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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gallo's slice

I first wrote about Gallo's, a pizzeria in Greece, back in 2009, giving a B-minus to my two pepperoni slices.
I later reviewed Gallo's Old World Style Pizza, giving it an A-minus for its take on an old-school version of local pizza, before the current norm of processed mozzarella and sliced pepperoni. And I enjoyed an interesting conversation with owner John Gallo, who's probably forgotten more about pizza than I'll ever know.
I've meant to go back to try one of Gallo's gourmet pizzas, but as too often happens, I simply haven't gotten around to it. But as I found myself in the neighborhood the other day, I was able to stop in for a lunchtime slice.
The slice measured 9 inches along one side and 10 on the other (the pie was obviously cut a little off center), so I'm guessing it came from an 18-inch pie. The crust was thin to medium thick, with a golden brown underside that was firm and crisscrossed by screen marks.
Along the outer edge, the crust was crisp and bready, and formed into a narrow, moderately thick lip. The dough had a faint touch of sweetness, like a tasty loaf of Italian bread. This was one of those slices where the cornicione is the best part, as that's where I could best appreciate the subtle qualities of this dough.
I was put off a bit, though, by the grease factor. I've been criticized before about using the term "grease" instead of "oil," I would call this grease, in the sense that most of it, I think, was melted fat from the pepperoni. I know you'll always have some grease when there's a fatty meat topping on a pizza, and a little grease can actually be a good thing, but there was enough here that I turned the slice upside down onto its paper plate, which collected a fair amount of orange-colored liquid.
As for the other components, this was a pretty well balanced slice, with a slightly herbal sauce and a uniform layer of melted mozzarella (which could've been an additional source of the oil/grease, but I'm guessing most of it came from the pepperoni). I had no complaints about the cheese, but it was rather nondescript and unremarkable, with a texture that was between chewy and stringy.
Despite the grease factor, I did like this slice. The number one factor for me remains the crust, and this was a pretty good, if not great crust, with fundamentally good dough. But it lacked crispness underneath, the cheese didn't wow me, and the grease was rather off-putting. As much as I liked the outer edge, I have to rate the whole slice, not just part of it. This slice exemplified some of the better characteristics of Rochester-style pizza, but also some of the potential pitfalls, and so I'll give it a C.
Gallo's, 1064 Stone Rd., Greece 663-5960
Mon. - Thu. 11 - 10, Fri. & Sat. 11 - 11, Sun. noon - 10

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Good Night at Good Luck

I maintain a personal to-do list of pizza places to try out, but I also am influenced by my readers. And a reader's recent query about when I was going to get around to trying Good Luck spurred me to action.
Well, sort of. The fact is, we finally got us a new babysitter, and hence a much-delayed, and much-needed, chance to go out to dinner, to a place that doesn't have hot dogs or mac 'n' cheese on the menu. (And yes, I know that mac 'n' cheese can now be found at upscale restaurants, dressed up with a variety of artisanal cheeses, creme fraiche, and everything from pancetta to black truffles, but that's not what I'm talking about.) But the reader's inquiry did play a role in deciding where we'd go, and since Good Luck had been on my radar screen for a while, I figured this was a good opportunity to cross it off my list.
This was my first time to Good Luck, but I hope not my last. It may not have the most well-chosen name I've ever run across, but the food was of uniformly good quality, with good service to boot.
I'm a bit schizophrenic where restaurants are concerned - I enjoy upscale places with innovative menus, but I'm also a small-town, middle-class guy at heart, and I'm innately skeptical about places that try too hard to be hip and trendy. I mean, I love New York City, but to say that a Rochester restaurant feels as it it could be in New York City is not exactly an endorsement, for me.
I knew that Good Luck was a "concept" restaurant - the concept being that plates here are meant to be shared - so that gave my admittedly pedestrian and parochial sensibilities a little pause, but as concepts go, that's not particularly contrived, so I wasn't too put off by it, either.
The place was buzzing on a Friday night, and the sight of lawyers in suits standing next to a guy at the bar wearing a wide-brimmed Asian-style hat that looked like something you'd see on a samurai warrior told me I had reached the epicenter of Rochester's cutting-edge restaurant/bar scene. But everyone was smiling, the vibe was good, and so I put aside my stodgy, curmudgeonly half for the night.
I knew going in that, whatever else I ate, I was going to try one of Good Luck's pizzas. As I usually do, when it is an option, I went with the Margherita, which for me has become a benchmark by which to compare and judge so-called artisanal pizza, much the same way that a plain cheese slice is my yardstick for New York style pizza.
My pie displayed a thick, puffy cornicione surrounding a very thin center. The underside and edge were charred, a bit unevenly, with some areas along the edge verging on burned.
When the pie was delivered to our table, I thought I detected a whiff of garlic, although that seemed to fade, possibly for the simple reason that my olfactory sense was becoming accustomed to it. As I proceeded to munch my way through it, though, I continued to pick up an aroma of dark toast, which I enjoyed. The cornicione also seemed to have been lightly brushed with olive oil, which was apparent to my fingertips, though whatever flavor it contributed blended in with the rest of the components. The crust had a chewy texture, and was crisp along the edge but very supple in the center, making a knife and fork a necessity. Aside from the toasted notes emanating from the char spots, it had no particularly distinctive flavor.
Atop the crust lay a generous coating of sauce, which was marked by a pronounced tomatoey flavor. I found it a tad salty, but since I consider salt a food group that wasn't a major problem for me, especially since the salt was balanced to some extent by the underlying sweetness of the San Marzano tomatoes.
The five thinly sliced disks of fresh mozzarella had a good, creamy texture, though as the pie cooled they tended for firm up and become a bit rubbery. A sprinkling of what I think was Parmesan cheese added a pleasantly sharp contrast in the background, and the whole thing was rounded out by the roughly torn fresh basil leaves. I could be mistaken, but I also thought I noticed a subtle spiciness, perhaps from a pinch of red pepper? If it was there, it was, as I said, subtle, but all in all this pie, for all its apparent simplicity, displayed a welcome complexity of flavors, aromas and textures.
As I was enjoying it, though, I found myself debating whether this was an "A" or a "B" pizza. I've tried to eschew pluses and minuses of late, so the question was, was this an exceptionally good, virtually flawless pizza, or "just" a very good pizza?
Some days later, I'm still torn. In general, I liked it very much, as I think should be evident from this review. But there were a few, albeit individually minor, flaws. First, the crust was blackened in spots, beyond simple charring. Second, while I liked the sauce, it nearly overwhelmed the very thin crust, and again the chef seemed to have had a heavy hand with the salt. And while the crust was fine, it didn't bowl me over either. I mean it was good and all, but it didn't quite have the sublime combination of crispness, chew and glutenous breadiness that sends me into rapture.
Admittedly, I may seem to be picking nits here, and I'm not looking to find fault with what was, on the whole, a very good pizza. But my gut told me at the time that this was close to the borderline between an A and a B, and having thought about it, I still feel that way. So with that longwinded explanation, a firm resolve to go back (perhaps for a white pizza next time) and a recommendation that you try Good Luck as well, I'll give this pie a B.
Good Luck, 50 Anderson Ave., Rochester 14607
Wed. - Sat.:  dinner 4:30 - 11, bar open till 2 a.m., late-night menu served till midnight on Fri. & Sat.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grande Amore, Latta Rd.

I keep a to-do list of pizza places to visit, either to try for the first time or to get back to after a long hiatus. One such place that was on my list for a long tiem was Paulie's, a Latta Road pizzeria that I liked back in 2009.
Alas, Paulie's is no longer with us. But another pizzeria, Grande Amore, has taken its place. A reader informed me of this (thank you), and so I got up there recently to check it out.
On my lunchtime visit, a single cheese pie was available for slices. I could've asked for toppings to be added, but went with two cheese slices (in my opinion, adding toppings to a baked slice and reheating it in the oven simply doesn't compare to having the toppings baked on from the start).
My slices were medium thick, with a pale underside that was lightly dusted with corn meal. The crust was rather soft, and a little gummy. Things were a little better along the edge, which was more browned and crisper.
On top, a basic, lightly seasoned tomato sauce was topped with a scattered layer of congealed mozzarella cheese. The overall balance of crust to sauce to cheese was pretty good, if a little light on the cheese.
Grande Amore offers 16 pizza toppings (18 on the menu, but I don't count extra sauce or cheese as separate toppings), and nine specialty pizzas. They also do wings, plates, hot sandwiches, and several dinners, from pasta to steak. A few desserts are also available, including the "Madd Monkey," described as "vanilla/chocolate cream pudding, banana slices, walnuts and thundered with chocolate chunks."
I can't say I was thrilled by these slices, but I'm going to hold off giving them a letter grade. I often decline to rate a pizzeria until after it's been open for a while, and I think that's appropriate here. While it's no excuse, I also wonder if these slices suffered from the first-pancake syndrome; you know, the first pancake never comes out that well, and this was apparently the first pizza of the day. I'd like to make a return visit later in the day, when I know the oven will be up to full temperature and several pizzas have gone in and out of the oven. There's promise here, but time will tell whether it's fulfilled.
Grande Amore Pizza, 1250 Latta Road
(585) 663-9150
Sun., Mon., Wed., Thu. 11 a.m. - midnight, Tue. 4 p.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Giuseppe's Neapolitan

I've written several times before about Giuseppe's, a West Side bakery/restaurant/pizzeria that traces its origins back to 1927, making it arguably (everything about pizza history is arguable) the oldest pizzeria in Rochester. (Read more about Rochester's pizza history here.)
On one visit, I picked up a small flyer advertising Giuseppe's "Naples Style Pizza," described as "thin & crispy traditional pizza." This was advertised in two styles:  the "Margareta," with tomato sauce, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella and fresh basil; and the "Bianco," with fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Romano, mozzarella and basil.
Both sounded good, but I opted for the red pie - given a choice, I'll almost always go with the tomato version, unless I've tried it before.
These pies come in two sizes, small (12") and large (16"). I got the small.
When I ordered, I was informed that on that particular day, they were out of fresh basil. To Giuseppe's credit, they gave me a break on the price, charging me just $5 for what would otherwise have been an $8 pie.
I was fine with that, but I wondered if it indicates that they don't get orders for these pizzas too often. I didn't notice any other menu items with fresh basil, so maybe they don't always keep it on hand. Or maybe they simply ran out. But it is a good thing to keep handy, as I generally do at home. It's inexpensive, and a basil leaf or two adds a nice touch to a lot of different entrees, not just pizza.
But to get back to my pizza, the crust was indeed thin and crispy, as advertised, with a brittle edge and some surface crackling underneath. Giuseppe's regular pizza tends to be on the thin side of medium, with a somewhat soft bottom and a faint feel of oil underneath, but with this, it was as if they'd made an effort to show that they can do a super-thin, almost crackerlike crust. 
Atop the crust was a layer of sweet, thick tomato sauce. It was full-flavored, and while I liked it, it threatened to overwhelm the thin crust. The cheese was applied more sparingly, with melted, irregularly shaped, thin slices of mozzarella interspersed across the surface of the pie. That allowed some of the moisture of the sauce to evaporate in the oven, so that despite the abundant sauce, this wasn't a sloppy or soggy pie. I frankly didn't notice much Romano flavor.
It's a little hard to judge this pizza, without the basil. I think that would've added a dimension of flavor that was missed here. And a more noticeable presence of Romano would've been welcome too. Both of those would've helped balance out the sauce. But I did enjoy this pizza, for its thin, crackly crust and its very simplicity. In short, this was a distinctive, easy-to-eat pie from one of Rochester's most venerable pizzerias, and for that I'll give it a B.
Giuseppe's, 40 Spencerport Rd. 14606
Mon. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri./Sat. 9 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Dining Room opens at 11 a.m. Mon. - Sat. and 4 p.m. Sun.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baked and Carved, East Ave. Skillet Pizza

Baked and carved (in sallingers) on Urbanspoon

(4/11/13) - Baked & Carved is now closed.
For many years, O'Bagelo's was a staple of downtown dining, serving up excellent sandwiches from a storefront on State Street. Some months ago, it closed, but you'll find a reincarnation, of sorts, at Baked and Carved on East Avenue. It's located adjacent to, and shares an entrance with, Salingers, a popular East End bar.
B&C offers many of the same, or very similar, items as O'Bagelos, including from-scratch soups and terrific sandwiches. These come piled with high-quality meats (and meatless selections, if you're so inclined), some of which are roasted in-house, on equally good house-baked bread. But the menu has expanded to include some new items, including burgers, and, notably, pizza.
B&C's pizza is listed under the name "Bar Pies (Skillet Pizza’s [sic])." I wasn't sure what to make of that, but I was guessing that this referred to a very thin, crisp pie, maybe a little oily, but light enough to leave plenty of room for beer; see here and here for some discussion of the topic of bar pizza.
But I was wrong. This was a relatively thin pie, to be sure, but nothing about it particularly marked this, to me, as a "bar pizza," or distinguished it from any other small pizza. Maybe the "bar pizza" name refers mostly to its size - it's small enough to conveniently eat while sitting at a bar.
In any event, this pizza measured about nine inches across, which probably relates to its designation as a "skillet pie." That refers, I presume, to its having been baked in a nine-inch skillet.
Here again, we get into issues with labels. You can find various references to skillet pizza on the web, like this one and this one; heck, even Martha Stewart has a version, which is also denominated "Beer Drinkers' Pizza," tying it back into the concept of bar pizza.
Labels aside, this pizza had a pale bottom, which was dry, with just the faintest hint of oil. The slightly thicker cornicione was marked by a bready interior, and the crust as a whole gave off a breadlike aroma that was no surprise, coming from this bread-centered establishment.
The other notable aspect of this pie was the sauce. This pie was heavy on the sauce, which had a bright tomatoey flavor, lightly seasoned, apart from some saltiness. The melted, just-browned mozzarella was added in good proportion to the crust. It struck a pleasant balance between creamy and chewy, and though its mild flavor was accented by some tangy notes (a bit of Parmesan, perhaps?), it took a back seat to the sauce. The pie was finished off with nicely crisp, cup and char pepperoni slices.
Like its predecessor O'Bagelos, Baked and Carved stakes its reputation, justifiably, on its sandwiches. No surprise there, as the meats and breads are both of high quality. And proprietor John Vito's wit and wisdom are worth a visit in themselves.
As for the pizza, it makes for a good, if occasional, alternative to B&C's other fare. The crust had good flavor, although I would've liked a more crisp bottom, and the various components worked well together. Nothing particularly distinctive about this pie, aside from the generously laid-on sauce, but it would make for a satisfying lunch, or a light meal at the adjacent bar. I'll give it a C, along with an "unofficial" B for Baked & Carved's menu as a whole.
Baked & Carved, 107 East Ave. 14604
Facebook: Facebook/bakedandcarved
Mon. - Thu. 11 - 10, Fri. 11 - 11, Sat. 3 - 11

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fiamma, Buffalo Road

This past summer, I decided to take a drive over to General Hoock's on Buffalo Road, a pizzeria I hadn't been to for a while, just for an update. I was disappointed to see that it was closed, but my disappointment was partially mitigated by the sign in the window advertising a wood-fired pizzeria opening in that space soon.
I've been to enough wood-fired pizzerias by now to know that the presence of a wood-burning oven is no guarantee of great pizza, so while I was interested, I wasn't overly excited about the news.
A couple of weeks ago, I drove by again, and noticed that the restaurant had opened, under the name Fiamma. I arranged to meet some friends there for lunch.
The pizza portion of the menu was broken down into two categories: Le Pizze Tradizionali, and Le Pizze Specialita, each of which had a Margherita on it. On the traditional side was a $12 Margherita with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and Gran Cru cheese. The specialty Margherita, at $16, came with San Marzano tomato sauce, imported buffalo milk mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, oregano, basil, Gran Cru cheese, and extra virgin olive oil.
As I understood the menu, all of Fiamma's pizzas are made with San Marzano tomatoes, and though I was tempted to spring for the specialty version, I ended up going for the regular, "traditional" Margherita. Both my friends ordered a Diavola, which comes with tomato sauce, mozzarella, soppressata, basil, and spicy olive oil, also at $12.
Truth be told, I was a little taken aback by the prices. I know you can pay $5 for a single slice in New York City, but Fiamma's prices seemed a tad high for this area, especially for a pizzeria in a small strip plaza on a relatively nondescript stretch of Buffalo Road in Gates. Still, I tried to keep an open mind, and hope for the best.
Or at least I thought I was hoping for the best. What I got was better than what I had hoped for, and by the time I was done, the prices seemed eminently reasonable.
On arrival, the pie looked like a pretty good, if typical, wood-fired Margherita. But the closer I looked, the more intrigued I became.
First, there was the charring. I've had wood-fired pies that have a nice charred edge, but a pale underside. It's almost as if the charring is just there for show. And then there are some that are, quite frankly, burnt. There is a difference between charred and burnt, and to be sure, some customers aren't aware of that distinction, complaining that their pizza is burnt when in fact it's simply charred, on the surface. But some pizzaioli don't always seem to know the difference, either, serving up burnt pies and explaining that they're "supposed" to look that way.
This pizza showed the difference. It was lightly charred along the edge, and speckled with char spots underneath, across its bottom surface. In other words, it wasn't just blackened around the perimeter, by being exposed to the open flame for a few seconds - it was charred (not burnt) from the flame, yes, but also from coming into direct contact with a very hot oven floor. The edge was thick, but not heavy or dense, with crisp bubbles of charred dough encasing a series of small air pockets.
Despite the charring of the crust, the toppings didn't appear to be overdone at all. The fresh mozzarella had melted beautifully into the sauce, and the basil was wilted but still retained some of its vibrant green color.
What really struck me most, though, visually, was not the charring. On lifting up one side of my pizza (pizzas here arrive at the table unsliced, as in Italy), I found that the crust was actually translucent. If you've made bread or pizza, you probably are familiar with the "windowpane" test, which involves stretching a small piece of dough in your fingers. If you can stretch the dough thin enough for light to pass through it without the dough tearing, the gluten has been adequately developed. If it tears, keep kneading. This entire pie had been stretched to that point,with no holes or tears.
But the proof of the pizza is in the eating. If the crust were overly dry, or floppy, or flavorless, then its translucence would be no more than an impressive, but purely technical achievement. I mean, I can stretch Silly Putty until it's paper-thin, too, but I wouldn't want to eat it.
Happily, this pizza delivered on that score as well. For all its thinness, the crust was neither dried out nor limp, retaining enough structural integrity to bear the weight of the toppings, yet supple enough to fold without cracking.
As for the flavor - even before it reached my mouth, this pizza greeted my nostrils with its aroma, an enticing blend of toasty crust, tomatoes and basil. Those flavors - as felicitous a trinity as any in gastronomy - carried through on the palate. The sauce was rich, with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes, and judiciously applied, as were the smooth, creamy slices of fresh mozzarella and the torn leaves of basil.
I did sample one of my companions' Diavola pies, which was also outstanding, broadly similar to the Margherita but with a peppery kick and the added textural dimension of thinly sliced soppressata. But I was more than happy with the subtle simplicity of my Margherita.
Particularly on a first visit, I rarely identify myself as a pizza blogger, and to the extent possible, I try to be subtle about taking notes and photos. I'm not looking for special treatment. But I had to meet the person responsible for this pizza.
That would be 32-year-old Giuseppe Paciullo, a native of Salerno, Italy, who learned his craft as a youngster before bringing his skills to New York City, where he spent the last few years before moving here. He told me that his girlfriend, who's from Rochester, convinced him to come here and open his own pizzeria, and all I can say is, thank you, girlfriend.
Talk with Giuseppe for a few minutes and you'll realize how devoted he is to pizza. With the exception of the fresh basil, all his ingredients are imported from Italy. I'm all for buying American, but this tells me that Giuseppe knows his ingredients, knows what he needs to make the pizza he has in mind, and will settle for nothing less.
Fiamma's oven burns a blend of hardwoods, which is the only heat source. And what a heat source. Giuseppe told me that the oven temperature generally reaches about 1000 degrees.
I used to think that stuff about extremely high oven temperatures was just so much hype, but I can't argue with the results here. As I spoke with Giuseppe, I watched as he put two pies in the oven, turning them every few seconds, and then took them out after what couldn't have been more than two minutes, perfectly done.
(That heat, I'm sure, is directly related to the thinness of the crusts. A thick crust would either come out with an underdone interior or a burnt exterior. But these? Perfect.)
Fiamma is a small place, with just a few tables and a small bar, which is awaiting its liquor license (although they appeared to have wine). Unless I'm way off the mark, you may soon find it packed on many nights, so I'd get there ASAP. They don't deliver, either - this is not the kind of pizza that you want to spend 30 minutes in a box before it gets to you. Only sheer willpower kept me from devouring my entire pie at lunch, and although it seems a crime to put this into a styrofoam container, I wanted my wife and daughter to be able to try it, even under less than ideal conditions (we'll all go there as a family soon, I assure you).
I've never been to Italy *sigh* but my gut tells me that this is as close as I've come, pizzawise. Forgive me if I've strayed into hyperbole here at times, but this was some of the best pizza I've had, period. It was right in so many ways, from the charring to the light, crisp, supple texture of the crust to the blend of flavors of the toppings ... well, I've think I've said all that I can. The next step is for you to go there and try it for yourself. Do I guarantee you'll like it as much as I did? No, and I never would. People's tastes can differ. But if your taste in pizza is anywhere close to mine, and I'm thinking it probably is if you're reading this blog, do yourself a favor and try Fiamma. It's a great example of the pizzamaker's art.
Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road, Gates
Lunch Mon. - Fri. 11:30 - 2:30
Dinner Mon. - Sat. 4:30 - 10:00
Sunday for private parties only

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