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Monday, July 20, 2009

Head to head in Geneseo: Mama Mia's and Pizza Paul's

Mama Mia's Pizza on UrbanspoonPizza Paul's on Urbanspoon
Geneseo is a bit beyond the geographic scope of this blog, but more than one commenter has told me that I should try Mama Mia's, and a weekend trip down to the Southern Tier gave me the opportunity.
Turns out there are two pizza joints across the street from each other, Mama Mia's, which has been in business since 1990, and the equally alliterative Pizza Paul's, which opened three years later (and which has a second location in Lakeville). Since I was kind of hungry anyway, I couldn't pass up this chance for a head-to-head matchup.
Unfortunately, my copious notes appear to have gotten tossed in the recycling bin, which went to the curb last night and was emptied this morning, so I'm going strictly by memory here, but I still remember them well enough that I think I can give a pretty accurate description.
On first glance, both MM's and PP's slices appeared similar: thin crusts, same size, pretty much basic New York-style pizza, although PP's was a little thicker along the edge. (All the MM's pictures are on the left, and PP's are on the right.)
Picking them up showed the first difference, though. MM's, though a tad thinner, could be held, folded, with one hand, with the tip of the pizza slice pointing straight out. When I held a PP's slice the same way, the tip flopped over, pointing downward.
Now that may sound like something that only a complete pizza geek would notice or care about, and it probably is, but it's not just an aethetic thing. It indicates that the MM's crust has a bit more backbone, that it's a little crisper, not as soft.
The undersides also showed a significant difference. MM's was dotted with tiny charred spots, while PP's, which was heavily dusted with cornmeal, was more uniformly browned (darker brown, I think, than the photo indicates). That shade of brown, I believe, is indicative of oil. It was not a greasy slice by any means, and I could be wrong about this, but to me, it seemed to be the shade of brown that dough gets when it cooks in the presence of oil.
As I said, the MM's slices were also a wee bit thinner. Very thin, in fact, some of the thinnest I've had around here. Yet despite that thinness, MM's had both an exterior crispness on the underside, and an interior breadiness. They were so thin there hardly seemed to be an interior at all, and yet there was a distinct flavor and chewy texture of good bread in there, contrasting nicely with the exterior crunch.
PP's slices, in contrast, lacked that exterior crispness. They were softer and chewier, without a distinct exterior and interior, from a textural standpoint. And though good bread should be chewy, well, there's chewy and then there's chewy. Think of a great, "artisanal" loaf, with big air pockets inside, from the slow rise and well-developed gluten. Then think of a dense, undercooked loaf that hardly rose at all. Both chewy. Not the same, though. PP's, to me, didn't have as enjoyable a chew as MM's. It was OK, but just OK.
The textural differences became most apparent at the edge. With no toppings to distract the palate, the breadiness of MM's slices really came through, with a satisfying crunch and enough thickness to reveal the interior air pockets created by the yeast. PP's, on the other hand, lacked that crunch. Whereas I could bite clean through the MM's edge, PP's was more tough and resistant, requiring first a bite, and then a pull away, so that it was more a matter of tearing off than biting off.
All right, on to the toppings. Both were good, but a little different. The sauce on PP's was more noticeable. It had a bright tomatoey flavor that I liked.
On MM's, the individual components were harder to sort out. This was one of those pizzas in which the toppings seem to just blend in to create a unified whole. Or maybe I was just enjoying that crust so much I didn't pay as much attention to them. Anyway, given the thinness of the pizza, the toppings were appropriately applied with a restrained enough hand to add flavor and contrasting textures without overwhelming the slice. In other words, in balance.
The cheeses were similar, although the cheese on PP's seemed to have congealed just a bit more, and did not adhere quite as much to the slice, possibly because of the thicker intervening layer of sauce. The pepperoni was about the same, but a little more uniformly distributed on MM's.
As you've probably guessed by now, I liked Mama Mia's pizza more than Pizza Paul's. Doing this as a side-by-side comparison is a bit unfair to Paul's, because on its own, it was really pretty good pizza. If I wanted pizza and Mama Mia's was closed, I'd have no problem going to Pizza Paul's, though I'd be a little disappointed. But based on this visit I'd say that if I lived or went to school in Geneseo it would be Mama Mia's for me just about every time. Paul's had good flavor, but that crust was really only about average. I'll give it a B-.
Mama Mia's, on the other hand, was sublime. Thin - thin enough that I could probably down a whole pie without too much trouble - crisp and crunchy yet bready and chewy, with a hint of charring but not burned or greasy underneath. It was what New York style pizza should be. I give it an A.
Having lost my notes - which were written on the menus - I can't give you as full a rundown on the menus, hours, etc. as usual. I can tell you that both are counter-service places with some indoor seating. MM's is a little bigger, and there's a room adjoining the main area where they serve ice cream, although they didn't seem to be doing so on this Saturday lunchtime visit. Mama Mia's had a pretty good-sized menu with lots of grilled and fried items. The lunchtime special was two slices and a medium soft drink for $5. They stay open till 3 a.m. on weekends, and I'm guessing that come September, they will be pretty busy around that time.
You can check out Pizza Paul's menu on their website. It's basically pizza, wings, subs and fried foods. All the solid food a college student needs, in other words.
Mama Mia's, 87 Main St., Geneseo. (585) 243-4840
Pizza Paul's, 110 Main St., Geneseo (585) 243-3690. Sun. - Thu. 11am - 11pm, Fri. & Sat. 11am - Midnight (open until 3am when college is in session)


  1. Mmm, just looking at the picture makes me want some mia's!!

  2. Mia's is the worst pizza on the face of the planet. It's only good for SUNY students who are wasted or townies that don't know better pizza from NYC.

    That's the truth.

  3. Well, in point of fact, it's your opinion, and there is no "truth" where matters of opinion are concerned. If you'd care to support your opinion with some objective facts I'd be interested to hear them.
    And while I may not live in NYC, I like to think I've eaten enough pizza there over the years to have a pretty good basis of comparison. I'd put Mama Mia's on a par, at least, with the typical NYC slice joint, and certainly better than some.

  4. As a Geneseo resident and having eaten at these pizza joints my whole life, I would have to go with Paul’s. My only complaint about Pizza Paul’s is that when you first get the pizza, it is too hot and the cheese falls right off of the pizza.

  5. Today I was driving through Geneseo around lunch looking for a bite and came across MM's. I have to say I was very surprised by just how great the pizza was. At first glance the slice looks like typical NYC pizza... thin and gigantic. The kid who served me had a HUGE hickey on his neck. But oh man, it was the best pizza I'd ever eaten. And just like in the review I didn't realize how good it was until I hit the crust. Sweet, airy, crunchy, perfect. If I didn't live 40 minutes away in Batavia I would eat it for lunch everyday.

  6. Definitely worth a side trip off 390 when you're heading that way.

  7. I live in Geneseo, and Mia's is my favorite pizza place, though it is not always very filling.

  8. If a pizza tastes good, I actually prefer that it not be too filling, so I can eat more of it. But I guess a student (or anyone else) on a budget might prefer to get more calories for his or her buck.

  9. As a downstate NYer now living in the Rochester area and working at SUNY, Mia's has the better pizza hands down. Grab a slice (or two) of their white pizza when you can -- it's fantastic.

  10. I love Pizza Paul's. Mia's pizza has no flavor in comparison. I think Mia's crust tastes like cardboard. I also don't think Pizza Paul's ever claimed to be New York City-style pizzeria like Mia's does. They advertise hometown (Geneseo). I would also like to correct the date of when Pizza Paul's opened. I asked Paul and he changed the name in 1993 but has been open since 1971. It was previously Pizzaland. When the drinking age changed, they went in a new direction adding fryers and moving to their current location about 5 spaces down from old location. As for college students...go to both places from 7pm-3am and see which place is busier. Hands down Pizza Paul's.

  11. There's nothing like a good pizza rivalry in a college town.

  12. Mama Mia's all the way, best in western NY, it is one of three stops for me in Geneseo, first the Statesman for the Chicken finger sub, then the old frat house for beers, then Mia's for pizza.

  13. I so agree about Mama Mia's...there are some great little "finds" in Geneseo...including perhaps one of the best sandwhich shops...(I digress).HOWEVER...I will warn...Pizza Pauls in Lakeville was simply inedible....I had not yet tried their pies in Geneseo because the pizza I bought in Lakeville instantly became raccoon food for my backyard friends...I will concede ...virtually EVERYTHING...on around Conesus Lake is perhaps Pauls is simply following the trend around the lake....

  14. I'm not too far from Lakeville, so despite that warning I think I'll check it out sometime. I know there is another pizza place across the street from Paul's.

  15. As a former Geneseo resident, I always had a major complaint about Mia's pizza. Their slices are fine but their take-out and delivery whole pies were always terrible because they weren't cooked. I always wondered if Mia's only knew how to cook a pie so that it was just right to be reheated in the oven for slices or maybe they always kept their ovens cooler in the early evenings so as not to overcook or dry out the reheated slices.

    Pizza Paul's base product might not be as good but it is decent and a heck of a lot better than something with a raw crust. I ate pizza regularly in Geneseo from 1993-2001 and in that time Paul's quality seemed to come and go.

    Both of these issues may be the source for the really strong opinions about who is better.

  16. Your theory about slices vs. whole pies is plausible, though I've never gotten a pie from Mia's.
    Whichever you prefer, it's great having two places near each other, offering different styles. Nothing like a good pizza rivalry!