Readers of this blog will know how much I love Fiamma on Buffalo Road in Gates. But going there is always tinged by a hint of bittersweetness, because I'm aware that at one time, that site was home to another great, albeit very different, pizzeria.
For some years, at the spot where Fiamma sits today, you would've found General Hoock's All American Pizzeria. (And there was another pizzeria there before that; some places are just made to be pizzerias, I guess.)
The General, a/k/a Shawn, turned out good, distinctive pizza, and legendary breakfast food, in a place that was part diner, part pizzeria, part bar (minus the alcohol, if you can picture that).
Thanks to a recent edit on RocWiki,I learned that the General was back in operation, in, of all places, a convenience store/gas station on Buffalo Road.
I drove through a snowstorm (so what else is new?) to stop in on a recent midday. Upon entering, I found Shawn behind the counter of his own corner of the store. It's a small operation, but he makes the most of it.
To my initial dismay, or at least surprise, Shawn uses a conveyor pizza oven. But a skilled pizzaiolo can probably make a good pizza in an Easy Bake OvenTM, and Shawn is nothing if not a skilled pizzaiolo. Rather than simply slide the pie in at one end and wait for it to come out on the other, he tended to it, giving it a turn or two before it emerged, crisp and nicely baked.
Good pizza always starts with a good crust, and this crust was very good, crisp yet chewy and charred along the edge, which was formed into a narrow but high cornicione. The crust was on the thin side of medium in thickness. It was topped with a slightly sweet, thick but not dried-out tomato sauce, well-melted mozzarella, and sliced-and-quartered slices of spicy, meaty pepperoni.
I neglected to get or transcribe the full menu, but those of you who were fans of the General in the past will find a number of old favorites here. And old-time fan or not, consider his new signature item, the Infinity Pie, topped with green garlic sauce, rib eye, mozzarella, fresh mushrooms, bacon, pepperoni, ham, onion, jalapeno and cheddar.
I don't do 'shrooms - bad experience at a rock concert in the early '70s (just kidding, I just don't like mushrooms), but I must try an Infinity Pie at some point.
Gradewise, this is a tough call. An A would suggest that it's as good as could be, but in spite of Shawn's efforts, I'm not sure that it couldn't be improved on, in a different oven. In particular, the underside was baked a bit unevenly. And yet it was very good, and distinctive, which is an attribute that I prize. So although I'm staying away from pluses and minuses, I'll give it an A-minus.
Will we ever see another stand-alone General Hoock's pizzeria? Maybe. The pizza here is fine, but as good as it is, it deserves a full-fledged pizzeria with true pizza ovens. Nevertheless, it's good enough as is to warrant a trip. Whether you want a loaded pizza or just a simple cheese pie, I'd recommend a drive to the corner of Buffalo and Coldwater Roads, for a slice or a pie from the General. His pizza is distinctive,original, and one that I look forward to trying again.
General Hoock's, 3095 Buffalo Rd. (inside Westen Mini Mart)
(I'll try to fill in the details as to hours, etc. as soon as I can get them)