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Showing posts with label outdoor seating. Show all posts
Showing posts with label outdoor seating. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Colby's, Rush

Colby's Ice Cream Bakery & BBQ on Urbanspoon
Colby's is a relatively recent addition to the wood-fired pizza scene, and quite new for its area, at the corner of Routes 251 and 15, just off the Rush exit on 390.
Colby's itself - full name, Colby's Ice Cream, Bake Shop & BBQ - has been around since 2011, but it was only late last year that they added a wood-fired oven and added pizza to the menu. I didn't get a chance to try their pizza before they closed for the winter, but they're open now for the season and I stopped in recently.
I noticed one quirk in the menu. I wanted a Margherita, which on the "Specialty Pizzas" part of the menu costs $9.99. It's described as topped with red sauce, mozzarella and fresh basil.
But under "Create Your Own Pizza," I could put together the same pie for $9.49. The sauce and cheese are covered by the basic price of $7.99, and the basil is an extra buck fifty. So that's what I did. I don't think there's any deliberate deception at work here, I think somebody just didn't do their math when they came up with these prices.
Not to digress too much, but another possibility is that the $9.99 "specialty" Margherita includes fresh, as opposed to processed, a/k/a aged mozzarella, whereas the basic create-your-own pie comes with processed mozzarella (if that's your cheese choice). But after a brief inquiry and consultation, nobody objected to my "creating" my own Margherita, with fresh mozzarella, for $9.49, so that's what I did. I know it's only fifty cents, but it was more a matter of my being curious than stingy.
My pie was rather enjoyable. Let's start with the crust.
The underside was dark brown in spots, but not really charred. It was dusted with corn meal, which gave it a bit of surface crunch. The slices were pliable but not soft.
The crust was thin, but not too thin to have some interior chew. A thicker cornicione had been formed along the edge. It was unevenly done, with some areas quite blackened and others lightly browned, or coated with sauce.
Speaking of which, the sauce was a basic red sauce, "traditional" (for this area), as it says on the menu. It was moderately applied, more heavily in some areas than others. I didn't mind that, as a bit of variation can be a good thing, as it gives you a slightly different experience with each bite. Some of that may also be attributable to the crust having bubbled a bit, which can cause the sauce to migrate as the pizza bakes.
The fresh mozzarella was not heavily applied - there were some pretty big bare spots - but there was enough to provide some balance and keep things interesting. And it was nicely baked, slightly melted, a little browned in spots, but not overcooked or rubbery.
I was quite pleased with the basil. It's such a simple ingredient, yet it's so easy to screw up. Put it on too early and it just turns brown and dry. Wait too long, and it's still OK, but never quite melds into the pizza as a whole.
This hit the mark. It was roughly torn, not chopped or shredded, and wilted but not burnt. Nicely done.
Colby's offers a fairly extensive pizza menu, with twenty toppings and seven specialty pizzas (most of which are in fact cheaper to order off the "specialty" menu). One thing that makes Colby's stand out from the crowd is that their barbequed meat - pork, turkey, beef or chicken - is available as a pizza topping. And having had Colby's barbeque in the past, I can vouch for it as very tasty indeed.
You can peruse Colby's menu here, and aside from the pizza I'll just say that they offer something to please most palates. I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, but I do have a weakness for ice cream, and the selection at Colby's is pretty tempting. There's ample seating, including a few picnic tables outside. It's a pleasant place for locals to gather, as well as a quick and convenient stop off 390.
Getting back to the pizza, it was well worth trying. Well balanced and tasty, with a good crust. I'll knock off a few points for the uneven baking, and personally I'd like to see a darker underside. It's easy to blacken the edge of a pizza by putting it close to the wood flame, but a charred underside requires a very hot oven deck. All in all, though, a nice job, and I'll give it a B.

Colby's Ice Cream, Bake Shop & BBQ
7272 W. Henrietta Rd., Rush
(585) 533-3525
11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Chester Cab Pizzeria

Chester Cab Pizza on Urbanspoon
I was rather surprised last year by the amount of news coverage about the supposed closing of Chester Cab Pizzeria. True, it's been around since the 1970s, but I didn't think it was that much of a local institution, outside the Park Avenue area, to warrant such extensive coverage.
Then I found out that it wasn't closing, after all. It was going to continue in business, under a new owner, who had been an employee.
At that point, I thought the whole thing was a scam. There had been some fake closing, I thought, just to generate publicity for the miraculous rebirth.
I was wrong. There was no scam, but to paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of Chester Cab's demise were greatly exaggerated.
Instead, ownership and operation were seamlessly assumed by Dessislav ("Dess") Ivanov, a native of Bulgaria who had been a long-time employee of Chester Cab.
I stopped in the other day, and got a couple of slices at lunchtime. While there, I chatted with Dess.
He started working here around 2000, so he knows the business well. When the former owner decided to get out of the business, Dess and he reached a deal for Dess to assume ownership.
Dess tells me that he was quite surprised to see the news stories about Chester Cab closing. Far from generating interest, Dess tells me that those reports have hurt, and that he is still trying to overcome the perception that Chester Cab has shut its doors.
But he's getting there, and he's clearly dedicated to making the operation better. He's made some physical changes, such as expanded outdoor seating, and he's working on expanding indoor seating as well, although as you can imagine, doing so requires jumping through a number of bureaucratic hoops.
Another thing Dess has tried to change is Chester Cab's reputation, in one respect at least. For whatever reason, the pizzeria had a certain reputation for rude service. That's not my judgment - take a look at some online reviews and you'll see for yourself.
Dess has set out to change that. As a native of Bulgaria, he frankly is quite familiar with poor customer service. And having lived here long enough to see what good customer service is all about, he's under no illusions that surly service adds to the "charm" of the place. (Again, I'm not saying that the service here was surly in the past, but I've seen complaints to that effect.)
And so it is that every day, Dess reminds his employees that customer service is the most important aspect of the business. Even if the pizza's good, if somebody gets turned off by bad service, they likely won't be back. So the message is, provide good service, and if the customer's not happy, address the problem.
At the same time, good customer service only goes so far. The pizza's got to be good too. Chester Cab still offers the meal-in-itself stuffed pizza that it's best known for, as well as its "regular" pizza and a newer, thin New York style pie.
I tried a slice of the regular (a/k/a "original") and NY style. They were similar, both thin, but the parbaked original was a little more browned underneath and slightly crisper. The NY style is a tad thinner and more foldable. I enjoyed both and found the subtle differences interesting, though on purely stylistic grounds I don't think I can say that the NY style was entirely authentic; a true NY slice should be more charred underneath, and both pliable and crisp. But semantics aside, both were tasty, with nicely melted mozzarella and a slightly sweet, tomatoey sauce. The essential difference came down to pliability vs. crispness.
While Dess continues to work to raise public awareness, he does say that he's gotten great support from the people in his neighborhood. I saw evidence of that during my visit when a customer, obviously a regular, stopped in with his dog in tow (which he got here, by the way).
I've been writing this blog for about five years, and Dess is as dedicated an owner as I've seen. He clearly wants to make his pizza as good as it can be, and to make his customers happy.
Dess told me that when his mother (who also lives here now) goes back to the old country, she doesn't hesitate to complain about the pizza, and to harangue the staff with complaints that they should go to America and try her son's pizza, to see what good pizza and good service are all about.
And I don't doubt it. Chester Cab offers good pizza, and good service.
In conjunction with this blog post, Dess graciously agreed to offer a $20 gift certificate for me to give away to a reader. If you'd like a chance to win, leave a comment at the end of the accompanying blog post. (You can leave general comments here, but they won't get you entered.) I'll pick a winner next week.
Chester Cab Pizza, 707 Park Ave
Rochester, NY 14607
(585) 244-8211

Mon-Wed 11:00am - 10:00pm
Thurs 11:00am - 11:00pm
Fri-Sat 11:00am - Midnight
Sun Noon - 10:00pm

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

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Charcoal Corral, Perry

Over the weekend, I stopped at Charcoal Corral near Silver Lake. I've driven by this place, a little south of Perry off Route 39, many times and always wondered what it was all about.
Well, what it is, is an 18-hole mini-golf course, a fast-food restaurant and pizzeria, an ice cream parlor, a game arcade, and a drive-in theater. And on Friday and Saturday nights, they have giant inflatables for the kids.
Now obviously that's not going to appeal to everybody. But for a couple with a 10-year-old, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, it was a nice enough way to spend a couple of hours.
We started off with a round of mini-golf, and though I'm no connoisseur, their course was one of the better ones I've played on. If you never play mini golf, you may be wondering how one can one be better than another, but what I mean is that the holes were well maintained, with some interesting angles - not just a bunch of 2x4 boxes - and the grounds were attractive, by mini-golf standards, with an Old West theme, running water, and real flowers. It's not Oak Hill, but it's nice. 
Following the golf game (I won) we headed indoors for lunch. My wife and daughter ordered from the grill counter, while I made a beeline for the pizzeria, which is in a separate room.
I had three slice choices, cheese, pepperoni, and the pizza of the week, chicken-bacon-ranch. I went with a slice of pepperoni.
It was, not surprisingly, basic convenience-store-style pizza. I did see the counter guy stretching the dough by hand, so this wasn't a prebaked shell, but it wasn't particularly good.
The bottom was a little oily to the touch, with a pancake-like bottom. It wasn't awful, but it wasn't great. The interior was OK, with some rising evident, but the crust was pretty much just a base for the toppings.
And the toppings weren't all that good either. Very basic tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella that had melted in place rather than spread together, suggesting that it wasn't the greatest cheese to begin with. The pepperoni was decent, thin sliced and medium spicy, and the whole thing was dusted with dried herbs.
Charcoal Corral does have a surprisingly lengthy menu, with subs, grilled items, salads, and wings. And the adjoining ice cream parlor has a lot of flavors of Perry's ice cream, including, on this occasion, the rarely-seen Fireball. I wasn't in the mood for ice cream, so I passed it up, but it's good, if you like hot cinnamon.
Before I wrap up, let me say that I wouldn't go out of my way to review a place like this, but this is a blog, after all, which means I post about pizza I've tried lately. And since I stopped here, and had pizza, I'm posting about it.
I did like Charcoal Corral generally. It's a nice spot for a family outing, or for a bite to eat - my daughter's sub and my wife's salad were both pretty good, the ice cream was fine, and like the golf course, the indoor areas were clean and well maintained. But the pizza rates a D, I'm afraid. Good enough to finish, but that's about it.
Charcoal Corral and Silver Lake Drive-In Theater, 7037 Chapman Ave., Perry, NY
585-237-3040 (Drive-In 585-237-3372)
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. till midnight

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lucca, Victor, Revisited

Lucca Wood-Fired Bistro on Urbanspoon
It's been a long time since I last reported on Lucca in Victor. This wood-fired pizzeria has been around since early 2009, although I believe the ownership has changed since my December 2009 review.
As I did then, I ordered a small Margherita to go. I thought about getting it to eat on Lucca's front porch/patio, but I wanted to get home, so I changed my mind and got it to go.
The pizza that I got confirmed that it was a good idea to do an update on Lucca, because it was different from the one I had before. Most noticeably, this one had no tomato sauce, but used only sliced tomatoes. It was also considerably thicker than last time, and used shredded basil rather than basil leaves.
That's a lot of changes, so let's start with the crust and work from the bottom up. I was surprised, and a littl disappointed, to see a considerable amount of corn meal on the bottom of this pie. Corn meal does help keep a pizza from sticking to the peel, and I use it myself, sometimes, but it's a tricky thing. For one, it burns easily, and second, it can add a grittiness to a pizza that's not very appealing. And this pizza did suffer somewhat in both respects, as it had a bottom sootiness that detracted from the overall experience.
Corn meal can also add a bit of crunch to a crust, but not here. This medium-thick crust was pretty soft underneath, and more brown than charred. It wasn't unpleasant, in that respect, just not crisp.
And now we're getting into matters of personal preference. With most pizzas (there are exceptions, which I won't get into here), I like a crust that's crackly-crisp on the outside, and chewy on the inside. But I've had good pizzas that range from stiff as a board to knife-and-fork floppy. Still, when I get a wood-fired pizza, I'm looking for something to distinguish it from pizza baked in a conventional gas or electric oven, and I didn't find much of that here.
Up top, things started with a base of melted, smooth mozzarella, which was fine, as far as things went, but bland and not very noticeable. No real complaints though.
The tomatoes were decent, but ... they weren't great. A Margherita always has tomatoes in some form. It could be fresh sliced tomatoes, as here, a cooked sauce, or something in between, like crushed tomatoes with some herbs, that cook down a bit in the oven. But if you're going to go with fresh sliced tomatoes, they'd better be good. And these were just OK. I've had better. They just didn't have a lot of flavor.
The third component of the Margherita trinity (based on the Italian flag) is the green basil. There wasn't much of that here. A sprinkling of shredded basil added some aroma, but not much flavor. A few leaves of fresh basil added at or near the end of the baking process would've boosted the flavor quotient and made for a more visually appealing pie as well.
I also picked up a hint of garlic - could've been garlic powder - and some background saltiness in this pie. And the thickish cornicione, though not crisp, was pleasantly breadlike and chewy.
This wasn't a bad pizza, all in all. Individually, most of the things I've picked out here are minor. But cumulatively, they took it down from what it could've and should've been. It was of average overall quality for this area, and so it gets a C from me.
Lucca Wood-Fire Bistro, 90 West Main Street, Victor, NY 14564
Tue. - Thu. 11:30 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. noon - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 7 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Next Door Bar & Grill, Pittsford

Next Door on Urbanspoon
I finally made it to Next Door Bar & Grill, the Wegmans-owned restaurant across from the Pittsford store. What led me to want to go there in particular was, of course, pizza. I'd known for a long time that they offered very thin and crispy pizza, and I was curious to try it.
Next Door has two kinds of pizza, a Margherita and an apple-brie pizza. I chose the former.
Now before I continue, let me apologize for the less than stellar quality of the photos. They were taken with my phone camera, which has no flash, and the lighting was rather dim. I've tried to make them as good as I can, but there's only so much I could do. (You can see a better photo of the apple-brie pizza here, however.)
As expected, from what I'd read prior to going, the pizza was indeed ultrathin and crackly crisp. And I don't just mean crisp on the outside. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that that's all there was to this pizza - an outside. There really was no interior to speak of, save for a few pockets of air. Imagine a super-thin flatbread baked until it became crackerlike, and you'll get the idea.
There was some darkening on the underside, but I wouldn't call the crust charred. It had a pleasant enough flavor marked by a subtle sweetness.
The main action, by far, was happening up on top. Next Door's Margherita is topped with roasted tomato, basil, and fresh mozzarella, and the toppings were surprisingly heavy for such a thin pizza. Ordinarily, I would complain about a lack of balance between heavy toppings and a thin crust, but this was just a different beast altogether. It was more like Italian nachos, or chips topped with a tomato-mozzarella dip than a traditional pizza.
The finely chopped basil was much less abundant than the tomatoes or cheese, and added only a little flavor. What was more noticeable was the sea salt, which had been sprinkled over the top of everything. It was unusual - as was much else about this pizza - but it provided an interesting contrast to the underlying sweetness of the crust.
To get back to the tomatoes and cheese, they were tasty. I've used Wegmans' roasted tomatoes on my homemade pizza, and they do provide a lot of flavor. They're sweet and moist, without the intensity or chewiness of sun-dried tomatoes. And the fresh mozzarella was nicely melted, neither too liquid nor rubbery.
What to say about this pizza? Well, it went down easy, for sure. The crust is usually the most filling part of a pizza, but it was easy to polish off this pie without feeling stuffed.
And I did like it, although if I'm craving pizza, it's unlikely to fill the bill. It's not classic pizza, but has to be taken on its own terms. So I don't think I'll give it a rating, as it's just too unlike any other conventional pizza around here. I think I've described it reasonably well, and I'll leave it to you to decide whether it's something you might like. But for what it is, I think it was pretty well executed.
Next Door Bar & Grill, 3220 Monroe Ave. 14618
(585) 249-4575
Mon. - Sat. 11:30 am – 2:30 pm, 5:30–10:00 pm
Bar open 4 p.m. - midnight Mon. - Thu., till 1 a.m. Fri. & Sat.
Closed Sun.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Filling Station, Webster

Little by little, I'm chipping away at my list of restaurants and bars that serve pizza. A couple of weeks ago I knocked one more off the list, The Filling Station in Webster.
Pizzas here come in two sizes, personal and large. There are 13 available toppings, and four specialty pizzas. I wasn't in the mood for meat, but I wanted more than just cheese, so I opted for banana peppers and onions on my large pie.
I was surprised, then, on opening the box after I got it out to my car to see pepperoni. I don't think I was charged for it, and I didn't feel like making a stink about it, so I let it go. If it had been something I can't stand, like mushrooms, I would've gone back. But this was no big deal.
I was less than thrilled with the crust, though. It was dry underneath, which is a good thing insofar as it wasn't greasy, but beyond that this was just plain dry, and not particularly crisp. On the thin side of medium, the crust was uniformly docked with pinprick holes. It struck me as a premade crust that had sat in a freezer for too long.
That's the bad news. The good news is that the toppings were good, and to some extent saved this pizza.
The sauce was ladled on generously, though not to the point of sloppiness (I like sauce, but I don't want it squeezing out on the sides every time I take a bite). I picked up a distinct flavor of oregano. That was topped with a nicely melted, chewy layer of mozzarella, as well as the aforesaid toppings.
Speaking of which, they were pretty good too. The pepperoni was of the basic, thin-sliced variety, uniformly applied, the rings of pepperoncini added some hot/vinegary punch, and the chopped red onion rounded things out.
Aside from pizza, The Filling Station's menu runs from standard bar food (burgers, wings, quesadillas, and such) to more substantial entrees like New York strip steak, pasta, chicken parm, and several seafood dishes. They also do prime rib on weekends, and there's a kid's menu as well.  The pub itself is a cross between a sports bar and a casual, neighborhood restaurant, and there's a spacious deck.
To sum up the pizza, I can't say much for the crust, but overall the pie was partially redeemed by the tasty toppings, even if one of them was something I hadn't ordered. All in all, this was decent, basic pizza, so I'll give it a C.
The Filling Station Pub & Grill, 1839 Ridge Road, Webster 14580
Mon. 2 - 11 p.m., Tue. 11 - 11, Wed. & Thu. 11 - 1 a.m., Fri. 11 a.m. "till", Sat. noon till, Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Coach, Webster

As I continue to make the rounds of places that aren't pizzerias but that sell pizza, I stopped not long ago at The Coach in Webster. As you might suspect from the name, it's a sports bar, and it's a fixture in Webster - it's operated as The Coach since 1991, but it can trace its roots back to 1812, as you can read about here.
Unless they specialize in pizza or I have some other reason to think otherwise beforehand, I'm never expecting much when I order pizza at a bar or restaurant. Too often you get something that looks as if it came from the warming tray at your local convenience store.
But I was pleasantly surprised by my personal-size pizza that I got at The Coach. I'm not saying that it blew me away or anything, but it was pretty decent pizza.
That's partly because they make their own dough here, so this isn't just some premade pizza shell with some toppings thrown on. And the crust was in fact pretty good. It was thin, overall, although a little uneven in thickness. The underside was a deep shade of golden brown, with some floury areas, and some surface crackling, which is a good sign. It had a fresh-bread aroma and appeared to have good gluten development inside. On the downside, it was a little unevenly baked, with some very dark areas along the edge in spots, but much lighter in others. And it didn't quite have the crustiness of the very best pizzas I've tried - the kind of exterior crispness that you find with a great loaf of hearth-baked bread. All in all, though, this wasn't bad at all.

The crust was topped with a thin coat of orange-red sauce, which had a mild, middle-of-the-road flavor. Above that was a relatively heavy layer of well melted, gloppy cheese covering the pie, except for one big bubbled-up area. I photographed the pizza while the pie was still hot, and the cheese naturally did tighten up a bit as it cooled. The pepperoni was pretty good, a little crisp along the edges, but a bit unevenly applied.
The Coach offers pizzas in two sizes, with your choice of red sauce or garlic white pizza, as well as ten toppings to choose from. And the menu includes all the bar-food staples like wings (8 sauces), burgers, hot sandwiches, and plenty of fried sides.
I'm giving this pizza a C, which might not sound all that great, but it's not meant as a putdown. There was plenty to like about it, but it was a bit generic, and it had some imperfections too (a little heavy on the cheese and a little light on the sauce; a little uneven in thickness, the doneness of the underside, and the distribution of the pepperoni). Nothing major, mind you, but when I tally up the mental score, I'd say this was, for this area, an average pizza. Quite acceptable, though, and definitely worth ordering if you go and you're in the mood for pizza.
The Coach Sports Bar, 19 West Main St., Webster

Mon - Sat: 10:30 am - 2:00 am
Sun: 12:00 pm - 10:00 pm

Friday, June 7, 2013

Edibles, University Avenue

Edibles on Urbanspoon
Though by now I've covered nearly all the independent (i.e., non-chain) pizzerias around Rochester, there are always a few more to get to, and so I keep a to-do list. Right now, I've got fifteen places on my list. Many of them are not traditional pizzerias, but bars, restaurants, and even a winery that serve pizza. But in time, I'll get to them all.
One places that's been on my list for some time is Edibles on University Avenue. I stopped in for lunch recently and got a pizza.
It looks as if Edibles may have recently changed their menu, because when I went, my choices were a fig & feta, chicken pancetta, and steak & onion pizza. Now their website lists a Margherita in place of the fig & feta. On this page, though, they still list the fig & feta pizza. So I don't know.
If they no longer offer it, that's unfortunate, because that's what I ordered. So that would mean that this review is, to some extent, obsolete even before I've written it. Plus, if I'd had the option at the time, I would've ordered a Margherita instead. Oh well. I did like this well enough, so I can't complain too much.
And regardless of whether it's still on the menu, at least I can still tell you about the crust. Lots of adjectives came to mind as I was eating this one - thin, crisp, crackly, dry, and flaky. Oh, and floury (on the bottom), as well as sweet and wheaty. I don't know if wheaty is an adjective, but it is now.
So yeah, this was one of those crackerlike crusts, which is fine as long as you know what to expect. It was well browned on the bottom, and, in its simplicity, both rustic and nouveau (or should I say "nuovo") as the same time.
But I may as well describe the toppings, too. Who knows, maybe if people ask about it, Edibles will decide to bring back the fig & feta pizza.
And that would be a good thing, because this was a pretty good pizza.
In addition to the eponymous ingredients, it was topped with cherry tomatoes, fresh greens, and lemon dressing. Figs on pizza may seem strange, but I've seen it before, and in fact I've even used figs on homemade pizza. They have a certain depth and complexity of flavor that's almost meaty, and that makes them a natural companion to a sharp cheese like feta.
And that's what I got here. The figs - which were not as "seedy" as I'd expected, or feared - were caramelized and subtly sweet. They contrasted well with the salty feta, which in turn was not as pungent as I'd expected.
The tomatoes were flavorful and sweet - the menu described them as "cured," though I can't say I noticed anything particularly unusual about them, other than their good flavor - and the greens were a nice touch, even if I'm always a bit puzzled on those rare occasions when I get fresh greens on a pizza. Do I eat them first, with a fork, and then eat the rest of the pizza? They don't adhere to the crust, so it's a little awkward trying to eat them with the pizza, either with a knife and fork or by picking up the pieces by hand. I did a little of both, treating the greens as both a topping and a first-course salad. The lemony dressing was another unusual pizza topping that worked well here, giving the entire pie a tangy acidic bite that cut through the sticky sweetness of the figs and added some zing to the proceedings.
I could've, but didn't finish the pie in one sitting, but opted to take home a couple of pieces. My server was kind enough to give me some helpful tips on how best to reheat them, which she recommended be done in a hot frying pan on the stove.
Edibles is a pleasant spot for lunch or dinner, and straddles the line between casual and upscale. The prices are likewise somewhere in the middle, with most entrees in the teens and twenties (pizzas are priced in the low teens). The eclectic menu offers plenty to choose from, but don't overlook the pizza. Though not baked in a wood-fired oven, it falls within that amorphous category known as "artisanal," and while that's not one of my favorite adjectives, it conveys the general idea here. This pizza won't be to everybody's liking, but it was flavorful and well made, and I'll give it a B.
Edibles Restaurant, 704 University Ave., Rochester 14607
Mon. - Thu. 11 am - 2:30 pm, 5 pm - 9 pm, Fri. 11 am - 2:30 pm, 5 pm - 10 pm, Sat. 11:30 am - 3 pm, 5 pm - 10 pm

Friday, May 10, 2013

Tackles on the Bay, Hilton

Tackles on the Bay on Urbanspoon
With warmer weather here at last, many of us will be spending more time on and near the water, whether it's one of the Finger Lakes, the canal, Lake Ontario, or your backyard pool.
Or perhaps Braddock Bay, in northwest Monroe County. The bay (presumably named after British general Edward Braddock, who was killed in the French and Indian War) has had some issues in recent years over low water levels, but maybe that'll change this year, and it's still a pleasant place to get on the water without the noise and crowds of places like Charlotte.
On a short, thinly populated stretch of Manitou Road in Hilton, on what's either an inlet of the bay or a creek feeding into the bay, lie three bar/restaurants, within less than half a mile of each other:  The Willow Inn, Docksiders, and Tackles on the Bay. Bring a designated driver or boat captain and you've got a mini pub crawl made to order.
But that's not what found me at Tackles the other day. No, I was drawn here for the food, because, as far as I know, Tackles is the only one of these establishments to offer pizza.
Pizzas at TOTB come in 10- and 16-inch sizes, for $4.99 and $7.99 respectively, including two free toppings. I didn't need a 16" pizza, but with over two and a half times more surface area at only 1.6 times the cost it seemed by far the better buy (I didn't do all that math at the time, but I mentally did a rough approximation; what can I say? I'm a geek, or a cheapskate, or both). So I got a large pizza, with green peppers and onions.
The medium thick crust was a fairly uniform golden brown underneath, and was faintly oily to the touch. It had some crispness, as dough will when it's been baked on an oiled pan. Think of the sides and bottom of a loaf of bread that's been baked in a bread pan and you'll have a pretty good idea of what this was like.
The crust did have some decent fresh-bread flavor, though not much "chew." The minute air bubbles inside didn't indicate a lot of gluten development, so while the flavor was pleasant enough, the texture didn't wow me. Frankly this could've been made using a premade crust, which wouldn't surprise me, as this isn't really a pizzeria as such, and it seems unlikely that they'd be making their own dough from scratch every day.  (Also, when you see just two sizes of pizza on a menu, I think that's some indication that they're probably using premade crusts.)
The crust had also very visibly been "docked," meaning perforated with tiny holes to keep it from puffing up in the oven. Again, I don't know if Tackles uses fresh dough or premade "shells," so I don't know if this was done here or if they came that way from the supplier.
The crust was topped with a very smooth tomato sauce. Its consistency reminded me of Ragu® sauce from a jar. I don't like my pizza sauce to be particularly chunky, but this was a little too pureed and canned-like for my taste. It had a slightly sweet flavor that was not bad.
The mozzarella was well melted and very stringy/stretchy. There was also a distinct aroma and flavor of what I think was Parmesan cheese. It was very noticeable, though not overpowering.
Atop the cheese were a few sprinkles of what appeared to be parsley flakes, which is something I've never seen on a pizza. I suppose it could've been oregano or dried basil, but it had the bright green color of parsley, and regardless of what it was, no flavor to speak of. The peppers and onions were thin sliced and sauteed to a pleasant softness, which I prefer to veggies that were added raw prior to baking. Fresh vegetables are fine and all, but peppers and onions develop what I consider to be better flavor and texture when they've been sauteed.
I also noticed that the toppings didn't adhere well to the crust. When I lifted up the cheese to examine the top of the crust, it came off quite easily, and the sauce was also very easy to swipe off. Again, that indicated to me that this was likely a parbaked crust to which toppings had been added just before the pizza was put in the oven. If a pizza's made with fresh dough, generally the sauce will soak into the crust a little (which is why you need to get it in the oven fairly quickly after applying the sauce, lest the crust get soggy or start to stick to the pizza peel), but not here. So I'm thinking the dough had already developed a bit of a skin or crust on top when the toppings were applied.
Tackles offers a full menu of bar food (burgers, wings, plates, etc.) and more substantial options, with a heavy emphasis on steaks, seafood, and Italian specialties. It's a very pleasant setting, right on the water, with an interior accented by light-colored wood throughout.
The pizza? Well, I've pointed out some flaws, but none were that serious. The biggest issue for me was that, like a lot of bar or restaurant pizzas, it seemed to have been made on a prebaked crust (if it was made from fresh dough, I apologize, but it didn't seem to be), and it had the shortcomings of such pizzas - not a great texture, and toppings that easily slid off the crust. But the flavor was good, it was somewhat crisp, and the cheese and peppers & onions were good too. This wasn't bad, but it wasn't better than average, so it rates a C.
Tackles on the Bay, 372 Manitou Rd., Hilton
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sat. & Sun. noon - 2 a.m.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mama Mittsy's, Frontier Field

Certain things in life just go together, and baseball goes with hot dogs. I can't say I eat a lot of hot dogs, but when I go to a ball game, I almost always have a hot dog (brown mustard and sauerkraut, in case you were wondering).
But in the interests of thoroughness, I've wanted for some time to try the pizza at Frontier Field. Like a lot of ballparks these days, Frontier Field has boosted its food offerings. There's nothing particularly exotic or upscale--you won't find sushi or dry-aged steaks here--but you can get BBQ, roast beef sandwiches, and subs, in addition to more traditional fare like soft pretzels and nachos.
And there's pizza. I've held off trying it, for a couple of reasons. Number one, as I said, I generally go for hot dogs and maybe a bag of peanuts at a ball game. Number two, I figured it would suck. I assumed it would be convenience store-type pizza on a squishy, or crunchy/oily, premade crust.
But then I read that the dough comes from Di Paolo, one of Rochester's venerable Italian bakeries, and, anyway, I just figured it was time to suck it up and have pizza instead of a hot dog, in the interests of making this blog as thorough as possible. So when I attended a Red Wings game the other day, I got a slice.
On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised. And yet I have to give this slice a D. How can that be?
Let's start with the crust. The underside was heavily floured, and scored with screen marks. It was also quite pale, and soft. In terms of thickness, I'd call it thin to medium.
But I could tell that it was made from good dough. If you can imagine somebody being given very good bread or pizza dough and then cooking it at too low a temperature for too short a time, you'll have an idea of what this was like. It tasted good, and had a good, chewy texture, but it had been a disservice in the preparation and baking.
In contrast to the underdone bottom, the cheese was browned. I can see why the pizzamaker took this out of the oven when he did, given the brownness of the cheese. I could theorize, or speculate, about why the top would cook so much faster than the bottom, but for whatever reason, the top was fully cooked while the bottom still had a ways to go.
The flavor was pretty good. The cheese seemed to be all mozzarella, and though it was a little more brown than I would've liked, it wasn't hard or dried out.
The cheese also covered only a small portion of the slice; there was a large gap between the cheese and the outer edge. Either it hadn't been applied close to the edge, or it migrated during the baking process.
The sauce had good flavor, and was well balanced between tomatoey sweetness and tanginess. It did reach the border of the cornicione, but was dried out where it wasn't covered with cheese.
Finally, there's the price. I don't usually figure the price into my ratings, but $3.50 for this slice was too high to go unmentioned. I know everything at a sports venue (hot dogs included) is overpriced, but if I'm going to compare this slice to other pizza in our area, I think that deserves a mention.
So, this had the fundamental makings of good pizza, but it was poorly executed. I'm not blaming the person who made it - I'm sure he was following the instructions he'd been given, and was subject to the constraints of when to show up for work, turn on the oven, etc. But all in all, this was below average for local pizza, so I'm giving it--with some regret at what could have been--a D. For my next Red Wings game, I'm back to hot dogs.
Mama Mittsy's, Frontier Field
Open during Red Wings games

Friday, January 18, 2013

Brick, Monroe Avenue

Having tried nearly every pizzeria around, I'm more interested than ever in finding new places. So ever since doing a double-take a few weeks ago when I drove past its "Coming Soon" sign, I've been looking forward to trying Brick, a new wood-fired pizzeria on Monroe Avenue in Brighton. I recently had lunch there with two friends, one of whom also got a pizza.
I ordered the Margherita, which is topped with house-made red sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. I like to get a Margherita, when I can, for its simplicity and to allow a fair, apples-to-apples comparison from one pizzeria to another. My pizza-eating companion went more exotic, with a Hawaiian pizza (red sauce, ham, pineapple, banana pepper and mozzarella cheese, drizzled with BBQ sauce).
Shortly after we placed our orders, we were served a large "family style" bowl of Caesar salad, along with a plate of focaccia (the name given it on the menu - I would've called it ciabatta, but we're splitting hairs here. It was a good, relatively flat, airy bread). The bread came with a tomato-based dipping sauce that had a peppery kick. I enjoyed it, although those with more timid palates or stomachs may find it a bit too fiery for their tastes.
Our orders arrived relatively promptly, but not too quickly to allow us to enjoy our salad and bread. My Margherita had a thin crust, with some charred spots underneath. It was crisp, though it lacked the exterior crackle of the best wood-fired pizzas that I've had. The underside didn't show any visible flour or cornmeal, but the crust had a certain crunch that led me to wonder if the dough might've had a bit of cornmeal mixed into it.
The pie was topped by a generous dose of thick, sweetish tomato sauce, which had a cooked-down flavor - not bad, but not typical of a classic Margherita, a hallmark of which is freshness:  fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, and fresh (or at least crushed, canned but uncooked) tomatoes. The overall flavor was enjoyable enough, but the sauce tended to overshadow the other components. That said, I did like the islands of fresh, nicely melted mozzarella, though the fresh basil leaves were overbrowned, to the point where they'd lost much of their flavor. The addition of an uncooked basil leaf at the finish would've been a welcome addition, for added aroma.
As expected, the toppings on my companion's Hawaiian pizza were much more assertive. In particular, this pizza was dominated by the thick, sweet sauce. Though the menu describes the pizza as "drizzled" with BBQ sauce, the sweet/tangy flavor of the BBQ sauce really took center stage here. It was not unpleasant, but a little overwhelming. The pineapple came next, with the ham and banana peppers playing supporting roles. Not a bad pizza, but a little out of balance, for my taste.
Oh yeah - my other companion ordered a burger and a side of potato wedges. He was very happy with his burger, which was thick and juicy, and the potato wedges were OK, if not as crisp as I would've liked.
It's been a while since I was at this spot, which has been home to several restaurants in recent years. The basic layout doesn't seem to have changed much from that of the old Mundo Grill, with a bar along one side and tables occupying most of the space. From what I could see, the bar was serving wine and beer only, with a small tap selection.
The pizza oven sits in the back of the room, and I could see what I assumed was the digital thermometer registering a bit over 700 degrees. Not bad, and the heat of the oven is reflected in that slightly blackened underside of the pizza. But it also appeared to me that the flame inside the oven was, on this occasion, entirely a gas flame. There were some artificial logs visible, but no wood, nor did I detect any smokiness in the air or in my pizza.
Brick's menu is pizza-centric, with 17 specialty pizzas, and though the toppings aren't separately set out, the menu advises you to "ask your server how you can create your own custom pizza." As a hothead, my eye is drawn to the pepper pie (red sauce and mozzarella, with green, jalapeno, banana and red peppers), and for more exotic fare, there's the Szechwan, with "Szechwan sauce, fire roasted chicken, shredded carrots, green peppers, scallions, peanuts and mozzarella cheese."
Aside from pizza, Brick offers a "make your own" pasta menu (your choice of pasta, topping and sauce, for $10), half-pound burgers, and several entrees including steak, salmon, chicken, lasagna, and eggplant. And wings, don't forget the wings.
This pizza wasn't bad, but it wasn't a standout. Perhaps as more and more wood-fired places open around town, my expectations have risen, but that's not a bad thing, I guess. It just means that things are getting better around here.
But I have generally avoided assigning grades to places shortly after they've opened. It often takes a while for a place to settle in and develop a consistent pizza. So while I'll say that this was about average for a wood-fired pizza, I'll hold off labeling it at this point. But there are enough intriguing menu choices to make me want to go back, which I'll try to do sometime, for an update.
Brick Wood-Fired Pizza & Pasta, 2833 Monroe Ave., Brighton
225-BRCK (2725)
Mon - Thu. 11 am - 10 pm, Fri & Sat 11 am - midnight,Sun. noon - 9 pm

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chester Cab: Poor Man's Tomato Pie

It's taken a while, but the tomato pie seems to be catching on in the Rochester area. This style either comes from Trenton, New Jersey, or Utica, New York, or, aa I suspect, in different places at different times. I mean, the basic concept - a thick, pan-risen crust, tomato sauce, and grated Romano cheese - is not that much of a stretch from traditional Sicilian-style pizza, and it seems likely to me that Italian Americans were creating this type of pizza in different cities at roughly the same time.
In fact, Rochester has had its own variant of this style for quite some time, such as Amico's "#1," Gallo's "Old World" pizza, and Guida's "Sauce Pie." It's a throwback to the days before processed mozzarella became the standard topping for American pizza. But as I  understand it, a true tomato pie is typically pan risen and baked, fairly thick, and cut into squares - again, much like a traditional Sicilian style pizza. 
Wherever it started, the tomato pie is here now. You'll find them at Wegmans, and I've even seen some rather unappetizing, saran-wrapped tomato pie slices at a local convenience store.
And at local pizzerias. I've been to Chester Cab on Park Avenue several times, and I noticed that their menu includes a "Poor Man's Tomato Pie." I assume that "poor man's" is a reference to the price, not an indication that this is somehow a poor man's version of a tomato pie. With no toppings but sauce, Romano and dried herbs, these pizzas are naturally more affordable than the cheese- and meat-laden pies that Americans are used to.
This pizza was, in more ways than one, not what I expected. Not only was this not the kind of pan-risen pie that I've described, but it was also much different from pizzas that I've gotten from Chester Cab in the past. I've had their stuffed pizza, their "thin cracker crust," and a regular slice, and none of them were much like this, even accounting for the absence of mozzarella on this pie. Check those posts to see what those pizzas were like. All I can say for now is that Chester Cab makes a remarkable variety of pizza styles.
This one had a dry bottom that was a bit floury, and a medium thick, bready crust. Though it had clearly risen, it was not terribly airy - the air holes were small - but it had good flavor, a crisp exterior, and a soft but chewy interior, as well as a sweet, bready aroma that was of course most pronounced while the pizza was still warm.
What was odd, or unexpected, about this pizza, though, was its relative lack of sauce. I expect a sauce pie to have a fairly generous layer of sauce. This didn't have much sauce. The dominant component was the finely grated cheese, followed by the dusting of dried herbs. I was also a little put off by the weird orangey color of the cheese, although that might've been a result of the yellow grated cheese mixing with the red tomatoes. But as nuch as I like the color orange, it's rarely a color you want to see on pizza.
I'm not one to hang too much significance on labels, but if you use a term with an established meaning, like "sauce pie," I think you should deliver - you should stick to the style. Again, I'm no expert on sauce pies, but I don't think this did that. And even aside from that, although I liked the crust on this pizza, it was, overall, rather dry. It needed more sauce.
I've decided not to rate this pizza. I just don't think my ratings translate to this pie. "C" means average, and other grades mean above or below average. This pizza had a very nice crust, albeit not the kind of crust that I would expect from a traditional, pan-risen sauce pie, but the toppings were out of balance and the whole thing was not true to the named style. In fact I took my leftovers home, added sauce and mozzarella, and reheated them in the oven, which resulted in a much better pie.
That is not because I dislike tomato pies. I don't. Though I've yet to try one in Utica or the Trenton area, I like the style. This was simply not a well executed pizza, in my opinion. I really did like the crust, though, and the fact that I could so easily improve this pizza means that it had something going for it. So even though all of that might mathematically add up to a "C," it would be misleading to call this an average pizza for this area. It was just too different from anything else you'd find around here.
I'd consider ordering this again, but I'd ask for extra sauce. This was fundamentally good pizza, but it needed a better balance among the crust, sauce and cheese. And I must say again that the sheer variety of styles that I've found at Chester Cab makes me want to go back for more.
Chester Cab Pizza, 707 Park Ave., Rochester 14607
Tel.: 244-8211
Hours: Mon. - Tue. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Wed. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Return to The Gate House

Gate House Cafe on Urbanspoon
Having written this blog for some three and a half years now, I've been to well over 90% of the non-chain pizzerias around Rochester. So not every blog post is going to be about a new place or a first-time visit. There just aren't that many left, or that many new ones opening on a regular basis.
The good news is, it's taken me long enough to go to all these places that by now, some of them are overdue for a return visit. That's particularly true of places that maybe didn't seem to live up to what they should've been, my first time around.
One such place is The Gate House,which I have reviewed once before, in this March 2009 post . At that time, I found their wood-fired pizza rather disappointing, primarily due to its crust, which was chewy but not at all bready, with hardly any signs of the dough having risen.
But they're still around, so they must be doing something right. And on a visit last year I had a burger (yes, I do eat food other than pizza) that was pretty good, so I was ready to go back and give the pizza another shot.
On walking in, The Gate House's ovens are visible on your right, just behind the bar. I was told that they were manufactured in Italy, and are genuine wood-fired ovens, meaning that they're not some sort of wood/gas hybrid. That wood fire you see deep in the recesses of the oven isn't just for show; it's the heat source, and according to The Gate House's web site, that heat gets up to about 700 degrees - not as extreme as some places, but considerably hotter than a home oven or even a typical gas-heated pizza oven.
So despite my one prior disappointing experience here, I was looking forward to one of their pizzas. I ordered a "Kodak" pizza (The Gate House's pizzas are named after local landmarks, which doesn't thrill me, because I always feels silly ordering  something like a "Kodak" pizza, but I can live with it), which is topped with tomato sauce, Italian sausage, roasted peppers, fresh mozzarella and basil.
The crust, which is always the starting point, was super thin. The underside was more firm than crisp, and was quite pliable.
The bottom was mostly pale, and a bit floury here and there,with some well-browned but not charred spots. Along the edge, which was formed into a narrow but distinct cornicione, the crust did display some crispness and crackling. Here, too, where the crust was thicker, I was able to appreciate the pleasant, mildly sweet, bready flavor of the baked dough.
The overall flavor was good, with a well-balanced blend of toppings. The sauce was marked with a rich tomato flavor. The Gate House states on its menu that they use Italian San Marzano tomatoes, are reputed to be the best, and if you want authentic, Neapolitan-style pizza, they're the way to go.
The sauce combined with the smooth, well-melted cheese to provide a solid base for the contrasting flavors and textures of the meaty, chewy sausage, the al dente roasted red bell peppers, and the shredded, wilted basil. This was certainly a winning combination, kind of like a Margherita with a little more oomph.
All in all, then, I liked this pizza, and I considered it a marked improvement over the last time. But it fell a little short of greatness.
In my experience, most "artisanal" pizza tends to fall into one of two categories, with respect to the crust:  either crisp and crackly, or pliable, even floppy. This was much closer to the latter, maybe not floppy exactly, but certainly more pliable than crisp. That may be a function of the flour they're using, but I'll save that for a discussion with the pizzaiolo on my next visit.
Now a pliable crust is not in itself necessarily a flaw. New York style pizza should have a firm enough crust to allow it to be folded and held horizontally, with the tip sticking straight out. But there's no reason to hold all pizzas to that standard, and I suspect that a lot of pizza in Italy wouldn't pass that test.
What I would have liked to see and taste, though, was a bit more exterior crispness and a little charring. I don't mean to sound like some pizza snob who claims to like charred pizza for no other reason than that it's the "in" thing at the moment, but that bit of blackening on the surface of the crust can add to the complexity of flavor in the crust, balancing the breadiness of the interior with some toasty accents. And it's something that I particularly look for in thin-crust, wood-fired pizza.
Likewise, a crust can develop some exterior crispness while remaining pliable, again adding to the depth of sensory experiences you get when you bite into it. Again, it comes down to a question of balance and contrasts, as with so much else where pizza is concerned. This crust was just a little less complex, and more one-dimensional, than I would've liked.
So this was good, no doubt about it. I'd order it again. But I've got to go with my gut, literally and figuratively, and my gut says that this pizza rates a B.
The Gate House, 274 N. Goodman St. in the Village Gate, Rochester 14607
Mon. - Thu. 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Return to Panzari's

Panzari's Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon
One of my earliest blog posts was a review of Panzari's in Corn Hill, in April 2009. I gave them a pretty scathing review, and a D-minus to go along with it. Part of that was due to my chagrin that a place that advertised wood-fired pizza would serve me a pizza made in something akin to a waffle iron.
But I've wondered, since then, if I just caught them on a bad day, and I figured that now that they've got some increased competition, in the form of Tony D's across the street, maybe they've stepped up their game. So I went back.
I ordered the same pizza as last time, the "Margarita" (still misspelled), not just because I like that style but because I figured it would make for a fair comparison with what I had last time.
Interestingly, Panzari's website now advertises "Brick Oven-Fired Pizza," not wood-fired pizza as before. "Brick oven-fired pizza" doesn't really make any sense to me; "brick oven pizza," or "wood-fired pizza," I get, but "brick oven-fired pizza" is meaningless.
Semantics aside, though, OK, I get that they are not doing, or claiming to make, wood-fired pizza these days, just pizza baked in a brick oven. Fair enough, and certainly a brick oven can produce excellent pizza, regardless of the heat source.
But to my disappointment, if less than complete surprise, my pizza was about the same as before. The thin-to-medium crust was soft, with a lot - and I mean a lot - of corn meal adhering to the bottom. Much of the corn meal was blackened. Now I like corn meal well enough, in some contexts (polenta, for example), and I use it myself sometimes to keep my pizza dough from sticking to the peel, but every bite here included a gritty dose of the stuff. Not good.
Aside from that sooty corn meal, and a little browning along parts of the edge, the crust was pale and uninteresting. It had a pleasant enough flavor, but texturally, it was dull. Whatever advantages might be gained by the use of a brick oven weren't apparent here.
The toppings didn't help much. Granted, I could've opted for bolder, more flavorful toppings, but there's no reason that a Margherita can't have an interesting, complex flavor profile. This pie had a thick layer of melted mozzarella (which in itself wasn't bad, or wouldn't have been, in combination with the right other toppings), fresh but bland tomato slices, a smattering of shredded basil, and a bit of garlic. As I've said before, better to use good, canned tomatoes (like San Marzano tomatoes from Italy) than flavorless fresh tomatoes. And to me, the basil on a Margherita should do more than just supply the third color of the Italian flag. It should add flavor and aroma. The few shreds on this pizza may have added up to a single basil leaf, and were barely noticeable on my palate. The garlic was a welcome addition, but wasn't able to rescue this pizza from mediocrity.
Once again, then, a very disappointing pizza from Panzari's, and undoubtedly my last, barring word of significant changes there. Thanks to my dropping pluses and minuses from my grades, this gets a half-step bump up from Panzari's previous D-minus, but the letter grade remains stuck at D.
Panzari's Italian Bistro, 321 Exchange Blvd., Rochester 14608
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. 4:30 p.m. - 10 p.m., Sun., 4:30 p.m.–9 p.m.

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