In July, I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Benedetto's, a new Italian restaurant on Alexander Street. As I mentioned on my Facebook page, they were passing around free hors d'oeuvres, and I got a taste of a Margherita pizza, which was pretty good. So I made up my mind to get back for a full pizza before too long.
Which I did recently. Twice, in fact, both times for lunch.
Why twice, in quick succession? Partly because it was good, but also because, though I liked the pizza well enough the first time, I wasn't satisfied with my notes, and thought that I should go back for a second visit and make a more detailed record.
On both occasions, I was accompanied by two companions, each of whom got pizza as well, so we're talking about six pizzas in total. I'm not going to describe each of them in detail, but I will summarize our findings and conclusions.
Over the course of two lunches, we tried two Margheritas (kudos on spelling the name right), two white pizzas, and two meat pizzas. Benedetto's sausage, anchovy and Gorgonzola pizzas will have to wait till next time.
Why get the same thing both times? Well again, I wanted to add some detail to my notes from the previous visit, so I wanted to stick with what I'd had before, and my companions liked what they'd gotten before, and that's what they wanted again.
So let's start with the crust. Unlike a lot of high-end pizza restaurants, which are all about wood- and coal-fired ovens these days, Benedetto's pizzas are baked in conventional, gas-heated commercial pizza ovens. There are countless pizzerias turning out excellent pizzas from just such ovens, so that's no knock on Benedetto's, and certainly no impediment to creating a good pie with a good crust.
But these were not the kind of super-thin, crackly, heavily charred crusts that are in vogue these days, which you generally find at wood-fired pizzerias. They were, in fact, a little on the thick side, with some moderate, uneven charring. The undersides were firm, with a little bite, and the interiors were chewy. Some bubbling had taken place along the edges, making these almost puffy in spots.
The Margherita was topped with the classic red-white-and-green trinity of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil. The red sauce was smooth and straightforward, if a little bland. It was dotted with white islands of nicely melted slabs of cheese, topped with wilted shreds of basil.
The meat pizza was much like a ramped-up version of the Margherita, with the addition of sausage, ham, roasted red peppers and mozzarella. What stood out most was the spicy kick from the sausage, which permeated but did not overwhelm the pie. I also detected a background smokiness, which maybe came from the lean, thin slices of ham. I also noticed a few small chunks of diced tomato in the sauce on this one. This pie was the consensus favorite in our group, and I think the more heavily-flavored toppings stood up better to the relatively thick crust, as compared with the Margherita.
I enjoyed the white pizza, which was topped with pancetta, red onion, capers and arugula. Though its most striking visual feature was a generous coating of fresh arugula, what I noticed most about this pie on my palate was a tangy flavor, the source of which I couldn't quite pin down. I initially thought that there must have been some sharp cheese in the mix, but was told that the only cheeses on the white pizza are mozzarella and ricotta, both of which are on the mild end of the spectrum. Perhaps it was a combination of the salty capers and pancetta that I was tasting; baking might've both concentrated their flavors (by causing some evaporation of water) and spread those flavors over the surface of the pie, via the fat of the pancetta and cheese, giving the pie that overall sharp tang.
All three of us enjoyed all three pizzas, on both visits. That said, we were a bit divided over how much we enjoyed them, particularly where the crust was concerned. I thought they were good, fairly bready crusts with a firm undersurface and a chewiness that I liked. One of my friends, though, found the crusts too thick and doughy. I don't think any of them were poorly made, though, so this comes down to a matter of taste. If you're looking for thin and crispy pizza, look elsewhere, or at least ask if they can accommodate you.
As for me, I found these something like a cross between a modern, neo-"artisanal" pizza and a traditional Rochester style pizza, with the thick, Italian-bread chewiness of the latter and the intriguing flavor combinations and textural contrasts of the former. I'm not prepared to put these in the top tier of Rochester's pizzas just yet, but I do want to go back and sample Benedetto's other varieties. In the meantime, I'll give Benedetto's an above-average B.
Benedetto's, 289 Alexander Street, Rochester 14607
Tue. -.Sat.: serving lunch from 11:30 to 2 p.m., then opening for happy hour at 4 p.m. and dinner service at 5 p.m. Always available for private events.