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Friday, January 14, 2011

Di Giacco's, Lyell Ave.: a Mom 'n' Pop Neighborhood Shop

In October 2009, I did a post about Di Giacco's on Lyell Avenue. It's a small, independent shop that does virtually no advertising, so it's not that well known outside of its immediate area, making it a true neighborhood pizzeria.
The single slice that I got there before was rather distinctive, earning it a B. I'd always meant to go back sometime for a full pie, which I finally did a few days ago.
As I was waiting for my pepperoni pie to emerge from the oven, I learned that the owners, Bill and Darla, have been running Di Giacco's for about ten years now. They have no employees, making this not only a neighborhood pizzeria, but about as mom-and-pop a pizza shop as you can find. (The lack of employees also explains Di Giacco's relatively limited hours.)
It wasn't always planned this way. Darla and Bill (whose previous line of work was "in cars") originally intended to go into the pizza business with an associate. When he backed out, they decided to give it a go on their own, despite their lack of experience. It's obviously worked out for them, and the fact that they're self-taught probably accounts in part for the uniqueness of Di Giacco's pizza.
It isn't just the pizza that's unique at Di Giacco's. For instance, there's the electric organ in the front window. No particular reason, it's just there.
Then there's the hot dog cart. In warm weather months, you'll see an outdoor cart parked right next to the building, with a grill sizzling with hots and burgers. That dates back to Di Giacco's early days, when a hot dog vendor set up shop just across the street, with devastating effects on Di Giacco's lunchtime business. In the spirit of free enterprise, Bill set up his own cart outside, problem solved, and it's been a summertime fixture ever since. That other vendor, by the way, moved on a long time ago, but some of the health inspectors who came to make sure Di Giacco's cart was in compliance have since become regular customers.
But getting back to that pizza ... I can honestly say that Di Giacco's pizza is one of the most distinctive I've had around here.
There's nothing particularly unusual about it, mind you; it's made of the same basic components as most other pizza:  crust, tomato sauce and cheese. But unusual and distinctive are two different things, and this pizza is distinctive. In a good way, I might add.
The crust on my medium pie was about 3/8 of an inch thick in most areas. It was screen baked but firm, with a smattering of oven soot underneath and a chewy, bready edge.
I'm big on the importance of a good crust, but while this crust was OK, it was the toppings that really defined this pizza. Each bite yielded a mix of salty, tangy, sweet and herbal flavors, overlaid by the bacon-like, peppery smokiness of the pepperoni. For a simple pepperoni pizza, this had a complexity and an intensity of flavor that was truly surprising, and an overall flavor profile that was not quite like any other pizza I've tried around here. (Interestingly, when I ate the pizza hot, the pepperiness seemed more assertive; as cold leftovers, the herbs came through more.)
Di Giacco's pizza menu lists 14 toppings, including two kinds of sausage (Italian or beef). They also serve wings, calzones, grilled hots, burgers, sausage, chicken breast, and Jamaican patties, a few sides, chili and soup.
Like everybody else, I've developed certain preferences, likes and dislikes when it comes to pizza, and with those in mind, Di Giacco's probably wouldn't be my default, go-to pizzeria. It doesn't quite match up to my ideal, which tends to run toward crisp, bready crusts and simple, subtle complements of sauce and cheese. This was not that. (Though in fairness, I've been told by other pizzeria owners that if you request a crisper crust, they can accommodate you.)
But given this pizza's distinctiveness, it's no surprise that it doesn't exactly match my Platonic ideal of pizza. This is not a pizza that's imitative or trying to conform to a particular style; it is what it is, and you take it on its own terms.
I have fond memories of certain pizzas that I used to eat when I was growing up, from places that have long since gone out of business. They weren't necessarily world-class pizzas; they may not have even been the best in town. But if it were possible to give me a fresh slice of one of them today, I swear I could identify it, and I'd relish every bite.
It struck me in talking with Bill that he's much the same way. As he reminisced about some pizzerias that are either no longer with us, or in areas where he no longer lives, and how he still occasionally craves one of their pizzas, it occurred to me that whether he intended to or not, he's created an equally memorable pizza of his own at Di Giacco's. In a stretch of Lyell Avenue that's home to an abundance of pizza places, Di Giacco's stands out, and that should keep it in good stead for some years to come.
Di Giacco's Pizzeria, 970 Lyell Ave., Rochester 14606. 458-8030
Mon. 10:30 a.m. - 3 p.m., Tue. - Thu. 10:30 a.m. - 4 p.m., Fri. 10:30 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 3 p.m. - 11 p.m.

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