A few days before Thanksgiving, I checked out two different, but related places serving two different, but related variations on pizza, with some interesting results.
International Food Market and Pizzeria in Henrietta opened recently in Jefferson Plaza, on Jefferson Road across from Southtown Plaza. It offers a pretty wide variety of packaged and freshly prepared American and Pakistani foods, and a 100% Halal menu.
I love exploring ethnic cuisines as much as the next guy, but as intriguing as some of the hot dishes looked, on this occasion I was there to investigate the pizza.
There were a couple of sliced pies on a warming tray. One was topped with pepperoni, and at first I wasn't at all sure what the other one had on it. It appeared to be a mixture of cheese interspersed with some unidentified, dark brown bits. Given the name of the place and the presence of various, more or less Middle Eastern items available, I thought perhaps it was some exotic topping that I'd never tried before.
So it was with some disappointment that I learned that it was simply mozzarella cheese that had been overbaked. The guy behind the counter explained that it got a little overly brown, so he put on some extra cheese to compensate, which gave the pizza an unusual, mottled light-and-dark appearance.
I kind of like browned cheese anyway, so I got one cheese and one pepperoni slice. The thin to medium crust was mostly soft, unevenly browned underneath, and screen baked. There was a little crunch along the edge but the edge also had kind of a tough, chewy texture.
The sauce had a thinnish consistency and a tomatoey flavor that was on the bland side. The cheese was as you'd expect, with some caramelized, burnt-cheese flavor mixed, on the cheese slice, with added, melted mozzarella.
The pepperoni was the best thing on this pizza. It had a good, meaty flavor and was just crisp along the edge.
So, not so great pizza, although the market looked to be well worth a return visit.
And most definitely worth a visit was International Food Market's sister establishment on Norton Street in Rochester. Istanbul Market is much smaller, with just a narrow storefront in a strip mall near Portland Avenue. And while it doesn't serve "American" pizza, they do offer lahmacun, a close cousin of pizza that's commonly found in Turkey and elsewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean. In fact, lahmacun is sometimes referred to as Turkish pizza, although the Greeks caused a bit of a stir earlier this year by claiming it as their own.
This was my first time trying lahmacun, but I don't think it'll be my last. A small ball of dough was stretched as thin as, maybe even thinner than a tortilla, to about the size of an average dinner plate, topped with a well-seasoned mix of ground lamb, tomatoes, onions, parsley and spices, and popped into the oven for a few minutes. So if you define pizza as a flattened layer of dough that's spread with toppings and baked in an oven, well then, this is pizza.
I try to avoid the word "delicious" on this blog - it's too cliched, and not terribly descriptive - but this was delicious, with a complexity of flavors and aromas that belied the relative simplicity of its execution. (The young woman behind the counter advised me, by the way, that lahmacun
is often given a sprinkling of lemon juice before being eaten, but I
had none on hand, so that will have to wait until next time.)
The very edge of the wafer-thin disk had charred nicely in the oven, giving it a crackly crunch right along the rim, though the rest of the crust remained pliable, thanks I'm sure to the protective layer of toppings, which covered nearly the entire surface. You could easily roll this up and eat it like a street vendor's crepe, but I chose to tear off and savor one bit at a time.
Regular readers of this blog will know that with pizza, I'm all about the crust. But while this "crust" (which doesn't seem like the right word, but it'll do) was fine, clearly its main function is simply to serve as a base, or wrap, for the toppings, which are the real star of the show. This was intoxicatingly aromatic and immensely - though not intensely - flavorful, subtle and complex at the same time.
And while, as with a curry dish, it was difficult to pick out all the constituents - cumin? mint? coriander? chiles, perhaps? - there was a certain underlying comfort level here too. I don't think it was the particular seasonings that were unfamiliar to me - I may well have them all in my kitchen - but they were blended in a way that I'd never had before.
Both of these markets offer an interesting selection of food items, and it's fun to browse their shelves and refrigerator cases as well as their to-go menus. Many of the packages are written entirely in Turkish, but an employee will be happy to translate for you, or you could just be adventurous and buy whatever looks good.
As far as the hot prepared food is concerned, I think my brief sampling tends to confirm the truism that when you go to a place that serves food, stick with what they do best. The pizza I had at International Food Market was passable - I'll give it a C-minus - but the lahmacun at Istanbul Market blew it away. It rates an A. (And let me emphasize that those ratings are for the two things I ate - the pizza and the lahmacun - not the markets themselves, both of which are worth a visit.)
Istanbul Market, 1388 Norton St., Rochester 14621
Hours: Mon. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 9 a.m. - 8 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
International Food Market & Pizzeria, 376 Jefferson Rd., Henrietta
Hours: Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 8 p.m.
Tel.: 270-4004 (delivery available)