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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Brio, Monroe Ave., Pittsford

Brio Mediterranean Bistro on Urbanspoon
Pizza Guy Note: since this post was written, Brio has closed. This location is now home to the second location of Pomodoro.
Today I'm writing about another place that does pizza in a wood-fired oven: Brio.
Before I get to the details, though, let me apologize for the poor quality of the photographs on this one. I thought I could get away with the "indoor" setting on my camera and no flash, but the light in the restaurant was just too dim. I prefer not to use the flash, because it tends to flatten out the picture, and at close range it can cause lighter areas, like the underside of a crust, to white out completely, but clearly it would've been preferable here. But though the photos may not win any Pulitzer Prizes, they should be good enough to illustrate my description.
Brio is a full-service restaurant specializing in Italian food. It’s more upscale than your basic, red-sauce type of place, but it’s not particularly cutting-edge or chichi, either. Think of an Italian chain restaurant, now make it a notch or two better than that, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Brio is all about.
Brio opened in 2002, so for around here at least, they’re a relative veteran of the wood-burning oven scene. I ordered a Margherita pizza with a white (as opposed to whole wheat) crust.
When it came, the crust had a slightly charred appearance, as expected, but it was surprisingly soft. It wasn’t greasy, but I got the impression that this was a short dough, in other words, made with a fair amount of shortening, which will result in a softer crust. The slices were not crisp, were instead quite pliable, and despite the charring, I got no “crunch” when I bit into them. The crust was thin, but had bubbled up into big, puffy airholes here and there. The outer lip was also light and puffy, enjoyable but again not very crisp or breadlike.
These were very cheese-dominated slices. Some Margheritas, especially the more “artisanal” types, come out of the oven with just a few islands of melted, fresh mozzarella atop a bed of crushed tomatoes, but this pizza was covered with a think blanket of stringy, processed mozzarella that took center stage. Bits of shredded fresh basil added some welcome herbal flavor to cut through all that cheese. The oven-roasted tomatoes (also unusual, in my experience, for a Margherita pizza), were good, but except when I got a good chunk of one, they didn’t add much flavor to the pizza as a whole, compared with fresh tomatoes, which have a less concentrated flavor, but more liquid, so that their flavor tends to spread out more over the entire pizza.
Brio’s other six varieties of pizza run the gamut from basic sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni to chicken and pesto, seafood, and grilled vegetables. The rest of the menu features several pasta dishes, steaks, and fish. Some Spanish influences also creep in, as in the chorizo pizza and the paella, which is incongruously listed under “Pasta.” There’s also a kid’s menu, and though it’s not your typical family-type place, it’s noisy enough to bring the kids without worrying about bothering your neighbors.
This isn’t the first time I’ve eaten at Brio, and my experiences there have generally been good. Casting a more critical eye on the pizza this time, though, I was a bit disappointed. It was all right and all, but here’s another place that features a wood-burning oven, yet doesn’t seem to be taking full advantage of it, at least where the pizza is concerned. Look, I’ve had wood-fired pizza that was too crisp, to the point that it was like nothing so much as a giant round cracker, but c’mon guys, you’ve got a tremendous heat source there, don’t be afraid to use it!
I don’t know - maybe it’s got something to do with the fear that diners in this area will be put off by the sight of what some might see as “burned” pizza, and maybe I’m overestimating the sophistication of local pizza lovers’ palates, but I think we’ve gotten past that point where this kind of pizza needs to be dumbed down for it to go over with the public. Wood-fired pizza places have been popping up all over here lately, and I’m guessing that what might not have flown six or seven years ago would be embraced by a lot more customers today.
I don’t mean to come down too hard on Brio - as I said, the pizza was OK - but I just think how much better than OK it could’ve, and should’ve been. Of course, it’s altogether possible that I’m in a distinct minority here, and that the overwhelming majority of Brio’s customers wouldn’t change a thing, but I’m giving this one a C+.
Brio Wine Bar and Grill, 3400 Monroe Ave., Pittsford. 586-7000
Mon. - Thu. 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 - 11:00 p.m., Fri. 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 - 11:00 p.m., Sat. 4:00 - 11:00 p.m., Sun. 4:00 - 9:00 p.m.


  1. Hey Pizza Guy,
    You've been very nice in your critique. You've also hit the nail on the head when wondering why, with such a great oven, the pizza was not cooked properly.
    Mr Bruni from the New York Times recently did an article about all the wood-fired places in New York popping up...basically said that these pizza visionaries open a place and walk away. Leaving the oven and all the expensive birch logs it to a jamoke who loves lots of cheese, likes a lite bake, has never been to a true neapolitan place and hates stoking the oven with more logs because then he has to sweep the deck.
    It could also be that they are A.) Using an inferior flour like A/P. (B.) putting too much "Fat" in the dough (i.e. oil,and sugar or any other fat).
    I cringed at the photo with all that cheese and the big hunks of chorizo broke my heart.
    see ya
    John Gutekanst
    pizza goon

  2. Thanks for the tip about the NYT article - I read Bruni's piece and I assume that the line you're talking about is "breathtaking ovens and grandly stated goals don’t guarantee excellence, or even enjoyment." That basic principle holds true for a lot of things. A $50,000 car is not going to make you a better driver, and a $2000 guitar is not going to make you a better player, but people do it all the time anyway.
    I found myself nodding in agreement with a number of Bruni's other points, too. He also pointed out that plenty of places can turn out a crisp crust, but "crusts that are crisp without being dry — that have some give and suppleness — are an altogether trickier matter." I've seen proof of that too at some of the local places.

  3. I also was disappointed with the Margherita pizza that I had at Brio. In fact I was so disappointed I sent the owner a letter pointing him to several sources on the internet showing what a Margherita pizza should look like. There was a thick blanket of mozzarella cheese that overpowered ever other part of the pizza. I never received a reply from the owner. I am in search of a place that does it right. Any suggestions?

  4. Click on the "wood-fired" link on the left and you'll find some good places, including Brick 266, Rocco, Napa on S. Clinton and Tony D's.