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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wolfgang Puck Express, Farmington

Wolfgang Puck Express on Urbanspoon
Somewhere in my online research, I ran across  a reference to Wolfgang Puck Express, a pizza place at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack.
Wolfgang Puck is one of the fathers of so-called gourmet pizza, which has since morphed into "artisanal" pizza.
I don't question his qualifications as a chef, but when chefs turn themselves into brands, often something gets lost in the translation. Puck, for example, has a line of frozen "gourmet" pizzas. I've never tried one. For all I know, they might be very good. But it's a long way from a chef making his own pizza, to overseeing others making pizza under his direction, to selling mass-produced frozen pizza by the thousands.
Still, if you're a well-known chef, and you want to preserve your reputation, I would think you want to ensure, to some extent, that what's being sold under your name is actually good. At least relative to its competitors.
So when I went to FLG&R, I didn't expect to see Wolfgang Puck back there stretching dough, but I was hopeful that this would be better than the average, quick, chain pizza. And it was, though not by much. And all in all, it was no better than any other pizza you could get in the area.
Let me start with my experience going there. The pizzeria is inside the casino. I couldn't find it right away, so I wandered about a bit looking for it.
In contrast to the young, attractive, euphoric people I've seen on TV ads for casinos, the early-evening crowd here was mostly middle-aged and older. I didn't see anybody laughing, as in the ads, or even particularly happy looking. Most of the patrons were staring blankly at the slot machines, into which they pumped coin after coin, like automatons. I had to wonder whether any of them were actually enjoying themselves.
After some time wandering among this sea of blinking lights and electronic sounds, I found Wolfgang Puck's, tucked into one corner of the casino, to the left of the main entrance. It's a "fast casual" place, where you place your order at the counter, and they bring your food out to you. Nothing special, but a nice oasis from the gaming tables (in case you hadn't noticed, I'm not a fan of casinos).
My pizza choices were a Margherita, BBQ roasted chicken, pepperoni pomodoro, and roasted mushroom. The menu also included sandwiches, pasta, and some other choices, which you'll find here.
I got a Margherita. It was thin and supple, with some significant charring along the edge and underneath.The underside was a bit floury,quite dark in some areas and pale in others. It was rather soft, though not greasy. I detected some aroma, a blend of toasted bread and fried dough.
The toppings were, on the whole, pretty good. I liked the mozzarella, which was well melted, smooth and creamy. The tomato-sauce base was slightly sweet, with some herbal accents, and the fresh-tomato chunks were tasty as well. My one complaint is that I would've like more than a token smattering of basil, which I could see but barely taste.
A few weeks ago, while channel surfing, I ran across an episode of "Hell's Kitchen," in which the contestants were tasked with making gourmet pizza. Wolfgang Puck himself was the judge, and while he wasn't as nasty as host Gordon Ramsay, he pulled no punches in identifying the flaws in the contestants' pizza.
I wondered how Wolfgang would have critiqued this pizza that bore his name. I don't mean to hold it to a higher standard than any other pizza, but I think if he were honest, Puck would find some fault with it. For all its color, the crust didn't wow me. The fact that it wasn't crackly-crisp wasn't the issue; the problem was, it was very dark over some swaths of the underside, but it hadn't developed much flavor. It wasn't oily, but it reminded me of a pancake that's sat on the griddle for a little too long.
Again, the toppings were pretty good, although to me, any decent Margherita should have more basil than this. Overall, though, I did like the flavor.
This is a little hard to rate, frankly. In some respects, it was pretty good. It tasted good. But the crust was nothing special, and again I would have liked more than a token amount of fresh basil.
And I'm trying not to hold this to a higher standard, just because of the name attached to it. The fundamental question remains, how does this stack up against other pizza in the area?
In the end, I go with my gut. There were things I liked about this pizza, and things I didn't. But I can't say that, overall, it was any better, or any worse, than your typical Rochester-area pizza. Different, but not better than average. So it gets a C.

Wolfgang Puck Express
Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack
5897 Rt. 96, Farmington

Sun., Wed. & Thu. noon - 9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. noon - 10 p.m.
Closed Mon. & Tue.

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