Friday, December 30, 2011
Rochester has an embarrassment of riches where Italian restaurants are concerned, with everything from old school, "red sauce" places to higher-end establishments that aim to take Italian food to the level of high art.
Mario's on Monroe Avenue falls somewhere in the middle, with items ranging from spaghetti and meatballs to pricier fare like osso bucco and cioppino, with a touch of steakhouse on the menu as well.
And pizza, which is what drew me here on a recent weeknight for dinner. Although it's listed under antipasti on the menu, I made an entree out of Mario's Margherita pizza, which is described as a "crispy thin crust stone oven style, [with] fresh tomatoes [and] fresh buffalo mozzarella."
The thin-to-medium crust was pale on the bottom, with some faint markings that could've been from a grill or other cooking surface. The edge was dry and crunchy, but the rest of the crust was lifeless, with little evidence of yeast activity, and a doughy flavor. I wondered if Mario's uses frozen crusts.
The slices of fresh mozzarella were evenly distributed, spoke-fashion, around the pizza, and were nicely melted, with a smooth, creamy texture. Although not mentioned on the menu, there was also a layer of what appeared to be low-moisture, processed mozzarella underneath. It was rather dry and didn't add a whole lot of flavor or texture.
Between the two layers of cheese were some thick slices of fresh tomato. Unfortunately these were quite bland, contributing little other than color. Some shredded basil, which appeared to have been added after the pizza came out of the often, added some complexity to the overall flavor profile, though most of it had been piled onto one side of the pie.
Overall, this pizza tasted all right, though it was a bit on the bland side. I was glad that I accepted my server's offer of some grated Parmesan.
But the biggest problem was the crust. It just had nothing going for it, in terms of flavor, texture or otherwise. That was disappointing, given the menu's reference to the crust being "stone oven style" (I'm not sure what stone oven "style" means, but it sounded promising.)
It was doubly disappointing because Mario's other food seemed pretty good. I only had a salad, in addition to my pizza, but I couldn't help stealing a few glances at my neighbors' plates, which looked quite appetizing, and for much of my meal I was treated to a wonderful aroma that I'm guessing came from Mario's grilled steaks (I meant to ask my server if she could identify it for me, but I forgot).
So while I would put Mario's on my mental list of places to revisit, I can't recommend it for the pizza alone. If they are using frozen crusts, well, not much you can do to improve those. But if they are using fresh dough, it seems to me it needs to rise a little longer, and be baked at higher temperatures, because this wasn't that great. I'll give it a C-minus.
Mario's Italian Steakhouse and Catering, 2740 Monroe Ave.
Winter hours (Nov. 1 - April 30): Mon. - Thu. 5 p.m. - 9:30 p.m., Fri. 5 p.m. - 10:30 p.m., Sat. 4 p.m. - 10:30 p.m., Sun. brunch 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., dinner 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Summer hours (May 1 - Oct. 31): Mon. - Thu. 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 5 p.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 4 p.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. brunch 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., dinner 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.