points. All in all, this was pretty good stuff, that I think warrants a return visit sometime for a full pie. For now, I'm giving it a B.
Jim & Ralph's, 904 Elmgrove Rd. 247-7220
Open daily 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. (hours not confirmed yet)
Pizza Guy note: read a July 6, 2010 update here.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Taking the State Assembly with a Grain of Salt

It's nice to know that amid all the foolishness going on in Albany (which has now made a majority of us embarrassed to be New Yorkers), at least some of our elected officials are hard at work. Like Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, who's introduced a bill that would make it illegal for restaurants to use salt in their food. At all.
According to Mr. Ortiz, the salt ban would save lives. I suppose he's right. Traffic deaths would certainly go down, because a lot fewer people would be going out to eat.
Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I hope that even the folks in the state capitol will recognize just how ridiculous this proposal is, and let it die a swift and early death. I can't even imagine what salt-free pizza would be like, nor do I want to find out.
Given the lack of consensus about whether salt is actually bad for you, perhaps a better public health measure would be to test the water in Albany to see what they're drinking in that town. It can't be good.

2 Ton Tony's, Irondequoit

Not long ago, I reported on Proietti’s in Webster, an Italian restaurant/pizzeria with a history going back some 40-plus years. Under owner/chef Whitey Proietti, the son of founder Pat Proietti, they’re still turning out some very well-made pizza, which I imagine tastes much the same as it did back in the ’60s.
Recently I learned that another branch of the Proietti family tree has borne fruit, pizzawise, in Irondequoit. Earlier this year, Whitey’s nephew Tony Proietti opened his own place, “2 Ton Tony’s,” in the Titus Mall, near the corner of Titus and Hudson avenues. Though a completely separate enterprise from his uncle’s restaurant, 2 Ton Tony’s bills itself as “continuing the Proietti’s Pizza family tradition.” This obviously demanded investigation, so I got myself up there for a pie last week.
"2 Ton Tony" sounds like a nickname for a boxer, which is appropriate, because Tony's got some heavyweight competition in the area. Within little more than a stone's throw away you'll find at least five other pizzerias: Mark’s, Little Caesar, Cam’s, Bay Goodman, and Pudgie’s, not to mention Wegmans. But as far as I’m concerned, there’s always room for another pizzeria, as long as the pizza’s good, and if there’s not room, well, then may the best pizza win.
And 2 Ton Tony’s pizza is good. I’m not going to try to compare it to its nearby competitors or, for that matter, with the pizza I got at Proietti’s in Webster, although it does share some obvious similarities with the latter. I’ll try instead to describe and judge it on its own terms.
My large pie had a crust that was on the thick side of medium. The screen-baked underside was dark brown, and firm, though not really crisp. The crust had good flavor, but was not particularly chewy or bready.
This was a fairly saucy pizza, which was fine considering the thickness of the crust. The sauce had a tangy, tomatoey flavor. Some dried herbs were visible, but this wasn’t really an “herbal” tasting sauce or pizza. The cheese was moderately applied and lightly browned. The fresh onions and sweet pepper slices were quite generously applied on their half of the pie.
While I was picking up the pizza, I noticed that 2 Ton Tony’s also had slices available, which looked thinner, and more or less resembled New York style slices. So on a different day I headed back to try those too.
Not surprisingly, the slices turned out not to be NY-style, but simply a thinner version of the pie I had earlier. They weren’t super thin, more in the thin-to-medium range, about a quarter of an inch thick. Like the pie, they were screen baked, with a dry, non-greasy underside that was medium brown in hue.
Also like the pie, the slices were saucy, with a pronounced tomatoey flavor. The cheese was again a bit browned, and this time I detected a certain salty sharpness to it. They were just a little oily/greasy on top. The slices were foldable, and more firm than crisp, though they did have a little crunch along the edge. The edge was formed into a very narrow lip, so there was sauce and cheese right up until virtually the last bite.
2 Ton Tony’s offers 15 pizza toppings, though they don’t appear to have any specialty pizzas. At this point at least, the rest of the menu is fairly limited, with wings, Friday fish fry, the “2 Ton Plate,” and various, mostly deep-fried sides, including “macaroni & cheese wedges.” I’m not sure if those sound good to me, exactly, but I may just have to try them sometime. There are a few tables, but seating is rather limited, making this mostly a pickup and delivery spot.
As for the pizza, I liked it. Reflecting its heritage, it fits broadly within what I think of as Rochester style, with its somewhat thicker crust, ample toppings, and square cut. My one quibble might’ve been with the underside, which was pleasingly firm and non-greasy, but which was missing that little bit of crunch or crispness that I look for in my pizza. That aside, though, the pizza was well made, making 2 Ton Tony’s a worthy contender in the crowded pizza field in this particular corner of Irondequoit. I’ll give it a solid B.
2 Ton Tony’s, 545 Titus Ave. 266-TONY (8669)
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sat. noon - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rochester's Pizza History Update: Giuseppe's

Back in December I did a post about Rochester’s pizza history, in which I noted that the first entry I could find for a pizzeria in the old Rochester city directories was in 1954 for an establishment named Giuseppe’s on Lake Ave. I wondered whether there might’ve been any connection to the current Giuseppe’s restaurant in Gates.

The other day I got an email from one of the owners of Giuseppe’s, with some details about its history. Turns out that yes, the Giuseppe’s on Lake Ave. was the ancestor of the current place. And that the Lake Ave. address wasn’t even the first location for Giuseppe’s. Here’s what he had to say:

My name is Marciano Chinappi and I am the fourth-generation chef and part owner of Giuseppe’s in Gates. My father Joe, my brother Joe Jr., and I run the day to day operations at the restaurant. We are a truly involved family. We watched our parents, and their parents, and their parents spend their lives in the restaurant.

In the early 1920s Giuseppe Petrillo and his brother moved here from Naples, Italy. They were both bread bakers by trade in their home town. They decided to start a bakery together here in Rochester. After a few years they decided that life would better suit them in their own separate eateries. My great grandfather then started Giuseppe’s and his brother started Petrillo Bakery on Lyell Ave.

Our first pizzeria/bakery was on State St. My grandmother Serafina has told me that the first pizzas served at our place were topped with just imported canned tomatoes, grated pecorino romano, and anchovies. We still sell quite a few of these simple pies, mostly to the old timers from our old neighborhoods.

Over the years the location of our restaurant moved around a bit. The first store was on State St., the second was in fact the location on Lake Ave. [that was referred to in the blog]. We have also run places in Brown Square, on Jay St., and eventually ending up on Lyell Rd. in the early '70s. About six years ago we had to move from that location to our current location.

Over the years the recipes and techniques have been passed down, first from Giuseppe and his wife Josephine to their children Serafina, Theresa, Rosie, Salvatore, and Tommy, to my father Joe, and finally to Joe Jr. and myself. The history of our restaurant always suprises me. A man in his mid eighties had lunch at our restaurant a few weeks ago. He told me that we catered his wedding in the 1940s.

Mr. Chinappi went on to explain that most of this history has been passed down by word of mouth, and that there's not much printed evidence left of Giuseppe's past: "My ancestors, and I'm sure many of the other pizzeria owners ancestors were more worried about slinging good pies then documenting it."

That's true, of course, of nearly all our forebears' lives. Oral history gets passed down from generation to generation, for a while, but all too often it eventually gets forgotten, and lost forever. I know; I can trace my ancestry back exactly two generations, to my grandparents. Everyone before them - who they were, where they lived, what they did - has been erased from our collective memory.

Well, if it's true that words in cyberspace will last as long as there are humans to read them, then this should help preserve one small slice of local history. I'm glad to be able to do that, and to share it with others, who I hope will find it as interesting as I do.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Savastano's, Spencerport Road

Savastano's Pizzeria & Bakery on Urbanspoon
Savastano’s is another one of Rochester’s long-established Italian bakeries, and like most of its brethren, it’s on the West Side, in Gates. As explained on their menu, the owner began his trade at Gruttadauria’s in 1964, and opened his own pizzeria/bakery in 1974 on Spencerport Road, where it remains today. It’s a small place, and easy to overlook as you’re driving by, but it’s worth stopping by, as I did recently.
I got a small pepperoni pizza. Ordinarily I like to get at least a medium but, well, I just didn’t want that much pizza this time.
The crust on this one was about three quarters of an inch thick, putting it somewhere in the medium-thick category. The underside was dry, and lightly browned, something like the color on a typical loaf of Italian bread. It had some exterior crunch, and was in fact a bit crumbly, not at all pliable or supple. I found that the slices would break if I attempted to fold them (not that these really needed to be folded; I just wanted to see if I could). The edge was very crunchy, but this wasn’t a “fried” kind of crunch; it was more of a well-baked crunchiness, something like a breadstick.
In that sense, this crust was in some ways reminiscent of the pizza I had at Proietti’s recently. Although the texture here was not quite the same as Proietti’s, the crust at both places was not particularly chewy, or, to use my word again, “gluteny.” Both establishments have been around a long time, and I wonder if this type of crust is indicative of an older, local style of pizza.
At any rate, it was good, and I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. The crust was a little crumbly, yes, but not in a dried-out or stale kind of way. It just seemed to have less gluten development than some pizza doughs, and more “bite” than “chew.”
Moving on, or up, to the sauce, it was fairly ample, though not excessive, and had a bright, tomatoey flavor. The lightly browned cheese was actually more of a supporting player here, with a presence that was noticeable, but that stayed mostly in the background. The predominant flavors and textures overall came mostly from the crust, sauce, and pepperoni, which was of the wide and thin variety. There seemed also to be a sprinkling of parmesan or romano on the surface, which contributed a soup├žon (there’s a word I’ve never used before in my life) of tanginess.
Savastano’s has a modest list of pizza toppings (though you don’t often see cauliflower as an option), but several specialty pizza, including BLT, steak and lasagna pizzas. Interestingly, the Sicilian pizza here is apparently not a typical “American” Sicilian pizza (if that makes any sense), i.e., a rectangular, thick, pan-baked pizza, nor does it sound like (from what I’ve read) “authentic” Sicilian pizza (no cheese, and all the ingredients baked directly in the crust, not on top). Savastano’s Sicilian is distinguished instead by its toppings: a blend of oil, garlic, salt, pepper, grated cheese and mozzarella.
I should also mention Savastano’s mini pizzas. They’re essentially the same as the regular pizzas, although when I tried them I found the crust rather soft and moist, which isn’t that surprising since they are stacked up in a glass case at the front counter, where I imagine the moisture in the dough, sauce and cheese tends to soften the crusts a bit. Still, they’re tasty, and at less than a buck apiece, you could easily put away several of these for a quick, filling and inexpensive lunch.
Savastano’s is a bakery, too, and you’ll find plenty to pick from, including several breads, rolls, cookies and pastries, and pies. Savastano’s will turn one of those rolls into a hot or cold sub for you, and in a nod to its Western New York location, they offer Buffalo wings as well.
Getting back to the small pie, this was pretty good pizza. Its most distinctive feature, to me, was certainly the crust, with its almost biscuitlike texture. Although my tastes tend toward bready, chewy pizza crusts, I found myself liking this one, and appreciating it for the very fact of its differentness from most other pizzas around here. I’ll give it a B.
Savastano’s Pizzeria & Bakery, 477 Spencerport Rd. 247-0448
Tue., Wed., Sun. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Thu. 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 9 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. Closed Mon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bonafede's, Linden Ave.

Here's a place I never even knew existed until very recently: Bonafede's, which is on Linden Avenue, which is just off Rt. 441 in what I guess would be East Rochester. This particular stretch of road doesn't seem like a major artery, so I imagine Bonafede's is very much a neighborhood place.
My lunchtime pepperoni slice had a thin to medium crust with an attractively charred, non-greasy underside. The bottom crust and the outer edge had pretty good flavor, with some breadiness and a slightly chewy texture.
The cheese was melted without being browned. It seemed like basic mozzarella. The sauce was a tad sweet, with some herbs detectable in the background. Both were applied moderately, and in balance with the relatively thin crust.
Bonafede's has a decent list of pizza toppings - 17 by my count - and eight specialty pizzas, including a meatball parm pizza that may warrant a return trip. For some reason, their specialty pizzas are only available as a "large," so that will have to be a dinnertime visit.
In addition to pizza, Bonafede's has wings (five sauces, including a "Crazy Hot"), hot and cold subs, wraps, salad, grilled sandwiches, pasta, and fried fish and shrimp. (Fish fry is available on Fridays only, but fish & chips can be had anytime. I'm not quite sure that I get that, but I'm not that big on fish fry, so it doesn't matter.) Ice cream is also available in the summer months. There is some seating inside, though the atmosphere is pretty Spartan, just a basic fast-food type of setup, with a counter on one side, some tables on the other, and fluorescent lights above. Still, they had a reasonably good crowd on my workday visit.
All in all, this wasn't a bad slice of pizza. Bonafede's says on its menu that its "pizzas are hand tossed and cooked to perfection in (their) brick deck ovens," and while I'm not quite ready to say this was perfect, I did like the crust, the components were well balanced, and the flavor was pretty good. I'll give it a B+.
Bonafede's Pizzeria & Pasta Kitchen, 514 Linden Ave. 248-5040
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Charlotte Pizzeria

Charlotte Pizzeria opened last year on Lake Ave., in what had been a Piatza's. I think it was briefly operating under some other name as well. You would think this would be a good location for a pizzeria, especially a slice joint, but this isn't real close to the beach, and it's on the side of a building, facing a parking lot, so it's not especially visible from the street, even with the colorful paint scheme now adorning the facade.
I went there for a slice, thinking that it might be one of those deals where the name changes but the pizza remains the same - in other words, just like a Piatza's slice. But in fact this was a little different. Unlike Piatza's, these were not giant slices, just "normal" size. So I got two. They had just come out of the oven.
The slices were medium thick, with that telltale "fried" aroma and mottled brown underside that indicate the presence of cooking oil. The crust was soft and a bit spongy. As is often the case with this kind of pizza, the edge was somewhat crisp, if oily, and it had some faint but pleasant breadiness.
The sauce had a thick consistency, and tasted of cooked tomatoes. It was added in reasonable proportion to the crust. The cheese was browned, though not to the point of being dried out or hard, and was laid on in a uniform, slightly thick layer. It was straight processed mozzarella, I believe.
The cup and char pepperoni was crisp, and added some smoky spiciness, as well as a small pool of grease at the bottom of each pepperoni slice. (The cup or bowl shape of the pepperoni makes it relatively easy to sop up the grease with a napkin, though.)
Despite the name, Charlotte Pizzeria offers considerably more than pizza. There's a wide variety of grilled and fried foods, from burgers and fries to Jamaican beef patties and fried chicken. They also serve wings (which can be ordered as "whole wings") and hot and cold subs. Pizza toppings, in contrast, are relatively limited, with just seven available (eight, if you want to count "extra cheese" as a topping).
This really wasn't bad pizza, but it was not particularly good, either. I'd be inclined simply to call it average and give it a C, but for that soft, oily crust. It wasn't oozing grease or anything, but it did have a slightly oily feel and aroma, so I'm rating it a just-below-average C-.
Charlotte Pizzeria, 4410 Lake Ave., 621-9111
Open daily. 9 a.m. - midnight, Fri. & Sat. till 3 a.m.
Pizza Guy note, 4/19/10: The "new businesses" listings in today's D&C list a new place, "Little DS House of Pizza," at this address. I can't tell if it's open yet or when it might be.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Proietti's, Webster

Proietti's Italian on Urbanspoon
My post last December about Rochester’s pizza history prompted comments from several people, including Whitey Proietti, proprietor of Proietti’s Restaurant in Webster. As he explained, Proietti’s can trace its roots back to a long-gone place on Goodman St. named Ozzie’s back in the early 1960s. So pizza and the Proietti family go back a long way.
Not long ago, I stopped off at Proietti’s to pick up a large pizza. Due to lack of time and my general preference for making my initial visit anonymously, I was unable to take up Whitey Proietti up on his invitation to come in and meet him, though I firmly intend to do that at some point.
My pizza, which was given a square or grid cut, had a medium-thick crust. The golden brown underside bore screen marks, and was dry, with some crispness.
Texturally, the crust might best be described as “fine.” It was not dense or “heavy,” but neither was it airy, in the sense of having large air holes in the interior. It also was not especially “gluteny,” by which I mean that it didn’t have the stretchy chewiness that I associate with extensive development of gluten in the dough. That, and the noticeably white interior of the crust, which was almost the color of angel food cake, got me curious about the flour that was used here. (In doing a bit of research, I ran across this discussion, which suggests that some gluten will result in a crust with more “bite” than “chew,” which is another good way to describe this one.)
Technical talk aside, I found the crust enjoyable. It had a mild but not bland flavor, and although I wouldn’t describe it as especially bready, it was easy to chew, without the toughness of some thicker crusts.
The pizza was rather saucy, though not so much as to be out of balance. The sauce was more tomatoey than herbal, with an acidic sharpness. The cheese seemed to be straight mozzarella, and was applied moderately, with a narrow border of sauce between it and the inch-wide edge.
The wide and thin slices of pepperoni were uniformly but generously applied in neat rows. The slices of fresh green bell pepper and white onion on the other half were al dente, and made for a pleasing combination. A sprinkling of dried herbs over the entire pizza was visible, though this wasn’t a particularly herbal-tasting pie.
In keeping with its status as an “old school” pizzeria, Proietti’s is not a place to go for newfangled “gourmet” pizzerias with unusual toppings. There are 14, pretty standard, toppings, and aside from the size of the pizza, your only other options are the thick-crust “double dough” and white pizza made with mozzarella, romano and garlic.
Aside from pizza, there is a full menu of Italian selections, and if you dine there you can expect to start off with Proietti’s complimentary and renowned zucchini appetizer. Though it’s located in an otherwise charmless shopping plaza, Proietti’s has a charming interior, with subdued lighting, family photos on the walls, and white linens on the tables. It’s tough to be both dinner-date formal and family-dinner casual, but Proietti’s straddles the line nicely.
I could see, eating this pizza, how it does hark back to an older era. This is why I love seeking out these places with deep local roots, to see what pizza was like around here in the days before national pizza chains, and before Rochester pizzerias began to consciously imitate the styles of other American cities. This pizza had a basic, straightforward, “traditional” flavor, texture and appearance (right down to the “square” cut) that I could appreciate. It was also obviously made with care and attention to detail, as evidenced by the neat rows of pepperoni slices and the uniform width of the outer edge. I’m giving this one a B+.
Proietti’s Italian Restaurant & Catering, 980 Ridge Rd. E. (Webster Plaza), Webster 872-2330
Sun., Tue. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sonny's Deli, N. Landing Rd.

Sonny's Deli is a little neighborhood spot on North Landing Road, just south of Blossom Road. It's the kind of place that you don't see very much these days, a small, independent deli/grocery store sitting by itself on an otherwise residential street.
This was formerly, I think, Detello's Deli & Pizzeria. I can remember getting pizza from there a long time ago one summer when I lived in a house nearby. But I'd kind of forgotten about it until just recently when I was scanning the pizza listings in the 2010 yellow pages (which still list this address as Detello's).
At any rate - I stopped in the other day for a slice. The slices were in one of those glass-enclosed warmers, where they looked to have been sitting for a while.
I opted for a cheese slice this time. It was thin, with a very dark underside bearing screen marks. The crust was crunchy - downright brittle, in fact - and when I took a bite the underside separated completely from the thin top layer of the crust, which remained adhered to the cheese. The predominant flavor was that of burnt toast.
The sauce was visible, but dried out, making it hard to pick out its flavor. Likewise, I could see a few flecks of dried herbs, but didn't notice any herb flavor either.
The cheese wasn't bad - uniformly but moderately applied mozzarella. It had a bright orange color and was a tad greasy.
The thin lip at the edge was OK. It was pleasantly crunchy, if a little bland.
Sonny's has a standard lineup of toppings, and four specialty pizzas. They also serve wings, which come tossed with one of eight sauces (which includes three heat levels of Buffalo sauce), a wide variety of subs and unusually named sandwiches (I get most of the names, except for "The Vatican," which comes with turkey, ham, bacon and mozzarella), salads, sides, and Italian and seafood dinners. And since it's a grocery too, they carry all the basics - milk, beer, snacks, etc. Sonny's, which is near Ellison Park, also claims to have "Rochester's largest supply of discs and disc golf accessories."
I have to say I was disappointed with this pizza. First, although I don't remember much about the pizza I used to get here way back when, when this was still Detello's, I know I got pizza from there more than once, so I must've liked it to some extent. (I do seem to recall the pizza being thicker, which is neither here nor there as far as me liking it, but it does seem to have changed since then.)
Second, I can see where this pizza had the potential to be really good. It looks more or less like a New York style pizza (except for the screen marks - I don't think I've ever seen screen-baked pizza in NYC), and according to the menu it's baked in a brick oven.
I think the problem here was mostly one of execution. The crust was overcooked, for one thing. It was also too dried out, from spending too long in the oven and, I think, the warming rack. That essentially nullified the sauce component, so that all I could really taste was the nearly-burned crust and the congealed cheese.
Finally, one minor quibble - the service was friendly enough, but when I got my slice, I was a bit surprised when the guy just handed it to me on a paper plate. It was snowing outside, and I was obviously getting it to go, so one of those paper sleeves would've been nice, don't you think?
So - I wasn't too thrilled with this slice, but even so, I think there was a very good slice of pizza trapped in there somewhere, that just never had a chance to get out. In fact I'm somewhat tempted to order a pizza from Sonny's sometime, just to see if maybe getting a freshly made pie would avoid some of the issues I had with this one. Until then, I'm giving Sonny's a C-.
Sonny's Deli, 494 N. Landing Rd. 288-7820
Mon. - Thu. 7 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 7 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pleasant Bunz, downtown

Pleasant Bunz on Urbanspoon
Pleasant Bunz is a downtown spot serving breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday. Although it's mostly a sandwich/burger kind of place, they do serve pizza slices at lunchtime, so I gave it a try.
My pepperoni slice was very soft, with a floppy crust that was a little oily underneath. It had that pancake-like appearance of dough that's been cooked on an oily surface. The edge was slightly crunchy, with a fried kind of texture and mouthfeel.
The cheese was melted and very stringy. It seemed to be all mozzarella. The tomato component was closer to chunks of canned tomato than to a traditional pizza sauce. The various components were in reasonably good balance, though. The pepperoni was of the wide and thin variety, and applied rather generously.
Pleasant Bunz's breakfast menu, which is available from 7 to 11 a.m., covers the usual bases, with pancakes, eggs, and some breakfast sandwiches. The lunch menu is considerably wider and includes wraps, sandwiches, burritos, salads and subs. Besides regular pizza slices, they offer French bread pizza too. Pleasant Bunz also has an order-to-to service - handy for downtown workers - and catering. There's some seating, but it's mostly a takeout operation.
Pleasant Bunz seems like a fine place to grab a quick breakfast or lunch, and I don't want to discourage anyone from going there and checking it out. But personally, I wouldn't go for the pizza. Mine had a crust that was way too soft, and it was rather bland all around, with its stringy mozzarella and chunky tomato "sauce." I applaud any desire to offer pizza, but pizza is not something you can put together quickly like an omelet or a sub sandwich and make it well. I just wonder if some eatery owners don't think that it's a simple matter to add pizza to a menu, without thinking through what's involved in making really good pizza. If your limitations of time, space or other resources prevent you from serving excellent pizza, it might be better to stick to the other stuff.
But that's me. For all I know, there's a whole army of downtown office workers who go to Pleasant Bunz specifically for their daily pizza fix. If so, far be it from me to say they're wrong. But this wasn't my idea of good pizza, and I'll give it a C-.
Pleasant Bunz Restaurant and Cafe, 87 N. Clinton Ave. 232-1370
Mon. - Thu. 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.
Fri. 7:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.

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