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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cerame's Italian Villa

Cerame's Italian Villa on Urbanspoon
Cerame's Italian Villa in Winton Place Plaza has been around for over 40 years now, and though I've been aware of it for some time - in fact, I've eaten there at least once before - it somehow escaped my notice, or I had forgotten, until recently that they have pizza on their menu. That oversight was easy enough to rectify, so last week I had lunch there with a couple of friends.
Cerame's is a pretty informal place, with a tiny bar near the front entrance and some tables in back and along the wall opposite the bar, from which they are separated by a partition. But with Italian restaurants in particular, there is not necessarily any correlation between the decor and the food, so that doesn't mean too much.
There are two types of pizza on Cerame's menu, regular and "gourmet." I was a little confused upon noticing that a gourmet cheese pizza with two toppings was only $7.25, while the smallest size (12-inch) regular pizza with just cheese was $8.75. The waitress explained that the gourmet pizzas are a little smaller and that the crust is thinner as well.
One of my companions ordered a Greek white pizza off the gourmet menu, so while I was tempted by some of the other gourmet offerings, for the sake of variety I selected a regular pepperoni pizza.
Unfortunately it was about at this point that I realized that I'd forgotten my camera, so I couldn't get any photos of the entire pies, but I did manage to save a few pieces for later, which I photographed as soon as I got back from lunch.
My regular pizza appeared to be pan risen, with an underside that was lightly browned in some areas. It wasn't oily, as some pan-risen crusts can be, but it wasn't very bready either; the dough had a somewhat dense texture, with very small air holes but not much evidence of rising. It was firm but not crisp, although there was a modicum of crispness along the well-browned edge.
There was a fair amount of sauce on this pizza. It had a good flavor, very tomatoey but subtly sweet as well. The cheese was very stringy when the pizza was hot, but even after it cooled and congealed a bit it still added a pleasing, cheesy chewiness.
Hidden under the cheese was the pepperoni, which frankly was almost as unnoticeable on the palate as it was to the eye. I know some places like to put the toppings underneath (are they still "toppings" if they're not on top?), to keep them from drying out, I suppose, but for pepperoni I'm not sure that's the best approach, unless perhaps you're talking about a deep dish pie. I like my pepperoni on the crisp side, but hey, life and pizza are all about variety, so I'm OK with changing it up now and then. The problem here was that the pepperoni seemed to get lost between the crust and the cheese, and though it seemed to have been applied in a reasonable quantity, I simply didn't taste it all that much. Rather than hitting my palate immediately upon my taking a bite, the pepperoni tended to just get chewed up with everything else before I became aware of its presence.
Though I mostly concentrated on my pepperoni pie, I did trade one of my slices for one of my friend's Greek slices. This was more of a personal size pizza, measuring 8" across. It had a thin, supple crust, which like the regular pie didn't seem to have risen much, save for some bubbles on top and along the edge. The underside showed some very light browning, in a blistery spotted pattern.
I liked the flavor of the Greek pizza, which blended garlic, black olives, feta cheese, and, I think, a light brushing of olive oil. If the crust had been top-notch, this would have been outstanding pizza. It was, however, a bit too dense, soft and chewy for my taste.
Cerame's offers quite a range of gourmet pizzas, including baked lasagna, bacon cheeseburger, Philly cheese steak, and a Reuben pizza with corned beef. If you'd like a regular pizza, the toppings list is relatively modest, with 12 selections, but there should be something in there for everybody.
But there's also quite a long menu of other items, from traditional Italian favorites to more American style steaks and seafood. It's well worth a visit, but unless one of the gourmet pizzas especially catches your eye, I'd probably go with pasta or another standard off the extensive menu. For the pizza alone, I'll give Cerame's a C+.
Cerame's Italian Villa,  3450 Winton Place, Rochester14623. 427-7350
Lunch Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Dinner Tue.-Thu. 4:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Naked Pizza, Victor (CLOSED)

Naked Pizza on Urbanspoon
I don't generally have much to say about chain pizzerias, for several reasons. One, most of them are so ubiquitous that I figure most people have a pretty good idea already of what their pizza is like. Two, readers of this blog, which has a local focus, are probably not that interested in chain pizzerias. Three, chain pizzerias, by their very nature, tend to promote uniformity, which to me is not a virtue where pizza's concerned. I like to think that a pizza that I get from a particular pizzeria is unique to that pizzeria.
But I have made an exception for Naked Pizza, which opened in Victor last fall. I did so because, so far at least, it's the only Naked Pizza in this area, and because it claims to be different from other chain pizzerias.
What's different about it? Well, according to Naked Pizza's website, their "dough is made from a blend of 10 whole grains and seeds with the addition of probiotics. Pies are topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella with no preservatives, sugar or trans fat."
Personally, when I eat pizza, I'm not thinking too much about trans fats, and I have only the vaguest idea what probiotics are. But I was curious to see what sort of product they put out. So I stopped by recently and ordered a 12" pie with tomatoes and basil.
I was a bit surprised when I walked in to see what a small place this is. There's a counter where you place your order, and a small counter where you could, I suppose, eat standing up, but that's it. This is really a takeout place.
The menu is posted on large video screens above the counter. Pies come in 10", 12" and 14" sizes. Prices start at $4.99 for a 10" cheese pizza, and go up to $16.99 for a 14" specialty pizza.
I was feeling like a Margherita, but Naked Pizza doesn't offer one, so I figured that tomatoes and basil would come reasonably close. After coming out of Naked Pizza's conveyor-belt oven, my pizza had a very thin crust that was dimpled on the bottom (from the pizza tray), with a dry, firm underside dotted with corn meal. It was not very crisp, and the individual slices were floppy.
The crust had a certain graininess to it, which was not unpleasant, though it was distinguish this from most other pizzas made with "ordinary" flour. It wasn't gritty, though, and there was still some chewiness to the crust.  The crust had a bit of crunch, although again with a certain background whole-grain bite.
This was a very saucy pizza, although given the thinness of the crust, it wouldn't take much sauce to make it seem that way. The sauce, which had a medium consistency, had a reasonably good tomatoey flavor, but I did find it a bit bland. Perhaps it's low in sodium, and while I don't crave salt, I'm probably used to saltier sauces than this one.
The mozzarella cheese was well melted, and was thinly applied, although it was in pretty good balance with the thin crust. (I didn't ask for this pie to be made with Naked Pizza's "skinny (thin)" crust, but I can't imagine it being much thinner, so either I was given the "skinny" crust without my asking, or the skinny crust is about as thick as a layer of filo dough.)
The tomato and basil were generously applied. You'd think I'd know by now not to order tomatoes in March, but these didn't have a whole lot of flavor. The basil was fine, although for as visible as it was, it had a surprisingly mild flavor; it reminded me more of wilted spinach than of the assertive herb I was expecting.
Naked pizza offers 15 "flora" (vegetable) toppings, and despite its hippieish image, five meat toppings, with a choice of three cheeses (mozzarella, feta or cheddar). There are also nine specialty pizzas, which will run you 8, 9, and 10 dollars more than a cheese pizza per 10, 12 , or 14 inch pie. Bread sticks and spinach salad are your only non-pizza options.
This was OK pizza, not out-of-the-park good, but certainly not bad. The crust was not as crisp as I like, but it's tough to get that kind of "bite" with whole-grain flour, and the added flavor and slightly grainy texture of this multigrain dough did at least partially compensate for the lack of outer crispness. And while the overall flavor did seem a bit on the bland side to my salt-jaded palate, it was reasonably good and well balanced, so I'll give this one an above-average, B grade.
Naked Pizza, 202 High Point Dr., Victor (across from Eastview Mall) 223-0088
Sun. - Thu. 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10:30 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Pizza Guy note:  effective June 6, 2011, this establishment is closed.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Buitoni Coupon Winner

Using random.org, the winner of the Buitoni coupons is Laurie, who left comment #3 under the Buitoni post. Laurie, if you'll send me a name and mailing address, I'll pass that on to Buitoni and you will get the coupons directly from them in the mail. You can email me at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com.
I won't use your name or address for any other purposes or share it with anyone, but if you prefer, I can contact the Buitoni rep and see if you can send your name and address straight to her. Just let me know. Thanks to all who participated!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ember Woodfire Grill, Livonia

Ember Wood Fire Grill on Urbanspoon
Although a very few wood-fired pizza places in the Rochester area have been around for some time, the idea didn't really seem to take off until relatively recently; in the past two or three years, wood-fired pizzerias have been springing up around here like mushrooms after a summer rain.
For whatever reason, the trend has been confined almost entirely to the east side of the Genesee River. It's now spread south, although geographically the Great Divide continues.
Ember Woodfire Grill opened in late 2009 in a converted train station in Livonia, a few miles east of the northern tip of Conesus Lake (and well east of the Genesee, which meanders in a more southwesterly direction at this latitude, although the cultural divide represented by the Genesee in Monroe County doesn't extend this far south).
Ember is not primarily a pizza place, but it does offer pizza, baked in a wood-fired oven. Although Livonia's a little far south for me to travel for pizza, I'm willing to make an exception for wood-fired pizza, not because wood-fired pizza is necessarily better, but because it's still unusual, and because it ought to be better. If you're advertising wood-fired pizza, you're implicitly claiming to make pizza that stands out from the rest.
It doesn't always work out that way, of course. I've had wood-fired pizza that's just plain dried-out and burnt, and others that are indistinguishable from pizzas baked in a gas oven, and not even good examples of that, to boot.
But at Ember, I wasn't disappointed. This was a very nice, very enjoyable example of what can be achieved in a wood-fired oven.
Like most wood-fired pizzas, this had a thin crust, although this one might have been even thinner than most. It was crisp, crackly, and crackerlike, yet not wholly lacking in pliability.
The underside of the crust was well charred, in a spotted but more or less uniform pattern, and the edge was quite bubbly in a few places. The crust had a charred, very toasty flavor that I enjoyed, although I can imagine some people who aren't used to this style of pizza objecting that their pizza had been burned in the oven. I wouldn't call this burnt, but it did have a noticeable charred flavor.
There seemed to be a touch of oil on top of the crust, which might explain why it remained pliable, as oil will tend to soften the crust a bit. It was topped with tomatoes, mozzarella and shredded basil.
A lot of Margheritas I've had around here are dragged down by the tomatoes, which all too often are the hard, pale, tasteless baseballs you tend to find in these latitudes in the off-season. Ember largely solves that problem by using plum tomatoes, which on my pizza were flavorful and firm, neither hard nor mushy.
According to the menu, Ember uses fresh mozzarella on their Margherita pizzas, but this looked to me more like the aged, low-moisture stuff. It had a pale yellow color, rather than the pure white of fresh mozzarella, and it appeared to have been laid on in shreds rather than in the individual slices that you usually see with the fresh variety.
At first I thought the shredded basil was a bit sparse, but after a few bites I became aware of its flavor, which remained largely in the background, but which nevertheless supplied some welcome counterpoint to the sweet/acidic tomatoes and the mild, creamy cheese.
Embers offers five specialty pizzas, including a Mediterranean, chipotle BBQ chicken, steak pesto, and good ol' pepperoni. You can also create your own from among Embers' modest list of toppings.
Ember is far from just a pizza place, though. There's an extensive appetizer and tapas menu, which runs the gamut from braised pork belly to wood-fired mac 'n' cheese with bacon (I'm still scratching my head over how mac 'n' cheese can be wood-fired, though I'd love to try it). Each meal is also preceded by a selection of breads with a variety of dipping sauces and spreads.
Those looking for more traditional American fare will find offerings such as New York strip steak and pork tenderloin, often with a nouveau twist; the house meatloaf, for example, is made from a mix of veal, pork and beef, stuffed with roasted peppers and jack cheese, with a spicy espresso-brandy glaze. Each entree is accompanied on the menu by a suggested wine pairing, or a beer from Ember's well-chosen selection of microbrews.
For little ones, Ember can whip up a "classic" version of Kraft mac 'n' cheese, as well as a PB&J, corn dog, among other kid-friendly items. If you've got a tot in tow, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are good days to head to Ember, when kids get to make their own pizzas, for free.
My own young 'un wanted to get to the playground before dark, so I didn't have time to sample anything from Ember's dessert menu, but though short, it's tempting, and includes a raspberry chocolate truffle tart and oatmeal cake with chocolate peanut butter frosting. Like many of Ember's menu items, these are subject to change with the season, and are entirely house made.
Ember is located in a converted former train station, but you won't see any train memorabilia on the walls, as the owners have opted for a contemporary look, with neutral tones and a clean, even minimalist approach to the decor. The bar area is partially walled off from the dining room, but it was still pretty noisy throughout on my visit.
As I mentioned, wood-fired pizza can be a hit-and-miss proposition, as places either don't fully utilize the radiant heat of the oven, or go too far in the opposite direction and simply burn the crust. This pizza avoided both pitfalls, with a nice char and a crisp yet pliable crust. Ember's ultrathin, crackly pizza doesn't match my ideal pizza, which remains one with a thick enough crust to have a bit of chew, but the pizza, and the restaurant, are well worth a drive to Livonia. I'm giving the pizza an A-, and making a mental note to return sometime to sample some of Ember's other wares.
Ember Woodfire Grill, 21 Livonia Station, Livonia 346-0222 
Mon. - Wed. 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Thu. - Sat. till 10 p.m. Bar hours:  Mon. - Wed. 4:30 p.m. -10:30 p.m., Thu.- Sat. till 11 p.m. Closed Sundays.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Book Review: Growing at the Speed of Life by Graham Kerr

(Yes, there will be more pizza reviews coming soon. But I accepted an invitation to review this book and I just finished writing the review, so here it is.)
Childhood is a time for learning, and one of the things I learned during my childhood was the art of malingering. Many was the time, when I had a cold, or was recuperating from something more serious like chicken pox or mumps, that I would force myself to cough, or sniffle more loudly than necessary, to convince my mom that I needed to stay home from school for one more day.
With a somewhat overprotective mom, that wasn’t so hard to do, but the tricky part was persuading her that, while I was still too sick to go back to school, I was well enough to leave my bed and lie on the couch all day watching TV.
Though I inwardly rejoiced when she agreed, it was in fact a mixed blessing. In 1961, then-FCC chairman Newton N. Minow decried television programming as a “vast wasteland,” and in my day it hadn’t gotten much better, especially for a kid on a weekday. This may be hard for younger readers to believe, but a few decades ago, televisions were tuned by means of a dial, which ran from Channel 2 all the way up to Channel 13. And not all of those twelve channels necessarily were tuned into stations; some were pure static.
Among the channels that we did get, game shows dominated the morning lineups, with soap operas (a now-dying genre whose erstwhile popularity remains inexplicable to me to this day) taking over in the afternoon. Aside from “Let’s Make a Deal,” which I liked, this made for a pretty bleak landscape.
Minow’s landmark speech helped lead to the creation of the Public Broadcasting System, which was a godsend for children. Thanks to PBS, I was able to watch “Sesame Street” and its hipper cousin, “Electric Company,” on those weekday mornings.
The afternoon programming on PBS was aimed at a different audience, specifically housewives. But I still found PBS’s shows preferable to “As the World Turns” and “Days of our Lives.”
One of the staples of PBS in the afternoon was the cooking show. The pioneer and grande dame of the genre, Julia Child, led the way, but others followed in her wake. In the 1970s, few were better known or more popular than Graham Kerr, better known to his audience as The Galloping Gourmet.
At the beginning of each show, Kerr would come bounding across the studio set, usually dressed in an unbearably garish suit (which I wasn’t aware of, since we still had a black and white TV), and would start off the show by regaling the old ladies in the audience with tales of his latest globe-trotting culinary adventures. The rest of the show followed the standard cooking-show format, with Kerr preparing a meal; frankly, I remember almost nothing about the food that he cooked, though I well recall his gangly appearance, his British accent, and his effusive demeanor.
Still, I’d given little if any thought to Kerr since then, until last year or so, when reruns of “The Galloping Gourmet” began to appear on the Cooking Channel. That sparked a “Whatever happened to ...” thought or two, but I never pursued it.
It was with some surprise, then, that I was recently invited to review Kerr’s new book, Growing at the Speed of Life:  A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden. In it, Kerr, who now lives in the Pacific Northwest, describes how he went about creating and tending to a backyard vegetable garden, and provides practical advice on growing, and cooking with, various vegetables.
Several times early in the book, Kerr mentions how he benefited from serendipity, the fortunate confluence of events at just the right time, such as the removal of Kerr’s above-ground pool, which left him a concrete slab that made a perfect foundation for a greenhouse. Maybe Kerr’s got some good karma working, but the unexpected offer of a review copy of his book was serendipitous for my wife and me, since she is in the midst of planning our first vegetable garden. And like Kerr, her ambitious plans for the garden are not, I’m afraid, matched by our experience at this sort of thing. So when Kerr’s book arrived in the mail, we eagerly cracked it open and started reading.
As it turns out, the book’s subtitle is a bit misleading; this is not a day-to-day, yearlong account of life in Kerr’s garden. Roughly the first 60 pages are spent on Kerr’s reasons for wanting a garden, a brief account of how he went about creating one, and some advice on various aspects of gardening, such as soil preparation, watering, and greenhouses. The remaining four-fifths of the book is devoted to individual fruits, vegetables and herbs, arranged alphabetically. A brief epilog and appendix touch upon Kerr’s commitment to sharing his harvest with the community, and some ideas on how to deal with plant pests and diseases.
Neither, then, is this anything like a how-to guide for aspiring home gardeners. Besides the relative brevity of Kerr’s discussion of his own gardening efforts, his approach is not always very practical for the average person; not everyone, for instance, is going to be able to afford a professionally built greenhouse with automatic overhead ventilation panels, three power sources, fluorescent lighting, and a nook for taking a cup of tea, which Kerr enjoys while he and his wife gaze out over Washington’s Skagit Valley.
Kerr also apparently wrote this book shortly after his first year of gardening, and he frankly admits that he’s still searching for answers to some of his own questions. For example, his first winter crop was “disappointing,” so he’s laid out a “more modest plan for next winter,” but at this point, we don’t know how that plan will turn out.
That’s not to say that these pages weren’t entertaining. Kerr has an engaging, conversational style of writing, and though his humorous asides sometimes fall flat, Kerr’s descriptions of his occasional mishaps (such as his struggles with a rototiller that proved to be more machine than he could handle) had my wife and me laughing out loud.
Though Kerr does offer some general tips and advice, then, this is not the book to turn to if you’re searching for a home gardening instruction manual. When it comes time to plant, cultivate, harvest and prepare particular fruits and vegetables, though, you’ll find this volume a valuable addition to your bookshelf, and one that you’ll likely turn to often.
Each of the sixty or so entries includes some general background information about the plant in question, practical advice on planting and harvesting, nutritional information, and several recipes. You’ll learn, for instance, that mustard greens originated in the Himalayas, that rutabagas prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 6.8, and how to prepare everything from an artichoke omelet to zucchini fritters.
Kerr, who was once “awarded” a Broken Wooden Spoon by Weight Watchers International for his high-fat, high-calorie cooking, has sworn off his old ways, and like a lot of converts, he’s a bit of a zealot. Though he’s not a vegetarian, he’s passionate about the importance of reducing our intake of saturated fat, and his recipes reflect that. There’s very little here in the way of deep frying, meat, or dairy products; when cheese makes an appearance, it’s generally what Kerr calls “yogurt cheese,” which is essentially lowfat yogurt with the liquid drained off. There are also vegan versions of traditionally meat-based dishes, like Brunswick stew (with butternut squash substituting for chicken), although one dish, cabbage rolls, defied Kerr’s efforts at recipe conversion, and he actually calls for ground beef in that one (the leanest available, of course).
Still, if one reason that most of us don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables is our belief that they just don’t taste as good as meat (unless they’re breaded and deep fried, at least), why not try making them as flavorful as possible? I haven’t tried preparing any of Kerr’s recipes yet, but if all goes well in our garden’s inaugural season, I hope that we’ll have plenty of homegrown ingredients on hand for doing just that.
Growing at the Speed of Life:  A Year in the Life of My First Kitchen Garden.  By Graham Kerr. 315 pp.  Perigee (Mar. 1, 2011). List price $27.00

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buitoni Masterpiece Challenge Giveaway

I was recently given the opportunity to try two products from Buitoni, from their new line of premium refrigerated and frozen pastas. I might've taken a pass, but in exchange for doing a review, I get to pass on to one lucky reader two coupons, each good for one of those products, 100% free. So here's my review, with instructions at the end about how to enter for your chance to win.
My first selection was Maine Lobster Ravioli with a White Wine Butter Sauce, one of Buitoni's Complete Frozen Meals for Two. Following the directions, I let the ravioli cook for five minutes after the water began to boil, while the sauce heated in a closed plastic packet in a separate pot of water.
The directions were on the mark, as the pasta was al dente, neither hard nor mushy, with just a little bite. I've never had a particular preference among fresh, frozen or dried pasta, but this had a nice texture, neither gluey nor grainy.
Once finished, the ravioli were topped with the sauce. Unlike some frozen meals, this was a pretty decent portion for two adults; my wife and I had our fill, with enough for our seven-year-old daughter to try as well (she loved the filling but was not a fan of the sauce, by the way).
I was a little skeptical of the "Maine Lobster" claim, but the filling was quite good, with actual chunks of lobster and a definite lobster flavor. This was not just some mystery-meat filler with lobster flavor added.
The accompanying sauce tasted quite rich (although the fat content was reasonable), similar to a bechamel sauce with the addition of diced garlic. While I wouldn't say that it overpowered the ravioli, it was an unmistakable presence, with a prominent garlic aroma. Its garlic flavor was relatively mild - even delicate - but that flavor, combined with the sauce's thick consistency, made it a costar of the lobster rather than a bit player. It was a happy pairing, though, as the two worked well together, like Bogart and Bacall.
My other Buitoni offering, from their line of refrigerated pastas, was their spicy beef and sausage ravioli, which I topped with a basic red sauce. I didn't notice much difference in texture between the pasta here and in the lobster ravioli - both came out well, al dente - but the filling was mildly spicy, with a finely-ground texture and a chili-like flavor reminiscent of a frozen, spicy beef burrito. I've eaten my share of frozen burritos over the years, so I'm not complaining, but that's what it brought to mind. I could see serving this with some sharp grated cheese and a well-seasoned red sauce, or even salsa and queso fresca, with a glass of red wine, pilsner or sangria.
Both of these were tasty, but even though I like spicy food the lobster ravioli was my favorite. With a bottle of white wine, a salad and some crusty bread, it would make a good meal for two, and wouldn't be a bad choice if you wanted to come up with something quick and inexpensive for a romantic meal or to impress a date. At $10 a pop, this was actually a pretty good deal.
So that's my review. Now, if you would like a chance to win coupons for these products - or any Buitoni products from their frozen or refrigerated lines, which include a lot more than the two I've reviewed here - go to the Buitoni Masterpiece Challenge Facebook page, then leave a comment under this post (not on their Facebook page, although you can do that too) indicating that you did so. I'll select a winner at random. The winner will receive the coupons by mail, direct from Buitoni, so if you win I will need your name and mailing address.
The Challenge itself runs through March 27, so I'll run this contest for one week, until next Thursday, March 24, at 2:00 p.m. I'll announce the name of the winner shortly after that time. If you haven't already given me your email address, you'll have to do it within 24 hours after that, or I'll award it to somebody else.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Shooters, Fairport

Shooters on Urbanspoon
Just in time for St. Patty's Day and the NCAA tournament, here's another look at a local bar/restaurant that also serves pizza.
While pizza seems to be popping up on a lot of bar menus these days, and there's been a proliferation of wood-fired pizzerias around here in the past few years, it's still unusual to see wood-fired pizza offered at a casual sports bar, which is a pretty apt description of Shooters on Fairport Road. After one recent misfired attempt, I returned a few days ago to give their pizza a try.
While several of the menu options sounded tempting, I went with my usual Margherita, which is something of a default choice for me when trying wood-fired pizza. I like the relative simplicity of the style, which seems to fit well with the rustic, Old World nature of a wood-fired pizza.
Shooters' version came with regular, low-moisture mozzarella, and both tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes (I was asked if I wanted sauce, and said yes). The thin crust displayed some light charring, but was quite pliable; it definitely showed signs of having been baked in a wood-fired oven, but it was not heavily charred at all.
The crust did not have a lot of bite to it, except along the edge; it also didn't have much of an interior (again, excepting the edge), but it did have some nice toasty overtones, and it wasn't soggy or lifeless. As wood-fired crusts go, it was OK but not outstanding.
The cheese on this pizza was just a bit browned, well melted and quite stringy when it arrived, hot out of the oven. It was topped with sliced tomatoes, which were pretty flavorless (they are out of season, admittedly), similar to the forgettable slices that adorn many a sandwich these days. That made me glad I'd asked for tomato sauce, which at least gave the pizza some tomatoey flavor. It had a medium thick consistency and was moderately applied. The shreds of torn basil were not overly plentiful, but they did add some pleasant flavor accents.
I wouldn't call this a classic Margherita, more like a regular pizza with sliced tomatoes and basil, but that's OK. And while this wasn't the best wood fired pizza I've tried, it was far from the worst; I'd say it came in somewhere in the middle of the pack.
As I mentioned, Shooters has several specialty pizzas on the menu, and this was good enough to make me want to go back and try some others. Frankly I'd like to see them try something more simple and sparse, maybe a white pizza with a brushing of olive oil, some garlic, maybe a few olives, which I think could work well with this thin, supple crust.
I don't expect to see anything like that, though, as Shooters' pizza menu generally runs toward bold flavors and multiple toppings, with selections like a Clams Casino pizza (chopped clams, bacon, onion, bell peppers, red sauce, Romano and mozzarella) and an Andouille sausage pie with hot banana peppers. But some of those sound good too, and I expect to return sometime to give them a try. Until then, I'll give Shooters a B+.
Shooters Sports Bar & Grill, 1226 Fairport Rd. (Rt. 31F), Fairport. 385-9777
Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sun. noon - midnight

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mama Rosa's Express - CLOSED

Note: Mama Rosa's Express is closed. Currently the site is occupied by Bada Bing's.
Last June, I did a post on the Perri's location on Norton Street. Although I think Perri's makes some good pizza, my slice there wasn't the best, and the location seemed to be a poor relation to its sisters on Lyell Ave. and Stone Road.
Well, the Norton Street Perri's apparently did wither on the vine, and is now history. In its place comes Mama Rosa's Express, so named because it is associated with Mama Rosa Restaurant next door. I stopped by recently to check it out and picked up a pepperoni slice.
It was obvious that more than the name has changed here, since this was certainly different from the slice I got at the erstwhile Perri's. Though both were big, this one was truly huge, measuring 14 inches along the side. Forget trying to hold this with one hand. It was also fresher, and unlike the slices I got at Perri's, this one had the pepperoni baked on, not added to a cheese slice and rewarmed (I should note here that at the other Perri's locations I've been to, like this one, they don't do that.)
It was, however, screen baked, which is not much of a surprise, since a pizza this big wouldn't fit on any pizza peel I've ever seen. That doesn't necessarily mean a bad crust, but in fact the thin crust here was little more than a base for the toppings, rather than a significant component in its own right, with a soft texture and little breadiness. Only along the edge did the crust yield some good flavor and texture, with an outer crispness and some toasty notes.
This was a well integrated pizza, making it difficult to separate out the different components. Frankly, the sauce, cheese and pepperoni were all pretty unremarkable, but they worked well together, elevating this slice a bit above the typical megaslice.
The sauce was applied in proportion to the thin crust, adding some moisture and a bit of background tomatoey flavor. The moderate layer of mozzarella was a little browned and a little chewy, and the pepperoni was noticeably present but not a standout, with decent flavor but not much crispness.
It doesn't sound all that good, writing about it, and yet I found myself liking this slice. It was big, it was greasy, it was cheesy, it was saucy. With the paper plate as a tool, I was able to fold the whole thing into one big gloppy, huge, glorious mess.
If you like Mama Rosa's slices, you can also order one of the 28-inch pies from which they're cut. That's a lot of pizza - a little more than you would get from a 2x2' square pizza - but the guy behind the counter told me they sell a lot of them.
One of those 28-inch pies, with pepperoni, will set you back $24.95 (one slice is $2.99, and only $1.99 with cheese only). If you're not that hungry, or aren't feeding your son's entire basketball team, they also do standard sizes as well. Other offerings include wings, plates, hot sandwiches, sides and Friday seafood specials.
In some ways, this slice represented everything - well, a lot of things - I'm against: quantity over qualiity, a dull, soft crust, greasiness - yet somehow it all worked. In that respect, I guess it was something like a garbage plate - it shouldn't taste good, and yet somehow it achieves a certain transcendent greatness. If a pizzeria is going to do mega slices, this is a good way to do them.
So that makes this a tough one to grade, I mean it was certainly not world-class pizza, and yet the whole thing was greater than the sum of its parts. So I'll call it above average, and give it a B.
Mama Rosa's Express, 1733 Norton St., Rochester 14609, 355-4432
Mon. - Thu. 1 p.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 1 p.m - 10 p.m., Sund. 2 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rookies, Buffalo Road

Rookie's Neighborhood Sports on Urbanspoon
I've noticed recently that more bars are advertising pizza on their menus. And with March Madness and St. Patrick's Day just around the corner, what better time to check some of them out?
Now before I get to today's establishment, let me just say that bar pizza is a tricky thing; you never know what you're going to get, particularly since not every bar that offers pizza is set up to make pizza from scratch. While a handful of places are equipped to prepare from-scratch, pizzeria-style pizza, others, I think, rely on premade crusts, which can be easily topped with canned sauce and shredded cheese, and popped into the oven for a few minutes.
One of the recent entrants onto the bar-pizza scene is Rookies, a sports bar with locations in Gates and Pittsford. I stopped for lunch recently at the original location in Gates.
Rookies has eight pizzas on the menu.  I went with the pepperoni pizza, figuring that it's one of the most basic, and probably the most popular.
My personal-size pizza wasn't bad looking, with a medium-thick crust, topped with wide, evenly spaced slices of pepperoni, melted cheese and a deep red sauce.
It was a bit disappointing, therefore, when my first bite revealed a dry, rather lifeless crust. It was firm, certainly - the slice stood out as straight as a ruler when I held it by the edge - and it was not greasy, which is also a plus, but it had no breadlike qualities, and precious little moisture. Not that I want my pizza crust to be wet, but this one seemed to have had all the moisture sucked out of it.
The toppings were a little better, at least. The sauce was amply applied, which was fortunate, given the desiccated crust. It had a sweetish flavor that was reminiscent of canned pasta sauce, but it wasn't bad at all.
The cheese was thoroughly melted, not browned, and was very stringy, which you may or may not like, but it seemed like high-quality mozzarella, with a bit of fat oozing out of it, and it also helped add some textural interest. The pepperoni was unremarkable but acceptable. The edge, unsurprisingly, was quite crunchy.
Besides plain cheese and pepperoni, Rookies also offers Buffalo chicken, veggie, and Philly steak pizzas, as well as their "signature" Greek pizza with Greek marinade, charbroiled chicken breast, Kalamata olives, red onions, tomatoes, spinach and feta cheese. The rest of the menu runs toward bar-food staples such as wings, burgers, and quesadillas, all grouped under sports-themed headings (for no reason that I can think of, pizzas are deemed "Second Quarter."
There's ample seating at Rookies, with a long bar facing one wall, booths along the other three walls, and tall tables and barstools in between. The walls are black, which might come off as rather gloomy were it not for the solid ring of TV screens surrounding the entire dining area.
This is definitely a male-oriented place, which is to be expected at a sports bar, I guess. On my visit, the wait and bar staff seemed to be entirely female, and the clientele almost entirely male, though a couple of women did come in for lunch just before I left. I'm guessing that on game days the aroma of chicken wings mixes with that of testosterone, and that you'd better get here early if you want a place to sit.
To borrow some sports terminology, Rookies didn't exactly strike out with this pizza, but it was far from a home run. It has some things going for it - decent sauce, nicely melted cheese, pretty good balance - but the dry crust was reminiscent of a frozen pizza, and not an especially good one at that. An infield hit, perhaps, but that's about it. I'll give this one a C-, and next time I'd opt for some wings instead.
Rookies Sports Bar & Grill, 2351 Buffalo Road, Gates 429-4665, and 3400 Monroe Ave., Pittsford 385-7665
11 a.m. - 2 a.m. daily.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vinny's Bakery: Potato Pizza

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.
In speaking with Vinny, it became evident that he has a strong belief in himself, and a certain pride in what he and Venera have accomplished. Asked what he thinks of most American pizza, Vinny said with a smile that it's "giving [him] a bad name," as it's just not up to the standard of what he considers good pizza.
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.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mr. Lee's - CLOSED

I happened to be in the East Ridge Road area the other day so I drove by Mr. Lee's, the new place going into the former site of Doughboys. The "OPEN" sign was on, so I stopped in.
I think I must've been one of the first customers, because the four people there were all busy with getting things in order, including a big "Grand Opening" sign that hadn't yet gone in the window. But there was pizza available, so I got a couple of cheese slices.
The slices were given quite a long reheating in the oven, from which they emerged hot but not particularly well-done in appearance, so either the oven wasn't all that hot or the pizza was cold when it went in.
From the appearance of my slices, I frankly wasn't expecting much. They didn't look particularly good, with a thick yellow-white blanket of mozzarella atop a thick crust.
But in fact they weren't bad. The crust was pleasantly crunchy on the outside, and while the interior was not particularly bready, the slice was neither greasy nor overly dry either. It appeared to be pan risen, with a golden brown bottom and a crunchy edge.
The slices were well dusted with what I believe was Romano cheese. Noticeable to the eyes, palate and nostrils, the Romano added some interest to the well-melted but bland mozzarella. Underneath the cheese was a moderately applied layer of thick, sweetish tomato sauce.
Mr. Lee's will be offering 12", 16" and sheet pizzas, with 14 toppings to choose from, as well as calzones, wings (Buffalo, garlic basil, Boss and sweet-and-sour sauces) and hot subs.
I've declined to rate a few places lately, and I don't want to give the impression that I'm discontinuing the practice, but sometimes it just doesn't seem that useful, and this is one such occasion. This pizza was OK, it wasn't great, but it was better than I expected, and it was better than it looked, frankly. And I will give kudos to the owners and staff for friendly, eager-to-please service.
But my ratings, as imperfect as they are, are meant to provide some guidance to what you might expect to get if you go to a given pizzeria, and considering how recently Mr. Lee's has opened for business, I'm just not sure that a rating would be all too helpful at this point, before they've really had a chance to get on their feet, as it were. This pizza would fall somewhere in the B to C range, but I plan to go back in a few weeks before I give it a grade. For now, I'd say that Mr. Lee's is worth checking out, and I'll leave it at that.
Mr. Lee's Pizza & Wings, 1963 E. Ridge Rd., in Great Win Plaza, 338-9009
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Guida's, Honeoye Falls

Guida's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Guida's has five locations around town, two of which - Empire Blvd. and Elmgrove Rd. - I've reviewed before (I've done several posts about the Empire location, so enter "Guida's" in the search bar to bring up all of them).
Recently I visited the Honeoye Falls Guida's, which also allowed me to sample some Guida's varieties I hadn't tried before, their Buffalo chicken pizza and their pan-risen Sicilian.
Although I've only tried a small fraction of the Buffalo chicken pizzas in this area, the ones that I've had have been broadly similar, up until this one. Most of the Buffalo chicken pizza I've had has been topped with either tomato sauce, with hot-sauce-laden chicken chunks added, or a thin layer of hot sauce, in lieu of tomato sauce. Blue cheese has usually been added in minimal quantities, if at all.
This pie, though, was striking for being topped with a thick layer of blue cheese sauce. It wasn't particularly pungent, and was essentially a mild version of the stuff that typically comes with an order of wings.
But more on that in a second. Let's start at the bottom, with the crust.
One thing I've tended to like about Guida's pizza is the crust, which is typically bready and usually crisp. This crust had the breadiness, but was rather soft. It was dry on the bottom, with no grease, and medium thick. There were several large bubbles along the edge, which was, again, nice and bready, with good flavor and a chewy, airy texture.
Atop the crust was a thin layer of medium-hot sauce, a moderate amount of melted mozzarella, a copious amount of breaded chicken chunks, and that creamy blue cheese sauce. With all those toppings, this was one filling pizza, and not for the diet-conscious. Even the individual slices were physically heavy (so lifting them does burn some calories, I suppose). With no tomato sauce, just chicken, hot sauce and blue cheese, this was indeed very reminiscent of Buffalo chicken wings, lacking only a side of celery.
I was perhaps looking more forward to the pan-risen Sicilian pizza. Although I've long known that Sicily has a distinctive style of pizza, it's often seemed to me that the name "Sicilian" tends to be slapped onto what otherwise would simply be called sheet pizza. And sheet pizza is all too often characterized by an overly crunchy, greasy crust that tastes as if it's been fried rather than baked, making it little more than a bigger but less desirable version of a pizzeria's regular round pie.
After trying some Sicilian pizza at places like Nino's, Joe's, Vinny's and Pizza Stop, however, I've come to appreciate that not every pizza labeled "Sicilian" around here is a mere greasy sheet pizza, and that the style has something to offer beyond mere thickness. A good Sicilian pizza can be crisp and bready, complex and subtle, and a welcome (if occasional, for me) alternative to thin-crust, New York or Neapolitan pizza.
Maybe, then, those changed perceptions heightened my expectations for Guida's version, but I was a bit disappointed with this pizza. To paraphrase Seinfeld, not that there was anything wrong with it, it just didn't thrill me.
The primary reason, I guess, was the crust. It was not oily, so it certainly got points for that, but it was quite soft. I know that I cannot expect a pan-risen pizza to have the same crispness as a good New York style pie, but to my way of thinking, there ought to be a bit of bite in the crust, and this one didn't have that.
That said, the crust did have an appealing bready flavor and good interior texture. So it wasn't bad, even if it fell a little short of my hopes or expectations.
The Sicilian was topped with a moderate amount of sauce, cheese and pepperoni, all of which were added in pretty good proportion to the crust. The sauce was a pretty basic tomatoey sauce, with some herbs in the background, and the cheese seemed like straight mozzarella, which struck the right balance between melted and browned. The pepperoni was of the ordinary wide and thin variety.
These two pizzas further showed that Guida's turns out some pretty good pizza, but of course not every pie will please every palate. Confounding my expectations, I actually preferred the Buffalo chicken pie over the Sicilian, although it was a bit too filling for my taste, kind of like eating chicken wings with a loaf of bread on the side.
The Sicilian was all right, but I wouldn't rank it among my favorites in this area. Think of it as a non-greasy version of sheet pizza, which isn't a bad thing; it just wasn't up there with what I consider the best of the bunch for this style.
I haven't been rating Buffalo chicken pizza, and I think I'll stick with that approach. This pie only confirmed that there are so many variations on this style that it's difficult to compare one to another, plus I haven't really formed any sharply delineated preferences yet. But if you want a pizza that combines the flavor of Buffalo chicken wings with the stomach-filling qualities of pizza, Guida's is for you.
The Sicilian? It was enjoyable, but not outstanding, and I'll peg it at just a cut above average, for a C+.
Guida's, 166 W. Main St., Honeoye Falls, 624-9380 Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

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