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Friday, January 31, 2014

Compané: Italian Tradition in Fairport

In connection with my current giveaway for Compané Bistro in Fairport, I had a conversation with Mario Cristofori, the controller/manager of Compané. While I was already sold on Compané's pizza, by the end of our discussion I was even more eager to return for a meal. And it might not even include pizza.
Compané (pronounced com-PAH-nay) got its start in August 2010. As with many good pizzerias and restaurants, it's a family affair. Mario's father Guido is from the Abruzzi region of Italy, and he opened Compané with the aim of replicating the food he knew and loved back home.
Compané is the family's third venture into the restaurant business, which started with a pizzeria/deli in Henrietta, followed by Grappa, a former Fairport establishment in a location that is now the site of a Chinese restaurant.
Despite this history, Guido's primary work background was not in the pizza business, but in masonry. That's proved helpful, though, because Guido put those skills to good use in building Compané's impressive wood-fired oven, as well as its very comfortable back patio.
An electrical fire on the restaurant's first New Year's Eve resulted in Compané closing for several months, mostly to cope with water damage. But reopen they did, and that's fortunate, because the pizza here is very good indeed.
Maybe it's a stereotype to characterize Italians as having some special cooking skills, but Mario told me that his family has "always had a knack for the kitchen." That starts with "Nana," who, well into her eighties, still comes in regularly to make gnocchi. Once I've reviewed a restaurant, I enjoy going back and not feeling obligated to try the pizza. Next time I go to Compané, I'm ordering gnocchi.
But let's get back to the pizza. Compané's oven is a work of art, although much of what you see is a facade. That's not to say that the oven is some sort of fake. It's a serious wood-burning oven. But the actual cooking space is relatively small, as it has to be; you want to trap the heat from the wood fire, not just let it go up the chimney.
And that oven is 100% wood fired. No gas flames there, it's wood from the get-go. Compané uses various woods, but they are all "neutral" hardwoods - no aromatic fruit woods. Fruit woods are fine for barbeque, but for pizza you are generally not looking for a distinctive smoke.
To be ready in time for dinner, somebody generally gets the fire started between 2 and 2:30 in the afternoon. And again, it might be Mario's dad Guido, who's there daily to monitor the oven.
But starting the fire is the easy part. The fire has to be maintained throughout the evening, holding the temperature at between 600 and 700 degrees. That's a good temperature not only for pizza, but for some of the other dishes that Compané uses the oven for, like wings, ribs and roasts.
Another tricky aspect to using this oven is that Compané's oven is big; it can hold seven to eight pizzas at a time. That's good, in a way, when they've got several pizza orders coming in at once, but it also means that a lot of skill, and close attention, are required to keep an eye on the pizzas and make sure that they're all getting properly done, each at the right time.
Fortunately, Compané can count on an experienced set of employees to keep things running smoothly. I'm sure there are the usual hiccups and crises that you find in any restaurant, but based on my visit and their continued success, Compané seems to be managing rather well.
And while Compané turns out very traditional Italian food, I should mention that they offer gluten-free and whole-wheat pizzas as well.
Compané exhibits a lot of the characteristics that I find common to good pizzerias. It's family based (Mario's mom and sister are also involved), and everything is made from scratch. It's also locally based - Mario grew up in Fairport - but its roots go back to Italy.
Whether you win a gift card or not, you'd do well to give Compané a try. I enjoyed it and I think you will too.

Compané, 80 N. Main St., Fairport
678-4013

Mon. - Sat. 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Product: Dress Tiez


When you write a food blog, you get offers, from time to time, asking you if you'd like free samples of products to review. I got such an offer recently from Dress Tiez. I guess I didn't read the email that closely, so I was under the impression that it was some sort of necktie. But in fact it's a bib, albeit a very well made bib.
I don't think I can do this product much more justice than to quote this language from Dress Tiez's website:

DressTiez is a new and fashionable trend that is sweeping the nation. DressTiez is perfect for men & women on the go who care about their appearance & their clothes. DressTiez delivers the ultimate clothing protection that will have you feeling confident and secure even when eating the messiest foods...and it's machine washable! DressTiez is highly portable & fits neatly in your pocket.
Beautiful, fashionable and whimsical DressTiez help your shirt or blouse stay immaculate while you dine anywhere. Eat with the confidence that your clothes will remain perfectly clean while you indulge to your heart’s (and palate's) content.
Available in styles for every occasion, DressTiez are the perfect compliment for dinner parties, business lunches, birthdays and more. Make sure you’re covered wherever you go with DressTiez!

The photo is of me wearing my Dress Tiez (or is the singular "Tie"?). It certainly fulfills its purpose. This product would've saved me many a necktie in the past, had I been wearing it while eating spaghetti, pizza, or other sauce- or oil-laden dishes.
Whether it's fashionable, or perfect for dinner parties or business lunches, well, I'll leave that up to you. It was comfortable, easy to put on and take off, and they are available in a range of colors.

DressTiez are available from $29.99. Go to their website to order. At the moment they're running a special for The Game that Cannot Be Named (well, they name it, but I don't want to get in trouble with the NFL) for 20% off orders placed until 2/2/14. Get yours before next Sunday and you'll be able to snarf down a boatload of chicken wings without worry for your clothes, at least from the waist up.

Monday, January 27, 2014

New Giveaway: Compané, Fairport

Compane Brick Oven Bistro - Fairport, NYTo kick off the new week, I have a new giveaway for my readers.
Compané Brick Oven Bistro in Fairport has provided me with four $20 gift cards that I'll be giving away to four lucky readers.
I'll have a lengthier piece on the blog in a few days, with more information about Compané, but I wanted to get these up ASAP. All you need to know for now is that, as I've described before, Compané turns out excellent, A-level pizza (and other dishes) from its wood-fired ovens. So you'll want to be in the running for one of these gift cards, for sure.
Since I have four of these to give away, I'll do this over four days. I'll pick a winner each day, beginning a week from tomorrow, Tuesday, February 4, shortly after noon. So the fourth and final card will be given away on Friday, February 7.
To enter, simply leave a comment following this blog post. Any comment will do, but it would be nice if it's pizza-related. If you win, I'll need to be able to identify you as the winner and get the card to you, so please don't leave an anonymous comment. If you do win, you'll need to send your full mailing address to me at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com.
Thanks to Compané for this generous donation, and thanks to my readers for following the blog. Keep checking in here or on my Facebook page, or follow me on Twitter for updates!

Compané, 80 N. Main St., Fairport
678-4013

Mon. - Sat. 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Bazil's

Bazil on Urbanspoon
If you've ever seen ads on TV for Mario's, you may have noticed that they tend to run with ads for another Italian restaurant, Bazil. That's because they're both part of the same local restaurant group owned by the Daniele family. My impression has always been that Mario's is the more "formal" of the two, while Bazil is more casual.
In late 2011, I did a post about Mario's, and while I liked the restaurant and the food generally, I gave the pizza a C-minus, primarily because the crust was not so good; in fact, I wondered if it was a frozen crust.
So I must admit that I didn't walk into Bazil's with terribly high hopes. And - I'm talking about the pizza here, not the restaurant or the other food - even so, I was disappointed.
Before I get to the pizza, let me mention this. My wife and I were both struck by how similar it was to Olive Garden. Similar decor, same endless salad bowl -- if you'd taken me there blindfolded, then taken off the blindfold and told me I was in an Olive Garden restaurant, I'd have believed it, easily.
My wife wondered why they wouldn't try to distinguish themselves more from a competitor. I figured that Bazil is just following the basic formula for a casual Italian restaurant, and it seems to be working for them, since the place was packed.
OK, on to the pizza. I ordered a "traditional Margherita" with the addition of artichokes. Not everybody likes artichokes, but I've grown to enjoy their salty tanginess on a pizza.
Again, the crust was reminiscent of - and maybe was - a frozen crust. In fact, the whole pizza seemed like a store-bought frozen pizza The crust was thin and dry, with a too-perfectly formed, dry lip around the perimeter. The underside was generally pale but marked here and there by darker spots.
Appearances aside, the proof is in the eating, and this was not good. Dry and flavorless, the crust was like a frozen pizza that's sat in your freezer for too long. If this wasn't frozen, then they must be doing something very wrong in the kitchen, to get it to come out this way.
The toppings didn't help much. The cheese was not so much burnt as dried out, like cheese that's been sitting for so long that much of the liquid has evaporated. Even many of the artichoke bits seemed dry. Sometimes places put on the tough outer layers of the artichokes, but that wasn't the issue here. These were just dried out. A sprinkling of chopped tomatoes and dried basil didn't help much either. Though this isn't that important, the toppings were also unevenly distributed, more toward one side of the pizza than the other.
The sad thing was that the other food we ordered was good. This was another example of a place that makes generally good food, but then adds pizza to the menu, thinking, I guess, that's it easy to make pizza.
Well, it is easy to make pizza. It's just not that easy to make good pizza. It's not the most difficult thing you'd ever do in a kitchen, either, but it takes more than just adding a few toppings to a frozen crust and popping it in the oven.
Is it possible to expect to be disappointed? That might make a good Buddhist Kōan. But I did, and I was.
I liked Bazil, in general. Our other food was good, and the service was very good. We had a good time.
And truth be told, if I hadn't been there specifically for blog purposes, I never would've ordered pizza. Unless a place specializes in pizza or has a reputation for great pizza, when I go to an Italian restaurant I'm generally going with pasta. That's one of the drawbacks of writing this blog - I often feel stuck with ordering pizza, even though my natural inclination might be to get something else.
So I will re-emphasize that my letter grade is not a judgment on the restaurant, but only on this pizza. And this pizza was not too good. It wasn't even average, and I have to give it a D.

Bazil Restaurant, 1384 Empire Blvd, Rochester, NY 14609
(585) 697-2006
Mon. - Thu.4:30 - 9:30, Fri. 4:30 - 10:00, Sat. noon -10:00, Sun. noon - 9:00

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Nino's Focaccia

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
482-2264

Sun. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m. - midnight

Friday, January 10, 2014

And Winner #2 Is ...

http://empirepizzarochester.com/images/logo_bg.pngMAG, who left a comment on Jan. 7 at 6:46 a.m. (I guess in this case the early bird gets the pizza.) MAG, please email me at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com with your name and mailing address and I'll send you your $25 gift card from Empire Pizza. Thanks to you and to all who participated and thanks again to Ken at Empire Pizza for this generous donation!

Winner #1 is ...

http://www.empirepizzarochester.com/images/logo_bg.pngJennifer Popovich is the first winner of a $25 gift card to Empire Pizza! Jennifer, please send me your mailing address at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com and I'll put your card in the mail. Thanks for participating!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Cosmic Patty's, Hornell

Cosmic Patty's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Up until recently, I couldn't say that I'd ever been to a (Grateful) Deadhead-themed pizzeria. And I never expected to find one in Hornell in Steuben County, in the central Southern Tier. Ithaca, maybe. But not Hornell.
But that's exactly what I found on a recent trek down that way. Following some hiking in the nearby Phillips Creek State Forest, I stopped by Hornell to check out Cosmic Patty's, a self-described "counter-culture pizza epierience [sic]." That's a quote from the menu. (The photo at left, by the way, is the result of some editing on my part, that I thought fit in well with the overall feel of the place.)
After a brief glance at the myriad photos and posters adorning the walls, I considered my pizza options. The selection was small but varied, and I went with a pepperoni slice and a white slice.
The crust on both these slices was very thin, in fact translucent, as seen in the photo. Now I'm aware of the saying, "You can never be too thin," but that doesn't always apply with pizza. Yes, I have pointed out the translucency of Fiamma's pizza, which I love, but it's a fine line.This pizza skirted that line. There still needs to be some interior, so that you're not just eating a tortilla. That's why, in that post, I said that "the proof of the pizza is in the eating. If the crust were overly dry, or floppy, or flavorless, then its translucence would be no more than an impressive, but purely technical achievement."
Well, opinions can differ, but to me this pizza was balancing on that line, like a tightrope walker. It wasn't just flour and water, but there was very little to chew on. Not entirely to my liking, but if you view the crust as little more than a platform for toppings, then this was that.
The undersides of these slices were faintly marked by screen indentations, and were a blotchy golden brown. They were reasonably crisp. The slices as a whole were a little floppy, but given their thinness and size (they weren't enormous, but pretty big, I'm guessing from a 16-18" pie, and narrow relative to their length), that was probably inevitable. A decent crust, then, but I wouldn't say it was great.
The red sauce on my pepperoni slice was a tad on the sweet side, and a bit heavily applied, considering the thinness of the crust. But I like a good sauce, and I prefer a bit too much over too little, "painted on" sauces. 
As for the other toppings, the cheese and pepperoni were unremarkable but perfectly acceptable, and reminiscent of a basic NYC slice. I did like the toppings on the white slice, which included sliced plum tomatoes (far preferable to pale, hard-as-a-rock beefsteak tomatoes at this time of year), spinach that was wilted but not burned, and feta cheese, which added some nice tanginess. This pie was also made using Cosmic Patty's "cosmic seed crust," which means sesame seeds baked into the dough. They didn't add a whole lot to the slice, as far as I could tell, and I tend to be a purist where crusts are concerned, but they didn't detract from it either.
Cosmic Patty's doesn't offer much in the way of specialty pizzas, though they do have a 12-topping "Patty Boy Special." If you want a pie, it's mostly a create-your-own place, and there are 19 toppings to pick from. You can choose a "honey crust" or the aforementioned cosmic seed crust. They also do wings, pasta, hot subs, calzones, salads, and a few fried sides.
And yes, it's a very laid-back atmosphere; when's the last time you went to a pizzeria with a motorcycle (think Easy Rider) in the dining room? And the various posters and other ephemera on the walls of Cosmic Patty's seem to belong there, as opposed to the stuff you see in chain restaurants that looks as if it was just shipped in from some central warehouse to give the place an "authentic" feel.
Overall, I liked Cosmic Patty's, and I liked their pizza. It wasn't among the very best I've had, and I know I've pointed out a few of what I would consider faults with these slices, but in fact I enjoyed them. It's always easier to find fault than to say what's good about something. These did have good flavor, and although the crust wasn't crackly-crisp, it was reasonably crisp underneath. And sometimes you just want a big, thin slice that tastes good and that's easy to gulp down.
I try to keep the letter grades to places around Rochester, so I won't assign one to Cosmic Patty's. And this would be a tough one anyway. If you like big, super-thin slices, you'll like this. If not, you won't. I didn't love everything about it, but for what it was, it was pretty good.

Cosmic Patty's, 104 Loder St., Hornell
(607) 382-5465
Mon - Thu: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm, Fri - Sat: 11:00 am - 3:00 am, Sun: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

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Friday, January 3, 2014

Friday Giveaway: TWO $25 Gift Cards for Empire Pizza

Empire Pizza on Urbanspoon
http://www.empirepizzarochester.com/images/logo_bg.pngAs promised, 2014 brings more reader giveaways, and here's another good one. Ken Fournier, owner of Empire Pizza on Empire Boulevard in Webster (or is it Penfield? whatever) has graciously agreed to give away two $25 gift cards to two lucky readers of this blog. Two cards, two chances to win!
Empire Pizza specializes in New York style pizza, with a wide variety of slices available all day, every day. I stopped in today and was faced with the pleasant dilemma of trying to choose from among an array of red and white thin-crust pies and a couple of thick, crusty Sicilian pizzas. I finally settled on a meatball parm slice and a white slice with spinach and roasted red peppers. Both had a terrific crust, crackly but not crackerlike, with some spotty charring underneath. The toppings were fine, added in good proportion to the crust, and the slices were fresh.
I also chatted a bit with Ken. Like most good pizzeria owners, he's dedicated to his business - stop in nearly anytime, and as likely as not, you'll find him there - but he's also benefited from a stable, steady group of employees, who can handle anything from delivery to manning the ovens and making pies.
Ken also expressed a commitment to customer service. One example is giving the customer an accurate estimate of how long it will take to prepare an order. If it's 20 minutes, it'll be ready in 20 minutes. If it's a busy night and it's going to take longer, he'll let you know that too. And if you stop in for a slice, you can expect it to be fresh; stale slices (sadly, but understandably) are tossed out.
The menu at Empire is solid but relatively basic, with ten specialty pizzas and 21 toppings to choose from. They also do baked wings, salads, calzones, and garlic twists, and there's a selection of cookies if your sweet tooth needs a fix. You'll find the entire menu here.
Why not find out for yourself how good Empire's pies are, with $25 to spend on anything you'd like? If you've entered these giveaways before, you know the routine. Just leave a comment following this blog post. Any comment will do. You don't have to leave your full name at this point, but anonymous comments will not be accepted, since I will need to be able to identify the winners. And if you do win, I will need your full name and mailing address. You can email me now at rochesternypizzaguy@gmail.com, or wait to see if you win. If you win, but I don't hear from you in a day or two, I'll pick another winner.
The winners will be selected at random one week from today, Friday, January 10. I'll pick the first winner shortly after noon, the second a little later. The winners will be announced here and on my Facebook page.
Whether you win or not, stop in to Empire Pizza sometime. Ken is an amiable guy who enjoys meeting people, and if he can spare a moment he'll be more than happy to talk with you. And if you do, please let him know that you read about his shop here on The Rochester NY Pizza Blog.

Empire Pizza, 1773 Empire Blvd.

(585) 347-4050

Tue. - Thu. 11 - 8, Fri. 11 - 9, Sat. 11 - 8, Sun. 12 - 8

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