My wife and I have found out that our daughter has a problem with dairy products. We're not sure if it's lactose intolerance or something else, but dairy products seem to give her problems.
Not the greatest thing for a pizza blogger who has been bringing home pies to his family on a regular basis. But that's a minor issue, in the scheme of things.
Fortunately, more pizzerias are offering dairy-free options, and why not? It's no big deal to leave cheese off a pizza. The way the price of cheese has been going, they probably make more money that way anyway.
Furthermore, the whole idea of a cheese-heavy pie is a relatively recent, American thing; in much of Italy, you're as apt to find a pie with just a sprinkling of grated cheese, or even no cheese at all.
So recently, when I wanted a good, dairy-free pizza to bring home for dinner, I knew that Nino's would likely be a good place to go. Nino's, which I've written about before, specializes in focaccia, using recipes straight from owner Giacomo's native Sicily.
Focaccia, like pizza itself, has gotten Americanized and, arguably, dumbed down. Or changed, at least.
Most people today associate focaccia with a thick pan-baked bread that's been brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with grated cheese and herbs, typically rosemary. That's fine as far as it goes, but at Nino's, focaccia is a versatile platform, that can accommodate a variety of toppings. (And at Nino's, unless you order a thin-crust pizza, the pizza is made using a focaccia crust.) Focaccia or pizza, it's all about the crust, and the crust at Nino's is good. Very good.
So I asked Giacomo to create for me a focaccia with no cheese, which he was happy to do. After a brief discussion in which I sought his advice, I settled on a half-and-half vegetarian focaccia, with sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and onions on the whole thing, and the addition of roasted green peppers on the other half. A thick focaccia crust can handle a fair amount of toppings, but that's about as much as I'd want, so as not to overwhelm it.
I stopped by to pick up my order, before my roughly 25-minute drive home, and it was difficult not to start in on it right away. But it kept pretty well in the car, and was still warm when I got it home.
Happily, the drive home did not diminish the quality of the crust. The underside had that blistered, bubbly look that all too often is indicative of an overly oily crust, but this one was dry to the touch and crisp. The interior was nicely risen, chewy enough to reveal its breadlike qualities, but not overly dense, airy, gummy or greasy. It had all the qualities of great bread, only shaped into a disk to hold the toppings. And isn't that what pizza is, ultimately--disk-shaped bread with toppings?
The crust did make a fine base for the toppings. I'm an omnivore, to be sure, but I didn't miss the meat here. I also remain a red-sauce guy, and all in all I would probably ask for sauce next time, for an added dimension of flavor and a little more liquid. But the natural moisture of the vegetables and the olive oil on top were enough to give these some liquid balance for the bready crust. I particularly liked the thin-sliced garlic, which added flavor and aroma but was not harsh or overpowering.
I love a good thin crust, to be sure, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate or enjoy a thick crust from time to time. Whether we're talking thin or thick pizza, focaccia, or just plain bread, good is good. And Nino's is good. If you're a dedicated thin-crust lover like me, well, Nino's does that too, but give their focaccia a try first. I've never had a Rochester pizza quite like it, and it's because of the focaccia that Nino's remains among our local pizza institutions.
Nino's Pizzeria, 1330 Culver Rd., Rochester 14609
Sun. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m. - midnight