Tuesday, May 10, 2016
On a recent Sunday, my wife, daughter and I went to the Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, which is just west of Geneseo. This is the place where they bake Monks' Bread. It's an active, living monastery, where the brothers devote their lives to the monastic life, which means round-the-clock work and prayer.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, it's a beautiful place to visit. Guests are welcome to sit in on services, or just to wander the grounds. It's a beautiful, peaceful place. (Plus the gift shop often has bread or other baked goods you won't find at other retail outlets.)
Afterwards, we had lunch at GioVanna's in Geneseo. I thought I had done a post on GioVanna's before, but I guess not.
GioVanna's had been located in the Genesee Valley Plaza, a few doors down from the Geneseo Wegmans. That's when I visited it before. It's owned and operated by John Pontillo and his wife Jennifer, and yes, they are part of the Pontillo family for whom the local chain was named. But this is not a part of the Pontillo's chain.
Recently, GioVanna's moved across the street and down the road. In doing so, they added a lot more seating (from about 12 to 100), and a wood-fired pizza oven.
On our visit, we sat at the bar, where we could watch our pizzas being prepared. We ordered two pies, a "Pizza Bruschetta" and a "White Traditional."
GioVanna's actually has two pizza ovens, one wood-fired and a conventional gas oven. I asked John about this, and he told me that if you want a wood-fired pizza, you need to specify that when you order.
I can understand the thinking behind that. They wanted to add wood-fired pizza, but they also need to please their long-time customers. But it seemed a little odd that we weren't advised of this when ordering, either by our server or on the menu.
I learned of this in time to change our order, so I asked for our pies to be one of each.
Our bruschetta pie was baked in the wood-fired oven. It was topped with garlic olive oil sauce, mozzarella, diced Roma tomatoes, onions and fresh basil.
The crust was thin, with an underside that was on the light side in color, with a few dark brown spots. The crust was firm on the surface, chewy, and a bit oily underneath. It wasn't excessively oily, but enough that my wife and I both noticed it. Perhaps some of the olive oil on top made its way to the bottom, or maybe it was just oil in the dough itself. But certainly the crust didn't have a "fried" flavor or texture, which can happen when the dough is baked on an oily surface, like a pan. And again, it was nothing excessive, just noticeable.
I liked the flavor, which was similar to that of a Margherita, with the addition of mild onions. Finely chopped basil provided a good accent over that of the diced tomatoes.
The "White Traditional" was baked in the gas oven. It was topped with mozzarella, ricotta, broccoli, spinach, and "garlic flavor." I'm not sure what to make of that last-listed ingredient, but I didn't notice it until I was preparing this review, so I didn't get a chance to ask.
The crust on this one was noticeably thicker, what I would call medium thick. There was just a bit of what I took to be cornmeal on the bottom. It was again firm, with a deep brown color underneath.
John informed me that he uses different dough recipes for the two different ovens. The primary reason is the difference in temperature. The wood fired oven gets close to 700 degrees. I didn't ask, but conventional gas pizza ovens typically run at about the same temperature as a home oven, in the low to mid 500s. In general, the WF pizza dough is made to be stretched thinner and baked more quickly. The "regular" crust was more of a traditional, Western NY style crust, no doubt reflecting the Pontillo family's deep roots in the area's pizza scene.
With abundant mozzarella and ricotta, the White Traditional was a was definitely a cheese lovers' pie. The al dente broccoli and wilted spinach were cooked enough to bring out their flavor, but they retained their bright green color. The overall flavor was enjoyable but mild, although I found that a shot or two of red pepper flakes and Parmesan livened things up quite nicely.
GioVanna's menu extends to pasta, hot and cold subs, a Fridays fish fry, calzones, grilled boneless wings and more. I know they plan to have a full bar, but I didn't notice if that had happened yet.
I'd like to go back and try a red pizza. With 30 toppings to choose from, the possibilities are virtually endless.
But would I get it wood fired, or not? That is the question. And frankly, I'm not sure. For me, both crusts were good, and there was no clear winner. The WF crust wasn't quite as charred or "leopard spotted" as some (although thankfully neither was it burnt), but it was enjoyably chewy, and the slices went down easily. The regular crust was well baked and more breadlike. So I guess I'll have to wait and see what I'm in the mood for at the time.
GioVanna's Pizza & Pasta, 4153 Lakeville Rd., Geneseo
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.