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Friday, May 22, 2015

Pi Craft, Henrietta

A few weeks ago, I spotted a new pizzeria in Henrietta, Pi Craft. It looked like it might be a chain pizzeria, though I'd never heard of it. But obviously I needed to check it out. So I  soon stopped by for lunch, with two friends, who are my usual, willing pizza guinea pigs.
Before I get to our food, a little more about Pi Craft. This is Pi Craft's second location, the original being in Tonawanda, just north of Buffalo.
The restaurant is part of the Develder Restaurant Group, which also owns Ember Woodfire Grill in Livionia. I reviewed Ember back in 2011, and was pretty pleased with it.
Pi Craft is aiming to tap into the "fast casual" trend. In their own words, "Pi Craft is dedicated to making healthy delicious menu items such as hand crafted pizzas, focaccia sandwiches and salads using fresh ingredients, served in a fast casual style. With our state of the art revolving pizza oven we can cook our American-Italian inspired fare in about 6 minutes. The toppings are unique and always fresh giving you thousands of topping combinations to create your own pizza for one price." So that's the concept.
You order your pizza at the counter. You can choose from a 12-inch round pie, or a smaller "Pi size," a 13 x 6 inch oval. Aside from its having a few digits in common, I have no idea whether or how that relates to the mathematical π, which is roughly equal to 3.1416. I'll leave that to the math majors to determine.
As you move along in line, to reach the cashier, you can see your pizza being hand-stretched, tossed, and put into Pi Craft's oven. The oven is an essential part of Pi Craft's formula, and again I'll let Pi Craft speak for itself:
"Our state of the art revolving stone oven reaches temperatures upward of 1000˚F, while the floor temperature typically ranges between 600˚ to 800˚ F. Because of this high temperature, we can cook pizza or sandwiches in about 3-6 minutes."
As I was standing in line, I could see that the oven uses a gas flame at the back of the oven. Kind of like a wood-fired oven, without the wood.
Pi Craft's oven also uses a revolving deck. I guess the concept is, with a flame in the back of the oven, you can cook several pizzas at once, without having to keep switching them around. But they still require attention from the pizzaiolo, i.e. the chef or oven attendant, who needs to rotate the pizzas, so that each pie bakes evenly.
I was surprised to see how fast Pi Craft's oven deck revolved. I don't have vast experience with revolving-deck pizza ovens, but I suppose that a faster rpm means that a pie won't burn too quickly along one side. But it's hardly foolproof, and still requires an attentive pizzaiolo to achieve optimal results.
I got my usual Margherita, and my friends got their usual pepperoni pies. We're not always the most imaginative folks when ordering pizza, but those pies do serve as useful benchmarks.
The crust was very thin, with a nicely formed, thicker cornicione along the edge. Aside from the cornicione, the crust was so thin that it didn't have much of an interior texture to speak of.
The undersides were generally pale with darker areas, and not very uniform in that regard, as you can see. Some areas were quite pale, others darker. It was dry to the touch.
On the positive side, the crust was crisp yet pliable. And the corncione was nice and breadlike, not just a "pizza bone" throwaway. So while the crust wasn't an exemplary work of the pizzaiolo's art, all in all it was decent.
The toppings were tasty, not applied in abundance, but in balance with the thin crust. The sauce was tomatoey and light on seasoning. The basil was good, as far as it went, but there wasn't much of it.
All our pizzas were topped with fresh mozzarella. To me, fresh mozzarella on pizza is best when it slightly liquefies in the oven. The trouble with that is, if it then cools, it tends to turn rubbery. And if it browns, well, it's overcooked.
This cheese had neither liquefied nor browned, and it wasn't rubbery. It was basically heated fresh mozzarella, and I liked it. But if you prefer your pizza coated with a blanket of melted, processed mozzarella, you won't find that here. The closest you can get is probably the white cheddar; your other options are ricotta and feta, or Parmesan.
You can peruse Pi Craft's menu here, but it's extensive, with an emphasis on creating your own pizza. There's a choice of sauces, meats, cheese, veggies, and the "afterbake," i.e. toppings added when the pizza comes out of the oven (like olive oil, fresh basil, hot sauce, etc.). Most items are included in the basic price, with a few premium items, like bacon, prosciutto, and blue cheese. Aside from pizza, Pi Craft offers a few sandwiches, salads and bruschetta.
In general, I think that Pi Craft's aim is to create handcrafted, "artisanal" pizza quickly, at a relatively low price, and to create a more or less foolproof method for doing so. I'm not trying to diminish the skills of the employees who make the pizza, but the setup seems to be based on an assembly-line system and a formula, which is typical of the fast-casual model. Based on this visit, I'd say the results are mixed. I liked this pizza, in some respects, but I wouldn't mistake it for a pizza made by a master pizzaiolo, from start to finish. It was, in short, about what I would expect it to be. Decent, but not stellar.
I generally don't rate places right after they open, and Pi Craft did just open recently. So I'll forego a grade here. I think my review speaks for itself, so I'll close by saying that if you're in the area and have a hankering for pizza, Pi Craft is worth a stop. You may not be blown away by the pizza, but I don't think you'll be too disappointed either.

Pi Craft Pizza
100 Marketplace Drive
Henrietta, NY 14623
(585) 424-2942

Open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily

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