Rochester NY Pizza Blog Rochester restaurants LocalEats featured blog

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Panzari's Italian Bistro, Exchange Blvd.

Panzari's Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon
Well, this has to rank as my most disappointing stop since I started this blog. Panzari's is advertised as offering pizzas cooked in a wood-burning brick oven. It opened in 2002, ahead of the wood-fired, brick-oven trend in these parts. So I figured these people know a thing or two about good pizza, and I was wondering how they were doing, pizzawise, now that's Panzari's has some nearby competition in the form of Tony D's in Corn Hill Landing across the street.
The answer, I'm afraid, is not well. I ordered a margherita pizza to go, at lunchtime. When I arrived to pick it up, there was the oven, but it was dark inside. Right next to the oven, however, was something emblazoned with the ominous words, "Pizza Press." It looked like a big round waffle iron. Uh-oh.
Uh-oh indeed. Upon opening the pizza box, there I saw - well, let's start from the bottom up, as I usually do. The bottom crust had a lot of cornmeal on it, and though it had a few dark brown spots, which were concentrated along one side of the pizza, it was not crisp at all, and was very pliable.
The edge of the crust was a little greasy, and the dark brown spots had more of a fried-to-the-point-of-burnt flavor than baked-to-the-point-of-charred.
There was no sauce, which is OK in itself, as margherita pizza often has only fresh tomatoes, not tomato sauce. On top of the dough was a thick layer of melted cheese, which was not browned at all, slices of fresh (but not especially good) tomato, and a sprinkling of dried (!) basil. Look, dried herbs have their place, even on pizza (like in the sauce, where some of the herbal flavor can seep into the surrounding liquid), but not just sprinkled on top.
Taking a bite, I got - well, not much. Bland. No detectable breadiness, either in flavor or in texture (the top and bottom of the dough has separated slightly but there were no yeasty air holes). Mild, melted cheese flavor, and kind of an unpleasant flavor of dry herbs. It was really more reminiscent of, if not as good as, a grilled-cheese-and-tomato sandwich.
As I tossed out the box that it came in, I couldn't help noticing the mocking words on the boxtop: "Baked Oven Fresh." Sorry, but a "pizza press" is not an oven. And "pressing" a pizza is not the same as baking it.
Panzari's doesn't just do pizza. They offer various pasta dishes and other Italian entrees, which may be quite good for all I know. They're open for lunch and dinner, and they serve beer and wine.
If I had never heard of pizza before and had no preconceptions about what it was supposed to taste like, I wouldn't say this was horrible, so I won't give it an F. But judged as a pizza, especially from a place that advertises pizza baked in a wood-fired, brick oven, I have to give it a D-.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Tony Pepperoni, W. Henrietta Rd.

Tony Pepperoni on Urbanspoon
Tony Pepperoni has two locations, the original on W. Henrietta Rd. near Calkins Rd. and one in Greece on Latta Rd. just off 390. I checked out the Henrietta location at lunchtime, and it was quite busy, which I suppose is a good sign.
As you might expect at lunchtime, they do a lot of business in individual slices, and there are several to choose from, including one with french fries on it, which I assume is the "Tony Plate" pizza. Today I felt like a simple cheese slice, always the best measure of a pizzeria.
Tony P's slices are thin, though not quite as thin as a typical New York City slice; maybe a quarter inch thick. The underside was more brown than charred, but not greasy, and the slice folded nicely. The interior of the crust also showed some air holes, indicating that the yeast had some time to do its work.
Biting into it, there was a definite crunchiness to the crust, and since the cheese pizza had just come out of the oven, it was not due to reheating, so that was good. The sauce had a pretty straight-ahead tomatoey flavor, and was applied just enough to create a buffer between the crust and the cheese, which was melted to the point of creaminess, and a tad greasy (whole-milk mozzarella, perhaps?). Although I got a plain slice, I noticed that the pepperoni was of the cup 'n' char variety, small and crunchy looking.
These are not "giant" or "mega" slices, but a pretty decent size for my two bucks and change. Props to the counter guy, too, for picking out the biggest slice he had out of the pie, although I guess that means eventually somebody's going to get stuck with the smallest slice. They were pretty uniformly cut, though, so no big deal either way.
Tony Pepperoni offers thin, regular, and thick crust. I should've asked what my slice was, because it was pretty thin, but you would think that slices would be "regular." Hmm. They also do wings, which are advertised as "roaster" (i.e. big) wings, various specialty pizzas, sides, salads, calzones, and subs made with fresh-baked rolls.
There is some seating, including one outdoor table, and they deliver for a $1 charge.
All in all, this was a pretty good slice of pizza. Not world-class, but more than satisfactory, and I wouldn't mind getting a whole pie sometime. I'll give it a B.

Amico Pizza, East Ridge Road

Amico Pizza was started in 1962, which undoubtedly makes it one of the oldest pizzerias in Rochester. The original location was on Waring Road in NE Rochester and was founded by Sam Amico. A second location was opened in 1980 in Irondequoit on East Ridge Rd.
In 1995, Sam retired and his sons David and Chris took over, eventually consolidating their operations at the Irondequoit location. The business today is run by David Amico.
I love these family-run pizzerias, especially the ones that have been around for a long time, because they bring a commitment and passion to the business that I don't think you get from a basic franchise-type operation. This is also a great way to get a taste of history, as I imagine this pizza is probably not all that different from what Sam Amico was serving up 30+ years ago.
In this case, that means a fairly (maybe half-inch) thick pizza, cut into squares. The edges were baked to a golden brown, and the underside was more browned than charred. Though it lacked crispness, it was not at all greasy and had a pleasant bready aroma, flavor and texture reminiscent of soft-crust Italian bread.
The sauce, which was applied with a properly restrained hand, was slightly sweet, not tangy, with a hint of herbs. The cheese was uniformly applied, in fairly liberal fashion, which was appropriate given the relative thickness of the crust (remember, pizza is all about keeping the components in balance with each other).
Like many places, Amico will do thin or thick(er) pizza on request, but I've found you're usually better off getting a pizzeria's "standard" pizza, which tends to be what they do best. They also offer breakfast pizza "with advance notice" - I'm not sure how much notice they need - and a number of specialty pizzas, including one that I'd like to try: "The #1," which is described as "An Amico tradition since the beginning. Our homemade sauce covered with fresh ground Pecorino-Romano." Maybe next time. Besides pizza, they serve wings (my Buffalo wings were a tad on the sweet side), eggplant parm, a Friday fish fry, and a handful of sides.
While eating my pizza, I was trying to think of an adjective for it, and "straightforward" came to mind. This is not some nouveau "gourmet" pizza, nor is it an attempt at New York style, Chicago style, Sicilian, or anything other than what it is: a good, basic, honest Rochester pizza, the way it used to be - and still is, at Amico. I'll give it a B.
Amico Pizza, 859 E.Ridge Rd. 544-8380 Sun. 1 p.m. - 9 p.m., Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 am - 11:30 p.m.
Pizza Guy Note:  for a review of Amico's pizza bianco (white pizza), go here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Piatza's, Brighton/Henrietta

Piatzas on Urbanspoon
Piatza's is a local chain with four locations, including one in Macedon. It was founded in 1997, but I'm not sure where the original location was, and some locations have opened and closed over the years. I tried the Brighton/Henrietta location (takeout and delivery only, till 2 a.m. on weekends) on Crittenden Road; there are others on Park Ave. and in Fairport.
Piatza's is one of those "giant slice" places. In this case it's the "14" Mega Slice." I guess they mean 14" along the side, not that it's cut from a 14" diameter pie, but either way, at $4 for a pepperoni slice, it's not as much of a bargain as it sounds. Not expensive, exactly, but hardly a steal either.
It is a big slice. It's also extremely thin. Piatza's pizza menu offers "regular, NY style thin, or thick," and I'm thinking this has to be NY style thin, because it couldn't get much thinner than this.
This is where we run into problems, though. Just because a pizza is thin doesn't make it "NY style." But before I get into that, let me describe the pizza, from the bottom up. The underside was uniformly brown, with a mottled effect suggesting that it had been cooked on a screen or one of those big, dimpled aluminum trays. The surface was smooth and almost papery in texture, with no crispness whatsoever. The slice was foldable to the point of floppiness and could not support its own weight when held with one hand; I needed two hands to keep it from falling apart.
The crust was so thin that there wasn't much of an interior to speak of, but it had a slightly chewy texture and flavor reminiscent of unrisen, undercooked dough. The sauce was OK, and the cheese was applied fairly heavily, especially given the thinness of the crust. The pepperoni wasn't bad, thinly sliced "cup & char," with a pool of grease in each slice.
This sounds like an overwhelmingly negative review, but this wasn't the worst pizza in the world, or even in Rochester. What makes most pizza "bad," to me, is usually the crust, and if the crust is going to be bad, better to have it thin than thick, so that the toppings can, to some extent, make up for it. Piatza's crust is not very good, but at least it's thin enough to be (almost) overwhelmed by the toppings. Still, unless I lived nearby and had no car and this was my only option, I would not become a Piatza's regular.
Piatza's has a pretty extensive menu, with quite a few "gourmet" pizzas to choose from, wings, subs, burgers & hots, salads, sides and wraps. Speaking of wraps, though, it occurred to me while eating my Mega Slice that it was a lot like eating a pizza wrap - a thin layer of soft, almost unleavened dough topped with cheese and tomato sauce, designed to be folded or rolled up before eating.
To me, pizza is, at bottom (literally and figuratively), bread, and great pizza is made from what is really great bread dough. This was not great bread dough. I hate to use cliches, but it was more like damp cardboard. The best I can give it is a D+.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Do try this at home

Pizza Guy didn't try any new places over the weekend, as I got the urge to fire up the home oven and make my own. I'd been planning it for a few days so it was pure coincidence that the NY Times ran an
article just the other day about making pizza at home, the point of which, was, I guess, that you should. Pizza lovers can get so fixated on technical stuff like coal-fired brick ovens and imported Italian flour, and so impressed by some of the great professional pizzaioli out there that they forget that in the end, it ain't rocket science.
I won't bore you with the details of how my pizzas turned out - I'll give them a B+ and leave it at that - but if you bake pizza at home on a regular basis, or plan to, I do recommend getting a pizza stone. If you're on a tight budget the 'net is full of info about inexpensive ways to do it with bricks from your local hardware store. I also suggest buying a pizza peel - in fact, preferably two, one wood and one metal, the former for sliding the pizza onto the stone and the latter for removing it from the oven. Finally, pick up a copy of "American Pie" by Peter Reinhart. The man knows baking. I was this close (hold thumb and forefinger half-inch apart) to hanging up my apron after some botched attempts before I read his pointers on pizza making and found his recipe for NY-style pizza dough, which is wonderfully easy to work with and bakes up beautifully.
But with or without those things, if you love pizza, and I assume you do if you're still reading this, make it at home now and then. When I was a kid, every Friday night we had homemade pizza made with dough made from Pillsbury hot roll mix, rolled out and pressed onto a greased cookie sheet and topped with canned Contadina pizza sauce, slices of Muenster cheese, pepperoni and a sprinking of oregano. It took about 20 minutes to make and I loved it. Of course I think I was satisfied with a lot of things back then that most kids - and I, frankly - would scoff at today, but the point is, it isn't that hard to turn out a pretty decent pizza at home, my prior botched attempts notwithstanding. One of the things I love about checking out different pizzerias is discovering the endless variety of characteristics and nuances that are unique to each pizzeria, and you're never going to find a pizza more distinctive and unique than the one you make at home.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

TV Alert: "Food Detectives" looks into NYC pizza

This doesn't directly relate to Rochester pizza, but I thought it was interesting enough to pass on to other pizza lovers. The Food Network show, "Food Detectives" did an episode last week that looked into the notion that the reason why New York City pizza is so good is that New York's tap water is so good, or at least good for pizza making. To test the theory, they had a NYC pizza chef make three pizzas, identical except for the water: one was made with NY tap water, another with water shipped in from Chicago, and another from L.A. In a blind taste test, the judges all preferred the pizza made with the local stuff.
This was hardly conclusive evidence of anything, scientifically speaking I guess, but it was intriguing. Unfortunately they didn't provide any information about how, chemically, the tap water in NYC differs from that in Chicago or L.A., nor did they offer any theories about why it makes a difference. It also made me wonder how our water stacks up against the Big Apple's. If I'm really bored some day I may see if I can find a water quality report for NYC and try to compare it to the Monroe County Water Quality Table.
Anyway, if you'd like to see the show, it will be repeated this Sunday, April 19 at 4:00 p.m. on the Food Network.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Veneto Wood Fired Pizza & Pasta, East Ave.

Veneto Woodfired Pizza & Pasta on Urbanspoon
Veneto opened in 2001, a few doors away from its present location on East Avenue downtown. From the start, it has specialized in pizza baked in a wood-fire oven. In theory, at least, a wood-fired oven means very high temperatures, and fast-cooking pizza. The pizza almost has to be thin, because a thick crust wouldn't have time to cook all the way through at those high temps. You may notice a slight smokiness to your pizza, too. And the pizza chef needs to be attentive due to the short cooking time, and the need to rotate the pizza so that it cooks evenly from the radiant heat.
Veneto offers several different pies, several of which sounded good, but I went with the Margherita, the simplicity of which makes it one of the best tests of a pizza's overall quality. Oddly, Veneto's menu describes their Margherita as topped only with "Pomodoro sauce" (a/k/a tomato sauce) and mozzarella cheese, to which you can add pepperoni for an extra 75 cents. I've never heard of a Margherita pizza that didn't include basil (or that did include pepperoni, for that matter), a point on which no less an authority than Wikipedia backs me up. So I asked for, and got, basil on mine.
Since I was able to see the oven, I saw my pizza go in, and about 5 minutes later out it came. True to expectations, it was thin, about as thin as pizza can get. The underside was nicely charred but not burnt. It was slightly more done on one side than the other, but not by much, and the chef seemed pretty good at checking on and rotating the pizzas, as well as on poking the fire once in a while to keep it from dying down.
The crust had a good flavor, in part from the charring (I didn't pick up any smokiness - seemed like a pretty clean-burning oven), but its thinness meant that there was no interior breadiness, except for a bit along the edge. Mostly it was crunchy, and more "bendable" than "foldable" - when I tried to fold a slice in half, it cracked down the middle. The cheese, which was fairly liberally applied and, hot out of the oven, still very stringy, had gravitated a bit toward the center, and some care had to be taken to make sure that it didn't all slide off at once.
The sauce was bright, both in color and in flavor, with a vibrant tomatoey flavor.
The shredded basil was wilted from the heat of the oven, and definitely a good call.
The overall flavor was frankly delicious. The ingredients were very well integrated, so that at times I wasn't sure if the flavor I was detecting came from the cheese, sauce, or basil, but whatever it was, they all worked beautifully together.
If I have a single complaint, it's the thinness of the crust. This is where things get purely subjective, but to me, this pizza could have gone from "merely" delicious to truly magnificent had the crust been just a shade thicker, to give the toppings a solid base of breadiness, in both flavor and texture. Only along the slightly thicker edge was there a tantalizing hint of what the whole pie could have been.
All in all, though, I thought this was great pizza. If you don't care for thin crusts, you may not like it, but then again you may be in for a pleasant surprise. Me, I give it an A-.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Salvatore's, East Main St., Rochester

Salvatore's is one of the biggest, and may be the best known, of the local/regional chain pizzerias in the Rochester area. According to their website, the East Main Street location is the original Salvatore's. Although I'm philosophically opposed to the idea of chain pizzerias, I figured I'd try to give them a fair shake, as I've explained earlier, and the original location seemed like the best one to try.
I didn't get a whole pie, but a "Super Slice," which is essentially two slices, or one quarter of a pie; in fact, it comes sliced in two, right down the middle. It was fresh out of the oven and piping hot.
It was thick--quite thick, I think, even by Rochester standards. It was relatively light, though, and the thickness seemed more attributable to how much the dough had risen than simply to how little it had been stretched out. The air holes, though, were pretty small, and the dough was fairly bland, suggesting a fast rise from the yeast, which will yield less flavor than a long, slow rise.
The exterior of the crust was very crunchy, and the bottom was more golden brown than charred. The interior had a texture and flavor reminiscent of a one of those soft "dinner rolls" you get at some restaurants. There was some grease from the pepperoni, but otherwise it wasn't a greasy crust.
The cheese was applied pretty liberally (their website describes a Super Slice as "double mozzarella"), and was rather stringy; you could cut it with a pair of scissors from one slice to the next. The sauce was on the bland side and was overwhelmed by the cheese. The pepperoni was wide and thin, with a pool of grease on each slice that you could soak up with a napkin if you so desired.
The bottom line? Trying to put aside my prejudices against chains, I don't think I would ever call this a great pizza by any means. But it certainly wasn't the worst I've ever had, either. If I had to pick one adjective to describe it, it would be "bland." But that takes me right back to one of my primary objections to chains: they tend toward blandness and mediocrity. In other words, they're more interested in not offending anyone's tastes than in provoking a strong reaction, positive or negative.
Then again, to become successful, and have sustained growth the way that Salvatore's has, you have to be doing something right. I don't care for food snobs any more than I do for chain pizzerias, so let me just say that while you won't catch me eating at Salvatore's too often, if you want a fast, hot, filling, low-cost ($3.25) lunch, you could do worse than a Salvatore's Super Slice. I'll give them a C.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza, Jefferson Rd., Henrietta

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza on Urbanspoon
Joe's Brooklyn Pizza opened a few months ago in the Tops Plaza on Jefferson Road in Henrietta, just off 390. It's basically a renamed, transplanted version of the Pizza Stop that had been in Midtown Plaza, until Midtown was cleared out to make room for ... well, we're still not sure what they had to make room for, but anyway that's what happened.
Don't quote me on this, but my understanding is that Joe's is run by the brother of the guy who owns the Pizza Stop on State St. downtown, and that they grew up in Brooklyn and then Long Island, where their father ran a pizza shop. So they have some cred as purveyors of NY-style pizza.
The pizza at Joe's is close, but not identical, to that at the Pizza Stop. The crust is about equally thin, foldable but not floppy, but struck me as a bit crunchier than Pizza Stop's. The underside showed plenty of charring - a bit darker, in fact than you can tell from the photo - but seemed to have a more uneven surface than the pizza at Pizza Stop, so the charring, though widespread, was more spotty, giving the underside sort of a mottled effect.
Despite the well-cooked underside, the toppings were not burnt or dried out, meaning that the ovens are kept at a good, high temperature. The sauce, which is homemade, had a noticeable presence, with a more herbal flavor than Pizza Stop's. My palate is not expert enough to identify the particular herb(s), but think of an "Italian seasoning" blend and you'll get the basic idea.
The cheese seemed like basic mozzarella, and was baked just enough to develop some nice brown blisters while retaining a bit of elasticity. The pepperoni slices also had a nice crunchy edge to them.
Joe's has a pretty wide variety of toppings available, including clams, garlic, shallots and prosciutto. In addition to whole pies, there are a number of slices to choose from, including thin "Brooklyn" style and thick "Sicilian" style (is that just a fancy name for sheet pizza?). And there are several "specialty" pizzas on the menu, such as "Aunt Rose's Spinach Pizza" and "Grandpa's Pizza," which is topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, sausage, peppers, garlic, shallots, olive oil, romano, mozzarella and basil. Wow.
Unless you count calzones, pizza is all they do at Joe's. (June 2010 update: Joe's now serves wings, either plain or Buffalo.) There are a few tables, not many, and according to their website, delivery service will be offered "soon."
If you go, by the way, Joe's is not in the main building where Tops is. It's in a separate building closer to Jefferson Road between Moe's Southwest Grill and something called Five Guys Burgers and Fries.
Oh, one last thing - the RocWiki site contains more than one negative comment about the staff at Joe's being rude. I can only speak for myself, but I didn't see or have any problems along those lines. Maybe things are different at lunchtime when it gets busy, I don't know, but I hope those were isolated incidents because the pizza here is too good to see this place go under due to customer service issues.
Having another option around town for authentic NY-style pizza can only be a good thing, especially in the land of malls and chain restaurants. Every pizza shop should be judged on its own merits, but given the history here it's hard not to mentally compare Joe's with the Pizza Stop. A side-by-side taste test would be fun, but at this point I have to give a slight, shall we say crust-thin edge to Pizza Stop, if only because it's still, to me, the gold standard for New York style pizza in Rochester. So I'll give Joe's an A-.
Update, 8/3/09: went back recently for a Sicilian slice with pepperoni and a thin slice with sweet peppers and sausage. Both were very good. The thin slice seemed even more charred than last time, but still not burned, with just surface charring. The thick Sicilian slice was not charred, which makes sense - put a thick pizza dough directly on a surface hot enough to char it, and the underside will burn before the inside is cooked through. Despite its thickness it was still fairly light in texture, not too dense, and not greasy underneath like a lot of "sheet" pizzas. I'm still a thin-crust guy but this was a nice change of pace.
I was mostly just enjoying my pizza and wasn't paying especially close attention to it, but I'll have to go back sometime, as Joe's may need to get bumped up to an "A".
Update, 11/12/09: After another visit, I have moved Joe's up to an "A". For the full review, go here.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Brandani's Pizza, W. Henrietta Rd.

Brandani's has been around for over 20 years now on West Henrietta Road in Brighton. They make what, to me, is a classic Rochester pie. And they have ice cream to boot.
Let's start where it all begins, the crust. Brandani's is thick - a good inch thick. At the edge, it's a full inch and a half.
I love thin-crust, New York style pizza, but this was a good crust. It was firm on the outside, and soft, bready and chewy on the inside, with a flavor reminiscent of a freshly baked, crusty baguette. The many interior air holes indicated that the dough had been allowed a long, slow rise, which makes for both great bread and a great pizza crust. The underside was a bit charred, with a dusting of flour, and not at all greasy.
The crust was clearly the star of the show, as it should be, but the toppings played a nice complemetary role. The cheese, which seemed to be all basic mozzarella, was distributed fairly evenly, in a moderate amount, enough to stand up to the thick crust but not too heavy or gloppy. The sauce was applied with a slightly more restrained hand, and had a straightforward, bright tomatoey flavor.
Brandani's offers a few "specialty pizzas," nothing too wild, unless you count the "pizza patate" with sliced potatoes and rosemary. They also have one of the widest selections of slices I've seen, with a bunch of sliced pies with different toppings ready to go at any given time. (Of course you can always just ask for a given topping to be added to a cheese slice but it won't be the same as if the topping has been baked with the pie from the start.)
Brandani's also has wings, which were pretty good - nice and meaty, with a slightly "barbecuey" flavor to their Buffalo sauce, and calzones, carnival-style fried dough and french fries.
And they have ice cream. I guess that's a seasonal thing because there didn't appear to be any on my visit, but that sounds like a good combination for a hot summer day, which shouldn't be too far away. There are a few booths and a couple picnic tables, although the parking lot doesn't look to me like the most inviting place to eat. They also deliver, and are closed Sundays.
I'm still a thin-crust guy. For one thing, you can eat more slices before you get full, plus I think you can get a better balance of crust, cheese, sauce and toppings with a thin crust. But make no mistake, this was good pizza, in what I think of as "Rochester style." It's built from a foundation of what is, basically, good bread dough, which is where all great pizza starts. It may not have converted me to thick crust, but I give it an A.
Brandani's Pizza, 2595 W. Henrietta Rd. 272-718o
Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sun. 12 noon - 7 p.m.
Pizza Guy note:  for a more recent review, go here.