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Friday, September 23, 2011

Argyle Grill at Eagle Vale

Argyle Grill at Eagle Vale on Urbanspoon
I'm not sure what or who first alerted me to this, but some time ago I discovered that the Argyle Grill at Eagle Vale golf course has pizza on its menu. So I made a point to go there, and I eventually did, on a lunch date with friends.
I opted for the "Margarita," and one of my friends got a pizza as well - the "Argyle Classic." The menu described the latter as having a thick crust, so I asked if that meant that the Margarita was not thick, but our server informed me that all the pizzas here are made with the same thick crust.
Our pizzas arrived, nicely presented, arranged in two rows of wedges on our plates. The crusts were indeed thick, and were reminiscent of French bread pizza. They had a crunchy exterior and a golden brown underside.
The Margarita (I'll defer to their spelling) was, even apart from the thick crust, nontraditional, topped with roasted tomatoes, pinenuts, balsamic vinegar and oil, greens, and dried basil, as well as a lot of melted mozzarella. It was not my idea of a Margherita, which is usually topped with nothing but fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil, but it was tasty and enjoyable, and the flavors worked well together.
My friend's Argyle Classic was topped with tomato sauce, cheese, pepperoni and sausage. There was quite a bit of sauce, though that was appropriate for the thick crust. It tasted fine, though compared with my Margarita it seemed a little uninteresting.
Argyle Grill's other pizza options include a "Chicago Classic" and a Buffalo chicken pizza. I apologize for my failure to jot down the components of a Chicago Classic. But as I mentioned, all the pizzas come on the same, French-bread type crust.
Interestingly, the Glengarry Inn, a more formal restaurant at Eagle Vale that is open for dinner only, also offers pizza, but it sounds like a different sort altogether - the website describes it as "brick oven pizza," and the toppings are different from the Argyle Grill's pizzas. So I'll have to make a trip here some evening if I want to try those.
While these weren't exactly what I'd expected, or necessarily hoped for, they weren't bad. Leaving aside memories of frozen French bread pizza, the crust had a nice crunch, and though it was a bit dry inside, it provided a reasonably good base for the tasty toppings. At the same time, I should mention that my second friend's "Tuscan" panini, which I got a taste of, was very good, and huge to boot. If I return, I'd probably opt for that over the pizza.
This is a hard pizza to rate, as it was rather unlike just about any other pizza I've had around here. That alone gets is some points from me. But this wouldn't be a default option for me, either. I'm going to peg it at just above average, and give it a C+.
Argyle Grill at Eagle Vale, 4344 Nine Mile Point Rd., Fairport. 377-5200
Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun.: noon - 8 p.m. Closed Mondays December through March. Opens at 4 p.m. on Sundays February & March.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Little Venice Revisited

Little Venice Pizza on Urbanspoon
It's been over two years now since I reviewed Little Venice Pizzeria on South Avenue. I found a few flaws with the slices that I had then, and gave it a C-minus.
But it has been a while, and I figured it was high time to go back. So back I went, and ordered a small pepperoni pie.
This had a thin to medium crust, with a soft but dry underside. The bottom was browned and there was a tiny bit of oven soot (soot was an issue for me last time as well, although this wasn't as bad).Though the underside was soft, the edge had a bit of crunch, and was singed in a few spots.
A thick layer of melted mozzarella cheese gave this pizza a chewy texture. It was well balanced by the slightly herbal tomato sauce, which seemed to be more of a presence this time around, either because there was more of it or because this was a fresh pie (as opposed to reheated slices) and the sauce hadn't had time to dry out. The thin slices of pepperoni were a bit crisp along the edges, but quite greasy, which necessitated some mopping with a napkin.
This was not bad. Not something I'd go out of my way for, but very serviceable pizza, certainly. And though it was, compared to other local pizza, about in the middle of the pack, it was an improvement on last time. It still loses a point or two for the soft crust, slight oven soot, and for the very greasy surface, but overall the flavor and balance were good, so I'll give it a C.
Little Venice Pizzeria, 742 South Ave. 14620. 473-6710
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 12:30 a.m., Sun. 1 - 11:30 p.m.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Ferarra's: Pepperoni Pie

NOTE:  This establishment is now closed.
As I've explained before, I was happy earlier this year to learn of the opening of Ferrara's on Spencerport Road in Gates, because I well remember going to its predecessor of the same name on Titus Avenue back around 1990. It was there that I first tried a Margherita pizza, and it was love at first bite.
That establishment closed years ago, and since then I thought that all I had left of it was my fond memories. So to find out that Ferrara's had been reborn in Gates was truly exciting news for me.
Since its reopening earlier this year, I've published posts about Ferrara's Margherita and potato pizzas. Recently I went back yet again, for a simple half-pepperoni pie, but this also gave me the chance to speak for a few minutes with Jimmy, the owner.
I learned from him that Ferrara's was in business for 23 years in Irondequoit, and that it was founded, owned and run by Jimmy's brother Angelo. Their parents moved here from Sicily, where Angelo was born - Jimmy was the first, and only child born in the States. (Methinks I see a research topic here - how many local pizzerias are run or were started by Italian immigrants?) Angelo started off here as a barber - another venerable Italian-American profession (next good question - why does barbering seem to be such a peculiarly Italian trade?) but eventually got into the pizza business, fortunately. I appreciate a good barber, but with all due respect to barbers, a good pizzeria, for me, is to be treasured.
I always wondered why a pizzeria as good as Ferrara's closed, and the simple explanation is that Angelo decided to retire. Pudgies went into that spot for a while, but has since left, and now the space is used by some other, non-pizza-related business.
In the meantime, Jimmy, who spent a number of years in various food-related jobs, most recently as Sam's Club, decided to resurrect Ferarra's. He had been involved in the earlier incarnation, and with Angelo on board as an informal consultant, Ferarra's was reborn, to my great delight.
Now all that wouldn't mean much if the new Ferarra's weren't as good as, or simply were different from, the original. But as faulty as human memory can be, it is, from what I've read, remarkably accurate where our senses of taste and smell are concerned. And as far as I can tell, Ferarra's hasn't missed a beat.
Now as I mentioned, my prior experience with Ferarra's was pretty much limited to their Margheritas; I'm not sure if I ever tried anything else there. But I loved the potato pizza, and this was a winner too.
I don't like to order half-plain, half-topping pizzas, because often either the topping half don't get cooked enough, or the cheese half gets overcooked, but when you're feeding a family you sometimes have to make compromises. But this was pretty good, with thin sliced pepperoni that was just a little crisp along the edges, and cheese that was just slightly browned. High marks also for the non-greasy pepperoni.
The crust was on the thick side, with a dry, somewhat floury bottom. It was very bready, and a little crisp along the edge. A thick bed of mozzarella lay atop a sweetish layer of sauce, which had a cooked-tomato flavor. The toppings and crust were well balanced.
This was, for me, not quite the standout that Ferarra's Margherita or potato pizzas are, but that's no knock on this pizza - given its style and toppings, it simply falls more within the mainstream of American pizza, whereas the other two are more distinctive and unusual.
But for what it was, this was very good pizza, in what to me is the classic Rochester style - somewhat thick, with generous helpings of cheese and sauce, and square cut (not that the cut affects the flavor, but it just seems to me that most traditional pizza around here is cut into squares, rather than pie wedges). And most importantly, the crust was spot on, for this style - not greasy, just a little crisp, with a bready interior. This pie was a fine example of this local or regional style, and was well above average generally for local pizza, so I'm giving it a B+.
Ferarra's Pizza, 485 Spencerport Rd. 14606  247-6777
Tue. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 9 p.m. Closed Mondays.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Copper Grill: Margherita Pizza

Last month or so, Copper Grill opened on Hudson Avenue in the former Irondequoit Ale House space. It joins the list of local bars and restaurants serving pizza. I had lunch there recently.
There are several pizzas on the menu at Copper Grill, plus thirteen additional toppings to choose from if you'd like to create your own. I was torn between a straightforward pepperoni pie and the Margherita. I generally go with the latter at places with a wood-fired oven or that otherwise advertise "artisanal" pizza, but stick with the former at basic, American-style joints. Copper Grill doesn't use a wood-fired pizza or make any particular claims about its pizza, but at the last second I decided to go with a Margherita anyway.
My personal-size pie had a medium thick crust, with a pale, screen-baked bottom. The crust was soft and chewy, right through to the edge.
While some Margheritas use either tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes, this had both. The sauce, which is said to be homemade, was mild tasting and pleasant, but the thick tomato slices were pale and bland. There will come a day, I'm sure, when flavorful fresh tomatoes are widely available and reasonably cheap. But we're not there yet.
The menu describes this pizza as topped with fresh mozzarella cheese, and while I'm not questioning that, this cheese seemed to me almost like a cross between fresh and processed (a/k/a aged or low-moisture) mozzarella. It had some of the soft, almost creamy texture of the fresh variety, but was a little chewier and had a more yellowish tone than I expect from 100% fresh mozzarella. A dusting of grated cheese added some additional flavor.
Basil's another one of those things that varies widely from one Margherita to the next. This one used fresh shredded basil, which looked as if it had been added at or near the end of the baking, as it was still pretty green. That's a good way to go, I think - add it to soon and it just gets dried out and burnt, and the shredding, while it may result in a less visually appealing pie than one with whole leaves, probably releases more aroma.
One unusual addition here was the thin slices of red onion. It's not a common topping on Margheritas, but it wasn't unwelcome, as I generally like onions on my pizza, and the flavor complemented those of the other toppings.
Besides the Margherita, Copper Grill offers pepperoni, Buffalo chicken, and Mediterranean (white) pizza, plus cheese pizza and a variety of toppings. The menu's pretty lengthy, and ranges from standard bar fare like burgers and sandwiches to pasta, steaks, fish and barbeque, as well as desserts. There's a rectangular bar on one side, with seating along the walls and in front, facing Hudson Ave., and TVs all around. The overall atmosphere is casual and a bit generic, but give it some time.
This pizza was not all that bad, as bar/restaurant pizza goes, but I wouldn't call it a classic Margherita, or especially great pizza. The soft crust was the biggest downer for me, and the flavorless tomato slices didn't help. I'd come back here, if I were looking for basic bar food, but I don't think I'd order the pizza again. I'll give this a C-minus.
Copper Grill, 2256 Hudson Ave., Irondequoit 14617. 270-4466
11 a.m. - 2 a.m. daily

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Giuseppe's Lunchtime Pizza Buffet

Not a review, since I didn't partake, but I had lunch today at Giuseppe's on Spencerport Road and got a look, and a photo, of their lunchtime buffet, which includes two kinds of pizza, meatballs, pasta, potatoes, chicken wings and salad. I like Giuseppe's pizza, but frankly, sometimes when I go out it's nice not to get pizza for a change. My fettucine was very good, accompanied by Giuseppe's excellent house-made bread. And Giuseppe's does more than just Italian - my friend was quite happy with his hot steak sub and fries.
The buffet featured a pepperoni pizza and a white pizza, which were quite thick. At $6.95 (if I'm not mistaken), it was a good deal, but I always eat too much at lunch buffets, and I was more than happy with my pasta. Anyway, here's a pic to give you an idea of what they offer.

Giuseppe’s, 40 Spencerport Rd. (Rt. 31), 14606, 426-3397
Takeout hours: Mon. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. &. Sat. 9 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Dine-in hours: Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 9 p.m.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Product Review - Crispy Cantaloupe

I was recently offered a sample pack of a new food product, "Crispy Cantaloupe," from Crispy Green, Inc. It's 100% freeze-dried canteloupe, nothing else. That was just too, well ... interesting to pass up, so I accepted.
What can I say? It is in every way what you would expect it to be. These are little dry chunks of dehydrated cantaloupe. When I was a lad, this is what I would've called astronaut food.
These aren't exactly bursting with flavor - cantaloupe is a relatively mild-tasting fruit to begin with - but as they rehydrate in your mouth, a natural cantaloupe flavor does come through.
The texture is difficult to compare to anything other than dehydrated food. It's very light, not dense, dry (though it rapidly rehydrates in your mouth), and more crisp than crunchy. Just to see what would happen, I put one piece in a glass of water. It quickly rehydrated, and the texture became what I can best describe as slippery.
If you're big on visuals where you're food's concerned, this won't do much for you - the chunks, which average about an inch wide or so, look like pale orange bits of styrofoam. But they weren't bad looking, either - there was no "yuk" factor here.
So who would buy these, and why? Well, hikers, campers and backpackers come to mind, although at a mere 40 calories per 10g package, this does not pack the caloric punch of a typical bag of trail mix. The manufacturer recommends them as "a delicious, convenient way to add more fruit to your daily diet," and suggests eating them straight out of the bag, in cereal or yogurt, or as an ingredient in baked goods. I'm not sure I see a lot of reason to use these instead of fresh cantaloupe for those purposes, and despite the eco-friendly sounding "green" moniker, these aren't exactly a locavore's dream - the cantaloupe's from China.
Still, these do have some advantages over fresh fruit. They're lightweight, easily portable, convenient, and healthful, plus they have a long shelf life. Air travelers might like to put a few of these in their carry-on bags, drivers might want to keep a bag or two in the glove compartment, office workers could keep a few in their desks, and parents may prefer this to candy bars in their kids' lunch boxes. So they fill a certain niche, I suppose.
Crispy Green® Crispy Cantaloupe
Nutrition Information for one 10g (0.36 oz.) bag:  40 calories, 0 calories from fat, 14 mg sodium, 9g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 1 g protein. Vitamin A 8%, Vitamin C 14%, Calcium 1%, Iron 1%. Peanut/tree nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan. Product of China.

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza - Beyond the Cheese Slice

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza on Urbanspoon
When I go to a New York City-style slice joint, I tend to stick to plain cheese slices. Yes, I like other varieties, but in its simplicity, a well-made cheese slice really captures the essence of great New York pizza.
But I also know that man does not live on cheese pizza alone. In fact, if you really want to get down to basics, pizza doesn't have to have cheese at all to be good. What it needs is a good crust and tasty toppings.
You'll find that - in various permutations - at Joe's Brooklyn Pizza in Henrietta. I've been a fan of Joe's since my first visit back in early 2009, not long after it opened (its roots go back well before that, but I won't get into all that here).
Since then, I've tried several varieties of Joe's pizza, and I've yet to run across one I didn't like. So it was with great expectations that I ventured deeper into Joe's menu on my most recent visit, and my optimism was again proved justified.
I've done a few posts about old-fashioned tomato or "sauce" pies, which around here typically are topped with tomato sauce and a generous sprinkling of Romano cheese. Joe's Grandma's pizza fits roughly within that description, but Joe's now offers, in addition, a tomato pie that omits the cheese altogether.
With a blend of tomato sauce, shredded basil, and garlic, all atop Joe's signature, crisp, thin crust, I hardly missed the cheese at all on this one. If given a choice, I'd probably still opt for the Grandma's, most of the time, but it wouldn't be a slam dunk. This was a very tasty pizza - and a great option for vegans, too. Speaking of which, this reminded me in a way of a good vegetarian meal - it might not make you ready to give up meat altogether, but it makes you realize how good a meal can be, even without animal products.
Next up was a Buffalo chicken slice. This is a relatively recent, but to me very interesting style of pizza, as it's subject to so many interpretations.
Joe's version consists of a thin crust, topped with a generous helping of diced chicken, in a tangy, spicy, medium-hot sauce, along with a moderate layer of mozzarella cheese. This was a simple, straightforward approach to a Buffalo chicken pizza, with no blue cheese, celery, or other accompaniments - just chicken, hot sauce, and pizza cheese.
Next to the Buffalo chicken slice in the photo, you'll see a thick-crust, Sicilian version of the Grandma's pie. This had the same blend of tomatoes, herbs, garlic and cheese that's made me such a fan of the thin-crust version, on Joe's thicker, crunchy, pan-baked Sicilian crust. As much as I love thin-crust pizza, the toppings on this one in some ways seemed to go even better with a thicker, breadier crust - kind of like sopping up the sauce from a plate of pasta with a good thick slice of Italian bread.
Speaking of which, Joe's has recently added pasta to its menu, and I tried that as well, compliments of Joe. This consisted of a bowl of fettucine, cooked al dente, which was mixed - not drenched -  with homemade tomato sauce and topped by a sprinkling of grated cheese. The quickly cooked sauce of fresh tomatoes, herbs and olive oil had a bright, vibrant flavor that set it apart from its canned or all-day-on-the-stove cousins, and the only thing I was lacking was the aforementioned slice of bread to soak up what little of the sauce was left in my container.
While that's plenty of food for one visit - or one blog post - I've saved, if not the best, at least the most unusual, for last. If you're feeling just a bit adventurous, or want something a little out of the ordinary, you must try Joe's hot dog pizza. According to Joe (seen proudly showing off a freshly made hot dog pie in the photo), this is something of a cult favorite downstate, and since Noo Yawkas know their hot dogs as well as their pizza, it's a good bet that they're on to something here.
I guess you could call this a white pizza, inasmuch as there was no tomato sauce, though the copious amount of wiener slices and caramelized onions gave it an overall reddish-brown hue. I don't think this would ever be an everyday, go-to kind of pizza for me, but topped with some spicy brown mustard, my hot dog slice was really rather good, and more than just a novelty item. The vinegary mustard (which I added myself) provided a nice counterpoint to the salty, meaty franks and the sweet onions. Next time, I'd love to try one with a bit of warm sauerkraut on top as well.
One of the many great things about pizza is its versatility, as evidenced by the offerings at just this one pizzeria. When all is said and done, I'll still end up going back to my basic cheese slice, but once in a while it's good to mix things up a little, and Joe's offers pleny of opportunities to do that.
I'm not going to give individual ratings to these pizzas. I haven't been rating Buffalo chicken pizza at all, and how can I rate a hot dog pie? My ratings are intended to be guidelines to how a given pizza compares with others like it in this area, and there's nothing around here, that I've tried at least, to compare with this pie.
But I've made clear before that as far as I'm concerned, Joe's Brooklyn Pizza consistently serves up grade-A pizza, and nothing I tried on this visit changed that opinion. If you haven't been there yet, it's high time you did so. When it comes time to pick from among Joe's array of options, though, you're on your own.
Joe's Brooklyn Pizza, 1100 Jefferson Rd # 23B, 14623. 424-JOES (5637)
Mon. - Tue. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Wed. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 8 p.m.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Product Review: Schwan's Starter Crust

Even if you're not a customer of theirs, you've probably seen Schwan's trucks at some point. Schwan's is a food service company that not only serves commercial clients, but individuals too. They offer a wide array of frozen foods, from entrees to side dishes to dessert, which you order from their catalog or website, and they'll deliver them to your door. I've had some of their food before, and it's not bad.
As you might expect, frozen pizzas are among Schwan's offerings. And while no frozen pizza will ever compare, for my money, with a freshly baked pie using freshly made dough, I don't categorically hate frozen pizza; some of it's not bad, and it might not be a bad idea to have one or two in your freezer, to use in a pinch.
Well now Schwan's is trying something a little different - a frozen "Starter Crust," which is simply a raw pizza crust that's been "fresh frozen" (which seems like an oxymoron, but I know what they mean, I guess) with the idea that you can add your own toppings and bake it in your home oven. I guess the concept is that this gives you more control over the final product, which, in theory at least, will taste more fresh than frozen.
I recently accepted a sample pack for review. This consisted of two 13" crusts, each of which was shrink-wrapped on an individual disposable tray. I baked them on successive days, with a slightly different approach each time.
With both crusts, I found when I removed them from the box that they were cracked right down the middle. This might've happened when I stuck the box in my freezer, because I have a side-by-side refrigerator-freezer, and it was a bit of a tight fit, although I didn't think at the time that I had shoved it in too hard. That wasn't much of an issue with the first pie, though, since the crust nested snugly in the tray, and the whole thing went into the oven.
The crust had a preformed edge that helped hold in the sauce and other toppings, though its machine-stamped appearance detracted a bit from the "homemade" concept. It wasn't so noticeable, though, after I'd spread the sauce around and the pizza came out of the oven.
Following the instructions on the box, I baked the pie at 425 degrees for a little under 20 minutes, going by the appearance of the toppings to decide when to remove it.
What I got was a pizza that was, well, OK. The medium-thick crust was a bit crunchy on the surface, though the crust was not particularly dark. It seemed to be studded with small grain-like particles, which led me to think that it was dusted or made with cornmeal, but cornmeal was not on the list of ingredients. I'm frankly not sure where that crunch came from.
The interior of the crust was a bit dry, and not very bready. It was, well, much like I would expect a frozen crust to be, which is to say, not spectacular. (It's been quite awhile since I had one of the so-called self-rising frozen pizzas, so I'm speaking here of "regular" frozen pizza, which - like this one - doesn't rise in the oven.)
The one area where this pizza was better than a typical frozen pizza was the toppings, which, of course, weren't frozen. One of the problems with frozen pizzas is that the sauce, cheese and other toppings can dry out in the freezer, and baking only dries them out even more. My freshly-added toppings were pretty ordinary -a basic red sauce and shredded mozzarella, plus hand-sliced pepperoni on one side and fresh peppers and onions on the other - but they gave the pie a vibrancy that I wouldn't expect from a typical frozen pizza.
The second time around, I took the crust out of the tray, topped it, and slid it onto preheated oven tiles, with the oven set at 500 degrees.
One problem with this was that because the crust was cracked, I had a little difficulty getting it out of the oven. I ended up taking it out in three pieces and reassembling it outside the oven, with some stray bits of cheese left behind to carbonize on the tiles.
The good news was that the crust was better this time, with a darker bottom that was more crisp, as opposed to simply crunchy, than the tray-baked pie. Otherwise, this pie was very similar to the first one.
So what do I think of the notion of a frozen "starter crust"? Well, these pizzas, overall, tasted like what they were - a compromise between fresh and frozen pizza. Better than the latter, but not as good as the former.
If you ordinarily have the ingredients on hand to top a pizza - sauce, cheese, etc. - it might be worth it to have a couple of these on hand when you want a quick pizza fresh out of the oven. Personally, I'd prefer to make a big batch of pizza dough and freeze some of it, but if you don't feel like going to that trouble, well, this does beat your typical frozen pizza. For what it is, it's not bad, but whether it's worth ordering depends on how much you're willing to sacrifice, pizzawise, for the sake of a little added convenience.
Schwan's Starter Crust, $7.24 for a package of two.