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Friday, November 18, 2011

Tavern 58, University Ave.

Tavern58 at Gibbs on Urbanspoon
Ordering pizza from a place you've never tried before is always a bit of a crap shoot, but that's especially true at restaurants. You can ask the waiter, of course, but you're liable to get anything from pizza on a premade shell, or on French bread, or flatbread. It might be baked, it might be grilled. Some places do use homemade, hand-stretched dough, baked in an oven, but it may be baked in the restaurant's regular oven, at a relatively low temperature that's more suited for lasagna than for pizza.
Tavern 58 on University Avenue falls into the grilled flatbread category. I dined there recently with a couple of friends, and was able to sample two of their pizzas.
Despite the name, by the way, I wouldn't call this a tavern. To me, a tavern is an American version of a pub - a bar, but typically one with a kitchen, serving meals that go beyond mere bar snacks. But at Tavern 58, the bar seems to be the tail of the restaurant dog. It's a restaurant, with a small, separate bar area. But I suppose "tavern" also conjures up a certain type of food, and maybe that's what they're going for here.
Well, restaurant, tavern, whatever. At any rate, they do offer pizza.
As I said, this was grilled, flatbread-type pizza. From the looks of it, the chef had grilled one side of the crust, flipped it, and added toppings to the other side.
When you're grilling a pizza, the cooking time tends to be quick, so as not to burn the crust. That means that the toppings are not going to cook much on the pizza itself. So either you precook the toppings, or use toppings that need little or no cooking, and in any event you don't want to overload the pizza. Veggies are particularly suited to this style, as is good melting cheese, and my grilled vegetable pizza had both. It was topped with roasted sweet peppers, diced tomato, and fresh mozzarella cheese, with an overlay of fresh basil sprouts. A sprinkling of vinegar (balsamic, I think) added another dimension to the flavor, though at the cost of the crispness imparted by the grill, as it did make the crust a bit wet. That was a drawback for me. A pizza crust can be many things - crisp, toasty, oily, crunchy - but wet shouldn't be one of them.
My friend's tomato and marinara with basil was also simply prepared, with a medium-bodied and -flavored tomato sauce and the same, creamy melted cheese.
Tavern 58 has a substantial, traditional American menu, running from burgers to steaks and seafood, with a few Italian dishes in the mix as well. )My other friend's cheeseburger, by the way, was reported to be outstanding.)
While I wouldn't mind going back sometime, I'd probably forego the pizza. It was pleasant enough, but I can't call it great pizza. Even allowing for my general preference for oven-baked rather than grilled pizza, this crust was simply too soft - and wet - and didn't seem to have much of a "grilled" flavor. The toppings were all right, but to me, they could've used a bit more help than just the splash of vinegar - perhaps roasted garlic or grilled onions, a second, more assertive cheese, additional herbs, or even something more exotic, like dried figs. As it was, I found this pizza a bit boring. Granted, there were other pizza choices on the menu, some of which had a wider array of toppings, but my first time at an establishment I like to keep it simple, so as not to let the toppings get in the way of the crust. And this crust just wasn't great, and could've used more help from the toppings. I'll give it a C-minus.
Tavern 58, University Ave., Rochester 14605
Tel.: 546-5800
Hours: Lunch 11:30 - 2:00 weekdays, Dinner 4:30 - 11:00 Mon. - Thu., till midnight Fri. & Sat. Closed Sun.

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