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Monday, September 10, 2012

Return to The Gate House

Gate House Cafe on Urbanspoon
Having written this blog for some three and a half years now, I've been to well over 90% of the non-chain pizzerias around Rochester. So not every blog post is going to be about a new place or a first-time visit. There just aren't that many left, or that many new ones opening on a regular basis.
The good news is, it's taken me long enough to go to all these places that by now, some of them are overdue for a return visit. That's particularly true of places that maybe didn't seem to live up to what they should've been, my first time around.
One such place is The Gate House,which I have reviewed once before, in this March 2009 post . At that time, I found their wood-fired pizza rather disappointing, primarily due to its crust, which was chewy but not at all bready, with hardly any signs of the dough having risen.
But they're still around, so they must be doing something right. And on a visit last year I had a burger (yes, I do eat food other than pizza) that was pretty good, so I was ready to go back and give the pizza another shot.
On walking in, The Gate House's ovens are visible on your right, just behind the bar. I was told that they were manufactured in Italy, and are genuine wood-fired ovens, meaning that they're not some sort of wood/gas hybrid. That wood fire you see deep in the recesses of the oven isn't just for show; it's the heat source, and according to The Gate House's web site, that heat gets up to about 700 degrees - not as extreme as some places, but considerably hotter than a home oven or even a typical gas-heated pizza oven.
So despite my one prior disappointing experience here, I was looking forward to one of their pizzas. I ordered a "Kodak" pizza (The Gate House's pizzas are named after local landmarks, which doesn't thrill me, because I always feels silly ordering  something like a "Kodak" pizza, but I can live with it), which is topped with tomato sauce, Italian sausage, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella and basil.
The crust, which is always the starting point, was super thin. The underside was more firm than crisp, and was quite pliable.
The bottom was mostly pale, and a bit floury here and there,with some well-browned but not charred spots. Along the edge, which was formed into a narrow but distinct cornicione, the crust did display some crispness and crackling. Here, too, where the crust was thicker, I was able to appreciate the pleasant, mildly sweet, bready flavor of the baked dough.
The overall flavor was good, with a well-balanced blend of toppings. The sauce was marked with a rich tomato flavor. The Gate House states on its menu that they use Italian San Marzano tomatoes, are reputed to be the best, and if you want authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza, they're the way to go.
The sauce combined with the smooth, well-melted cheese to provide a solid base for the contrasting flavors and textures of the meaty, chewy sausage, the al dente roasted red bell peppers, and the shredded, wilted basil. This was certainly a winning combination, kind of like a Margherita with a little more oomph.
All in all, then, I liked this pizza, and I considered it a marked improvement over the last time. But it fell a little short of greatness.
In my experience, most "artisanal" pizza tends to fall into one of two categories, with respect to the crust:  either crisp and crackly, or pliable, even floppy. This was much closer to the latter, maybe not floppy exactly, but certainly more pliable than crisp. That may be a function of the flour they're using, but I'll save that for a discussion with the pizzaiolo on my next visit.
Now a pliable crust is not in itself necessarily a flaw. New York style pizza should have a firm enough crust to allow it to be folded and held horizontally, with the tip sticking straight out. But there's no reason to hold all pizzas to that standard, and I suspect that a lot of pizza in Italy wouldn't pass that test.
What I would have liked to see and taste, though, was a bit more exterior crispness and a little charring. I don't mean to sound like some pizza snob who claims to like charred pizza for no other reason than that it's the "in" thing at the moment, but that bit of blackening on the surface of the crust can add to the complexity of flavor in the crust, balancing the breadiness of the interior with some toasty accents. And it's something that I particularly look for in thin-crust, wood-fired pizza.
Likewise, a crust can develop some exterior crispness while remaining pliable, again adding to the depth of sensory experiences you get when you bite into it. Again, it comes down to a question of balance and contrasts, as with so much else where pizza is concerned. This crust was just a little less complex, and more one-dimensional, than I would've liked.
So this was good, no doubt about it. I'd order it again. But I've got to go with my gut, literally and figuratively, and my gut says that this pizza rates a B.
The Gate House, 274 N. Goodman St. in the Village Gate, Rochester 14607
473-2090
Mon. - Thu. 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 9 p.m.

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