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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

"The Pizza Capital of the World" - Old Forge, PA

For any self-respecting pizza lover, there are certain cities or regions that you hope to get to someday. Naples. New York. New Haven. Chicago. Anywhere in Sicily.
And Old Forge, Pennsylvania.
If you weren't expecting that last one, then you must be unaware that Old Forge, PA (not to be confused with Old Forge, NY, in the Adirondacks) is the self-proclaimed "Pizza Capital of the World." That's right. The World.
On what basis, you may ask, can a town of some 8300 people, just outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, make such a bold claim?
You can read an account of the background here. I'm still not sure who came up with the slogan, but the gist of it is, Old Forge has an amazing concentration of pizzerias in a relatively small area. So it's not that the pizza is necessarily better than elsewhere, or that it's the birthplace of a style that's spread across the globe. It's just that there literally seems to be a pizzeria - sometimes more than one - on every block here. Apart from the actual pizzerias, other restaurants - diners, family restaurants, and the like - also seem to make a point of advertising that they offer pizza. I think the Chinese restaurant may be the only place in town that doesn't sell pizza (and for all I know, maybe they do).
So, I'd long wanted to visit Old Forge, but it's just far enough away (about 3 1/2 hours), that I'd never found much of an excuse to make the trip. A recent drive to and from New York City with my wife provided the opportunity, as Old Forge is just a short detour off I-81, near Scranton.
After doing some preliminary research, I settled on a few pizzerias I wanted to hit. We ended up stopping at three, getting one slice (or "cut" as it's typically called in Old Forge) each. Typically the choice is red or white. I stuck with red, the better to compare them.
All three were roughly similar, evidence of the fact that there is an Old Forge style of pizza. It's roughly what Rochesterians would call sheet pizza, but that doesn't quite capture it. It's rectangular, baked on a pan, with a thick but airy crust. Those are the basics. From there, each pizzeria has its own take on the style.
We started at Mary Lou's, which got the highest ratings online. I don't necessarily trust online ratings, but it seemed like as a good place to begin as any. Mary Lou's uses the term "slices," so I asked for two red slices.
A couple of observations, before I get into the details. At Mary Lou's, it took maybe five minutes for our slices to come up. I'm not complaining; they were worth the wait. It just struck me that at all three places we went to, the slices took a bit of time. Mary Lou's was probably the quickest but it still took a while. None of these places had slices ready to go. And I never witnessed the process. So I'm not sure if they had unbaked pizza sitting there, and baked the slices individually, or how they did it.
Also, though this was around the noon hour on a Friday, we were the only customers at each location. I was surprised not to see some other customers. I don't draw any particular conclusions from that, it's just something I noticed.
Anyway - when our Mary Lou's slices came up, I asked the counter person (who could've been Mary Lou herself - why don't I think of asking these things at the time?) if Mary Lou's is the best in town, and if so, why. The answer to the first question, of course, was yes, and the answer to the second was "Because Mary Lou bakes it with love." I'll accept that.

Mary Lou's slices were topped with well melted, smooth cheese, mozzarella, for sure, but perhaps a blend (Provolone?). The sauce had a  mild tomatoey flavor, neither too acidic nor sweet. The crust was thick but not dense, with a light, airy texture.
There was no seating at Mary Lou's, so we ate these in my car. From there,  we moved on to Arcaro & Genell, just around the block and down the street. Again, there was a wait, I'd say from five to ten minutes. They had a few tables inside and outside, and we ate our slices outside.
These were the same shape, but markedly different from Mary Lou's. Thinner, more oily underneath, with a  crunchier surface. The sauce was again mildly seasoned, but with a more noticeable flavor of oregano. The cheese was more thinly applied, appropriately to the thinner crust. So overall, thinner and more crunchy/crispy.
Kitty corner, or catty corner, or whichever you prefer (there are several variants) you'll find Revello. They have a full bar, where we sat while we waited for our cuts, which took maybe ten minutes.
The server was quite accommodating. She gave us free soft drinks while we waited for our cuts. As I was waiting, I took a photo of the "Peace Love Pizza" sign along the front wall. Then we took our slices outside and ate them on a bench, near the street corner.
Crustwise, these were similar to Mary Lou's; thick, crisp underneath, and airy on the inside. But the similarities ended there.
The cheese was the most noticeable component. It seemed to me that Revello's may use some American cheese. The cheese was well melted, very smooth, with that distinctive, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth texture of melted American cheese. My wife didn't like it at all. For me, well, I can't say I would want to eat this all the time, but I appreciated its uniqueness. It reminded me a bit of Brozzetti's in Johnson City, which I've reviewed before.
The sauce took a back seat to the cheese, but was a little more acidic than at the other two places we visited. A very interesting slice, overall.
After trying these three places, I cannot make any bold claims to being an expert on Old Forge pizza. But Old Forge itself is not shy about making bold claims. Pizza Capital of the World? I don't know about that. But hey,
if you're going to make a claim, go big. And who's to argue? You could spend a week here, and eat at a different pizzeria every day, without even having to drive. So I'm not going to quibble about their self-ascribed label.
What I can say for sure is that if you really love pizza - and are interested in trying different styles of pizza - you really should make the pilgrimage to Old Forge, someday. Next time I head down I-81, I plan to stop back, and continue my exploration.

Mary Lou's Pizza, 209 Dunn Ave., Old Forge, PA
Arcaro & Genell,  443 S. Main St., Old Forge, PA
Revello's Pizza, 502 S. Main St., Old Forge, PA

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Capish!, Le Roy

My daughter and I had dinner the other night at Capish!, which opened earlier this year in Le Roy. It's in a handsome, century-old building on Main Street. (You can see some photos of the exterior and interior here.)
Capish (I'm going to drop the exclamation mark from here on) offers a full menu of Italian dishes, but pizza is the main focus. Interestingly, they do both thin crust pizza and sfincione. I got both. Let me take them one at a time.
The thin crust pies are baked in a combination wood/gas oven. On this visit, I didn't see any sign of a wood fire. But the temp was set at 725 degrees - pretty high - and the results were good.
I suppose you could call these Neapolitan, or maybe neo-Neapolitan pizzas. I got my usual Margherita, and my daughter ordered an a la carte equivalent of a meat lover's pizza, with pepperoni, chicken, ham and sausage.
Both pies had a thin crust with a puffy cornicione.
They were charred underneath. My pie had some "leopard spotting," with some air holes having burst, leaving a small hole in the bottom of the crust. The crust was chewy but not tough, and the charred bottom added some flavor complexity.
Speaking of which, my Margherita had good flavor. A bright tomato sauce, complemented by liquefied dollops of fresh mozzarella, and shredded fresh basil, which was wilted but still a vibrant green. Capish adds a bit of oregano to their Margherita, but not enough to overpower the subtle flavors of this pie.
I sampled my daughter's meat-laden pie, and although I typically avoid that style, it was tasty. The pepperoni was thick-cut, and the well-melted processed mozzarella provided a good base for the meat.
My 12-inch pie was more than adequate for a meal, but I couldn't resist trying a slice of Capish's sfincione. I'd been aware of this close cousin to (or maybe "ancestor of" would be more accurate) Sicilian-style pizza, but by coincidence I got a bit more of an education in the style just recently, as a result of a Facebook post. Google it and you'll find plenty of information and recipes, but here's as good a description as any.
Capish's version comes topped with tomato sauce, oregano, onions, bread crumbs, and Pecorino Romano. So pretty close to style, in that regard. In Sicily, sfincione often includes anchovies, which were left off here, probably in a concession to American palates, but they are available as a topping, if you want to stay traditional.
The pan-baked crust was medium brown underneath, with large air-hole craters. The interior had a spongy texture. Although I can't claim to be a connoisseur of sfincione, this seemed to come pretty close to hitting the mark.
I was too full for dessert, so with some regret I had to forgo trying Capish's tiramisu. Next time.
On my way out, though, I paused to take a look at the oven, and chatted for a moment with the pizzaiolo. If I'm not mistaken, he was the guy seen here, and according to his Facebook page he hails from Sicily, as does Capish's owner Giacomo (Jim) Frascati, so it should come as no surprise they know their stuff, particularly where sfincione's concerned.
I've reproduced here Capish's pizza menu, but their full menu is available on their Facebook page. They offer a variety of pizzas, pasta and meat dishes, almost entirely Italian, with a nod to local tastes (as in, they serve chicken French). Since seafood is so popular in Sicily, I'm a little surprised there isn't more of it on the menu, but then again, Sicily's a Mediterranean island with a lot of port cities, and Le Roy is in Western New York, hundreds of miles from the nearest coast (and no, Lake Ontario doesn't count).
At any rate, that's pretty much a moot point for me, as I think it would take many visits for me to get past the pizza. This is one of those places where I'd like to try every pizza on the list before I even think about branching out into the other parts of the menu. With any luck and a little effort, though, I think I can get there.
I know I've been on-again, off-again with the letter grade thing, but I was quite happy with the pizza here. Capish is well worth the drive west on 490. So I'm giving this an A.

Capish!
49 Main St., Le Roy
(585) 768-1000

Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sat. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Closed Sundays


Friday, July 14, 2017

Old Italy, Latta Road

I took a drive the other day at lunchtime up to Old Italy Pizzeria on Latta Road.
I posted about Old Italy about two years ago, shortly after it opened. A few things have changed in the meantime, perhaps the most obvious being the introduction of Old Italy's "Mamaluke slices." What you see here is a single Mamaluke slice, cut in half. This measured 13 inches along the sides. Figuring this to be a quarter of a 26" diameter pizza, that comes out to about 132.75 square inches, which is roughly equivalent to the surface area of a 13" diameter pie. So figure about the same as, or even a little bigger than, the average medium pie. For $5.
Now I'll be the first one to say, big and cheap doesn't necessarily mean good. But big, cheap, and good ... well, that's very good. And fortunately, this was good.
The crust was on the thin side, with some screen marks on the bottom, and some surface crackling. Mine came fresh out of the oven, so I didn't ask for it to be rewarmed, nor did it need rewarming, but I imagine a minute or two of reheating would further boost the crispness factor. The crust, which is made using high-gluten flour, was chewy but not tough, with some air pockets visible inside.
The components were well balanced, with nicely melted whole-milk mozzarella, a light layer of sauce, and wide pepperoni slices.
Owner Bradley Cedar, who's spent many years in the pizza business, developed his own recipes for the dough and sauce, which are both prepared in-house. The menu mostly sticks to the basics - pizza, wings, calzones, hot subs and sides - but I've found over the years that there's an inverse relationship between the number of items on a menu and the quality of the pizza. In other words, best to stick to what you know, and that's the impression I came away with here. Good pizza, well prepared by an experienced pizzaiolo.
Bottom line, this was good, not because it was big, or because it was cheap, but because it was good. The big size and the low price were gravy.
Bite for bite, compared to other local pizzerias (and considering that the bar is set pretty high to begin with), I'd give it a B. Good crust and good toppings. All this for five bucks kicks it up a notch or two, but I've never rated pizza based on price or quantity, so I won't start now. But dollar for dollar, you can't do much better than this.

Old Italy Pizzeria, 1250 Latta Rd., Greece
(585) 445-8782

Sun. - Thu. noon - 9 p.m.
Fri. & Sat. noon - 10 p.m.

Friday, June 30, 2017

L'Italia, Wellsville

On  a recent family trip to visit relatives, my wife and I stopped at L'Italia, in Wellsville. I've posted before about a place in Wellsville, more of a slice joint. L'Italia is a sit-down restaurant, with pizza on the menu.
I ordered a Margherita, with olive oil, fresh mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil.
It was, frankly, disappointing. The primary issue for me was the crust. It was soft and a bit oily underneath. The interior was OK, fairly bready, but the lack of a crisp exterior detracted from the overall effect.
The toppings were acceptable. The sliced tomatoes were fresh, but seemed like basic supermarket tomatoes. The cheese was well melted, but the basil was a bit on the skimpy side.
I noticed, while eating, that though the restaurant was pretty busy, I was the only person eating pizza. L'Italia offers pasta, seafood, chicken and steak, and I suspect they do a better job on those than on the pizza.
The service was fine, and the physical setting is attractive, with white tablecloths and high ceilings. Overall, I enjoyed the experience. And I don't mean to say that the pizza was bad. It just was less than I'd hoped for. I'd go back, but I'd be wary of trying the pizza again.

L'Italia, 105 N. Main St., Wellsville, NY
(585) 593-2223

Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Woody's Deli, Le Roy

I needed to pick up a pizza recently for dinner, so I took the opportunity to stop at Woody's Deli in LeRoy.
For a small town (pop. 7641, as of 2010), LeRoy has a lot of pizza place, per capita.
I got a large pepperoni pie, with green peppers and onions on half. As is typical of some pies in this area, particularly to our west, it had been given a square cut.
The crust was on the thick side, with an almost grilled appearance underneath, but it was dry to the touch. The pan in which it was baked must've been ridged.
The crust was crisp underneath, and had a bready interior. There was a bit of surface oil, but that's all. The outer edge was well browned, with a good surface crunch.
The pie was covered with a well-balanced blend of toppings, including a mildly sweet tomato sauce, well melted mozzarella, and thin slices of pepperoni. The veggies were cooked enough to accentuate their flavor, but not overdone.
Woody's offers a basic list of pizza toppings, seven specialty pizzas, plus wings, hot and cold subs, tacos, burritos, and pretty much everything you would expect from a local deli. You can see their full menu online.

My overall impression was of a good example of a Rochester/WNY style pizza. A little thick, cheesy, bready, and well balanced. It made for a satisfying family meal.

Woody's Deli, 47 North St., LeRoy, NY 14482

(585) 768-8585

Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Fri. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sun. noon - 8 p.m.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Papa G's, Penfield

I saw an ad recently for a new pizzeria, Papa G’s, on Linden Avenue in Penfield. The site has been home to several pizza places over the years, including Bonafede’s and Gianna’s. I’ve also seen a reference to a place called Linden Hill Pizzeria & Deli at the same location, but if it ever existed, I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Most recently, this spot housed Lisa’s Quality Catering and Café, which I believe is still an ongoing enterprise, but which is now strictly a catering business. At any rate, I don’t think Lisa’s ever offered pizza. Point is, the site has seen a lot of businesses come and go.

Ordinarily, I’d have to wonder why somebody would plunge in where so many others have come and gone, but I’m not sure that all of those places literally failed. People can sell a business, retire, or otherwise move on, for all sorts of reasons. But if somebody else wants to go in and offer pizza, I’ll be there, eventually.

Sometimes, when a place changes hands, not much changes other than the name. Not so here. I reviewed Bonafede’s in 2010, and Gianna’s in 2011, and the pizza was qualitatively different both times.

That pattern continues to hold at Papa G’s. I got a single pepperoni slice (the only variety available during my lunchtime visit), and that was plenty for a satisfying lunch. The slice was quite thick, much more than at Bonafede’s or Gianna’s. The screen-marked underside was rather pale, but the interior had a pleasant, breadlike aroma, flavor and texture. The corncione had a good exterior crunch and that same bready interior. I liked it but I was wishing I'd asked for a cup of dipping sauce.

Topside, the crust was covered with a moderate layer of sauce. A few bits of dried herbs were visible, but this wasn’t a highly seasoned sauce. It had a good balance of saltiness and tomatoey sweetness.

Atop that lay the cheese, of mostly uniform thickness, with a few small pockets of sauce along the rim and near the tip. It was OK, but the texture wasn’t particularly smooth or “melty.” I can’t say for certain what it was, but I think a full-fat, whole-milk cheese would have improved things.

The pepperoni slices were thin and mildly spicy.

So, some pros (nice interior on the crust, toppings well balanced, sauce had a pleasant flavor) and a couple cons (pale bottom, cheese could’ve been better). But all in all, not a bad slice by any stretch, and an interesting contrast to the pizza that was served here by Papa G’s predecessors.

Papa G’s Catering & Café, 514 Linden Ave., Penfield (just off Rt. 441)

585-673-2949 (café) 585-203-2090 (catering)

Café open for lunch Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. (catering hours may differ, I don’t know)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review: 365 Things to Do in Ithaca, NY

My wife and I just spent a weekend in Ithaca, for no particular reason other than to get away for a couple of days, so this gives me a good opportunity to review a book that I received recently from Schiffer Publishing365 Things to Do in Ithaca, New York.
Author Laurel Guy, who has lived in Ithaca since January 1981, has assembled a fun guide to things to do in and around Ithaca. To get to 365, she had to do a bit of stretching, geographically. For example, she includes the Erie Canal, Skaneateles, and Letchworth, all of which are quite some distance from Ithaca. So think of this more as a guide to the Finger Lakes, centered on Ithaca, or things to do in and within a reasonable drive around Ithaca.
But that's more than forgiveable, considering the wealth of information here. This is about as comprehensive a guide to Ithaca as you can get, in terms of places to see and things to do. Local parks, restaurants, events, artists' studios, historical sites ... pretty much everything Ithaca and the surrounding area have to offer. It was partly thanks to this book that I knew enough to be able to enjoy visiting the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and dining at Le Cafe Cent Dix.
I have a couple minor criticisms. One, the book is not organized into chapters. The 365 entries bounce from one thing to another, with no themes. But the index is well organized, so that helps.
I also would've appreciated a rough guide to the Ithaca area:  The Commons, Ithaca neighborhoods, and nearby towns. There is an area map at the end of the book, taking in most of the Finger Lakes, but a street map of downtown Ithaca would've been handy too.
Those quibbles aside, this is a keeper. During dinner at Cent Dix, our server told us that she occasionally goes to Rochester for nights out with friends. As I mentioned to my wife afterwards, it struck me funny that Ithaca residents go to Rochester to have fun, while we're going to Ithaca. But I have always enjoyed my visits there, and this book will remain a valuable resource for future trips. 

365 Things to Do in Ithaca New York
by Laurel Guy
192 pages
Schiffer Pub. (c) 2016

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Brozzetti's, Johnson City

Though I've ceased writing this blog on anything like a regular basis, I figured I'd leave myself open to doing the occasional blog post, if I felt motivated to do so.
I do, now, after finally checking off a pizzeria that had been on my to-do list for a long time:  Brozzetti's, in Binghamton.
From what I've read, this is a Binghamton pizza institution, and a love-it-or-hate-it kind of place, among locals. So when I happened to be in the area with my wife, I took advantage of the opportunity to check out Brozzetti's.
I knew, going in, that Brozzetti's doesn't sell slices. The least you can get is a 10-slice pizza, which is what I got, and shared with my wife. Plain cheese.
I was afraid it was going to take a while -- there's no seating, so we would have had to wait in the car, or just stand around -- but they keep 10-slice pizzas, boxed, in a warmer, so we got ours right away (though we did have to eat it in the car).
What apparently makes Brozzetti's pizza so divisive is the crust, which is noticeably sweet.. Not, to my taste, overly sweet, but noticeably sweet nonetheless. The recipe is apparently a closely guarded secret.
The side of the box was emblazoned with a musical jingle, with lyrics including the phrase, "The Crispy Family Dough!" Well, I can't say this was crispy. The underside was a mottled brown -- typical of pan-baked pizza -- and the interior was soft and chewy, even a bit gummy on top. I'm guessing that was largely a result of the pizza sitting in the box for some time before I got it. Having said that, it wasn't bad. We did finish the pizza. And I suspect that a pizza fresh out of the oven would've had a crisper crust.
The cheese was another interesting feature of this pizza. Brozzetti's uses a blend of cheeses, which I assume is another one of their secrets. It seemed to me to be a combination of shredded mozzarella, crumbled ricotta, and a meltey processed cheese (possibly American cheese). I could easily be wrong about any or all of those, but that's my best guess.
The sauce was fairly ordinary, with a mild tomatoey flavor. All the components of the crust/sauce/cheese triad were in reasonably good balance with each other. The overall flavor was marked by the combination of the sweet crust and the cheese.
Brozzetti's offers a pretty wide variety of toppings and specialty pies, including a chicken spiedie pie. But I think I made the right choice in going for a basic cheese pie.
Love it or hate it? Honestly, most of the time when I hear that something is love it or hate it, I manage to fall in the middle. And so I do here. If I had to pick a handful of rest-of-your-life pizzas, this wouldn't be among them. But I have a special place in my heart, and my stomach, for unique, truly local pizza. I have to put Brozzetti's in that category.

Brozzetti's Pizza, 72 Baldwin St., Johnson City, NY 13790
(607) 797-9960

Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - midnight, Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.