Rochester NY Pizza Blog Rochester restaurants LocalEats featured blog

Friday, November 30, 2012

Free food, from The Pizza Stop in Rochester

Rochester's dean of New York style pizza, The Pizza Stop, has graciously donated two $30 gift cards for lucky readers of The Rochester NY Pizza Blog. The first card, for the Greece location of The Pizza Stop on Ridgeway Avenue, was won last week. The second, for the original downtown location, is up for grabs this time.
All you need to do to be eligible to win is to leave a comment after this blog post, along with some identifying information. I'd prefer a comment about The Pizza Stop, or at least about pizza in general. But any comment will do.
Next Friday, December 7, shortly after noon, I'll select a winner using random.org. Multiple entries by the same person will be ignored, so everybody will have an equal chance to win.
If you win, I will need a way to get the gift card to you, so either include an email address in your post (so I can get in touch with you if you win), or send me an email with your mailing address at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com. You can wait to see if you've won before sending me your mailing address.
If you win, you can of course use this card for yourself - it's good for about two large cheese pizzas - or give it as a gift to someone else (tough to do, but you'll save some money on your Christmas shopping), or split the difference and invite friends over for a holiday pizza party. I don't give away your email address or anything like that, so unless you don't want a chance at some of the best New York style pizza to be found this side of the Bronx, for free, leave a comment now!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gifts for the Pizza Lover, 2012 Edition

It's that time of the year again, so here are some suggestions for the pizza lover in your life, or to put on your own wish list.
Full disclosure: I think I get some small compensation if you click on the links or buy a product through them. I'm not sure, frankly, exactly how it works. But these are my honest suggestions, and if you want to shop around, by all means do so.
(1) a pizza stone -anybody who bakes pizza at home should have some sort of pizza stone. You'll get a much better crust with a stone than with a pan. (There are exceptions, but for basic pizza, a stone is the way to go.)
I mostly use cheap quarry tiles that I get from a local tile store, but a box of what look like thin, square red bricks doesn't make the greatest looking gift. I do also use a genuine pizza stone, which was given to me as a gift, and it works very well. I prefer rectangular stones over round ones, because I think they give you a little more room for error when you're sliding the pizza onto the stone, which you will do with a
(2) pizza peel, which makes another great gift. I have two, a wooden peel for sliding the pizza into the oven and an aluminum peel for getting it out. Why both? The raw dough seems to slide better on a wooden peel, while the thin edge of a metal peel is better for getting underneath the finished product.
(3) for a stocking stuffer, a bench scraper or a bowl scraper. Whether you're baking pizza or bread, these are very handy implements. Even if you only do a little kneading or shaping on a board, a bench scraper is great for moving around mounds of flour and stuck dough, and for cleaning off your board. A flexible bowl scraper is much better than a spatula at scraping down the sides of a mixing bowl. 
(4) a pizza cutter. These are useful not just for homemade pizzas, but even for takeout, which is sometimes not cut cleanly through. A wheel cutter works well, and is versatile. I used mine the other day to cut pieces of dough for a gingerbread house. But for simplicity and a nice straight edge, it's hard to beat a rocking cutter.
(5) A chef's hat (or "toque") and apron. These are great for getting in the spirit of things when you're making pizza, especially with guests. And they serve useful purposes. If you make pizza without an apron, you will end up with flour on your clothes, guaranteed. And the hat? Well, finding a hair in your pizza is a real turnoff for most people. A baseball cap will do, but I love my chef's hat.
(6) an insulated pizza bag. Useful for takeout, especially if the pizzeria is some distance from your home. Every pizza lover should keep one in the trunk, right next to the jack and the jumper cables.
(7) a pizza cookbook. There are countless free recipes online, but I still like a genuine, authoritative book to have as a reference. There's a plethora of good books on the subject, but I've yet to find one better than American Pie by Peter Reinhart. This dean of America's bread bakers provides sound advice about techniques, as well as recipes for everything from traditional Neapolitan pizza to New York style to generic American pizza, and thick-crust Sicilian and Chicago pizzas as well.
(8) and of course, a gift certificate from your or your giftee's favorite pizzeria. Many local pizzerias now offer gift cards or certificates. You can't go wrong with that.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fastrac

I generally don’t even consider buying pizza at a gas station. For one thing, unless they’ve got a full-blown pizzeria setup, they’re just baking pizzas on premade crusts, with no craftsmanship involved. Plus almost every gas station is part of a chain, and I am not very interested in chain pizza, period.
But sometimes, I go into a station or a convenience store, and see a pizza sitting there in the warmer and I can’t help thinking, it doesn’t look half bad. And maybe I’m hungry. And it’s cheap. So ...
So I broke down the other day and got two slices from Fastrac, a regional chain of gas stations that has some of the cheaper gasoline prices around, at least if you have one of their cards. They all serve pizza, under the name “Slices,” and as gas station pizza goes, it’s not the worst-looking pizza around. So my curiosity got the best of me, and I picked up a pepperoni slice and a Buffalo chicken slice.
The latter was very thin, with a crunchy, almost crackerlike crust that had been docked, i.e., punched with tiny holes to keep it from bubbling up in the oven. The edge lacked any lip or cornicione to speak of, but where the underside was crisp, the edge was hard and brittle, with a good deal of “bite.”
The Buffalo slice was topped with small chunks of plain, unbreaded chicken, an even layer of slightly browned mozzarella, and blue cheese sauce, with a swirl of basic hot sauce for that Buffalo-wing flavor. The overall flavor wasn’t bad, particularly if you like your wings dipped in blue cheese. This was missing the “fried” flavor of pizza made with breaded chicken, but it was also missing the grease that often accompanies breaded chicken.
The pepperoni slice was qualitatively different, with a crust that was about the same thickness, but slightly oily to the touch underneath. It had a certain fried-like exterior crunch, but was soft and spongy inside. The bottom was also pockmarked by several bubbly air holes. And where the Buffalo chicken slice had virtually no cornicione, this slice was thick and puffy along the braided edge, which is consistent with what I’ve generally seen at Fastrac. The cornicione also had a certain sheen to it, similar to a loaf of bread that was brushed with an egg wash before baking, though I doubt very much that this was done here. Probably the shininess was simply due, again, so the presence of oil.
The pepperoni slice was topped with a basic tomato sauce, a modest layer of melted mozzarella, and some nondescript, wide and thin slices of pepperoni. A smattering of dried herbs was visible, and I thought I detected the distinctive aroma and taste of garlic powder.
These weren’t awful, but they were far from the best slices of pizza I’ve had. I should add, though, that these weren’t the best looking slices I’ve ever seen at Fastrac; these came from the East Main Street location downtown, near the Inner Loop, and were not as good-looking as the slices I’ve seen at the Fastrac at the corner of West Henrietta and Calkins Roads. I have yet to try the latter location’s pizza, so I’m not passing judgment here on Fastrac as a whole, though if the quality does vary much from one location to another, that’s an issue in itself.
As for these slices, I’d say they were below average for this area. Maybe not by a lot, but nonetheless below average, and so I have to give them a D.
Fastrac, 672 East Main Street, Rochester, with other locations throughout Western and Central New York.

And the Winner Is ...

Terry Lynch! Terry has won a $30 gift card from The Pizza Stop on Ridgeway Avenue in Greece. Congratulations Terry! I'll just need a mailing address so I can get it to you - shoot me an email at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com and I'll get it in the mail to you asap.

Thanks to all who participated, and to The Pizza Stop for donating this very fine prize. If you didn't win, don't despair - I'll be giving away another gift card for the original Pizza Stop location downtown soon. Check back here and on Facebook, or subscribe to my Twitter feed, for updates.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: 500 Best Quinoa Recipes

I'm far from a health-food nut, but I do like trying some of the grains that have become more widely available recently, such as buckwheat, millet, and bulgur wheat. I have no issues with gluten (thank God), so I'm not looking for alternatives to regular wheat products, but I'm all for more choices where food is concerned.
One of the more popular, or at least more visible, of these alternative grains is quinoa. I've used it, and I like it for its granular texture and mild nutty flavor.
But as for actually cooking with quinoa, all I've really done up till now is use it as a rice substitute. (And given recent reports of high arsenic levels in rice, that's not a bad thing.) That's fine, as far as it goes, but it only goes so far.
So I looked forward to my review copy of 500 Best Quinoa Recipes, from Robert Rose Books. Five hundred quinoa recipes? And those are just the "best"?
As this book shows, though, quinoa can be used as far more than a simple grain to include in side dishes. And the sheer breadth of the book makes it as comprehensive a guide to cooking with quinoa as you can find.
Author Camilla V. Saulsbury starts things off with a primer on quinoa - its history, why it packs such a nutritional punch, some basics on preparing it, and what to stock in your kitchen to cook with it - and moves on to the recipes, which make up over 90 percent of the book.
The recipes are arranged thematically, with chapters on breakfasts, appetizers and snacks, soups, stews and chilis, salads and sides, vegetarian main dishes, seafood, poultry and lean meat dishes, breads, and desserts. The recipes are simply and clearly presented, and accompanied by useful preparation and cooking tips. Two sections of color photographs help whet your appetite to try many of the recipes.
You may wonder why you'd want to incorporate quinoa into so many dishes - come on, quinoa desserts? Keep in mind, though, that quinoa doesn't always figure into the recipes in its basic, granular form. Many of the recipes call for quinoa flour, for example as an ingredient in pie or tart crust. For folks like me, who don't have any problem with wheat products, these may not be a big draw. But for anybody who's looking to cut carbs, or to avoid gluten, the inclusion of these recipes makes this book a valuable resource.
Even if you're not consciously trying to avoid wheat, there are plenty of intriguing recipes here to tempt you, like Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup, Black Bean Quinoa Chipotle Chili, and Spicy Kale Quinoa with Pan-Fried Salami. You'll also find more familiar dishes, with a quinoa twist, such as quinoa-stuffed peppers and a simple quinoa pilaf. Many of these are dishes that I would order, if they appeared on a restaurant menu, and Saulsbury shows how easy they are for the home cook as well.
Naturally, I looked right away for a pizza recipe, and landed on the book's recipe for pizza dough made from quinoa flour (which is available at local supermarkets under the Bob's Red Mill brand). Because of quinoa's lack of gluten, this will not yield a puffy, bready crust, but the use of baking powder will give you a crisp yet airy crust marked by the faintly sweet, nutty flavor of quinoa. (And to skeptics - before you dismiss the idea of quinoa pizza dough, be aware that customers of Velvet Elvis Pizza in Patagonia, Arizona are shelling out $45 for the pizzeria's "Inca Quinoa Pizza.")
If you're stuck in your culinary ways, then you won't be much interested in this book. But if you're like me, you're always interested in expanding your kitchen horizons, and 500 Best Quinoa Recipes is a good place to start. I've now got a quinoa-dedicated container on my kitchen shelf.
500 Best Quinoa Recipes, by Camilla V. Saulsbury
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose (2012)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

New Giveaway: $30 Gift Card for The Pizza Stop in Greece

It's been too long since I did a giveaway on here, so here's a good one. One lucky reader will be receiving a gift card good for $30 worth of food at the new location of The Pizza Stop at 2532 Ridgeway Avenue in Greece, in the shopping plaza near Long Pond Road. This pizzeria features the same New York style pizza as the original on State Street in downtown Rochester, as well as an expanded menu that includes wings, fries, and other guilty pleasures.
I will be giving away a second gift card for the downtown location in the near future, but this one is for the Greece location only. To enter to win, all you have to do is leave a comment after this blog post, and provide me with a way to contact you, at least by email, and, if you win, by postal mail, so I can get the gift card to you. And I need to know that I'm sending it to the right person, so anonymous comments will not qualify you to win.
So - you can include an email address in your comment, or send me an email at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com, with your email and/or postal address. If your Blogger profile includes an email address, that's good enough for now. But again, if you win, I will need a postal mailing address.
Usually I run these contests for a week, but with Thanksgiving coming up in a week, I'm going to extend this one a bit. I will pick a winner, at random, on Monday, November 26, shortly after noon. Each comment will be assigned a number, and I'll use random.org to pick a winner. Multiple comments from the same person will be ignored - one number per person.
Winning this won't disqualify you from future giveaways, including the giveaway for the downtown Pizza Stop, so comment away. Pizza-related comments are preferred, Pizza Stop-related comments even more so, but any comments will do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready® Pizza

We've all seen the signs, and the ads: Little Caesars HOT-N-READY® Pizza, "ready when you are!" A 14-inch pizza, ready instantly. For five bucks. Is this a great country, or what?
But it couldn't possibly be any good, could it? Yet still ...
There was, for a while, a trend toward big, cheap pizza around here. Mostly these came out of inner-city places selling super-thin pies, often skimpy on the toppings. But some weren't bad, especially for the money - typically a dollar a slice, or $5 for a large pie.
I don't see them around as much as I used to, although as far as I know you can still get a 99-cent slice at Checker Flag on Dewey Avenue.
But what about a chain like Little Caesars? I don't think much of chain pizzerias to begin with, but for five bucks, it seemed worth a shot. So one day when I was in the mood for pizza (which is to say, like any other day), but couldn't think of where I wanted it from, I decided to take a chance on Little Caesars. Even if it sucked, I wouldn't be out much money.
I went to the location on Lyell Avenue in Gates, across from Wegmans. I went to the drive-through, and on a whim, I sprang for the extra 95 cents to get pepperoni.
There was no line of cars, so I got to the window within seconds after placing my order. Voila, the pizza was there waiting for me! This was truly instant - it's taken me longer to get a cup of coffee at McDonald's.
That was the good news. And the good news virtually ended there.
The bottom of this pie was dry, with no visible or tactile oil, but it had that pancake-like appearance of a crust that's been baked in a pan. I've had good pizzas that were baked in pans, but this wasn't one of them. It was soft and chewy, with no character and no, well, substance. Aside from the bubbly craters underneath, it didn't seem to have risen much.
The crust was topped with a slightly sweet, herbal sauce. It reminded me of canned spaghetti sauce, which is not in itself a bad thing, I mean I use it sometimes and I'm OK with it, but typically it's not anything great. I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing there was high fructose corn syrup in there somewhere.
The cheese wasn't bad. It was stretchy and smooth - these pizzas must be kept ready to go, but this wasn't dried out like a convenience-store slice that's been sitting there too long. And it hadn't exuded a slick of orange oil the way that cheap cheese will. The pepperoni was abundant but bland. Not bad, just not very flavorful.
So yes, I was only out five dollars. And if you're hungry and nearly broke, I suppose you could do worse. But if you can spare more than five bucks, get yourself a better pizza, preferably from a local independent shop. Little Caesars HOT-N-READY® gets a D from me.
Little Caesars Pizza, 2394 Lyell Ave., 14606
(585) 247-3211
Various other locations in the Rochester area.
Open 11 - 11 daily, Fri. & Sat. till midnight.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Lucky's

The restaurant business is notorious for its high casualty rate, and I suspect that pizzerias are at least as likely to fail as are other types of restaurants. So while it's unfortunate to see a pizzeria go out of business, it's rarely a surprise.
A few years ago, Tano's Pizza Grill operated out of a shopping plaza in Gates. I know that I went there, at least once, but I never got a blog post up before it closed. As I recall, the pizza wasn't bad, though I don't have any specific recollection of what it was like.
Often, when a pizzeria closes, another one opens up in the same spot. That's not always a great idea - sometimes the problem is the location, not the pizza - but that's how it is.
Tano's former space is not occupied by a pizzeria, exactly, but you can get pizza there. Lucky's Irish Bar, which moved into the former Tano's spot in 2010, serves up mostly standard bar food, but pizza is on the menu.
I'd seen some print ads for Lucky's mentioning pizza, and I wondered if this had become, in effect, a pizzeria with a bar, as opposed to a bar with pizza on the menu.
It turned out to be the latter. The interior has been completely redone, with a large U-shaped bar dominating the room. And while you can get pizza, more typical bar foods make up the bulk of the menu.
I ordered a pepperoni pie, which I think makes a good benchmark for standard, American-style pizza. This plate-sized pie had a thin crust with a dry bottom marked by concentric rings, presumably from whatever sort of pan it had been on. (Sorry that I photographed it in a styrofoam takeout container, but it's not always feasible to sit there taking pictures of my food without calling attention to myself, and I don't want people to know that I'm there for purposes of doing a review.)
The thin crust showed very little evidence of having risen, and had a more biscuit- than bread-like texture. It had no thick cornicione, as do most pizzas, but a thin edge, which I think is more common with "bar pies." The edge was crunchy and seemed somewhat oil-infused, which accounted for its orangey color.
The pizza was topped with a moderate layer of thinnish sauce, and a more substantial blanket of stringy mozzarella. The wide slices of pepperoni were generously laid on; they were slightly crisp along the edges and had a spicy kick.
This wasn't bad pizza exactly, but I'd have to call it below average, as local pizza goes. I like a thin crust, but it has to have some life to it; this crust was not tasty in its own right, but served only as a platform for the toppings, which were OK, but not enough to save this pizza from a D rating.
Having said that, I will add that from my observation of other patrons' food, Lucky's serves up some pretty good grub. The wings, burgers and fries that I saw looked very appetizing. The lunchtime crowd of regulars obviously thought so too. And the place itself was nice enough - a basic, suburban strip-mall kind of bar, with enough TVs to keep sports fans happy. So I don't mean to dissuade anyone from going there, if you're so inclined. But I wouldn't make a point of going just for the pizza, which I'm afraid rates a D from me.
Lucky's Irish Bar, 2325 Buffalo Rd (Tops Plaza), Gates
426-5825
Open Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.. Sun. noon - 2 a.m.
(Second location at 3240 Chili Ave. in Chili Paul Plaza), 889-1005

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chester Cab: Poor Man's Tomato Pie

It's taken a while, but the tomato pie seems to be catching on in the Rochester area. This style either comes from Trenton, New Jersey, or Utica, New York, or, aa I suspect, in different places at different times. I mean, the basic concept - a thick, pan-risen crust, tomato sauce, and grated Romano cheese - is not that much of a stretch from traditional Sicilian-style pizza, and it seems likely to me that Italian Americans were creating this type of pizza in different cities at roughly the same time.
In fact, Rochester has had its own variant of this style for quite some time, such as Amico's "#1," Gallo's "Old World" pizza, and Guida's "Sauce Pie." It's a throwback to the days before processed mozzarella became the standard topping for American pizza. But as I  understand it, a true tomato pie is typically pan risen and baked, fairly thick, and cut into squares - again, much like a traditional Sicilian style pizza. 
Wherever it started, the tomato pie is here now. You'll find them at Wegmans, and I've even seen some rather unappetizing, saran-wrapped tomato pie slices at a local convenience store.
And at local pizzerias. I've been to Chester Cab on Park Avenue several times, and I noticed that their menu includes a "Poor Man's Tomato Pie." I assume that "poor man's" is a reference to the price, not an indication that this is somehow a poor man's version of a tomato pie. With no toppings but sauce, Romano and dried herbs, these pizzas are naturally more affordable than the cheese- and meat-laden pies that Americans are used to.
This pizza was, in more ways than one, not what I expected. Not only was this not the kind of pan-risen pie that I've described, but it was also much different from pizzas that I've gotten from Chester Cab in the past. I've had their stuffed pizza, their "thin cracker crust," and a regular slice, and none of them were much like this, even accounting for the absence of mozzarella on this pie. Check those posts to see what those pizzas were like. All I can say for now is that Chester Cab makes a remarkable variety of pizza styles.
This one had a dry bottom that was a bit floury, and a medium thick, bready crust. Though it had clearly risen, it was not terribly airy - the air holes were small - but it had good flavor, a crisp exterior, and a soft but chewy interior, as well as a sweet, bready aroma that was of course most pronounced while the pizza was still warm.
What was odd, or unexpected, about this pizza, though, was its relative lack of sauce. I expect a sauce pie to have a fairly generous layer of sauce. This didn't have much sauce. The dominant component was the finely grated cheese, followed by the dusting of dried herbs. I was also a little put off by the weird orangey color of the cheese, although that might've been a result of the yellow grated cheese mixing with the red tomatoes. But as nuch as I like the color orange, it's rarely a color you want to see on pizza.
I'm not one to hang too much significance on labels, but if you use a term with an established meaning, like "sauce pie," I think you should deliver - you should stick to the style. Again, I'm no expert on sauce pies, but I don't think this did that. And even aside from that, although I liked the crust on this pizza, it was, overall, rather dry. It needed more sauce.
I've decided not to rate this pizza. I just don't think my ratings translate to this pie. "C" means average, and other grades mean above or below average. This pizza had a very nice crust, albeit not the kind of crust that I would expect from a traditional, pan-risen sauce pie, but the toppings were out of balance and the whole thing was not true to the named style. In fact I took my leftovers home, added sauce and mozzarella, and reheated them in the oven, which resulted in a much better pie.
That is not because I dislike tomato pies. I don't. Though I've yet to try one in Utica or the Trenton area, I like the style. This was simply not a well executed pizza, in my opinion. I really did like the crust, though, and the fact that I could so easily improve this pizza means that it had something going for it. So even though all of that might mathematically add up to a "C," it would be misleading to call this an average pizza for this area. It was just too different from anything else you'd find around here.
I'd consider ordering this again, but I'd ask for extra sauce. This was fundamentally good pizza, but it needed a better balance among the crust, sauce and cheese. And I must say again that the sheer variety of styles that I've found at Chester Cab makes me want to go back for more.
Chester Cab Pizza, 707 Park Ave., Rochester 14607
Tel.: 244-8211
Hours: Mon. - Tue. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Wed. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

World Vision Gift Catalog

Let me take a short break from pizza to make a pitch for a deserving charity.
With the holidays coming up, it's time to start thinking about giving - giving thanks, giving presents, and giving help to our fellow human beings who need it. So let me take a moment of your time to make a pitch for the World Vision Gift Catalog. Purchases from the catalog support World Vision's efforts to help children and families in struggling communities around the world. That includes activities both abroad and right here in the U.S., most recently in the form of relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
You can help World Vision either through a direct contribution, or by shopping at its online store. One of the great things about buying from World Vision is that not only does your money go toward helping others, but many of the items available for purchase, like this bracelet and this scarf, have been hand made by people in need, in countries around the globe. Check out World Vision Gift Catalog's Facebook and Pinterest pages for more information.
World Vision also gets a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, so you know that your gift is being put to good use.
Talk ahout getting bang for your buck - with a purchase from World Vision, you'll be brightening the lives of both your gift recipient and persons in need, and you'll feel better about yourself for doing so. This holiday season, then, please consider either making a direct gift to World Vision or doing some of your gift shopping through World Vision

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