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Friday, November 5, 2010

Guida's Sauce Pie

Guida's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
I've been intrigued for some time now by the basic, tomato-sauce-based pies that appear on the menus of some pizzerias around here. Often these are found at well-established places with deep local roots, and it seems to me that these pizzas come from an older tradition, before today's emphasis on heavy toppings took hold. Whether they go by the name or not, these pizzas, I think, are related to the "grandma's pizza" often found downstate. Though the specifics vary, this style of pizza generally deemphasizes the cheese, with a tomato sauce providing the dominant base for a few simple toppings, which frequently include a sprinkling of Romano.
One such pizza is found at Guida's. While Guida's does make a "Gramma's" pizza, they also offer something similar that goes by the simple name of "sauce pie." While that might sound like nothing more than a pizza with sauce but no cheese, this is in fact a little more than that. Any doubts on that score were removed when I opened the box, as my nostrils were greeted by an intoxicating aroma of tomato sauce, Romano and garlic, which is about as winning a combination of ingredients as there is.
That heavenly aroma again got me thinking about the term "grandma's pizza." I can imagine a lot of Italian grandmothers' kitchens smelling exactly like this, with a pot of sauce simmering on the stove. The name makes perfect sense now. And it's the addition of garlic that, I think, chiefly differentiated this pie from the Gramma's I'd had before at Guida's.
But what an addition it is. You could put this stuff over ice cream and I think I'd like it. Over pasta, it would be divine.
And aside from pasta, what goes with a good tomato-based sauce better than bread? And what is a pizza crust but a disk-shaped bread? (For that matter, bread and pasta are pretty close culinary cousins, apart from the inclusion of yeast in the former.)
Of course, not just any bread will do; ideally you want a nice, chewy Italian-style bread, and on that score Guida's delivers, with a crust that's firm on the outside yet chewy on the inside, with good bready flavor. That also differed from the Gramma's, which had a softer crust that seemed to have risen and been baked in a pan. Personally I love a very crisp, crackly exterior, which this didn't quite have, but it's hard to fault it nonetheless, as it was still firm, and had a mouth-pleasing chewy texture and good bread flavor.
The bottom of the crust was lightly dusted with corn meal, and there was a bit of oil underneath as well. While eating this, my lips and tongue picked up a faint hint of oil too, suggesting that perhaps the dough got a light swirl or brushing with olive oil before going into the oven, or maybe the oil came from the sauce or the garlic, I don't know. Whatever its source, that might also account for the crust being a little less crisp than some, as oil will typically tenderize bread dough. But it certainly wasn't what I'd call a greasy crust, and with its breadlike flavor and texture, it was more than just a vehicle for the toppings.
Speaking of which, the sauce was of course the star here, and, consistent with the overall simplicity of this pie, it had a straightforward character, with enough herbs to add some flavor accents but not enough to get in the way of the bright flavor of the tomatoes.
The same held true with the Romano cheese. With its sharp flavor, a little Romano goes a long way, and Guida's wisely avoided overdosing this pie; again, a plate of pasta comes to mind, with a sprinkling, but not a dousing, of Romano on top.
Frankly, I would've been happy with just the sauce and Romano, but things get even better with the addition of garlic. The garlic stood well out from the background, completing the trinity of toppings, and was assertive without being harsh; there wasn't the unpleasant aftertaste that raw garlic or garlic powder can leave behind. Finish all that off with the thick, bready outer crust and you've got one very good pizza indeed.
Having said that, this pizza might not be for everyone. If your ideal pizza is one that's covered with thick, gooey cheese, or loaded with toppings, well, this isn't it. But if you're one of those people who likes to sop up your pasta sauce with a thick slice of chewy Italian bread, then you'll love this pizza. It proves once again that for all the pizza ads you see trumpeting topping-heavy pizzas, with pizza sometimes less really is more. I'll give this one an A-.
Guida's Pizzeria, 440 Empire Blvd., Rochester 14609. 288-0590
Mon-Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.
Other locations at 1837 Penfield Rd. in Penfield, 166 W. Main St. in Honeoye Falls, 964 Ridge Rd. in Webster, and 736 Elmgrove Rd. in Gates.

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