Brooklyn Bakery. This wood-fired bakery/pizzeria has been open for a few years now, but I'd been unaware of it until recently.
And when I say that I hunted it down, I mean I hunted it down. Tucked away on a side street, and partially hidden from view even from that street, it's not the easiest place to find. But I managed to track it down, and it was worth the effort.
You can make good, bad, or just mediocre pizza in any type of oven, wood-fired, gas, electric or otherwise. But one constant I've found is that good pizza is baked by people who have a passion for what they're doing. And building your own wood-fired oven is a pretty strong indication that you are dedicated to the art of baking.
As is Michael DiPaola, the founder and owner of Brooklyn Bakery. DiPaola, who opened the bakery in August 2011, clearly has a vision of what he wants to do. It's a business, but it's also a craft, and one to which he's plainly dedicated.
A native of Olean, DiPaola started his pizza journey in, of all places, Pizza Hut. He's been "all over," he told me, but eventually decided to return to Olean and start his own place.
One aspect of Michael's story that I could relate to is that he did a lot of research before launching his venture. I don't do something as simple as buying a home appliance without exhaustively researching the subject, so I can only imagine what's needed for as major an undertaking as opening a wood-fired bakery and pizzeria.
But all that research paid off, as evidenced by the end result. Brooklyn Bakery utilizes a large brick oven, with separate chambers for the fire and baking, making it a so-called "white" oven. DiPaola uses a variety of hardwoods to fire the oven, which provides indirect but very effective heat to the baking chamber. He also uses some coal, which burns a lot longer than wood, so it needs less frequent stoking.
On my visit, I ordered an "American Pie," which is a basic pepperoni pizza. Had I been alone, I might've gone for something different, but I was sharing this with an 11-year-old daughter, and I was happy to oblige her.
Our pizza had a thin crust, which was spottily browned underneath. The slices were pliable, but not floppy, with a slightly bubbly edge. The edge was not charred, as is often the case with wood-fired pizza, but that is a result of the indirect heat of this oven. I didn't mind that, as I've been to too many places where they seem to think that cooking wood-fired pizza means simply shoving the pie close to the open flame, and giving it a quick rotation just before it comes out of the oven, to give the edge a surface char, while the bottom remains pale.
While a pepperoni pizza may seem rather pedestrian, this proved to be a good choice. The slices of pepperoni (nicely arranged, as you can see in the top photo) were crisp, meaty and flavorful. The cheese, a blend of mozzarella, provolone and Asiago, was just browned, and nicely straddled the line between stringy and chewy, while the sauce had a medium-thick consistency and a rich, tomatoey flavor.
Besides the American Pie, Brooklyn Bakery also offers a white pizza with basil pesto and sliced Roma tomatoes, a white oil & garlic pie with broccoli, Roma tomatoes, and fire-roasted red peppers, and sixteen toppings if you'd like to customize a pie.
And, of course, there's the bread. BB's naturally-leavened boules include basic Italian bread, a whole-wheat "peasant" loaf, and loaves stuffed with Kalamata olives, locally-produced cheese, and tart cherries with pecans. You can also get meat pies (meatball marinara, sausage & pepper and ham & spinach), cookies and brownies.
At this point, the pizza seems to be the star of the show; Michael told me that it represents the bulk of his business, with bread currently accounting for around 20% of orders.
Three-plus years into it, Brooklyn Bakery seems to have established itself, and I hope that local residents appreciate what they have in their midst. While it's become nearly ubiquitous in the Rochester area (not to mention in larger cities like New York), wood-fired pizza probably still faces hurdles to overcome in smaller towns and cities, where local tastes tend to run toward the safe, familiar and conventional. (And having grown up in Olean, I think I can say that from experience, not from any sense of cultural superiority.) If you live down that way, or find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and stop by. This is good stuff.
Brooklyn Bakery, 111 N. 14th St. (just off West State St.), Olean
Mon. - Sat. noon - 9 p.m.