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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

La Bella Sicilia, Buffalo

La Bella Sicilia on Urbanspoon
I've been reporting from time to time on pizza places that I've tried during some recent travels to Buffalo. Here's another.
Before heading westward down the Thruway, I generally research some places online to see if there's anything I'd like to check out. One that caught my eye was La Bella Sicilia in Cheektowaga. Their website advertises both Sicilian and NY style pizza.
I was just passing through, and only had the time and appetite for a slice. There was only one kind available on this lunchtime visit, and it seemed to be something of a hybrid, like a cross between Sicilian and NY style pizza.
This was a "pie" cut, like NY style, not square, like Sicilian, but pan baked and on the thick side, like Sicilian. The browned underside was just a bit oily to the touch but not greasy.
The interior was soft and airy - the word "fluffy" came to mind - but a bit crumbly and biscuitlike as well; in fact the slice broke in two as I was holding it. The edge, however, was quite crunchy.
The sauce and cheese were in good balance with each other, but both were lightly applied for this thick a crust. The sauce was slightly sweet.
So I'm still not sure if what I got was supposed to be NY style or Sicilian pizza, but La Bella Siciliana offers its version of each, as well as a lengthy non-pizza menu, including wings, subs, pasta, veal, chicken and other entrees, salads, and more. There's a small takeout window as well as a full-service restaurant on site, where you can enjoy a glass of beer or wine with your meal.
In keeping with my usual practice, I'm not going to rate this Buffalo establishment. This slice had no major flaws, but fell generally in the "average" range. I remain curious about LBS's takes on two very different styles of pizza, but I don't think I'll be back anytime soon, so I don't know that I'll get a chance to explore that any further.
La Bella Siciliana, 2909 Genesee St., Cheektowaga. 716-896-6692
Mon., Wed. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Tue. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Jack'ss BBQ & Pizza, Buffalo Rd.

Jack'ss BBQ & Pizza opened recently on Buffalo Road, just west of Elmgrove. Here's an early report.
I stopped by at lunchtime and asked if they had any slices. The person behind the counter told me that they are all made fresh. I guess I wasn't quite sure what she meant, but I asked for a cheese slice.
It took some time for my slice to come out, so it certainly was fresh. I wondered if perhaps I should've just ordered a small pie, but no matter.
This was a quarter of a pie. I didn't measure it but I'm assuming it was from a large (16") pie.
The thin-to-medium thick crust had a dry but soft underside, with a pan-baked appearance, brown in some areas, lighter in others where the dough had bubbled up and lost contact with the surface of the pan.
Both the shape and color of the outer edge indicated that the pie was baked in a "sided" pan. Along the side of the outer edge, the crust was noticeably paler than the rest of the crust. My hypothesis is that the relatively cool side of the pan insulated that part of the crust somewhat from the heat of the oven.
The slice was topped by a well melted, slightly browned layer of cheese. The slightly tangy flavor of the cheese suggested that it may have been a blend, perhaps of mozzarella and provolone. The moderate layer of sauce underneath was marked by some herbal notes, particularly of oregano.
Jack'ss offers 20 different pizza toppings, and 11 gourmet pizzas, including standbys like Buffalo chicken and meatlovers pies, as well as an El Greco (tomatoes, feta, olives and white sauce) and a Napolitano (sausage, ricotta, sauteed peppers and onions). They also serve calzones, wings, hot and cold subs, burgers and plates, pasta, salads, fried chicken, and barbeque. It's counter service, with a few tables and a self-serve soft drink cooler. 

I'm always a little wary of rating places right after they open, because I know it can take a while for a restaurant of any kind to settle in and develop a consistent approach in the kitchen. But I didn't see any indication that Jack'ss was still working out the bugs in the system, so keeping in mind that I stopped there within days after its opening, I'll go ahead and give it a provisional grade, meaning that I'll try to revisit before too much time passes for an update. This was okay pizza, a little soft for my taste, but not greasy (which is at least equally important for me), with pretty good balance and flavor. I'll give it a C+.
Jack's BBQ & Pizza, 3055 Buffalo Rd., 14624. 247-0123
Sun. - Thu. 10 a.m. - midnight, Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m. - 4 a.m.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Anchor Sports Bar, Marketplace Mall

Note: this establishment is now closed. - RPG 10/19/12.
 It was big news when the Anchor Bar opened up on East Avenue in 2009. After serving up the original Buffalo chicken wings for over four decades, Buffalo's Anchor Bar was opening a second location! In Rochester!
Well, then the excitement seemed to die down. There were reports that the wings weren't as good, the atmosphere wasn't the same, and so on.
At least some of that could be attributed to the usual backlash whenever a place opens to a lot of hype. And frankly, anybody who thought that they were going to find a duplicate of the original Anchor Bar was bound to be disappointed. Some things can't be copied. There's a reconstructed version of the Parthenon in Tennessee, but I doubt that seeing it is really a satisfactory substitute for going to the original in Athens, even if the latter is relatively dilapidated.
So when a third Anchor Bar opened in Marketplace Mall in late 2010, there was a lot less buzz this time around. I had to wonder if the Anchor Bar wasn't damaging its brand by overextending itself.
Then I noticed that the Rochester locations had become the "Anchor Sports Bar," and that their logo differed from that of the original. Were they still even connected in some way?
Apparently, yes. According to the D&C spinoff, Metromix, Michael Ranalletta, general manager of the Henrietta location, explains: "We are a franchise of the Buffalo location, and the only reason we changed our name to Anchor Sports Bar and Grill and changed our logo was because when we first opened up, all anyone ever talked about was the wings. It was wings, wings, wings — that was what they thought of when they heard the name 'Anchor Bar.' We wanted to be known for more than just chicken wings." Ranalletta added that "We buy the same wings, and we fry them the same way," although the Rochester locations offer different sauces from what you'll find in Buffalo, including one from Uncle Ralph. (How many ways are there to fry a chicken wing, by the way?)
All of which is a long-winded introduction to saying that the Rochester Anchor Bars also differ from the original in one other respect:  they offer pizza. And that's what led me recently to the Marketplace location, where I tried a medium pepperoni pizza, along with some wings.
My medium pizza had a medium thick crust, with screen marks underneath. It was just very slightly oily to the touch, and firm but not particularly crisp, although there was a slight crunch along the edge.
The crust's interior was somewhat bready, if a bit dense. It was topped by a fairly generous layer of thick red sauce, which had a subtle sweetness that was offset by some distinct herbal notes. The melted, slightly browned mozzarella was sprinkled with small shreds of what I believe was Romano (although it could've been Parmesan - I'll probably never learn to distinguish between them), which gave it a distinct tanginess. The wide thin slices of pepperoni were unremarkable but complemented the other components well. As a whole, this was a very flavorful pizza, so much so that the crust tended to fade into the background.
The wings weren't bad, but it's been a while since I've been to the original Anchor Bar, so I won't opine whether they were as good as the ones you'd find there (which arguably aren't as good as those you'd find as some other establishments in Buffalo, but that's a matter for another day). They were adequately coated with a medium hot sauce, but not doused, so whether you consider that a good thing depends on whether you like your wings "wet." While not scrawny, these were what I'd call fryer rather that roaster wings. Again, that may or may not be a good thing, since it means a little less meat but a higher ratio of skin and sauce to meat. We asked for them crispy, which is how they came - nice and crisp, but not overcooked.
The Anchor Bar offers pizza in small, medium and large sizes, and three specialty pizzas (chicken wing, white, and veggie), as well as pizza and wing combo deals. They also serve sandwiches, burgers, and, well, all the usual bar food (the menu is on their website). I haven't been to the East Ave. location, but the Marketplace AB is spacious, with high ceilings, lots of TVs, and a U-shaped bar off to one side.
Despite the tenuous nature of its relationship to the original, when I hear or see "Anchor Bar," I still think immediately of wings, and it's hard to imagine going there to get anything else. But, it is not the original, and apparently the owners are trying to get away a bit from the wing thing.
So should you consider the pizza, if you go? Yeah. It wasn't bad. For a slice or two, or to get a pizza to go, I'd head over to Cosimos in the food court, but if you want to have a meal or some drinks, Anchor serves up some decent bar pizza. I'll give it a C+.
Anchor Sports Bar & Grill, Marketplace Mall. 272-9333
Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sun. noon - 2 a.m.
Also 355 East Ave., 861-6475 (opens at 5 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On-line Coupons: Buyer Beware

As you are probably aware, online coupon sites like Groupon and Restaurant.com have proliferated in the past year or so. It's easy to see why - there are some great deals to be had out there. And if a restaurant that you frequent is advertised, why not save some money on your next visit?
Be warned, though. I recently purchased a $25 coupon from my local pizzeria, for a price of $15. Not until I went to pick up our order of a sheet pizza and two dozen wings on a Sunday afternoon did I discover that the pizzeria does not honor these coupons on weekends.
Nowhere on the coupon is there any mention of a no-weekends policy. And while we neglected to mention the coupon when ordering, there is no mention of a policy about that either. The only restrictions noted on the coupon were the $35 minimum purchase requirement (which we met) and that it is valid for dine-in only. Now this was a takeout order, but that was not the reason given us for refusing to honor the coupon. The stated reason was that it was a Sunday, so even if we'd ordered it for dine-in, they would not have honored the coupon.
I later spoke to the owner, who told me, in effect, that he didn't know what he was signing up for when he agreed to this deal, and that he's cancelling his participation in this service (which apparently hasn't taken effect yet, since his pizzeria is still listed on their site). Although he assured me that he understood my being upset (gee thanks), his only substantive response was to say that he would honor the coupon on a weekday (which means we'd have to put in another $35 order), and to suggest that I contact the online service to seek a refund (yeah, good luck with that).
In short, I'm screwed. And while I don't blame the online service for what happened - it's not their fault if this guy didn't read his contract closely, or if he refuses to honor his own coupons - I'm not too inclined to buy any more of these things. If the business owner refuses to honor it, there's not much you can do about it. At the very least, I'd advise you to check with the business itself before you go shelling out money for one of these coupons.
Pizza Guy Update, July 29, 2011: I contacted restaurant.com and told them what happened and they did give me a credit good for a new $25 certificate. That's good customer service.

Friday, July 15, 2011

And the Winner Is ...

Congratulations to obmark3, the winner of the gift certificate from Menezes, good for either a large two-topping pizza or a large specialty pizza. Mark, I will need you to send me your mailing address so that you can receive your certificate. You can email it to me at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com. Thanks to all who participated! I hope to do this again soon.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Back to Mac's

I got a comment recently on my post about Mac's on Lyell Avenue, from Mac's itself, suggesting that I return sometime to see how much they've improved since I gave them a C shortly after they opened last December.
Fair enough. It's always good to do a followup once a place has been open for a while. So back I went, a few days ago.
I'd love to get a full pie every time I visit a pizzeria, but even I can't eat that much pizza, so I got a pepperoni slice, which is as big as two regular slices. (And at a place that sells slices, sometimes the slices are better than a fresh pie anyway. But I digress.)
Immediately I could see that this was indeed an improvement over the slice that I got last time.
As always, I started with the underside. Where my prior slice resembled an overdone pancake underneath, this was a mottled, mostly medium shade of brown. It was dry underneath, not greasy. As before, it did have a pan-risen appearance, with some small bubbly craters dotting the bottom surface. While the outer surface wasn't exactly crisp, it was firm. The interior was all right, but not particularly bready.
The slice was pliable but not floppy, and medium thick. It was a little oily on top, but that's to be expected with a pepperoni slice. Though freshly baked, the cheese was more congealed and chewy than stringy or stretchy, and the slice had been given a dusting of what I took to be Romano.
The cheese was moderately applied, in good balance with the crust, as was the sauce, which had a salty/herbal/tomatoey flavor. The thin lip along the outer edge was chewy and bready, though rather pale, and I would've liked a bit more browning and toastiness.
All in all, this was a pretty good slice of pizza. For my taste, I'd prefer a little bit toastier, crisper crust, and the cheese could've been a tad smoother or creamier in texture, but on the whole, this was pretty tasty and well balanced, so I'll bump it up a full grade, to a B.
Mac's Pizzeria & Grill, 2346 Lyell Ave. 14606. 429-MACS (6227)
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Free delivery

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Free Pizza!


I have a gift certificate, good for either one large pizza with two toppings, or one specialty pizza (steak or Buffalo chicken) from our friends at Menezes Pizza on Chili Ave. Menezes turns out very good pizza, in what I think of as Rochester style, with a generous but balanced helping of sauce and cheese to go along with the thickish, bready crust (they'll be happy to make it thin for you on request). I've put a copy of their pizza menu in this post, but they also serve wings, subs and salads.
The giveaway contest will run through next Friday, July 15. To enter, all you've got to do is leave a comment following this post. It can be about pizza, any other topic, or nothing at all. You can leave more than one comment, but multiple comments will not increase your chances of winning.
I'll be mailing the gift certificate to the winner, so I will need your mailing address if you win. You can email it to me at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com. I'll be announcing the winner, who will be chosen at random using random.org, sometime next Friday afternoon.
Okay, comment away!


Monday, July 11, 2011

Cibon, Park Avenue

Cafe Cibon on Urbanspoon
A reader recently asked me why I had not reported on the pizza at Café Cibon, a Park Avenue establishment that's been on my pizza map literally for years now. I didn't have a particularly good answer to that question, so the other day I did something about it, and went there for lunch.
Cibon offers eight varieties of what the menu describes as focaccia pizza. I had a tough time deciding, as several of them sounding tempting, but finally settled on the tomato bianca, which is topped with garlic pesto, roasted tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, and a balsamic reduction. (Ordinarily I would've gone for the Margherita, but I love garlic, and this pizza didn't sound too far off from a Margherita anyway.)
Although I wasn't quite sure what to expect, I was a bit surprised by the appearance of this pizza. Given the "focaccia" label, I'd anticipated something a bit thick, perhaps pan baked, with the dimples on top that are characteristic of focaccia.
This wasn't that. The crust was surprisingly thin, and very firm, with a crunchy, toasty exterior underneath and along the edge. The underside was well browned and dry, and appeared to have been baked on a stone or the oven floor.
The flavor was good, if more subtle than I'd expected. Mostly I noticed the well-melted cheese and the garlic. While the menu refers to a garlic pesto, I would've said that this crust had been brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with a generous helping of fresh garlic. I'm not complaining, but just saying, don't expect a garlic equivalent of basil pesto (which would be a bit much even for a garlic lover like me). It certainly gave the pizza a garlickly flavor, but a mild one, and in fact the crust seemed to me to have an almost buttery flavor.
The tomatoes were pretty good - I do think small tomatoes like cherry tomatoes can be a better choice than the bigger beefsteak type, which are often hard and flavorless, but it might've been better to slice these, as they tended to fall off the pie. The finely  chopped basil added some flavor as well, but again it was given a relatively light touch, in balance with the other components.
What I didn't notice at all was the balsamic reduction. again, not a major complaint there - I like balsamic vinegar, but it's not something I want a lot of on my pizza - but frankly, I forgot it was even supposed to be on this pie until later when I took another look at the menu.
Aside from pizza, Cibon offers salads, panini, antipasti, pasta, and various entrees from the animal kingdom. (Is it just my computer, or is their online menu fragmented? I had to cut and paste parts of it to get it to look right in the image on the right.) There's a small bar serving specialty coffee drinks, various martinis, wine and bottled beer. During good weather, you can sit outdoors, as I did, and see and be seen on Park Avenue.
This pizza was good, although not what I was expecting a "focaccia pizza" to be. Maybe I've been misled about what that term means. (One of these days, by the way, I'm going to try Nino's focaccia pizza, which is probably as close to genuine Italian as you're going to find around here.) It was also a little pricey - all of Cibon's pizzas are $12 - but I know you can expect to pay a little more on Park Avenue. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that rents are higher there, although I suspect that people in that neighborhood are also simply more willing to pay higher prices.
I won't get too hung up on labels, though, and all in all this was some pretty tasty pizza, with a decent crust. I'm curious to try some of Cibon's other pizzas, although frankly I'm not too eager to shell out another $12 for a personal size pie right away. But price aside, I'll give this one a B+.
Café Cibon, 688 Park Ave. 14607. 461-2960
Open Daily 11 a.m. - midnight

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pastaria Pub, Lima

Pastaria Pub on Urbanspoon

NOTE:  Pastaria Pub is now Fanatics Pub & Pizza. Ownership and staff are unchanged. - RPG, Aug. 31, 2013
Italian restaurants are hit-or-miss spots for pizza. Some have it, some don't. Among those that do, some are very good, at others ... well, stick to the pasta.
So when I learned a few weeks ago that the Pastaria Pub in Lima had pizza on the menu, I was eager to check it out, but unsure of what to expect. What I got was some pretty good pizza, whether from a restaurant or otherwise.
The crust on my 12-inch pie was fairly thin, with a mostly medium-brown underside that was dotted with darker, nearly-charred spots. It had a slightly toasty flavor. The underside was dry to the touch, and the slices were pliable enough to fold, and firm enough not to require a knife and fork.
This was a pretty cheesy pizza, not overly so, but the well-melted cheese had a definite presence here. It appears from the menu that the Pastaria Pub usually uses a mix of mozzarella and provolone, and this cheese did strike a nice balance between texture and flavor, with the stringy chewiness of mozzarella and the slight tang of provolone.
The sauce stayed much more in the background. It was there, I could see it, and it added some moisture to the mix, but I had a hard time picking out its flavor.
Along its edge, the pie was formed into a medium-thick lip, which was somewhat crunchy. The thickness of the cornicione also allowed the dough's bready qualities to come through more.
The Pastaria Pub offers 14 pizza toppings and 10 specialty pizzas, including a chicken carbonara pizza with grilled chicken, bacon, alfredo sauce, mozzarella and provolone. All pizzas can also be ordered as individual-sized flatbread pizzas. The rest of the menu runs toward standard Italian fare, with an obvious emphasis on pasta, as well as steaks, chicken and fish, sandwiches, burgers and wings, plus nightly specials. The space is divided between a neighborhood pub/bar area and a two-level dining room. Service was friendly and attentive.
I'd like to say that this was good for restaurant pizza, but while that's true, it would be damning with faint praise. So I'll just say that this was good pizza. For my taste, it was just slightly out of balance - heavy on the cheese, light on the sauce - and the crust was very good, but fell a little short of greatness. But those are relatively minor demerits, and overall this was a tasty, well-made, enjoyable pie. I'll give it a B+.
Pastaria Pub, 7281 West Main St., Lima. 624-2080
Lunch, Tue. - Sat. 11:30 a.m. - 2 p.m., Dinner, Tue. - Thu. 4:30 - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. till 9:30 p.m., Sun. till 8 p.m. Pub open Sun. - Wed. 3 p.m. - ?, Thu. - Sat. 11:30 - ?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Happy 4th!

Despite all our problems, 235 years later we're still here, and we have a lot to be thankful for, not the least of which is the widespread availability of great pizza. Our forefathers had no idea what they were missing, but if they were alive today I'm sure they'd enjoy a good slice.
Speaking of which, if you're firing up the grill this weekend, consider tossing on a pizza - there are several ways to go about it and plenty of recipes and videos online. But pizza or no, I hope you have a great, fun and safe weekend, and as always, thanks for following The Rochester NY Pizza Blog!

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