Last August, thanks to a helpful reader, I discovered Vinny's Bakery & Deli in Fairport. I got a pepperoni slice, which was OK, and a Sicilian slice, which I really liked.
The other day, I returned to Vinny's, and got to do the two things I set out to do: try their potato pizza, and have a chat with the owners.
Vinny and his cousin Venera came here from Sicily 50 and 40 years ago respectively, and have been in the bakery/pizza business since the 1970s. For many years they had a place in East Rochester, and moved to their present location on Fairport Road last year.
While baking is a family tradition in Sicily, Vinny also learned his craft outside the home. After some years of formal schooling, he went through hands-on vocational training in a number of areas, including farming, winemaking, construction (some of which involved the use of high explosives), and baking.
After arriving in this country, Vinny spent some time in the construction industry before opening his shop. I've no doubt he was a good construction worker, but I think we're all the richer for the switch. One look at the breads, cookies, and other delectables on the shelves and in the refrigerator case at Vinny's, and you'll likely agree.
Not to toot my own horn, but on my prior visit to Vinny's, I had a definite sense that their Sicilian pizza was the real deal, even before I found out that Vinny and Venera do in fact hail from Sicily. I was curious, then, when I spotted potato pizza on the menu posted on the wall (it doesn't appear on the print menu, but you can order it), because from what I've read, potato pizza is a style associated with Rome, not Sicily.
Well, apparently Sicily has a version all its own, because Vinny assured me that this would be a very typical pizza to find back in Sicily. And in fact it's nothing like the photos I've seen of Roman-style potato pizza.
The most striking thing about this pizza (which I got in a quarter-sheet size, the smallest available) was that it had both a top and bottom crust. The bottom was more browned, with a few bits of burnt cheese (which I actually like, as long as it's not blackened, which this wasn't), but both top and bottom were firm and well browned, with no excess oil.
You could, I suppose, eat this one crust at a time, but that wouldn't give you the full effect, so I at mine sandwich-style (which makes it a very filling pizza, so keep that in mind).
Working our way down this time, the underside of the top crust had been given a light coating of tomato sauce, which did not taste heavily seasoned, although flecks of dried herbs, including rosemary and oregano, were visible. That was followed by a relatively thin layer of mozzarella cheese, and finally a thicker stratum of sliced, al dente potatoes and slivers of onion.
Between the crust and the potatoes, this is clearly not a pizza for anyone on a low-carb diet. But it sure was good. The aroma alone had me hooked, and it got better with the first bite.
Bread and potatoes may not seem like an obvious pairing, but they worked very well here together, making this pizza something like a cross between scalloped potatoes and a grilled cheese sandwich. It brought to mind the neverending debate about what is or is not "true" pizza (usually in the context of a discussion of Chicago-style deep-dish pizza), but whatever you want to call this, I liked it.
Now as I mentioned, there's a lot more to Vinny's Bakery than potato pizza. There's that Sicilian pizza, which is topped with tomato sauce and Pecorino, a variety of bread loaves, meats (which you can try in a sub made with one of Vinny's fresh-baked rolls), and cookies, which are a treat in themselves - I'm a particular fan of the almond cookies, but just trying to pick a favorite is half the fun.
While that might sound like Italian chauvinism, Vinny was almost equally disparaging of the current state of pizza back in Italy, where, he said, the younger generation no longer wants to learn the craft, and - it pains me to say it - chains are moving in.
In some people, such an attitude could easily slide into arrogance, but Vinny's plainspoken manner dispels any such impressions. He turns out good pizza and he knows it, that's all. And it's a good thing he knows it, because without that touch of attitude, he probably would have tried to adapt his menu completely to American tastes, with or without success, and I wouldn't be sitting here writing about how good his potato pizza is.
I can't promise you're going to like it as much as I do, but Vinny's potato pizza should be on any local pizza lover's must-try list. While I hesistate to rate a pizza in a style that I'm not too familiar with, I don't think Vinny's potato pizza could be much improved upon, and I'll give it an A.
Vinny's Bakery & Deli, 1350 Fairport Road, Fairport 377-4200
8 a.m. - 8 p.m. daily
Free delivery for orders of $50 or more within a 5-mile radius.