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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gaetano's, W. Ridge Road: Sicilian pizza

Gaetano's Bakery on Urbanspoon
I've previously posted on Gaetano's bakery, about a year ago, but it was just for one slice, which didn't seem especially fresh, and I've long meant to go back for a freshly made pie.
In that prior post, I said that Gaetano's Sicilian pizza sounded tempting, and that's what I opted for on a recent visit. "Sicilian" here does not denote a rectangular, thick-crusted, pan pizza, which is what I usually think of as Sicilian pizza, but a regular pizza topped with oil (presumably olive oil), black pepper, fresh garlic, parsley, Romano cheese and basil.
I don't know why, but somehow I had come to expect Gaetano's Siciilan pizza to be a red pizza, i.e. with tomato sauce, similar to a Grandma's or traditional pizza with just sauce and a sprinkling of Romano. But it's a white pizza, no sauce.
OK, well, my fault in thinking otherwise. I like white pizza.
But I don't really like a soft crust, which is what this had. The underside was a bit oily to the touch, and though it wasn't wet-sponge soft, it was definitely on the soft side. As was my slice last October, the underside of this pie was dotted with small, pinprick puncture holes.
The medium-to-thick crust was also a little gummy on top, where it met the cheese. The cheese - which I'm pretty certain was mozzarella - was browned, and formed a uniform blanket over the crust. The Romano cheese overlaid a little sharpness, but the mozzarella certainly predominated.
Bits of chopped, browned garlic also dotted the surface, and this pizza definitely left a garlicky aftertaste. The black pepper was a background presence, and the bits of dried parsley added little, either visually or on the palate. (We need a word for that in English - what's the sense-of-taste equivalent of "visual"?)
This pizza tasted pretty good, but its major shortcoming was the crust. That was one of the things I disliked about my slice last year, and though I guess I had no real reason to expect it to be different this time, I was still disappointed, because Gaetano's bread is so damn good. On an impulse, I found myself getting a gorgeous loaf of bread with my pizza. It had a floury, crunchy crust and a soft, chewy interior. If only some of that had been present in the pizza. I had the sense, in eating the pizza, that the dough was just fine, but that it had not been baked in a way that would extract from it its optimal flavor and texture.
*Sigh* Well, there's still the mini pizzas, which I have yet to try, and Gaetano's also sells pizza dough, so you could always try it at home. Aside from that, I'll pick up the occasional loaf of bread here, but I doubt I'll give the pizza another shot. It tasted good, so I'm not going to give it a truly bad grade, but that soft crust drags it down, so I'm giving it a C-.
Gaetano’s Bakery, 1439 W. Ridge Rd. 865-7810
Mon. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kosher Pizzeria Opens in Brighton

Abba's Pizza is now open at the The Kessler Family Chabad Center For Jewish Life, near 12 Corners in Brighton. If my understanding of Jewish dietary laws is correct, that means you won't be finding any meat lovers' pizzas on the menu. But where else can you get corn on your pizza? I'll check it out sometime.
Abba's Pizza, 1037 Winton Road South, 360-9723
Mon - Thurs: 10:30 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.

Cordello's, Chili

I've done one previous post about Cordello's, concerning their location on Lyell Road in Gates. My slices from there wasn't bad, but they had some flaws, and I gave them a B-.
Recently I stopped at Cordello's on Chili Ave. in Chili. I got a cheese slice and a pepperoni slice.
These were a little better than the ones I got in Gates. They were about the same thickness, on the thin side of medium, and thinner toward the tip, getting gradually thicker toward the outer edge.
The undersides were charred and nearly blackened in some areas, but were also more evenly browned than the slices I got in Gates. They had a crackly exterior, and a toasty flavor and aroma. Despite the outer crispness, they were still reasonably pliable and foldable.
The interior of the crust was rather chewy, almost to the point of being "tough." I imagine that, like most pizzerias around here, Cordello's uses high-gluten flour, and the gluten in this crust seemed exceptionally well developed, which can give you a tougher, chewier texture. Between that chewiness and the exterior crispness, the crust on one slice tore apart when I took a bite.
The sauce was moderately applied, in good balance with the crust, and was just a little sweet, in a tomatoey kind of way. That was topped by a layer of mozzarella that was just barely browned. It was fairly thick, and in fact the cheese was thicker than the crust in many areas. All in all, though, there was a pretty good balance among the crust, cheese and sauce. The wide, thin slices of pepperoni were a little spicy.

As of now, there appear to be five Cordelllo's locations. I presume they share more or less the same menu, which you can see at the Irondequoit Cordello's Facebook page.
This pizza wasn't perfect, by any means, but it was better than what I got in Gates last year. The crust was too hard to chew, and as you can see in the photo, the cheese was a little unevenly applied, and only covered about two-thirds of the pepperoni slice.
But it did have several things going for it, including a crisp bottom with some nice toasty notes, good flavor, and pretty good balance. I'd say it rates a B.
Cordello's, 3774 Chili Ave. (at Union St.) 889-3333 Hours unknown, but the Gates location advertises very late hours.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Carrabba's, W. Henrietta Rd.

Carrabba's Italian Grill on Urbanspoon
One of my reasons for not reviewing chain pizzerias is that they are so ubiquitous. If there's not a Pizza Hut, Domino's or Papa John's (or Salvatore's, around here) near you, chances are there's been one in the past, and that you've sampled their wares at some point in your life. Unless you've been a vegetarian from birth, you've probably eaten a McDonald's hamburger at one time or another, and you hardly need some self-appointed food critic to tell you what they taste like. Same goes for pizza.
But if a chain only has one location in your area, that rationale doesn't apply. Such is the case with Carrabba's, which is on West Henrietta Road, near Marketplace Mall. So when I had dinner there recently, I tried their Margherita pizza, and took some notes.
Carrabba's advertises some entrees as cooked on a wood-burning grill, but the pizzas are said to be baked in a brick oven, so I take it that they are not baked in a wood-burning oven. The menu also states that the pizzas are baked at 600 degrees, which is not exceptionally hot.
Still, the crust on these was nicely charred, and comparable, if not better, than some pizzas I've had that were baked in wood-fired ovens. It was quite thin, with no real interior, and crisp on the outside but still very pliable. Interestingly, the underside was, apart from the charred areas, quite pale.
The menu describes the Margherita as topped with "vine-ripe Roma tomatoes, basil, extra virgin olive oil and mozzarella." Of those toppings, it was the cheese that predominated here. It appeared to be  fresh mozzarella, and was applied in chunks that had partially melted. It didn't have the almost liquid creaminess of some fresh mozzarella, but it hadn't turned rubbery either, and was somewhat stringy.
The "vine-ripe" tomatoes looked nice enough, but aside from a touch of sweetness, didn't seem to have much flavor. I wondered, this being a chain restaurant and all, if their tomatoes are trucked in from some distant location; at this time of year, I would think that locally-grown tomatoes would be much more flavorful.
The torn basil leaves were neatly arranged, one per slice plus one in the middle, though basil lovers might like a little more.
The entire pizza was also lightly dusted with what looked and tasted like black pepper. That's a bit unusual, but it added a nice flavor boost to what was otherwise a mild, even bland pizza. I don't know if fresh garlic is an option - I didn't see any toppings list on the menu - but it would've made a nice addition as well.
Carraabba's offers an array of Italian dishes, from standbys like chicken Marsala and lasagna to house specialties like penne with fennel sausage pomodoro and a number of meat and seafood dishes from the wood-fired grill. In general, my impression was that the food was of fairly high quality, and a notch above the standard Italian chain restaurant fare.
As for the pizza, it was pretty good. Not outstanding, but pretty good. The crust was nicely charred, and crisp but supple, yet it didn't have the toasted, bready flavors of a really great pizza crust. And as I mentioned, the overall flavor of this pizza was a shade on the bland side, and seemed to be lacking that little extra something to make it truly memorable. Still, it was enjoyable, with no significant flaws, and good enough to rate a B from me. Carrabba's Italian Grill, 3340 West Henrietta Road, 292-6120 Mon. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 4 p.m. - 10:30 p.m., Sat. 3 p.m. - 10:30 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Pizza Stop Reopens

Noticed today that the Pizza Stop has reopened, after being closed for a few weeks due to building renovations. I'll stop by soon to check it out, see if there are any changes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Main Street Pizzeria, Brockport

Main Street Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
I've done a post before about Main Street Pizza in Brockport, but it seemed like a good time for an update. For one thing, I ran across a recent review that really trashed Main Street for having "strayed so far from its original NYC roots & recipe [that] it barely even resembles NYC style pizza any more." Wow. Really?
Second, I noticed that Main Street's website has a link to my earlier blog review, which gave them an A-minus. I'm OK with that, but I figured if they're using my blog to promote themselves, I should check back and see if they're still as good as before.
Unlike my last visit, when I just got a slice, this time I got a full pie, specifically an "extra large" (18 inch) New York style pie.
Contrary to what the aforementioned reviewer said, this did resemble NYC style pizza. It had a thin crust, which had some light charring on the underside. The bottom displayed some surface cracks, but it remained pliable enough to fold.
There were some differences from last time, though. Whereas before I wrote that the "sauce was applied lightly" and the "cheese was a tad on the thick side," here that was reversed. This was a sauce-dominated pizza. It wasn't doused with sauce, but there was a fair amount of it, and it had an assertive, complex flavor, with notes of both tomatoey sweetness and acidity, with some herbs in the background. The sauce had a medium-thick consistency, neither runny nor dried out. The pizza in general also had a certain black-peppery, spicy aftertaste, though I couldn't see any obvious source of that. My guess, however, is that it came from the sauce.
In contrast, the cheese was rather lightly applied, with a number of bare spots showing, and a thin layer of cheese where it was present. The cheese didn't have the greatest texture either - it was not smooth, creamy or stringy, but simply congealed, with a texture somewhat like that of melted plastic. I wondered if it was part-skim cheese, which I think doesn't melt as nicely as the full-fat stuff.
Consistent with the crisp crust, this pizza had a nice bready edge, whidch was formed into a medium-wide lip. It had a crunchy exterior and chewy interior.
Main Street also offers "traditional style" pizza, which I take to mean thicker crust. I may try one sometime, but it's hard for me to pass up a decent NY-style pizza when it's available.
And this is decent NY-style pizza. Not flawless, but not bad. On the plus side, I liked the crust, which struck the right balance between crispness, pliability and chewiness. On the minus side, I wasn't so crazy about the cheese this time around. I don't usually like a lot of cheese on my pizza, but this one seemed a tad skimpy. Worse than that, the cheese simply didn't add much, either in terms of flavor or texture.
That leaves the sauce, which really took center stage here. I liked it well enough, but some people may not (like my wife, for instance, who thought this pizza was too tomatoey). Maybe it was just this one pizza, or maybe as a cost-cutting move, they're going lighter on the cheese and adding a little more sauce to compensate. The problem with that is that it tends to throw things out of balance. Cheese, sauce and crust should work in harmony together, but here the sauce predominated.
Again, I didn't mind it much - my biggest complaint was the cheese itself - but I can see where some people might be less than thrilled with this pizza, especially if you like a cheesy pizza.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that personally, I still like Main Street's NY-style pizza, though this one wasn't quite as good, I think, as the slice I had last time. So I'll bump it down a notch, to a B+.
Main Street Pizza, 13 Main St., Brockport 637-8760
Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

City Newspaper Best of Rochester 2010 reminder

Just a heads-up that City newspaper is running their annual "Best of Rochester" vote through October 1. You can vote online, so why not take a minute and cast a ballot for your favorite local pizzeria? There are lots of other categories, including favorite local blog, so let your voice be heard.

Monday, September 20, 2010

El's Deli, Dewey Ave.

I ordinarily don't review pizza from convenience stores, because with rare exceptions, those places aren't true pizzerias. They simply take a prebaked, maybe frozen crust, add some canned sauce and shredded mozzarella, cook it and stick it under a heat lamp. 
But I made an exception for El's Deli on Dewey Avenue, which is listed on Rochester Wiki as a pizzeria. The signs outside the building also prominently mention pizza, so I figured, maybe they really do make pizza from scratch.
Or not. Inside, I found a typical urban deli/convenience store, with some hot food - pizza, chicken wings (coated with what looked like BBQ sauce) and Jamaican patties - under a heat lamp. I got one pepperoni slice, which was all that was available, and which set me back $1.50.
It fit the sad profile of pizza from such places:  soft spongy crust, in the medium to thick range of thickness. It was a little oily on the surface, but not too bad in that regard. Only along the thick edge was there some oily crunch.
I could see sauce on this slice, but it was hard to taste it. What little there was seemed to have soaked into the top of the crust. The slice was topped with a uniform layer of melted cheese.
I don't know why, but as bad as the pizza is at some of these places, I kind of like the pepperoni that they use. It may not be the "best," however you measure that, but these had a nice, spicy kick and a hint of smokiness to them.
So that's about it. Spongy crust, almost nonexistent sauce, basic cheese and a few slices of decent pepperoni. With that soft crust and lack of sauce, I can only give this one a D.
El's Delicatessen, 1548 Dewey Ave., 254-4910, 254-2010
Hours unknown, but Rochester Wiki says it closes around 10 p.m. daily.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Stone Oven Pizza, RIT

College campuses aren't typically places I would go looking for pizza, but after hearing that RIT had a place called "Stone Oven Pizza," I thought it might be worth checking out.
Clearly the days of the dining hall as the place to eat on-campus are long gone. Today it's all about choices, and RIT offers students a dizzying array of options, including the aforementioned Stone Oven.
While it's nice to have choices and all, that doesn't mean much if the food's no good. So how's the pizza?
I got a cheese slice and a Margherita slice, which was one of specialty slices of the day. They were baked in what looked, at first glance, like a wood-fired oven, but it appeared to me that the flame inside was simply a gas flame.
The crust on both slices was thin, with an underside that was, sadly, crisscrossed with screen marks. I say "sadly" because it seems to me that baking the pizza on a screen, while it might be convenient, is not apt to give you as crisp a crust as baking it right on the floor of that nice-looking stone oven. And sure enough, the underside on these was firm, but not what I would call crisp, and the crust was a bit chewy. There were a few spots underneath that were nearly charred, but mostly they were just a mottled brown.
The cheese slice was covered with a fairly thick blanket of mozzarella. It was a little oily on top. The moderately-applied sauce had a thick consistency and a middle-of-the-road flavor, neither too sweet, salty or herbal. The puffy edge of the crust was OK, with some bready flavor, but not particularly noteworthy.
The Margherita was, well, not what I would call a Margherita. Not to get hung up on labels, but if you'd asked me what kind of pizza it was, I wouldn't have guessed that it was a Margherita.
Some chunky tomatoes were interspersed with what appeared to be fresh mozzarella, though the cheese seemed a bit dried out and not as creamy as it could've been.
That was fine, but where was the basil? I'm not sure that I've ever had a Margherita without some fresh basil on it. This simply had what flakes of what I took to be dried, crushed basil.
Semantics aside, this was pretty tasty. The underside, though still not crisp, was a bit more blackened than the cheese slice, and had some pleasant toasty flavor notes. I picked up a pronounced aroma of garlic, while on the palate, there was a tangy saltiness from the cheese, which played nicely off the sweetness of the tomatoes. To paraphrase Shakespeare, a Margherita by any other name would taste just as good, and whether this deserved that moniker or not, it was, for me, definitely the better of the two slices.
I didn't get a menu - I'm not sure that they had any - but you can get an idea of the offerings at SOP and its neighbors at the Commons here. Here's a campus map, if have no idea where the Commons is (I didn't).
Some time ago, RIT's Dining Services vowed to come up with "Rochester's Best Pizza." I'm not sure if this is supposed to be it, or if they're still in the laboratory working on it. Either way, I'd say they've still got some work to do, but this wasn't bad pizza. I wouldn't go out of my way to get it, but if I were on campus and hungry, there's a good chance I'd head to Stone Oven. I'll give it a B-.
Stone Oven Pizza & Pasta Cucina, at the Commons, RIT campus.
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - midnight, Sat. & Sun. noon - midnight.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Westside Pizzeria, Driving Park

Here's a new place I just happened to notice the other day while driving. Westside Pizzeria is on Driving Park Avenue, in a site that was formerly a Mr. Shoes location. I've also seen references to this as a second location for Big Daddy's, but I don't recall ever seeing a Big Daddy's here, so maybe that fell through. I might also mention that there used to be a West Side Pizzeria in Spencerport (now the home of Leccese's), but as far as I know there's no connection).
As at a few other pizzerias in the city, inside Westside you'll find a thick plexiglass window at the counter, with a hole just big enough for food and money to pass through. There are a few chairs and small tables near the window if you'd care to eat on the premises.
I asked for a pepperoni slice, and for $1.50 got a pretty good sized, reasonably good-looking slice. The underside was browned and not too crisp, and had a slightly greasy feel in spots, though not too bad. I'm guessing that the oil came mostly from the cheese and pepperoni on top than from the dough itself. The concentric rings of small dots on the bottom indicated that it had been baked on a tray. The medium-thick crust was OK, though a little tough to chew. The narrow edge was dark and crunchy.
The cheese and sauce were moderately applied, in pretty good balance with each other and with the crust. The sauce was tasty, with a tomatoey sweetness and a touch of Italian herbs. The mozzarella was browned here and there, and tended to separate from the crust. The wide, thin slices of pepperoni were pretty basic and unremarkable.
In spite of its flaws, this wasn't a bad slice of pizza. When I noticed Westside, I was actually on my way back from another, so-called pizzeria on Dewey Avenue (which will be a topic for another post), which turned out to be one of these places where they just take premade crusts and add toppings. This, though, was "real" pizza, as evidenced by the guy hand-stretching the dough while I was getting my slice.
And again, it wasn't bad. Yes, the crust could've been better, but I've had worse, and the overall flavor was good, and the components well balanced. So while there's room for improvement, all in all this was a reasonably enjoyable slice of pizza, and I'm giving it a B-.

Westside Pizza, 107 Driving Park Ave. 458-WING (9464)
(Hours not known at this time)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Petrella's (large pie)

(This establishment has CLOSED since this review was posted.)
Last November, I did a post on Petrella's on Dewey Avenue. I wasn't particularly crazy about the square, pan-pizza slices I got there, but there were OK, rating a C+ from me. I also mentioned that I intended to go back sometime for a full pie, which I did not long ago.
When I opened the box, the pie looked pretty good. Then I took a look at the underside. It looked to be pretty soft, which was confirmed by the first bite. It was not greasy, thankfully, but it was very soft and spongy. Only along the quite thin edge was there any crispness, or even firmness, at all.
The pie was topped with a generous helping of sauce, which had a slightly tangy flavor, with some herbal notes. It wasn't sweet, as some sauces are. I don't know if this sauce is made on the premises, but I found it reminiscent of canned pizza sauce. I don't say that as a criticism, though; I've had some pretty good canned pizza sauces. Maybe I was just picking up the flavor of canned tomatoes that they use in making the sauce. Again, I don't know.
The cheese was also generously applied, and in good balace with the sauce. This seemed to be all mozzarella, and it was just slightly browned and very stringy.
The cup 'n' char pepperoni was nicely crisped along the edges ("regular" pepperoni is available as well).
I noticed when picking up this pizza that the to-go slices were cut from a round pie. That appears to be a change from my visit last fall, as my slices on that occasion seemed to have been cut from a sheet pizza.
But it was basically the same pizza. I was hoping that a full pie would have a crisper bottom, but this was frankly a little disappointing. I assume this dough rose and was baked in a pan rather than on the deck of the oven. The overall flavor was pretty good, but the crust was just way too soft and spongy for my taste. But if you don't mind a soft crust, you might like this one for its ample portions of sauce and cheese. I'll give it a C.
Petrella's, 4425 Dewey Ave. (Dewey-Latta Plaza)
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 8 p.m.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cimino's, Spencerport: Deep Dish Pizza

Cimino's Pizzeria and Birdland on Urbanspoon
Deep-dish pizza is not something you see a lot of around here - which is OK with me, as I tend to prefer thin crust. But there's nothing wrong with a little variety, so when a place does offer deep-dish or similar varieties of pizza, I don't mind giving it a try.
Which brings us to Cimino's in Spencerport. I've previously reported on their regular pizza, but I noticed that their menu also advertised deep-dish, so back I went.
I ordered a large with sweet peppers and onions. I was a little miffed to find out, when picking it up, that my coupon for a discount on a large pizza only applies to large "regular" pizza, and could not be used toward my deep-dish pizza. No such limitation was printed on the coupon, and to me, "large" means "large."
Oh well, no matter. I'm over it now. Getting back to the pizza, this had a dark brown bottom. Much of the underside was wet, but it didn't seem greasy, nor had the liquid (which I presume was water that had leaked from the toppings) soaked into the crust, which remained firm.
Now again, this was a deep-dish pizza, not a stuffed pizza. A stuffed pizza has a top as well as a bottom crust, this did not. (There's actually a pretty good explanation of these and other variants of Chicago-style pizza at Wikipedia.) It did, though, have some similarities to the stuffed pizza I got at Chester Cab last month. Like Chester Cab's, this was deep, but the crust was not particularly thick, averaging about a half inch on the bottom. In contrast to Chester Cab's stuffed pizza, which had a slightly sweet, biscuit-like crust, this seemed to have been made with regular pizza dough. It did not seem to contain much if any shortening, and was more reminiscent of bread than of pastry dough. (It's been a while since I've been to Uno's, but if I remember correctly, their deep-dish crust also tends to be rather flaky, with an obviously substantial proportion of shortening.)
The top of the pizza was covered in a thick layer of mozzarella, which was browned on top but quite stringy. The sauce was not heavily seasoned, and was studded with tomato chunks. Though there was not a lot of sauce, there was enough, along with the peppers and onions, to give the pizza a "wet" mouthfeel. Of course, with that heavy blanket of cheese, not much water could have evaporated in the oven from the sauce and veggies.
For all that cheese, and the heavy, thick appearance of this pizza, the most filling part of it was the edge. It was very thick, with a toasty, almost blackened exterior and a doughy interior that was a little gummy, and perhaps not quite cooked all the way through, in spots. Though I rarely leave my crust uneaten, unless it's just really bad, I did leave some of this behind, not because it was so unpalatable but because it would've been too filling.
Since this is an uncommon style of pizza in these parts, it's hard for me to judge this against any objective standard of deep-dish pizza, but subjectively, I thought it was pretty good. It had more of everything than a "regular" pizza, but the important thing is that the components remained in balance with each other, and the overall flavor was rather good too. I'll give it a B+.
Cimino’s Pizzeria & Birdland, 47 Slayton Ave. (Village Plaza), Spencerport 352-9800 Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - midnight, Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Brick 266

Brick 266 on Urbanspoon
Pizza Guy Note, Aug. 15, 2011: Brick 266 closed earlier this year, unfortunately.
It's funny - wood-fired pizza started in Rochester some years ago, with places like Brio, Pomodoro, and Panzari's leading the way, but only recently has it really exploded, with a new place seeming to open every month or so. Not coincidentally, I would argue, only recently have local wood-fired pizzerias started turning out pizza that's really worthy of the ovens whence they come, with thin, crackly, nicely charred crusts, cooked for just a few minutes and emerging with smoky overtones that you won't get from a conventional oven.
The latest entrant on the wood-fired scene is Brick 266 on Park Avenue. I stopped there recently for lunch with a couple of friends, which allowed us to sample three different pizzas.
Pizzas here come in 8- and 12-inch sizes, for $8 and $12 respectively. We got three 12-inchers:  an "Alexander" (essentially a Margherita), with tomato, basil and mozzarella; a "Berkeley," with ham, sweet onions and pineapple, and a custom-made pizza with pepperoni, meatballs and mushrooms.
With just one pizzaiolo working, it took a little while it took a little while to get our pizzas, but all three arrived at about the same time, and all very hot. The crusts were quite thin, with a crisp exterior, but they were also supple enough to fold.
Surprisingly, the oven thermometer registered an even 500 degrees, not even as hot as the average home oven is capable of, and well below the typical cooking temperature of many commercial pizza ovens. I'm wondering now if that wasn't a centigrade thermometer (500 Celsius would equate to over 900 Fahrenheit, which sounds about right), but when I asked the pizzaiolo about the temperature, he made no mention of that, and the fire didn't seem to be blazingly hot, so I assume that was a Fahrenheit reading.
Whatever the temp, Brick 266's pizzas emerge from the oven with a nicely charred edge and underside, more so than is evident from the photo below. Our pizzas were by no means burnt, however - the charring imparted a toasty flavor and aroma, but the underlying bready flavor of the dough came through as well.
Nor were the toppings overcooked. The cheese was melted to a creamy consistency, and browned in a few spots, but neither it nor the other toppings had dried out or lost their flavor.
And those flavors were good. I liked all three of these pizzas. The Alexander displayed a nice balance among its toppings. A bed of melted, slightly browned low-moisture mozzarella was topped with slices of fresh, remarkably flavorful tomato. Some shreds of fresh basil added an herbal counterpoint to the sweetness of the tomatoes, and a smattering of melted, fresh mozzarella came last.
I've never been too keen on the concept of so-called Hawaiian pizza, but I was pleasantly surprised by the Berkeley. The contrasting flavors of the ham, onions and pineapple worked well together, and were both balanced and restrained enough to give the pizza plenty of flavor without overpowering the palate. Our custom pie was also well made and enjoyable, with a meaty flavor that was a touch on the spicy side thanks to the pepperoni. I didn't even mind the mushrooms - which rank among my least favorite foods - as these didn't have the rubberiness that I find so repugnant.
Brick 266's other specialty pizzas include the "Oxford" (mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and green peppers), the "Goodman" (jalapenos, banana peppers and onions), and the "Culver" (pesto sauce and onions). Or you can create your own, selecting, at no extra charge, up to three toppings from the thirteen available.
If you're not in the mood for pizza, Brick 266 also offers several sandwiches, wood-fired "pizza rolls," and a few sides. They also serve a pizza frita, described as fried dough with honey and confectioners sugar. Bottled beer and wine are also available.
One more pleasant surprise awaited us at the end of our meal, when we were informed that Brick 266 has a no-tipping policy. I'm not sure if that applies all the time or to all the staff, but it did on this occasion; the best tip we could give, we were informed, was to come back again, and to spread the word about Brick 266.
Well, I've done my part to spread the word, and I do intend to go back. This was very good pizza. Crisp yet pliable, charred but not burnt, flavorful and well balanced. I still don't know how these came from a 500 degree oven, but no matter. Figuring that Brick 266 is still new, still working the bugs out, I tried to think of a reason not to give these pizzas an "A," but I couldn't come up with one. So "A" it is.
Brick 266, 266 Park Ave. 730-8153
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat: noon - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 8 p.m.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Lunch with Gramma and Schwartzkoff at Guida's

Guida's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
I've visited several Guida's locations now, and tried several varieties of their pizza, and I've been pretty consistently pleased with it. The crust is generally pretty good, and the flavor as well.
In my first-ever post on Guida's, in June '09, I liked my cheese slices, but wondered what the "Schwartzkoff" pizza was like. The Guida's sub of that name comes with ham, chicken, Swiss cheese, mozzarella, lettuce, onion, mayo, and sweet & sour sauce. They couldn't possibly put all of those items on a pizza. Could they?
Well, I recently returned to the Empire Boulevard Guida's, on a Friday, when word is you'll find the widest selection of slices. I picked up a Schwartzkoff slice, as well as a "Gramma's."
 The Schwartzkoff turned out to be a modified version of the sub. It was a white pizza with mozzarella, ham, onion and chicken, overlaid by a tangy, sticky sweet & sour sauce, something like a Rochester-style chicken wing sauce. The crust was the crisp, slightly charred crust that I've come to expect from Guida's. As for how it all worked, well, I probably wouldn't order this again, but not because of anything "wrong" with it. I just wasn't crazy about that particular combination of toppings. The honeyish sauce really dominated, and to me, pizza shouldn't be sticky. But is there a place for it in the pizza universe? Sure. Just keep some wetnaps handy.
I've been on something of a "grandma's pizza" kick lately, as this strikes me as a very traditional style, typified by tomato sauce and herbs with very little cheese. True to form, Guida's version was very heavy on the tomato sauce, which had a cooked-tomato flavor, with some herbs in the background. It was topped with a generous sprinkling of Romano, and that was about it.
Interestingly, though, the crust on the Gramma's was different from the Schwartzkoff, or indeed from any other Guida's pizza I've had. It was not as crisp, and had a more bubbly, browned underside. My guess is that it was pan-risen and -baked, which is perhaps another frequent characteristic of a grandma's pizza. I'm thinking that "grandma" would've been more likely to spread the dough out in a pan, let it rise, add some sauce and a sprinkling of cheese, and slide the whole thing, pan and all, into the oven to bake.
Both the crusts on these were medium thick, but the Gramma’s was a little softer. Both had a nice bready flavor, though, with a crunchy edge.
Neither of these pizzas would be an everyday pizza for me. Again, the Schwartzkoff was just a little too out-there, particularly with that sweet & sour sauce. And the Gramma's, while nice enough, didn't have the crisp crust that I like, and though sometimes less is more with pizza, just sauce and some Romano was, for me, a little too minimalistic. But they were both well made, and I appreciate their distinctiveness, so I'll give them both a B.
Guida's Pizzeria, 404 Empire Blvd., 288-0590
Mon.-Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri & Sat 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Martino's, Webster, Revisited

Martino's Pizza on Urbanspoon
My favorable review of Martino's in Webster last September generated some comments who found Martino's pizza lacking in flavor, doughy, and other bad stuff. This left me wondering if I just happened to go there on a good day or if this was just a matter of individual taste.
To try to find out, I went back recently for a large pie, pepperoni on half. Like the slice I got last time, it had a thin crust, but whereas my slice (which had been rewarmed prior to serving) had a very well charred underside, the bottom on this one was much lighter in color. It bore just the faintest signs of charring, but was mostly a medium shade of golden brown. It was dry, with no screen or tray marks, and firm though not especially crisp. The medium-thick lip had a nice, bready texture and flavor.
The cheese was nicely melted, though it lacked the creamy texture of the cheese on my slice last September. Although the cheese was applied in moderation, it had a prominent, tangy flavor.
Sandwiched between the crust and the cheese, the sauce added a mild tomatoey flavor. It too was moderately applied, and it, the cheese and the thin crust were in good balance with each other. The evenly distributed pepperoni was OK but unremarkable.
All in all, pretty good, more or less NY-style pizza, though not quite as good as last time. One thing that came through in some of the comments was a lack of consistency at Martino's, and maybe this is evidence of that. Then too, I think at some - though not all - pizzerias, you're better off getting slices rather than a whole pie, because the slices improve when they go back into the oven for reheating. That's particularly true with thin crust pizza, since a minute or two is all it takes to heat the slice all the way through and give it a nice, crisp crust.
After two visits to Martino's, I'm still not sure where some of the criticisms are coming from. I didn't find this "tasteless," to quote one reader. Admittedly, the sauce was on the mild, even bland side, but with a thin crust I don't like my sauce too heavily seasoned; a bold-flavored sauce seems more appropriate for a pizza with a thick, bready crust. Still, this was a bit of a comedown from last time, and I'll give this pizza a B.
Martino’s Pizzeria, 160 West Main St., Webster. 872-4140
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

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