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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Return to Panzari's

Panzari's Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon
One of my earliest blog posts was a review of Panzari's in Corn Hill, in April 2009. I gave them a pretty scathing review, and a D-minus to go along with it. Part of that was due to my chagrin that a place that advertised wood-fired pizza would serve me a pizza made in something akin to a waffle iron.
But I've wondered, since then, if I just caught them on a bad day, and I figured that now that they've got some increased competition, in the form of Tony D's across the street, maybe they've stepped up their game. So I went back.
I ordered the same pizza as last time, the "Margarita" (still misspelled), not just because I like that style but because I figured it would make for a fair comparison with what I had last time.
Interestingly, Panzari's website now advertises "Brick Oven-Fired Pizza," not wood-fired pizza as before. "Brick oven-fired pizza" doesn't really make any sense to me; "brick oven pizza," or "wood-fired pizza," I get, but "brick oven-fired pizza" is meaningless.
Semantics aside, though, OK, I get that they are not doing, or claiming to make, wood-fired pizza these days, just pizza baked in a brick oven. Fair enough, and certainly a brick oven can produce excellent pizza, regardless of the heat source.
But to my disappointment, if less than complete surprise, my pizza was about the same as before. The thin-to-medium crust was soft, with a lot - and I mean a lot - of corn meal adhering to the bottom. Much of the corn meal was blackened. Now I like corn meal well enough, in some contexts (polenta, for example), and I use it myself sometimes to keep my pizza dough from sticking to the peel, but every bite here included a gritty dose of the stuff. Not good.
Aside from that sooty corn meal, and a little browning along parts of the edge, the crust was pale and uninteresting. It had a pleasant enough flavor, but texturally, it was dull. Whatever advantages might be gained by the use of a brick oven weren't apparent here.
The toppings didn't help much. Granted, I could've opted for bolder, more flavorful toppings, but there's no reason that a Margherita can't have an interesting, complex flavor profile. This pie had a thick layer of melted mozzarella (which in itself wasn't bad, or wouldn't have been, in combination with the right other toppings), fresh but bland tomato slices, a smattering of shredded basil, and a bit of garlic. As I've said before, better to use good, canned tomatoes (like San Marzano tomatoes from Italy) than flavorless fresh tomatoes. And to me, the basil on a Margherita should do more than just supply the third color of the Italian flag. It should add flavor and aroma. The few shreds on this pizza may have added up to a single basil leaf, and were barely noticeable on my palate. The garlic was a welcome addition, but wasn't able to rescue this pizza from mediocrity.
Once again, then, a very disappointing pizza from Panzari's, and undoubtedly my last, barring word of significant changes there. Thanks to my dropping pluses and minuses from my grades, this gets a half-step bump up from Panzari's previous D-minus, but the letter grade remains stuck at D.
Panzari's Italian Bistro, 321 Exchange Blvd., Rochester 14608
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m., Sun., 4:30 p.m.–9 p.m.

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