Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Branca, Bushnells Basin
Branca in Bushnells Basin, which opened this summer in what had been a Great Northern Pizza Kitchen location.
It’s funny how some new places get so much more buzz than others, but I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised when on a recent Sunday around 5:30 my wife and I showed up and were told that Branca could “not accommodate walk-ins until 8:30.” Branca was opened by the owners of The Revelry, a Rochester hotspot, and it’s in Bushnells Basin, which I described to my wife as “Pittsford on steroids.” Put those together and you’re talking about a place where you don’t just walk in and expect to get a table right away, even on what’s an off-night for many places. (We left and went to another place not too far away, which I’ll report on soon.)
Several days later, the opportunity again arose for use to go out for dinner, and this time I made a reservation. So with some smugness on my part, we sauntered past the ignorant masses waiting for a table and were quickly ushered to our seats.
Facebook page. But the fire was blazing, and pizzas were steadily going in and out.
There was no question that I was going to get a pizza; it was only a matter of which one. Aside from the Tartufata (it’s got mushrooms - a no-go, for me), they all sounded good, but I went with my usual Margherita.
Initial impressions: thick, blistered cornicione, very thin interior, some spotty charring on an otherwise pale underside. The cornicione was chewy, pleasant enough but a bit bland, and I found it a little wide and thick, relative to the overall size of the pizza. I like a good outer crust, but this was a little much for me.
The interior crust was supple, thin, and chewy. I understand that Neapolitan pizza is typically not crisp and crackly, like New York style pizza, but I found this pie just a bit soupy. Branca’s oven runs at about 900 degrees, which can evaporate some of the water in a sauce, but the sauce here was a little more liquid than I would’ve liked.
But the sauce, which is made from San Marzano tomatoes, was flavorful, and the dollops of fresh mozzarella were nicely melted. I could’ve used a little more basil, but what basil there was had been added at the right time to wilt it and bring out some flavor, without drying it out or browning it.
I should mention that the rest of our meal was very good. I started with a Panzanella Toscana salad, with heirloom tomatoes, bread, cucumber, red onion, and red wine vinaigrette, which made for a nice combination. I think I may have set a personal record for carb consumption, between the pizza, that bread-based salad, and the crusty complimentary bread that we were given for starters. My wife enjoyed her salad with goat cheese, and her vegetarian, farro-based main course proved to be an excellent choice as well.
As long as this is turning into a full-blown review, I’ll say a bit more about the place in general. No complaints about the service; the staff did a good job at keeping up with the crowd, and our server checked in on us from time to time. The feel was upscale casual, but don’t go here for an intimate dinner. Tables are close together, and although my wife and I didn’t find conversation difficult, the noise level was fairly high. Branca claims to evoke the spirit of "Old Hollywood watering holes," but I'm not sure if I even know what that entails, much less whether it's an accurate description.
So is Branca worth the hype? Hard to say, after just one meal, but it’s certainly worth a visit. I tend to avoid rating pizzas until a place has had some time to sort itself out, so let’s just say that at this point, I’d recommend checking it out, even if I’m not yet putting Branca on my must-do list. Just make a reservation first.
Branca, 683 Pittsford-Victor Rd., Bushnells Basin
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - midnight
Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.