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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Pizzeria Americana Ohana, Monroe Ave.

Pizzeria Americana on Urbanspoon
Note: this establishment has closed. As of Dec. 2011, this site is occupied by Ken's Pizza Corner.
Way back in March 2009, I did a post on Kip's Pizzeria Americana in Greece. I also mentioned that there was a second location on Monroe Avenue in Brighton, going by the name Pizzeria Americana Ohana.
According to RocWiki, the two locations are now under completely separate ownership, and indeed their websites don't look at all alike, and make no mention of each other.
The menus at the two P.A.s are still pretty similar, but I still wanted to check out the Ohana location, just to see if it differed much from Kip's. It took me some time to do it, because although their menu and website say that they open at 11 a.m., on several occasions when I tried calling at lunchtime, I got no answer.
Eventually, I succeeded in ordering some pizza later in the day, to take home for dinner. I got two, a small pepperoni pie, and a medium Margherita.
I was a little put off when the person who took my phone order told me rather brusquely, "It's gonna be at least half an hour," before hanging up. I frankly wasn't quite sure what to make of that. Should I show up in half an hour? If I do, should I bring a book or something else to pass the time? Should I phone home and let my family know I might be late bringing home dinner?
Fortunately, when I did arrive about 35 minutes later, my pizzas were ready. They did in fact bear a definite resemblance to the pie that I'd gotten at Kip's, particularly around the edge, which was formed into a thick lip with a knotty, rope-like appearance.
The crusts were medium thick, with a firm, slightly charred underside that bore a light dusting of cornmeal. The crust had a pleasant bready flavor and aroma, and good texture.
The pepperoni pie was well balanced, with a moderate layer of mild-tasting tomato sauce that was neither too sweet nor too strongly flavored with herbs. That was topped by a uniform layer of lightly browned mozzarella, and rather spicy cup & char pepperoni, which was crisp along the edges.
The Margherita (or Margarita, to go by the menu spelling, though that sounds as if it should be topped with a tequila lime sauce, with some salt along the edge) was a little untraditional. The crust on this one is brushed with olive oil, and topped with garlic, fresh tomato, basil and Asiago cheese. It was certanly enjoyable, but the tiny bits of diced tomato contributed very little other than some color, and the basil, while more noticeable, took a back seat to the garlic and cheese. The latter two components, though, worked well together. The pizza had a nostril- and palate-pleasing garlic presence, and the Asiago, while not as stringy as processed mozzarella, gave the pizza a nice, sharp-edged tang. The thin coating of olive oil between the crust and toppings helped bring the various components together.
Pizzeria American has an extensive list of toppings to choose from (the cheese list alone runs to eight different varieties), and no less than 31 gourmet pizzas, which run the gamut from a simple four cheese pizza to the "Garbage Pie," whose name says it all. They also serve hot and cold subs, sandwiches and burgers, wings, appetizers and salad. It's stricly takeout and delivery ($2.00 delivery charge).
Both these pizzas were pretty good. I particularly liked the crust, and though this wasn't my favorite Margherita around here, both it and the pepperoni pie were pretty well made. I gave Kip's a B+, and that does seem about right for this too.
Pizzeria Americana Ohana, 1860 Monroe Ave. (near 12 Corners) 271-5860
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 8 p.m.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Straight Home, Lexington Ave.

Straight Home is on Lexington Avenue, about a half mile east of Mount Read. There's a bar on one side, and a takeout pizzeria/grill on the other.
Straight Home used to be The Lex Bar & Grill, which is why there's a place called Lex South on Scottsville Road. I guess Lex South was originally a second location of the original Lex.
I mention that because Lex South shares its building with a pizzeria, Sylvio's, as does Straight Home, so it seems there's some connection between the Lex, or its successor Straight Home, and pizza.
But back to Straight Home. The grill opens at 11 a.m., but I tried to get a slice there a couple of time around lunch hour only to be told that pizza wouldn't be available until later. So finally one evening I swung by and got a pepperoni slice.
When I placed the order, the cook pulled out a large cheese slice, added some pepperoni to it and put it in the pizza oven, where it stayed for quite some time, even though it appeared to have already been baked when he put it in. Maybe it was just partially baked, with the idea that it could be finished when it got rewarmed in the oven.
After, I'd say, five minutes, maybe a little more, my slice emerged. It was a giant slice, measuring 10 1/2 inches along the sides.
Despite the length of time it had spent in the oven, the underside of the slice was quite pale. It was lightly dusted with cornmeal. It was firm, but not crisp.
The crust was rather thin toward the tip of the slice, and  gradually got thicker nearer the outer edge, going from about a quarter inch to 3/4" thick. The lip at the edge was over an inch thick.
The slice was rather greasy, probably from all the pepperoni. I would've held the slice vertically to let the grease drip off, but the pepperoni would've fallen off too. Pepperoni just doesn't adhere well when you try to add it to a cheese slice that's already been cooked. So I did the best I could sopping it up with a napkin.
There was a lot of cheese here, and a lot of pepperoni too. This was a big slice in a lot of ways. Big in size, and loaded with cheese and pepperoni.
The only thing there wasn't a lot of was sauce. There was just a thin layer underneath the cheese, and I couldn't really pick up much of its flavor.
Besides pizza, Straight Home has all the bar food staples, grilled, fried and otherwise. The wings looked and smelled particularly good. Both the bar (which is on the right, facing the front of the building) and the takeout counter were reasonably busy on this weeknight. (The name, I assume, is meant to allow you to say that you're going, or that you went, "straight home" after work or whenever, *wink wink*.)
This was, I thought, rather atypical bar pizza. Of the few bars that serve pizza, I've always figured that most, like Acme, make it thin so you won't get too full to keep drinking. One slice of this, though, was pretty filling.
I can't say I liked it too much, I'm afraid. The dough had risen nicely, and had a good bready flavor, but bottom was just not nearly done enough for me. I also found it a little out of balance, and would've liked a little more sauce to balace out the cheese and pepperoni. Overall, this was pizza with some potential, but this particular slice had some definite flaws as well. I'll give it a C-.
Straight Home Inn, 688 Lexington Ave. 458-0020
Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sun. noon - 2 a.m.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Genuine Neighborhood Pizzeria in the 19th Ward: Menezes Pizza

Menezes Pizza on Chili Avenue has been in business for 24 years, all under the ownership of Freddy and Jill Menezes (pronounced "men-EZZ-ez"). In a business in which both pizzerias and their owners come and go with some frequency, that's pretty impressive.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with both Jill and Freddy about what's kept them going all these years, and about how the pizza business has changed since they started out in 1986.
I'll refer you to Menezes' website for the story of how Menezes Pizza got started on Genesee Street and how it ended up at its current location, in the former site of a Pizza Hut carryout franchise (score one for the little guys!).
When I read that story prior to my visit, I was impressed by the Menezes' commitment to their 19th Ward neighborhood, and that very much came out during my conversation with Jill. With obvious affection for the area, she termed it a "very special neighborhood," both in its diversity of residents and because it is a very real neighborhood, where people still talk to each other.
That neighborliness has been a factor in the success of Menezes, which, without the kind of advertising budget that its larger competitors have, has had to rely to a great extent on word of mouth. Jill recalled that the day that Menezes opened after relocating from Genesee Street, they had 300 orders, despite almost no advance advertising, simply because word had spread among the customers and local residents. Clearly there's a symbiotic relationship at work here between Menezes and the neighborhood, many of whose residents found their first jobs at the pizzeria.
But it's unlikely that Menezes would have stayed in business for this long had they not turned out good pizza, and provided good service. And what was also apparent from talking to both Freddy and Jill is their commitment to both. She described Fred - who oversees most of the pizzamaking operations - as someone who has always striven to make the best product he can, adding that they were both determined from day one to "treat people the right way."
What has also benefited Menezes over the years is the contrasting yet complementary personalities of Freddy and Jill. He's a people person who takes a hands-on approach and is able to roll with the punches, while Jill, with an academic background in both art and economics, tends to look more at the big picture, trying to keep up with the latest technology and coming up with innovative approaches to business issues and marketing.
Freddy's passion for quality was evident in the frustration he expressed over some changes in the pizza business since he started out. Back in the day, he told me, the cheese and pepperoni were all hand-sliced. Today, workers' comp issues and customers' expectations of a fast turnaround time have made that impracticable. Even the sauce has changed over the years; as Freddy explained, cooking helps bring out the flavor of tomatoes, but these days the idea has taken hold that fresher always means better, so now tomatoes go from the vine to the can with minimal processing.
And while it's not exactly news that the government can make life more difficult, here's one that never would have occurred to me:  sauce is best kept at room temperature before it's spread on the pizza, so that it can cook in the oven; if it's cold when it's applied, precious minutes will go by in the oven just warming it up. But keeping sauce out at room temperature doesn't sit right with the Department of Health, whose inspectors insist that it be kept refrigerated when not in use.
There have been more serious challenges too, not the least of which is the recession and the continued sluggish economy. The deep-pocketed chain pizzerias have responded by slashing prices and spending heavily on advertising, neither of which small independent shops like Menezes can afford without going into debt, something that Freddy and Jill have always tried to avoid.
On top of that, there was a snafu earlier this year when the phone company printed the wrong phone number for Menezes in the phone book. That was eventually straightened out, but in a business that relies heavily on phone orders, that's more than just an inconvenience.
Clearly, then, running a successful pizza business is not as simple as one might think. With all the obstacles that are out there, the pizza had better be good, and consistent, and Menezes' pizza is both. I got a quick walk-through of the process, starting with the massive mixer (think KitchenAid on steroids), and moving on to the dough retarder, where the dough is chilled to allow for a slow fermentation. Eighteen-year veteran Jay Trudeau (seen in photo) was busy pressing out the dough and topping it with Menezes' house-made sauce and other toppings, and from there it was on to the ovens. Pizzas at Menezes typically go in to the oven on a tray (screens are  no longer used), then finished directly on the oven's stone deck. If  you, like me, prefer your pizza to be baked without the tray, just let them know when ordering, and they'll accommodate you.
Talking with Freddy and Jill gave me newfound respect not just for the real-life "moms and pops" out there who run our neighborhood pizzerias, but for small business owners in general. It takes both brains and heart, to understand the business but also to genuinely care about taking good care of your customers. At one point in our conversation, Jill made the comment that she and Fred "try our hardest every day to serve people the best we can." I think that as much as anything else, that sums up why Menezes has been in business now for 24 years and counting.
Menezes Pizza, 445 Chili Ave., 328-3010
Mon. - Wed. 11 a.m. - midnight, Thu. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 1 a.m., Sun. noon - midnight
Note:  Menezes Pizza will be participating in the Second Annual Taste of Chili Avenue Festival from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 24. The event will take place along Chili Avenue near Thurston Road. Other features include two stages of entertainment, a basketball competition, face painting and activities for kids. Parking will be available at HSBC, the Progressive Cathedral Church of God in Christ, and the Gardiner Recreation Center. Admission is free.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Humphrey House, Penfield

Humphrey House on Urbanspoon
The Humphrey House has been serving food in Penfield for over 30 years now. It closed for a while in 2007, and reopened under new ownership in 2008.
Recently, the Humphrey House installed a wood-fired oven, which they use to create a variety of thin-crust pizzas. This of course necessitated a visit on my part.
I’ve had mixed results with wood-fired pizza around here, so I didn’t know what to expect. At one extreme are those pizzas that come out dry, thin, brittle and crackerlike. Me no like. At the other are pizzas that are so soft, chewy and pale that you wonder what the point was of baking them in a wood-fired oven. That’s kind of like buying a Ferrari and never driving it over 30 m.p.h.
But then there are the pizzas that fall in between, with a nice char on the outside, a whiff of smokiness, a crisp bottom and a chewy interior. Except for the smokiness, that can be done in any good pizza oven, but with the right technique, a wood-fired oven is perfect for achieving that result. So I was cautiously optimistic.
Of the seven pizza choices on the menu, I chose the Margherita, as I usually do for wood-fired pies. It’s a classic, and simple enough that the toppings won’t get in the way of the crust.
My pizza measured a foot across, and the crust was very thin, making it just about right for a satisfying lunch for one person. The crust was quite charred and heat-blistered on the bottom. The charring was a bit uneven, but was confined entirely to the underside - the edge was not charred at all.
As thin as the crust was, though, the charring was only on the surface of the underside. The crust was not burned through, and in fact it remained supple, even floppy, especially toward the tips of the slices. By all indications, then, this pizza had baked very quickly, at very high temperatures - long enough on the hot oven floor for the underside to char, but without burning the toppings or drying out the crust.
I’ve never been to Italy, sad to say, but that made me wonder if this was closer to genuine Neapolitan pizza than the really crisp pies turned out by a lot of wood-fired pizzerias in this country. Contrary to what I’d thought, I’ve read that most pizza in Naples has a rather soft crust, mostly because of the flour that they use, which is one reason that it’s typically eaten with a knife and fork. Again, I can’t confirm that from first-hand experience, but if that’s true perhaps this pizza was not too far from that mark, as far as the crust is concerned.
In more “American” fashion, though, this was a fairly saucy pizza. Instead of the fresh or crushed tomatoes found on some Margheritas, this was topped with a relatively generous layer of cooked sauce, which had a slightly sweet yet tangy flavor. It was almost too much sauce for such a thin crust, but I like sauce, so it was OK with me.
As I mentioned, the top side of the pie was not nearly as well-done as the bottom, and the fresh mozzarella slices were more softened than melted. The shredded basil was wilted enough to blend with the other components, but still green enough to retain its fresh flavor.
HH’s other pizzas include a “Traditional” pepperoni pizza, and yet another take on “Sicilian,” with pancetta, red onions, mozzarella and garlic sauce. You can peruse the rest of the menu on their website, but it’s wide-ranging, with steaks, seafood, chicken and pasta. A white-tablecloth dining room takes up most of the space, with a small, informal bar in a separate room in back.
It’s funny - in some ways, this wasn’t really the kind of pizza I like best - I like more of an interior in my crust, for one thing - but I think it was well executed, and I give credit to the pizzaiolo for not being afraid to make good use of the wood-fired oven, while avoiding the danger of simply burning the pizza and calling it “artisanal.” No doubt some people would take one look at the blackened underside and pronounce it inedible, but I found it well executed, and I’ll give it an A-.
The Humphrey House, 1783 Penfield Rd., Penfield, 267-7415
Mon. - Thu. 11:00 am - 9:00 pm, Fri. & Sat. 11:00 am - 10:00 pm, closed Sun.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ciaccia's

Ciaccia Importers of Fine Food on Urbanspoon
Ciaccia's is an Italian deli on Lee Road, a little north of Lyell. I saw a reference somewhere to them serving pizza, so I went to investigate.
Though there's a sign in the window that says they serve mini pizzas, what I found inside was that there were cut slices available at lunchtime. They had two varieties, pepperoni and veggie, so I got one of each.
These were rectangular, Sicilian-type slices. They had been sitting out at room temperature, so I rewarmed them in a toaster oven before trying them.
As you might expect, the crust was fairly thick, with a light brown underside that was slightly oily to the touch. It was nice and crisp (thanks in large part to the reheating), and it had a light texture, not dense at all. It seemed to have had a pretty good rise in the pan.
The veggie slice was topped with sweet and hot peppers, black olives, mushrooms and onions. Except for the onions, the veggies all seemed to be of the canned variety. Despite my aversion to mushrooms - most of which I picked off - it was a tasty combination. This slice seemed relatively light on the sauce, and I hard a hard time detecting the flavor of the sauce. The cheese was melted and soft, and covered with all those toppings, it had not browned at all. The slice was also dusted with Parmesan.
The pepperoni slice was noticeably more browned than the veggie, and the cheese was more congealed. It had a heavier application of sauce, which had a thick consistency and a tomatoey flavor. I don't know if the pepperoni pizza was intentionally given a more generous layer of sauce, but if so, it was a wise decision, as this helped the sauce better stand up to and balance out the pepperoni, which had a spicy, assertive flavor.
Ciaccia is, again, a deli, not a pizzeria as such, so the emphasis here is mostly on deli meats and subs. They do offer a variety of hot and cold items, and you'll also find various imported foods in the back. They seem to do a pretty steady lunchtime business.
I've seen Sicilian pizza described as, essentially, focaccia with toppings, and that's about how I'd describe this too. It made for a pleasant eating experience, with its light-textured crust and enjoyable toppings. I think I would've liked the veggie slice a little more had fresh olives been used, and though the crust was good, for my taste it could've been browned a bit more to bring out a little additional flavor from the dough. But all in all, not a bad couple of slices, and I'll give them a B-.
Ciaccia Importers of Fine Foods, 183 Lee Rd., 458-3497
(hours unknown)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Pontillo's: Bushnells Basin vs. Alexander St.

Pontillo's Pizza (Pittsford) on Urbanspoon
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.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Rigatoni's, Penfield

Rigatoni's is a small Italian restaurant in the village of Penfield. It's not someplace I would've thought of for pizza until I ran across this article. A phone call confirmed that they do indeed serve individual-size pizzas, so I promptly ordered one with pepperoni.
The crust on my pie was medium thick, and 10 inches wide, with a mostly pale, screen baked bottom. It was a little unevenly cooked, with one section of the edge considerably darker than the rest. The crust had a soft texture, even along the edge. It had clearly risen fairly wall, but the interior was not particularly airy.
The sauce was applied somewhat thickly, though in good balance with the crust. It was tomatoey, but also had a noticeable herb flavor.
The shredded cheese was moderately applied, with some individual strands still visible, and a few bare spots here and there. I'm not sure, but it seemed to me that there might've been some provolone in there along with the mozzarella.
Rather than the typical, small round slices, the pepperoni on this pie appeared to have been cut from a relatively wide pepperoni that had been sliced and quartered. It had a good meaty flavor. The entire pie was lightly dusted with herbs and what appeared to be Parmesan.
Rigatoni's has all the Italian standards on the menu, like chicken and veal parm, greens & beans, and pasta, as well as more basic stuff like subs and wraps. They also do a substantial catering business. There's room for about 30 diners indoors, with some outdoor seating as well. No alcohol, but you're welcome to BYOB.
I wouldn't mind going back sometime for lunch or dinner, to check out some of those other items on the menu, but I'd probably skip the pizza. It was tasty, and was pretty well balanced, but the crust wasn't so great. To me, it was reminiscent of the kind of pizza you might expect to get off the kids' menu at a restaurant - nothing to complain about, but not something I'd take over a good dish of pasta. I'll give it a C.
Rigatoni's, 2133 Five Mile Line Rd., Penfield. 381-8550
Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jim & Ralph's, NY style pie

Back in March, I did a post on a slice that I got at Jim & Ralph's on Elmgrove Road, which had recently started serving pizza. I found it a pleasant surprise coming from a restaurant that I had always thought of as more of a burgers-'n'-hots kind of place, and along with my "B" rating I said that Jim & Ralph's "warrants a return visit sometime for a full pie."
Well, I followed up and that, and went back for full pie. Alas, perhaps my expectations had been raised too much, but this time I was disappointed.
My pizza had a thin crust that was very soft - even the edge was soft. It reminded my of one of those soft breadsticks they give you at Olive Garden. Not bad, maybe, for a breadstick, but not what I'm looking for in my pizza.
Having said that, though, I didn't find the crust all that bready. It seemed rather lifeless, for lack of a better term, and the slices were rather floppy.
The underside bore some screen marks and was very unevenly cooked - it was quite dark in some areas, and very light in others. My guess is that there are hot spots in the oven, which means that the pizza needs to be moved around now and then while it's baking to ensure an evenly cooked crust.
The sauce on this pizza had a mild tomatoey flavor, and was moderately applied. The cheese was more heavily applied, and was melted and stringy. For my taste, it was a little too heavily applied for this thin a crust, and threatened to overwhelm the other components.
Overall, the pizza had a slightly salty flavor, and I thought I detected some garlic powder in the background as well.
I should also mention that the overall preparation seemed a bit sloppy. The pepperoni was somewhat unevenly distributed, as was the cheese. And when I opened the box I found that the cheese had slid around in one area. In fairness, I can't guarantee that that didn't happen after I took custody of the pizza box, but I did try to be careful, so I don't think so. Regardless, even aside from that this just didn't seem like an carefully prepared pizza. (Having said that, it is a relatively minor point, in my scheme of things. If it has good flavor and texture, I'll overlook a little sloppiness.)
I'll refer you to my prior post on Jim & Ralph's for other details about their menu, etc. As for this pizza, well, it tasted pretty good, but the crust was not the greatest, and the components just didn't seem to come together very well. It was OK, but not better than OK, so I'll give it a C. So in light of the prior review, on average, we're talking B-/C+ here, with some concerns about consistency. Or maybe it's just a better place to pick up a reheated slice than a full pie.
Jim & Ralph's, 904 Elmgrove Rd. 247-7220
Open daily 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Mark's, Winton Place

Mark's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Although I don't go out of my way to review chain pizzerias, I figure that local or regional chains deserve at least one review here. Up till now, my one post on Mark's Pizzeria has been a review of the Lyell Avenue location in Rochester. Some readers commented that the Lyell location wasn't the best Mark's to go to, and I've seen more than one thing said about the Mark's in Winton Place, so I've been meaning to check it out sometime. And now that the Mark's on Lyell has closed (at one point a sign in the window said that Paradiso would be opening there), I figured it was a good time to do that.
This was considerably different from the pizza I got at Lyell. In fact, if I hadn't known otherwise, I never would've guessed that they both came from the same chain.
For starters, this was much thicker than the Lyell Mark's pizza. The crust was nearly an inch thick. It had reasonably good flavor and texture - not outstandingly bready, but not gummy, and it was cooked through, without the raw-dough flavor of some crusts.
The concentric rings of round bumps underneath indicated that they had been in a dimpled pan. I'm not quite sure what the theoretical advantage of such a pan would be, but the underside here was medium brown, dry to the touch, and firm but not crisp.The outer edge was pretty good, bready and a little crisp. The lip had been crimped, sort of like a pie crust, so that it had a sort of knotty appearance.
The sauce was moderately applied and very middle-of-the-road in flavor. Tomatoey, but not especially sweet, salty, herbal, or acidic.
The thin but uniform layer of mozzarella was pretty well browned, and though not burnt, it seemed a bit dried out (which I don't think was from spending too much time on the warming rack - they were quite busy at lunch time, and slices were moving quickly).
Mark's menu is available on their website, and the Winton menu here. On my visit to the Winton Place Mark's, they had several different slices available, nothing too unusual or remarkable as far as I could tell. And compared to some places today, Mark's pizza menu is relatively basic, with eight specialty pizzas and about 15 toppings to pick from.
The Winton Place location is pretty much a takeout and delivery place only, although there are a few picnic tables nearby. One thing I'd read about the Winton Place Mark's was that service was good, and it was. Did they "treat me like family," as their five-second ad says? Well, for me that depends on which of my relatives you're talking about, but the counter guy was friendly and seemed to make an effort to connect with each customer and to provide good service. Noticing that the first slice he'd given me was on the small side, he purposely picked out a bigger one to go with it, to balance things out.
Speaking of balance, that brings us back to this pizza. It was pretty good, but for me, the crust was just a little too thick. It's not that I dislike thick crusts per se, but they tend to knock a pizza out of balance - in other words, they dominate the other components. You could try to compensate for that by adding a lot of cheese, a lot of sauce, and other toppings, but to me, pizza is one of those things where less is sometimes more. Better to make the crust a little thinner, so you get a more subtle interplay between the crust, cheese and sauce.
I'm sure if you order a whole pie from Mark's you can get it thin if you ask, but you can't do that when you walk in for a slice, and from what I saw a lot of people go there to get slices. So I'm reviewing what I had, which is all I can do.
At the same time, I know that's just my subjective preference, and I can't say this was a poorly made pizza. Certainly it was filling, and if you like thick crusts, this was not bad. If I wanted a thick crust, I'd probably opt for a nice, crunchy Sicilian slice over this, but this was, well, all right. I'll give it a C+.
Mark's Pizzeria, 3450 Winton Place, 292-5140
Sun. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m. - midnight

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