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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Livingston County Pizza Co., Avon

When I started this blog and researching local pizzerias, I kept finding references to a place on Rochester St. in Avon, but it was apparently an instance of an outdated listing, because anytime I checked,the place was closed.
Recently, though, I saw what looked like a new listing for a pizzeria at the same location, by the name of Livingston County Pizza Company. I recently took a drive down to check it out.
The pizzeria is in a small building on what, further north, becomes East River Road. The spartan setting consists of a small counter and a few booths, one of which, near the window, butts up against an industrial-size mixer.
LCPC emphasizes its gluten-free menu, which includes not only pizza, but cakes, pies, cookies, and bread, plus gluten-free versions of their burgers and other hot menu items. I was tempted, for a moment at least, to try the gluten-free pizza, just out of curiosity, but I thought for my first time I should go with the regular pizza. I got a 13-inch "small" plain cheese pie. (They also offer 8-inch "personal" and 16-inch "large" pies.)
This had a dry bottom that was rather soft. The crust was thin, and a little gummy. The dough didn't seem to have risen very much, and I couldn't see any air holes in the cross-section.
That's the bad news. The good news is, it tasted good. There was plenty of sauce and cheese - maybe a little more than necessary for such a thin crust - but the sauce and cheese themselves were well balanced and complemented each other well.
With a cheese pizza, the sauce usually is the strongest-flavored component, and if there's much sauce, it'll be very prominent. This sauce was up front but not overwhelming, with a nice mix of salty, sweet and tangy notes. It had a concentrated, cooked-tomato flavor, reminiscent of a long-simmering tomato sauce.
The cheese was well browned but not burned or dried out. It seemed to be straight mozzarella, nothing too complex, but pretty good, with a pleasantly melted but chewy texture and no grease.
For a small place, LCPC has a big menu. Besides the 12 available pizza toppings, they offer eight specialty pizzas, calzones, wings, hot and cold subs, sandwiches, panini, salads, pasta, and various grilled and fried items. It was only after I left that I noticed that many of the menu selections have a baseball-themed name, such as the Babe Ruth and Ripken burgers, the Ballpark pizza (pepperoni, ham, bacon and sausage), and the Triple Play sub (ham, roast beef and turkey).
And that doesn't even include the gluten-free menu. You can get gluten-free pizzas in 10- and 13-inch sizes, chicken tenders, a Friday fish fry, and just about anything on bread or a roll, all gluten free.
As they say on the infomercials, "but that's not all" - LCPC also offers gluten-free baked goods, from  bread to buns to cookies, cakes, pies, and frozen pizza crusts. I know there are people out there looking for gluten-free baked goods, and this should be on your list of go-to places. It's got as extensive a gluten-free menu as I've ever seen.
As for this pizza, frankly I wasn't thrilled with it. I probably give more importance to the crust than most people, and this wasn't a particularly good crust. It wasn't gluten-free, but like some gluten-free crusts I've tried, it just didn't seem to have risen much. I may have preferred the gluten-free crust, if that's what they do best here.
But to some extent, the lackluster crust was compensated for by the other components, which tasted good and complemented each other well. Considering the pizza as a whole, it was roughly average for pizza in this area, so I'll give it a C.
The Livingston County Pizza Co., 212 Rochester St., Avon
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 8:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Sun. noon - 8 p.m.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012


NOTE:  at this writing (2/12/14) this establishment is closed.

I'm OK with chain restaurants - no, really - but in general I much prefer local, independent places. So it was nice to read about the recent opening of Opa!, a locally owned, stand-alone Greek restaurant, in the site of a former Perkins.
I like Greek food, and I saw that Opa! had pizza on the menu, so this was a no-brainer for me. At the same time, I know that restaurant pizza is not always great, so I tempered my expectations.
There are three pizzas on the menu, one of which, the Aegean, was out because it included eggplant. Can't stand eggplant.
The vegetarian pizza sounded good, but I went with the Kotopoulo, which is topped with saganaki cheese, grilled chicken, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, olive oil and oregano. For one thing, I'd never heard of saganaki cheese, so I was intrigued by that.
My plate-size pizza was loaded with toppings, about which I had no complaint. One of the first things I do with any pizza, though, is to check the underside, and this one was very pale.
Now again, I know this was restaurant pizza, and maybe it's unreasonable to expect pizza at a Greek restaurant to meet the standards that I set for pizzerias. And maybe I shouldn't pay too much attention to appearances, but concentrate on the flavor, aroma, and texture of the pizza.
But, pizza's pizza, and I do have likes and dislikes, though I try to make some allowances for different styles. And eating involves at least four of the five senses, including sight (and sometimes hearing, as when a pizza crust makes a nice crackly-crunchy sound upon that first bite).
OK, but aside from the paleness, how was it? The bottom surface was dry - good thing, there - with some crunch. The neatly rounded cornicione along the edge had a slight oiliness. The crust as a whole might've been premade, I really don't know, but it seemed to be. It wasn't very bready inside, but more like a warmed-up flatbread, fairly dry and with a bit of crunch. This was one of the few pizzas I've had where I left behind the "bones," i.e., the thicker lip along the edge.
Perhaps as no great surprise, then, this pizza seemed to be all about the toppings. With Greek and Middle Eastern restaurants, flatbreads are common, but at the risk of overgeneralizing, they're typically not a big draw in themselves - they're more of a base for interesting combinations of toppings.
Having said that, the toppings here were only OK. Again, there were a lot of them, and though garlic wasn't listed on the menu, this pizza had a prominent aroma and flavor of garlic. This wasn't the harsh flavor of fresh, raw garlic, but the softer, aromatic, almost sweet taste of gently cooked garlic. So that was a big plus.
The other toppings were less universally successful. The bits of grilled chicken were rather dry, as was the cheese, which turned out to be doubly disappointing for its lack of flavor. A sprinkling of dried herbs didn't add much (dried herbs only work in liquid-based dishes, where some of their flavor can exude into the liquid). The black olives and chunks of tomato were fine but unexceptional.
Now the other thing about getting pizza at a restaurant is that I know that the pizza is very often not indicative or typical of the restaurant's food overall. So I must reemphasize that my grades on this blog are for the pizza that I had, not for the restaurant itself. And on this occasion, my two companions, both of whom got the pastitsio (sometimes poorly described as "Greek lasagna"), loved their food.
On the strength of their rave reviews, as well as my own curiosity, I'd come back here, certainly. I'd love to try some of Opa!'s dishes that you don't typically see in Greek restaurants around here, particularly their seafood (mydia - mussels - served in a red garlic sauce, to cite one example), as well as standbys like beef souvlaki.
I was surprised not to see more lamb on the menu - they offer païdakia (grilled lamb chops, with lemon, olive oil and oregano), but that's about it. I hope that's not just some perceived concession to American tastes. If lamb is as much a part of the Greek diet as I think it is, please give us more lamb dishes.
But as far as the pizza is concerned, it just wasn't too good, judged as pizza. If I could somehow forget all my preconceptions about pizza, I might've liked it better, but the crust wasn't crisp at all, the chicken was dry, and the cheese was almost flavorless.
But I'm not going to give it a specific letter grade. I sometimes forgo assigning a rating to pizzas that simply aren't that comparable to others in the area. And this was, really, a different kind of pizza from what I would expect to get at a traditional pizzeria. Plus, despite my disclaimers, if I give this pizza a poor grade, some people are going to assume that I didn't like the restaurant itself. And that's just not true. I just don't know enough about the rest of their food to pass judgment on the restaurant, and as I mentioned, my friends were happy with their dish. So while I will say that I wasn't too nuts about this pizza, I'll leave it at that.
Opa!, 1175 Jefferson Road, 14623
Sun. & Mon. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Tue. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: 300 Sensational Soups

As winter approaches, our eating habits change too. For many of us, long-simmering soups and stews tend to replace the more quickly cooked fare of summer. Maybe that's partly due to some deeply rooted biological urge, but it also doesn’t hurt that in winter, you don’t mind heating up your kitchen by cooking something on the stove for hours, whereas in the heat of summer you want to keep cooking times to a minimum, or cook outdoors.
There aren’t many things about winter that I look forward to, but I do enjoy a good pot of soup. They’re generally easy to make, require little fuss or attention, and they’re hard to screw up.
Soup is also one of the most versatile and adaptable dishes around - you can throw practically anything edible into a pot, with liquid, and make a soup.
But if you’re like me, you fall into certain patterns, and go back to the same recipes over and over. Chicken soup. Minestrone. Beef vegetable. Or you open a can of Campbell’s.
That’s all fine, but why not expand your options? Yes, you can sift through recipe websites looking for ideas, but for convenience and reliability, it’s hard to beat 300 Sensational Soups by Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds. I recently received a review copy.
The authors start with the basics - soup stocks, from chicken to seafood to miso - and move on to chilled, vegetable, bean, cheese, and meat-based soups. Not every recipe is illustrated, but there are numerous sections of full-page color photographs throughout. One thing I’ve found with Robert Rose books is that the photos are gorgeous, and that holds true here. The up-close shots of beautifully presented soups are sure to whet your appetite.
The recipes are relatively simple, and easy to prepare. Occasionally the ingredient lists are fairly long (in the 20ish range), but there’s nothing you couldn’t find at Wegmans, or any other well-stocked supermarket. Each recipe occupies one or two pages, and the book easily lies flat, making it convenient to follow as you’re cooking.
With 300 recipes, you know you’re going to get beyond the basics here. And there are some exotic or unusual soups, like cream of roasted turnip soup with baby bok choy and five spices, and banana soup with raspberry and mint relish. But you’ll also find old standbys like chicken noodle and clam chowder, as well as simple, hearty dishes like steak and potato soup.
I’ve consistently been impressed by the cookbooks I've received from Robert Rose, and this is another good one. It’s got nearly a year’s worth of intriguing soup recipes, well presented and explained. If you like soup even a little, you'll find more than a few in here that appeal to you.
300 Sensational Soups (paperback)
Carla Snyder and Meredith Deeds, authors
384 pages. Robert Rose books, 2008

Monday, December 10, 2012

Whole Pies vs. Single Slices: Some Observations

An observation ... I've been criticized for reviewing pizzerias based on a single slice, rather than a full pie. The theory behind the criticism is that a slice that’s been sitting on a plate, under a heat lamp for some time is hardly indicative of a pizzeria’s pies, made fresh to order.
To which my answer has always been, I’m not reviewing the pizzeria, I’m reviewing the slice. I may say, “I give ABC Pizza a (grade),” but the implied understanding is that I’m talking about that slice, only. And if it's stale, then they should've tossed it and made a fresh pie. So take my review of that slice for what it’s worth.
But it occurred to me the other day that it works both ways. My wife often gets a slice from a local pizzeria, which she really likes. Every now and then we get a pie from that same pizzeria.
But she's consistently been disappointed with their pies. She says the slices are better.
The other night she asked them to make our large pie round, like pies that are made for slices. The reason was, if you order a large pie, you’ll get a sheet-type pizza, rectangular with relatively thick, square-cut slices. They’re OK, but rather chewy, and not as crisp as if you ordered a single slice.
But our round pie, which was “pie cut,” still wasn’t as good as expected. It was out of balance, with a thick, doughy, somewhat soft crust that overwhelmed the toppings.
I have two theories why.
One, when you get a slice, they stick it back in the oven to reheat it That crisps up the bottom a bit. And you're getting it fresh out of the oven, not some time later after it's been in a cardboard box in your or the delivery guy's car on the drive to your house.
Two, this pizzeria, like a lot of others, offers oversize slices. I think that means they stretch the dough out wider, and therefore thinner, than they otherwise would. I’m not sure about that, but I think that’s what they do. And by simply asking for a round, rather than rectangular pizza, we didn’t achieve the same thing, because our pizza was not as wide as the pizzas they use for slices. So it was thicker.
That doesn’t mean that I simply like thin pizza better than thick. I’ve had thick pizza with great crust. But it depends on the pizzeria. Some places do thin better than thick, and some places excel at thick crust. This crust was decent, but nothing special, and the slices were more filling than good.
I could’ve done a full-blown review of this pie, and disclosed the identity of the pizzeria, but I hadn’t been planning on it, so I didn’t take any contemporaneous notes. Plus, I’m mostly going by my wife’s description of their slices. I’ve had them, but not in a while. I don’t doubt the accuracy of her description, but I can’t give any details from personal experience. At some point I’ll do a more comprehensive review, but for now I’m just making a more general observation: sometimes, a pizzeria’s slices are better than its whole pies. So if I review a single slice, I may be doing the pizzeria a favor, rather than a disservice.
I’ll make two more comments. First, if you’re a pizzeria owner, I’d like your slices to be representative of your pies. Whether I get a slice or a pie, I’d like the difference to be quantitative, not qualitative.
Second, as customers, we’ll order from this pizzeria again, but I’m going to try harder when I order to specify that we get the same kind of pizza they use for slices. Same thinness, same everything. I may ask them to make it "well done," to see if that makes a difference. And, time permitting, I’m going to heat my oven with a pizza stone ahead of time so I can slide the pizza in for 10 minutes or so to crisp the bottom, if necessary. I'll see if that helps. If so, I'll do an update.
Have you had similar experiences? Love a pizzeria's slices, but been disappointed with its pies? Or vice versa? Leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, December 7, 2012

We Have a Winner!

Jen M., who left a comment on Nov. 30 at 10:24 p.m., is the winner of a $30 gift certificate from The Pizza Stop on State St. in downtown Rochester! Congratulations Jen, you will be getting yourself some of the finest pizza in the area. With $30 to play with you can try both the NY style and Sicilian, or try some of The Pizza Stop's specialty pizzas, like the justly renowned meatball parm, or a stuffed pizza. Whatever you choose, enjoy!
All I need from you now is a mailing address so I can send you the gift card. Please send your info to me at, and I'll have it in the mail to you next week.
Thanks to all who participated, and to The Pizza Stop for their generous donation of two $30 gift cards. Look for more giveaways in the coming weeks!

Six-50, Chili

After all these years, I still have mixed feelings about wood-fired pizza. What I mean is, it’s fine and all, but I think that sometimes “wood fired” is assumed to mean “excellent.”
In point of fact, in my experience, wood-fired pizza doesn’t tend to be any better, or worse, on average, than any other kind of pizza. I’ve had great ones, OK ones, and bad ones.
Plus, there’s a learning curve with a wood-fired oven. I’m not sure if it’s more or less difficult to make good pizza in a wood-fired oven than in a gas or electric oven, but it’s surely different. And I’m guessing that it’s pretty easy to screw up a wood-fired pizza, since the radiant heat involved necessitates pretty close and constant attention by the pizzaiolo.
Be that as it may, locally the wood-fired trend continues to march on. After years of growth on Rochester’s east side, wood-fired pizza is slowly spreading west of the Genesee.
The latest entrant is Six50 Black Oven Cooking, a restaurant and bar that opened in early November in Chili. I frankly have no idea what the name means; the phone number, 889-1650, includes the numbers 650, but I’m guessing that the phone number followed the name, not the other way around. And though the oven is sort of black, the term “black oven” doesn’t connote anything in particular to me.
But whatever. They could call it One80 Lavender Oven for all I care, as long as the pizza’s good.
On a recent lunch visit, my first instinct on perusing Six50's list of fourteen pizzas was to go with the Margherita, but I’m always tempted by anything spicy, so I opted for the Diavolo, which was topped with tomato sauce, sopresatta, roasted peppers, crushed red pepper flakes, and mozzarella.
The crust was super-thin, as is typical of wood-fired pizzas, but it was remarkably pale underneath. The underside was heavily floured, and firm but not really crisp. The edge displayed a little charring, but was hard and chewy.
Despite the name, this pizza was not particularly spicy. It was topped with a thick tomato sauce, sweet roasted red peppers, and thick slices of sausage, which had a mild but pleasantly meaty, slightly smoky flavor. A heavier dose of red pepper would've been welcome. I know you can always add it to the finished pizza but when it's in the sauce the heat tends to permeate the entire pizza better.
For starters, I tried the minestrone, which was fine, although it was more like a tomatoey bean soup than classic minestrone. It could’ve passed for a mild vegetarian chili.
Six50 has a full bar, with a handful of taps that lean toward local microbrews. There’s an open kitchen in the back of the room, and a single dining area occupies most of the restaurant.
Service was friendly, and generally good. It took what seemed like an unusually long time for my soup to come out, but the staff seemed to be trying hard to please.
I’m not doing a full restaurant review, but I got the impresson that Six50 is striving to achieve a level of sophistication that you might not expect to find in a small plaza next to a convenience store/gas station in North Chili. And I think they’ve got the basics in place. But the pizza could use a little work, particularly the crust. I’d like to see a quicker-baking, crisper crust with a bit of charring underneath and along the edge. This crust seemed too much as if it had been cooked at a relatively low temperature, so that it firmed up and dried out without developing a lot of flavor.
But since Six50 had been open for a very short time when I visited, I’ll hold off on grading it for now. It’s got promise, and I look forward to a return visit.
Six50, 3765 Chili Ave. 14624
11 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Monday, December 3, 2012

The State of the Pizza Nation, 2012

The current issue of PMQ, a national pizza magazine, contains the 2013 "state of the industry" report. It includes some interesting findings and statistics. For one, the magazine reports that New York state ranks second overall in the percentage of independent (as opposed to chain) pizzerias, at 84%, right behind Connecticut at 88%. I wonder what the breakdown is between upstate and downstate. I'm guessing Upstate NY would've come in somewhere in the middle overall.
Midwestern states dominated the bottom end, with Nebraska coming in last, with just 23% of its pizzerias independent, followed by - or should I say preceded by - Kansas at 26%. I may have to rethink my idea of attending the College World Series in Omaha.
Nationwide, chains own 47% of pizzerias and control 60% of sales. For purposes of this report, "independent" refers to pizzerias with fewer than 10 units; anything over 10 is considered a chain. (They don't say how the classify a pizzeria with exactly 10 units.)
The top chains, ranked by number of units, are Pizza Hut (7595), Domino's (4907), Little Caesars (3518), and Papa John's (3001). I'd never even heard of number 5, Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake Pizza, at 1283 units.
Based on sales, Pizza Hut comes in again at #1, with 5.4 billion dollars in 2011 sales, followed by Domino's ($3.4 billion), Papa John's (about $2.2 billion), and Little Caesar's ($1.48 billion).
In terms of pizzerias per capita, New Hampshire is first at 4.09 stores per 10,000 people. New York is in the middle at 2.61, and New Mexico is last at 1.4 (at least they have good Tex-Mex).
Trends? For what it's worth, Adam Kuban, founder and editor of the Slice pizza blog, foresees more mobile pizza operations, like food trucks and mobile units that attend festivals and fairs. I'd have to agree, though I also think that like any trend, this one will crest and recede at some point. He's also seeing wood-fired pizzeria owners spin off non-wood-fired pizzerias (I'm not sure where they're going with that), and more pizzerias opened by previously home-based amateurs - don't count me among them.
There's a lot more stuff in the report, including information on pizza outside the U.S., but I'll leave you with the 2013 Pizza Industry Enterprise Award winner, Little Caesars. According to PMQ, Little Caesars has been the fastest-growing chain for several years (over 18% last year), its prices have actually gone down in recent years, and it's got a great record for charitable activities.
In light of its support of charitable causes, which I hadn't been aware of, I don't want to say anything bad about Little Caesars, though I wasn't impressed by the pizza I got there recently. I guess somebody likes it, maybe in Nebraska and Kansas. For me, I plan to continue supporting local independent pizzerias in 2013, and I hope you'll do so too.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Free food, from The Pizza Stop in Rochester

Rochester's dean of New York style pizza, The Pizza Stop, has graciously donated two $30 gift cards for lucky readers of The Rochester NY Pizza Blog. The first card, for the Greece location of The Pizza Stop on Ridgeway Avenue, was won last week. The second, for the original downtown location, is up for grabs this time.
All you need to do to be eligible to win is to leave a comment after this blog post, along with some identifying information. I'd prefer a comment about The Pizza Stop, or at least about pizza in general. But any comment will do.
Next Friday, December 7, shortly after noon, I'll select a winner using Multiple entries by the same person will be ignored, so everybody will have an equal chance to win.
If you win, I will need a way to get the gift card to you, so either include an email address in your post (so I can get in touch with you if you win), or send me an email with your mailing address at You can wait to see if you've won before sending me your mailing address.
If you win, you can of course use this card for yourself - it's good for about two large cheese pizzas - or give it as a gift to someone else (tough to do, but you'll save some money on your Christmas shopping), or split the difference and invite friends over for a holiday pizza party. I don't give away your email address or anything like that, so unless you don't want a chance at some of the best New York style pizza to be found this side of the Bronx, for free, leave a comment now!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gifts for the Pizza Lover, 2012 Edition

It's that time of the year again, so here are some suggestions for the pizza lover in your life, or to put on your own wish list.
Full disclosure: I think I get some small compensation if you click on the links or buy a product through them. I'm not sure, frankly, exactly how it works. But these are my honest suggestions, and if you want to shop around, by all means do so.
(1) a pizza stone -anybody who bakes pizza at home should have some sort of pizza stone. You'll get a much better crust with a stone than with a pan. (There are exceptions, but for basic pizza, a stone is the way to go.)
I mostly use cheap quarry tiles that I get from a local tile store, but a box of what look like thin, square red bricks doesn't make the greatest looking gift. I do also use a genuine pizza stone, which was given to me as a gift, and it works very well. I prefer rectangular stones over round ones, because I think they give you a little more room for error when you're sliding the pizza onto the stone, which you will do with a
(2) pizza peel, which makes another great gift. I have two, a wooden peel for sliding the pizza into the oven and an aluminum peel for getting it out. Why both? The raw dough seems to slide better on a wooden peel, while the thin edge of a metal peel is better for getting underneath the finished product.
(3) for a stocking stuffer, a bench scraper or a bowl scraper. Whether you're baking pizza or bread, these are very handy implements. Even if you only do a little kneading or shaping on a board, a bench scraper is great for moving around mounds of flour and stuck dough, and for cleaning off your board. A flexible bowl scraper is much better than a spatula at scraping down the sides of a mixing bowl. 
(4) a pizza cutter. These are useful not just for homemade pizzas, but even for takeout, which is sometimes not cut cleanly through. A wheel cutter works well, and is versatile. I used mine the other day to cut pieces of dough for a gingerbread house. But for simplicity and a nice straight edge, it's hard to beat a rocking cutter.
(5) A chef's hat (or "toque") and apron. These are great for getting in the spirit of things when you're making pizza, especially with guests. And they serve useful purposes. If you make pizza without an apron, you will end up with flour on your clothes, guaranteed. And the hat? Well, finding a hair in your pizza is a real turnoff for most people. A baseball cap will do, but I love my chef's hat.
(6) an insulated pizza bag. Useful for takeout, especially if the pizzeria is some distance from your home. Every pizza lover should keep one in the trunk, right next to the jack and the jumper cables.
(7) a pizza cookbook. There are countless free recipes online, but I still like a genuine, authoritative book to have as a reference. There's a plethora of good books on the subject, but I've yet to find one better than American Pie by Peter Reinhart. This dean of America's bread bakers provides sound advice about techniques, as well as recipes for everything from traditional Neapolitan pizza to New York style to generic American pizza, and thick-crust Sicilian and Chicago pizzas as well.
(8) and of course, a gift certificate from your or your giftee's favorite pizzeria. Many local pizzerias now offer gift cards or certificates. You can't go wrong with that.

Monday, November 26, 2012


I generally don’t even consider buying pizza at a gas station. For one thing, unless they’ve got a full-blown pizzeria setup, they’re just baking pizzas on premade crusts, with no craftsmanship involved. Plus almost every gas station is part of a chain, and I am not very interested in chain pizza, period.
But sometimes, I go into a station or a convenience store, and see a pizza sitting there in the warmer and I can’t help thinking, it doesn’t look half bad. And maybe I’m hungry. And it’s cheap. So ...
So I broke down the other day and got two slices from Fastrac, a regional chain of gas stations that has some of the cheaper gasoline prices around, at least if you have one of their cards. They all serve pizza, under the name “Slices,” and as gas station pizza goes, it’s not the worst-looking pizza around. So my curiosity got the best of me, and I picked up a pepperoni slice and a Buffalo chicken slice.
The latter was very thin, with a crunchy, almost crackerlike crust that had been docked, i.e., punched with tiny holes to keep it from bubbling up in the oven. The edge lacked any lip or cornicione to speak of, but where the underside was crisp, the edge was hard and brittle, with a good deal of “bite.”
The Buffalo slice was topped with small chunks of plain, unbreaded chicken, an even layer of slightly browned mozzarella, and blue cheese sauce, with a swirl of basic hot sauce for that Buffalo-wing flavor. The overall flavor wasn’t bad, particularly if you like your wings dipped in blue cheese. This was missing the “fried” flavor of pizza made with breaded chicken, but it was also missing the grease that often accompanies breaded chicken.
The pepperoni slice was qualitatively different, with a crust that was about the same thickness, but slightly oily to the touch underneath. It had a certain fried-like exterior crunch, but was soft and spongy inside. The bottom was also pockmarked by several bubbly air holes. And where the Buffalo chicken slice had virtually no cornicione, this slice was thick and puffy along the braided edge, which is consistent with what I’ve generally seen at Fastrac. The cornicione also had a certain sheen to it, similar to a loaf of bread that was brushed with an egg wash before baking, though I doubt very much that this was done here. Probably the shininess was simply due, again, so the presence of oil.
The pepperoni slice was topped with a basic tomato sauce, a modest layer of melted mozzarella, and some nondescript, wide and thin slices of pepperoni. A smattering of dried herbs was visible, and I thought I detected the distinctive aroma and taste of garlic powder.
These weren’t awful, but they were far from the best slices of pizza I’ve had. I should add, though, that these weren’t the best looking slices I’ve ever seen at Fastrac; these came from the East Main Street location downtown, near the Inner Loop, and were not as good-looking as the slices I’ve seen at the Fastrac at the corner of West Henrietta and Calkins Roads. I have yet to try the latter location’s pizza, so I’m not passing judgment here on Fastrac as a whole, though if the quality does vary much from one location to another, that’s an issue in itself.
As for these slices, I’d say they were below average for this area. Maybe not by a lot, but nonetheless below average, and so I have to give them a D.
Fastrac, 672 East Main Street, Rochester, with other locations throughout Western and Central New York.

And the Winner Is ...

Terry Lynch! Terry has won a $30 gift card from The Pizza Stop on Ridgeway Avenue in Greece. Congratulations Terry! I'll just need a mailing address so I can get it to you - shoot me an email at and I'll get it in the mail to you asap.

Thanks to all who participated, and to The Pizza Stop for donating this very fine prize. If you didn't win, don't despair - I'll be giving away another gift card for the original Pizza Stop location downtown soon. Check back here and on Facebook, or subscribe to my Twitter feed, for updates.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Book Review: 500 Best Quinoa Recipes

I'm far from a health-food nut, but I do like trying some of the grains that have become more widely available recently, such as buckwheat, millet, and bulgur wheat. I have no issues with gluten (thank God), so I'm not looking for alternatives to regular wheat products, but I'm all for more choices where food is concerned.
One of the more popular, or at least more visible, of these alternative grains is quinoa. I've used it, and I like it for its granular texture and mild nutty flavor.
But as for actually cooking with quinoa, all I've really done up till now is use it as a rice substitute. (And given recent reports of high arsenic levels in rice, that's not a bad thing.) That's fine, as far as it goes, but it only goes so far.
So I looked forward to my review copy of 500 Best Quinoa Recipes, from Robert Rose Books. Five hundred quinoa recipes? And those are just the "best"?
As this book shows, though, quinoa can be used as far more than a simple grain to include in side dishes. And the sheer breadth of the book makes it as comprehensive a guide to cooking with quinoa as you can find.
Author Camilla V. Saulsbury starts things off with a primer on quinoa - its history, why it packs such a nutritional punch, some basics on preparing it, and what to stock in your kitchen to cook with it - and moves on to the recipes, which make up over 90 percent of the book.
The recipes are arranged thematically, with chapters on breakfasts, appetizers and snacks, soups, stews and chilis, salads and sides, vegetarian main dishes, seafood, poultry and lean meat dishes, breads, and desserts. The recipes are simply and clearly presented, and accompanied by useful preparation and cooking tips. Two sections of color photographs help whet your appetite to try many of the recipes.
You may wonder why you'd want to incorporate quinoa into so many dishes - come on, quinoa desserts? Keep in mind, though, that quinoa doesn't always figure into the recipes in its basic, granular form. Many of the recipes call for quinoa flour, for example as an ingredient in pie or tart crust. For folks like me, who don't have any problem with wheat products, these may not be a big draw. But for anybody who's looking to cut carbs, or to avoid gluten, the inclusion of these recipes makes this book a valuable resource.
Even if you're not consciously trying to avoid wheat, there are plenty of intriguing recipes here to tempt you, like Thai Chicken and Coconut Soup, Black Bean Quinoa Chipotle Chili, and Spicy Kale Quinoa with Pan-Fried Salami. You'll also find more familiar dishes, with a quinoa twist, such as quinoa-stuffed peppers and a simple quinoa pilaf. Many of these are dishes that I would order, if they appeared on a restaurant menu, and Saulsbury shows how easy they are for the home cook as well.
Naturally, I looked right away for a pizza recipe, and landed on the book's recipe for pizza dough made from quinoa flour (which is available at local supermarkets under the Bob's Red Mill brand). Because of quinoa's lack of gluten, this will not yield a puffy, bready crust, but the use of baking powder will give you a crisp yet airy crust marked by the faintly sweet, nutty flavor of quinoa. (And to skeptics - before you dismiss the idea of quinoa pizza dough, be aware that customers of Velvet Elvis Pizza in Patagonia, Arizona are shelling out $45 for the pizzeria's "Inca Quinoa Pizza.")
If you're stuck in your culinary ways, then you won't be much interested in this book. But if you're like me, you're always interested in expanding your kitchen horizons, and 500 Best Quinoa Recipes is a good place to start. I've now got a quinoa-dedicated container on my kitchen shelf.
500 Best Quinoa Recipes, by Camilla V. Saulsbury
Paperback: 528 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose (2012)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

New Giveaway: $30 Gift Card for The Pizza Stop in Greece

It's been too long since I did a giveaway on here, so here's a good one. One lucky reader will be receiving a gift card good for $30 worth of food at the new location of The Pizza Stop at 2532 Ridgeway Avenue in Greece, in the shopping plaza near Long Pond Road. This pizzeria features the same New York style pizza as the original on State Street in downtown Rochester, as well as an expanded menu that includes wings, fries, and other guilty pleasures.
I will be giving away a second gift card for the downtown location in the near future, but this one is for the Greece location only. To enter to win, all you have to do is leave a comment after this blog post, and provide me with a way to contact you, at least by email, and, if you win, by postal mail, so I can get the gift card to you. And I need to know that I'm sending it to the right person, so anonymous comments will not qualify you to win.
So - you can include an email address in your comment, or send me an email at, with your email and/or postal address. If your Blogger profile includes an email address, that's good enough for now. But again, if you win, I will need a postal mailing address.
Usually I run these contests for a week, but with Thanksgiving coming up in a week, I'm going to extend this one a bit. I will pick a winner, at random, on Monday, November 26, shortly after noon. Each comment will be assigned a number, and I'll use to pick a winner. Multiple comments from the same person will be ignored - one number per person.
Winning this won't disqualify you from future giveaways, including the giveaway for the downtown Pizza Stop, so comment away. Pizza-related comments are preferred, Pizza Stop-related comments even more so, but any comments will do.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready® Pizza

We've all seen the signs, and the ads: Little Caesars HOT-N-READY® Pizza, "ready when you are!" A 14-inch pizza, ready instantly. For five bucks. Is this a great country, or what?
But it couldn't possibly be any good, could it? Yet still ...
There was, for a while, a trend toward big, cheap pizza around here. Mostly these came out of inner-city places selling super-thin pies, often skimpy on the toppings. But some weren't bad, especially for the money - typically a dollar a slice, or $5 for a large pie.
I don't see them around as much as I used to, although as far as I know you can still get a 99-cent slice at Checker Flag on Dewey Avenue.
But what about a chain like Little Caesars? I don't think much of chain pizzerias to begin with, but for five bucks, it seemed worth a shot. So one day when I was in the mood for pizza (which is to say, like any other day), but couldn't think of where I wanted it from, I decided to take a chance on Little Caesars. Even if it sucked, I wouldn't be out much money.
I went to the location on Lyell Avenue in Gates, across from Wegmans. I went to the drive-through, and on a whim, I sprang for the extra 95 cents to get pepperoni.
There was no line of cars, so I got to the window within seconds after placing my order. Voila, the pizza was there waiting for me! This was truly instant - it's taken me longer to get a cup of coffee at McDonald's.
That was the good news. And the good news virtually ended there.
The bottom of this pie was dry, with no visible or tactile oil, but it had that pancake-like appearance of a crust that's been baked in a pan. I've had good pizzas that were baked in pans, but this wasn't one of them. It was soft and chewy, with no character and no, well, substance. Aside from the bubbly craters underneath, it didn't seem to have risen much.
The crust was topped with a slightly sweet, herbal sauce. It reminded me of canned spaghetti sauce, which is not in itself a bad thing, I mean I use it sometimes and I'm OK with it, but typically it's not anything great. I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing there was high fructose corn syrup in there somewhere.
The cheese wasn't bad. It was stretchy and smooth - these pizzas must be kept ready to go, but this wasn't dried out like a convenience-store slice that's been sitting there too long. And it hadn't exuded a slick of orange oil the way that cheap cheese will. The pepperoni was abundant but bland. Not bad, just not very flavorful.
So yes, I was only out five dollars. And if you're hungry and nearly broke, I suppose you could do worse. But if you can spare more than five bucks, get yourself a better pizza, preferably from a local independent shop. Little Caesars HOT-N-READY® gets a D from me.
Little Caesars Pizza, 2394 Lyell Ave., 14606
(585) 247-3211
Various other locations in the Rochester area.
Open 11 - 11 daily, Fri. & Sat. till midnight.

Friday, November 9, 2012


The restaurant business is notorious for its high casualty rate, and I suspect that pizzerias are at least as likely to fail as are other types of restaurants. So while it's unfortunate to see a pizzeria go out of business, it's rarely a surprise.
A few years ago, Tano's Pizza Grill operated out of a shopping plaza in Gates. I know that I went there, at least once, but I never got a blog post up before it closed. As I recall, the pizza wasn't bad, though I don't have any specific recollection of what it was like.
Often, when a pizzeria closes, another one opens up in the same spot. That's not always a great idea - sometimes the problem is the location, not the pizza - but that's how it is.
Tano's former space is not occupied by a pizzeria, exactly, but you can get pizza there. Lucky's Irish Bar, which moved into the former Tano's spot in 2010, serves up mostly standard bar food, but pizza is on the menu.
I'd seen some print ads for Lucky's mentioning pizza, and I wondered if this had become, in effect, a pizzeria with a bar, as opposed to a bar with pizza on the menu.
It turned out to be the latter. The interior has been completely redone, with a large U-shaped bar dominating the room. And while you can get pizza, more typical bar foods make up the bulk of the menu.
I ordered a pepperoni pie, which I think makes a good benchmark for standard, American-style pizza. This plate-sized pie had a thin crust with a dry bottom marked by concentric rings, presumably from whatever sort of pan it had been on. (Sorry that I photographed it in a styrofoam takeout container, but it's not always feasible to sit there taking pictures of my food without calling attention to myself, and I don't want people to know that I'm there for purposes of doing a review.)
The thin crust showed very little evidence of having risen, and had a more biscuit- than bread-like texture. It had no thick cornicione, as do most pizzas, but a thin edge, which I think is more common with "bar pies." The edge was crunchy and seemed somewhat oil-infused, which accounted for its orangey color.
The pizza was topped with a moderate layer of thinnish sauce, and a more substantial blanket of stringy mozzarella. The wide slices of pepperoni were generously laid on; they were slightly crisp along the edges and had a spicy kick.
This wasn't bad pizza exactly, but I'd have to call it below average, as local pizza goes. I like a thin crust, but it has to have some life to it; this crust was not tasty in its own right, but served only as a platform for the toppings, which were OK, but not enough to save this pizza from a D rating.
Having said that, I will add that from my observation of other patrons' food, Lucky's serves up some pretty good grub. The wings, burgers and fries that I saw looked very appetizing. The lunchtime crowd of regulars obviously thought so too. And the place itself was nice enough - a basic, suburban strip-mall kind of bar, with enough TVs to keep sports fans happy. So I don't mean to dissuade anyone from going there, if you're so inclined. But I wouldn't make a point of going just for the pizza, which I'm afraid rates a D from me.
Lucky's Irish Bar, 2325 Buffalo Rd (Tops Plaza), Gates
Open Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.. Sun. noon - 2 a.m.
(Second location at 3240 Chili Ave. in Chili Paul Plaza), 889-1005

Monday, November 5, 2012

Chester Cab: Poor Man's Tomato Pie

It's taken a while, but the tomato pie seems to be catching on in the Rochester area. This style either comes from Trenton, New Jersey, or Utica, New York, or, aa I suspect, in different places at different times. I mean, the basic concept - a thick, pan-risen crust, tomato sauce, and grated Romano cheese - is not that much of a stretch from traditional Sicilian-style pizza, and it seems likely to me that Italian Americans were creating this type of pizza in different cities at roughly the same time.
In fact, Rochester has had its own variant of this style for quite some time, such as Amico's "#1," Gallo's "Old World" pizza, and Guida's "Sauce Pie." It's a throwback to the days before processed mozzarella became the standard topping for American pizza. But as I  understand it, a true tomato pie is typically pan risen and baked, fairly thick, and cut into squares - again, much like a traditional Sicilian style pizza. 
Wherever it started, the tomato pie is here now. You'll find them at Wegmans, and I've even seen some rather unappetizing, saran-wrapped tomato pie slices at a local convenience store.
And at local pizzerias. I've been to Chester Cab on Park Avenue several times, and I noticed that their menu includes a "Poor Man's Tomato Pie." I assume that "poor man's" is a reference to the price, not an indication that this is somehow a poor man's version of a tomato pie. With no toppings but sauce, Romano and dried herbs, these pizzas are naturally more affordable than the cheese- and meat-laden pies that Americans are used to.
This pizza was, in more ways than one, not what I expected. Not only was this not the kind of pan-risen pie that I've described, but it was also much different from pizzas that I've gotten from Chester Cab in the past. I've had their stuffed pizza, their "thin cracker crust," and a regular slice, and none of them were much like this, even accounting for the absence of mozzarella on this pie. Check those posts to see what those pizzas were like. All I can say for now is that Chester Cab makes a remarkable variety of pizza styles.
This one had a dry bottom that was a bit floury, and a medium thick, bready crust. Though it had clearly risen, it was not terribly airy - the air holes were small - but it had good flavor, a crisp exterior, and a soft but chewy interior, as well as a sweet, bready aroma that was of course most pronounced while the pizza was still warm.
What was odd, or unexpected, about this pizza, though, was its relative lack of sauce. I expect a sauce pie to have a fairly generous layer of sauce. This didn't have much sauce. The dominant component was the finely grated cheese, followed by the dusting of dried herbs. I was also a little put off by the weird orangey color of the cheese, although that might've been a result of the yellow grated cheese mixing with the red tomatoes. But as nuch as I like the color orange, it's rarely a color you want to see on pizza.
I'm not one to hang too much significance on labels, but if you use a term with an established meaning, like "sauce pie," I think you should deliver - you should stick to the style. Again, I'm no expert on sauce pies, but I don't think this did that. And even aside from that, although I liked the crust on this pizza, it was, overall, rather dry. It needed more sauce.
I've decided not to rate this pizza. I just don't think my ratings translate to this pie. "C" means average, and other grades mean above or below average. This pizza had a very nice crust, albeit not the kind of crust that I would expect from a traditional, pan-risen sauce pie, but the toppings were out of balance and the whole thing was not true to the named style. In fact I took my leftovers home, added sauce and mozzarella, and reheated them in the oven, which resulted in a much better pie.
That is not because I dislike tomato pies. I don't. Though I've yet to try one in Utica or the Trenton area, I like the style. This was simply not a well executed pizza, in my opinion. I really did like the crust, though, and the fact that I could so easily improve this pizza means that it had something going for it. So even though all of that might mathematically add up to a "C," it would be misleading to call this an average pizza for this area. It was just too different from anything else you'd find around here.
I'd consider ordering this again, but I'd ask for extra sauce. This was fundamentally good pizza, but it needed a better balance among the crust, sauce and cheese. And I must say again that the sheer variety of styles that I've found at Chester Cab makes me want to go back for more.
Chester Cab Pizza, 707 Park Ave., Rochester 14607
Tel.: 244-8211
Hours: Mon. - Tue. 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Wed. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

World Vision Gift Catalog

Let me take a short break from pizza to make a pitch for a deserving charity.
With the holidays coming up, it's time to start thinking about giving - giving thanks, giving presents, and giving help to our fellow human beings who need it. So let me take a moment of your time to make a pitch for the World Vision Gift Catalog. Purchases from the catalog support World Vision's efforts to help children and families in struggling communities around the world. That includes activities both abroad and right here in the U.S., most recently in the form of relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy.
You can help World Vision either through a direct contribution, or by shopping at its online store. One of the great things about buying from World Vision is that not only does your money go toward helping others, but many of the items available for purchase, like this bracelet and this scarf, have been hand made by people in need, in countries around the globe. Check out World Vision Gift Catalog's Facebook and Pinterest pages for more information.
World Vision also gets a four-star rating from Charity Navigator, so you know that your gift is being put to good use.
Talk ahout getting bang for your buck - with a purchase from World Vision, you'll be brightening the lives of both your gift recipient and persons in need, and you'll feel better about yourself for doing so. This holiday season, then, please consider either making a direct gift to World Vision or doing some of your gift shopping through World Vision

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Gallo's slice

I first wrote about Gallo's, a pizzeria in Greece, back in 2009, giving a B-minus to my two pepperoni slices.
I later reviewed Gallo's Old World Style Pizza, giving it an A-minus for its take on an old-school version of local pizza, before the current norm of processed mozzarella and sliced pepperoni. And I enjoyed an interesting conversation with owner John Gallo, who's probably forgotten more about pizza than I'll ever know.
I've meant to go back to try one of Gallo's gourmet pizzas, but as too often happens, I simply haven't gotten around to it. But as I found myself in the neighborhood the other day, I was able to stop in for a lunchtime slice.
The slice measured 9 inches along one side and 10 on the other (the pie was obviously cut a little off center), so I'm guessing it came from an 18-inch pie. The crust was thin to medium thick, with a golden brown underside that was firm and crisscrossed by screen marks.
Along the outer edge, the crust was crisp and bready, and formed into a narrow, moderately thick lip. The dough had a faint touch of sweetness, like a tasty loaf of Italian bread. This was one of those slices where the cornicione is the best part, as that's where I could best appreciate the subtle qualities of this dough.
I was put off a bit, though, by the grease factor. I've been criticized before about using the term "grease" instead of "oil," I would call this grease, in the sense that most of it, I think, was melted fat from the pepperoni. I know you'll always have some grease when there's a fatty meat topping on a pizza, and a little grease can actually be a good thing, but there was enough here that I turned the slice upside down onto its paper plate, which collected a fair amount of orange-colored liquid.
As for the other components, this was a pretty well balanced slice, with a slightly herbal sauce and a uniform layer of melted mozzarella (which could've been an additional source of the oil/grease, but I'm guessing most of it came from the pepperoni). I had no complaints about the cheese, but it was rather nondescript and unremarkable, with a texture that was between chewy and stringy.
Despite the grease factor, I did like this slice. The number one factor for me remains the crust, and this was a pretty good, if not great crust, with fundamentally good dough. But it lacked crispness underneath, the cheese didn't wow me, and the grease was rather off-putting. As much as I liked the outer edge, I have to rate the whole slice, not just part of it. This slice exemplified some of the better characteristics of Rochester-style pizza, but also some of the potential pitfalls, and so I'll give it a C.
Gallo's, 1064 Stone Rd., Greece 663-5960
Mon. - Thu. 11 - 10, Fri. & Sat. 11 - 11, Sun. noon - 10

Friday, October 26, 2012

A Good Night at Good Luck

I maintain a personal to-do list of pizza places to try out, but I also am influenced by my readers. And a reader's recent query about when I was going to get around to trying Good Luck spurred me to action.
Well, sort of. The fact is, we finally got us a new babysitter, and hence a much-delayed, and much-needed, chance to go out to dinner, to a place that doesn't have hot dogs or mac 'n' cheese on the menu. (And yes, I know that mac 'n' cheese can now be found at upscale restaurants, dressed up with a variety of artisanal cheeses, creme fraiche, and everything from pancetta to black truffles, but that's not what I'm talking about.) But the reader's inquiry did play a role in deciding where we'd go, and since Good Luck had been on my radar screen for a while, I figured this was a good opportunity to cross it off my list.
This was my first time to Good Luck, but I hope not my last. It may not have the most well-chosen name I've ever run across, but the food was of uniformly good quality, with good service to boot.
I'm a bit schizophrenic where restaurants are concerned - I enjoy upscale places with innovative menus, but I'm also a small-town, middle-class guy at heart, and I'm innately skeptical about places that try too hard to be hip and trendy. I mean, I love New York City, but to say that a Rochester restaurant feels as it it could be in New York City is not exactly an endorsement, for me.
I knew that Good Luck was a "concept" restaurant - the concept being that plates here are meant to be shared - so that gave my admittedly pedestrian and parochial sensibilities a little pause, but as concepts go, that's not particularly contrived, so I wasn't too put off by it, either.
The place was buzzing on a Friday night, and the sight of lawyers in suits standing next to a guy at the bar wearing a wide-brimmed Asian-style hat that looked like something you'd see on a samurai warrior told me I had reached the epicenter of Rochester's cutting-edge restaurant/bar scene. But everyone was smiling, the vibe was good, and so I put aside my stodgy, curmudgeonly half for the night.
I knew going in that, whatever else I ate, I was going to try one of Good Luck's pizzas. As I usually do, when it is an option, I went with the Margherita, which for me has become a benchmark by which to compare and judge so-called artisanal pizza, much the same way that a plain cheese slice is my yardstick for New York style pizza.
My pie displayed a thick, puffy cornicione surrounding a very thin center. The underside and edge were charred, a bit unevenly, with some areas along the edge verging on burned.
When the pie was delivered to our table, I thought I detected a whiff of garlic, although that seemed to fade, possibly for the simple reason that my olfactory sense was becoming accustomed to it. As I proceeded to munch my way through it, though, I continued to pick up an aroma of dark toast, which I enjoyed. The cornicione also seemed to have been lightly brushed with olive oil, which was apparent to my fingertips, though whatever flavor it contributed blended in with the rest of the components. The crust had a chewy texture, and was crisp along the edge but very supple in the center, making a knife and fork a necessity. Aside from the toasted notes emanating from the char spots, it had no particularly distinctive flavor.
Atop the crust lay a generous coating of sauce, which was marked by a pronounced tomatoey flavor. I found it a tad salty, but since I consider salt a food group that wasn't a major problem for me, especially since the salt was balanced to some extent by the underlying sweetness of the San Marzano tomatoes.
The five thinly sliced disks of fresh mozzarella had a good, creamy texture, though as the pie cooled they tended for firm up and become a bit rubbery. A sprinkling of what I think was Parmesan cheese added a pleasantly sharp contrast in the background, and the whole thing was rounded out by the roughly torn fresh basil leaves. I could be mistaken, but I also thought I noticed a subtle spiciness, perhaps from a pinch of red pepper? If it was there, it was, as I said, subtle, but all in all this pie, for all its apparent simplicity, displayed a welcome complexity of flavors, aromas and textures.
As I was enjoying it, though, I found myself debating whether this was an "A" or a "B" pizza. I've tried to eschew pluses and minuses of late, so the question was, was this an exceptionally good, virtually flawless pizza, or "just" a very good pizza?
Some days later, I'm still torn. In general, I liked it very much, as I think should be evident from this review. But there were a few, albeit individually minor, flaws. First, the crust was blackened in spots, beyond simple charring. Second, while I liked the sauce, it nearly overwhelmed the very thin crust, and again the chef seemed to have had a heavy hand with the salt. And while the crust was fine, it didn't bowl me over either. I mean it was good and all, but it didn't quite have the sublime combination of crispness, chew and glutenous breadiness that sends me into rapture.
Admittedly, I may seem to be picking nits here, and I'm not looking to find fault with what was, on the whole, a very good pizza. But my gut told me at the time that this was close to the borderline between an A and a B, and having thought about it, I still feel that way. So with that longwinded explanation, a firm resolve to go back (perhaps for a white pizza next time) and a recommendation that you try Good Luck as well, I'll give this pie a B.
Good Luck, 50 Anderson Ave., Rochester 14607
Wed. - Sat.:  dinner 4:30 - 11, bar open till 2 a.m., late-night menu served till midnight on Fri. & Sat.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grande Amore, Latta Rd.

I keep a to-do list of pizza places to visit, either to try for the first time or to get back to after a long hiatus. One such place that was on my list for a long time was Paulie's, a Latta Road pizzeria that I liked back in 2009.
Alas, Paulie's is no longer with us. But another pizzeria, Grande Amore, has taken its place. A reader informed me of this (thank you), and so I got up there recently to check it out.
On my lunchtime visit, a single cheese pie was available for slices. I could've asked for toppings to be added, but went with two cheese slices (in my opinion, adding toppings to a baked slice and reheating it in the oven simply doesn't compare to having the toppings baked on from the start).
My slices were medium thick, with a pale underside that was lightly dusted with corn meal. The crust was rather soft, and a little gummy. Things were a little better along the edge, which was more browned and crisper.
On top, a basic, lightly seasoned tomato sauce was topped with a scattered layer of congealed mozzarella cheese. The overall balance of crust to sauce to cheese was pretty good, if a little light on the cheese.
Grande Amore offers 16 pizza toppings (18 on the menu, but I don't count extra sauce or cheese as separate toppings), and nine specialty pizzas. They also do wings, plates, hot sandwiches, and several dinners, from pasta to steak. A few desserts are also available, including the "Madd Monkey," described as "vanilla/chocolate cream pudding, banana slices, walnuts and thundered with chocolate chunks."
I can't say I was thrilled by these slices, but I'm going to hold off giving them a letter grade. I often decline to rate a pizzeria until after it's been open for a while, and I think that's appropriate here. While it's no excuse, I also wonder if these slices suffered from the first-pancake syndrome; you know, the first pancake never comes out that well, and this was apparently the first pizza of the day. I'd like to make a return visit later in the day, when I know the oven will be up to full temperature and several pizzas have gone in and out of the oven. There's promise here, but time will tell whether it's fulfilled.
Grande Amore Pizza, 1250 Latta Road
(585) 663-9150
Sun., Mon., Wed., Thu. 11 a.m. - midnight, Tue. 4 p.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Giuseppe's Neapolitan

I've written several times before about Giuseppe's, a West Side bakery/restaurant/pizzeria that traces its origins back to 1927, making it arguably (everything about pizza history is arguable) the oldest pizzeria in Rochester. (Read more about Rochester's pizza history here.)
On one visit, I picked up a small flyer advertising Giuseppe's "Naples Style Pizza," described as "thin & crispy traditional pizza." This was advertised in two styles:  the "Margareta," with tomato sauce, Pecorino Romano, mozzarella and fresh basil; and the "Bianco," with fresh garlic, extra virgin olive oil, Romano, mozzarella and basil.
Both sounded good, but I opted for the red pie - given a choice, I'll almost always go with the tomato version, unless I've tried it before.
These pies come in two sizes, small (12") and large (16"). I got the small.
When I ordered, I was informed that on that particular day, they were out of fresh basil. To Giuseppe's credit, they gave me a break on the price, charging me just $5 for what would otherwise have been an $8 pie.
I was fine with that, but I wondered if it indicates that they don't get orders for these pizzas too often. I didn't notice any other menu items with fresh basil, so maybe they don't always keep it on hand. Or maybe they simply ran out. But it is a good thing to keep handy, as I generally do at home. It's inexpensive, and a basil leaf or two adds a nice touch to a lot of different entrees, not just pizza.
But to get back to my pizza, the crust was indeed thin and crispy, as advertised, with a brittle edge and some surface crackling underneath. Giuseppe's regular pizza tends to be on the thin side of medium, with a somewhat soft bottom and a faint feel of oil underneath, but with this, it was as if they'd made an effort to show that they can do a super-thin, almost crackerlike crust. 
Atop the crust was a layer of sweet, thick tomato sauce. It was full-flavored, and while I liked it, it threatened to overwhelm the thin crust. The cheese was applied more sparingly, with melted, irregularly shaped, thin slices of mozzarella interspersed across the surface of the pie. That allowed some of the moisture of the sauce to evaporate in the oven, so that despite the abundant sauce, this wasn't a sloppy or soggy pie. I frankly didn't notice much Romano flavor.
It's a little hard to judge this pizza, without the basil. I think that would've added a dimension of flavor that was missed here. And a more noticeable presence of Romano would've been welcome too. Both of those would've helped balance out the sauce. But I did enjoy this pizza, for its thin, crackly crust and its very simplicity. In short, this was a distinctive, easy-to-eat pie from one of Rochester's most venerable pizzerias, and for that I'll give it a B.
Giuseppe's, 40 Spencerport Rd. 14606
Mon. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri./Sat. 9 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Dining Room opens at 11 a.m. Mon. - Sat. and 4 p.m. Sun.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baked and Carved, East Ave. Skillet Pizza - CLOSED

Baked and carved (in sallingers) on Urbanspoon

(4/11/13) - Baked & Carved is now closed.
For many years, O'Bagelo's was a staple of downtown dining, serving up excellent sandwiches from a storefront on State Street. Some months ago, it closed, but you'll find a reincarnation, of sorts, at Baked and Carved on East Avenue. It's located adjacent to, and shares an entrance with, Salingers, a popular East End bar.
B&C offers many of the same, or very similar, items as O'Bagelos, including from-scratch soups and terrific sandwiches. These come piled with high-quality meats (and meatless selections, if you're so inclined), some of which are roasted in-house, on equally good house-baked bread. But the menu has expanded to include some new items, including burgers, and, notably, pizza.
B&C's pizza is listed under the name "Bar Pies (Skillet Pizza’s [sic])." I wasn't sure what to make of that, but I was guessing that this referred to a very thin, crisp pie, maybe a little oily, but light enough to leave plenty of room for beer; see here and here for some discussion of the topic of bar pizza.
But I was wrong. This was a relatively thin pie, to be sure, but nothing about it particularly marked this, to me, as a "bar pizza," or distinguished it from any other small pizza. Maybe the "bar pizza" name refers mostly to its size - it's small enough to conveniently eat while sitting at a bar.
In any event, this pizza measured about nine inches across, which probably relates to its designation as a "skillet pie." That refers, I presume, to its having been baked in a nine-inch skillet.
Here again, we get into issues with labels. You can find various references to skillet pizza on the web, like this one and this one; heck, even Martha Stewart has a version, which is also denominated "Beer Drinkers' Pizza," tying it back into the concept of bar pizza.
Labels aside, this pizza had a pale bottom, which was dry, with just the faintest hint of oil. The slightly thicker cornicione was marked by a bready interior, and the crust as a whole gave off a breadlike aroma that was no surprise, coming from this bread-centered establishment.
The other notable aspect of this pie was the sauce. This pie was heavy on the sauce, which had a bright tomatoey flavor, lightly seasoned, apart from some saltiness. The melted, just-browned mozzarella was added in good proportion to the crust. It struck a pleasant balance between creamy and chewy, and though its mild flavor was accented by some tangy notes (a bit of Parmesan, perhaps?), it took a back seat to the sauce. The pie was finished off with nicely crisp, cup and char pepperoni slices.
Like its predecessor O'Bagelos, Baked and Carved stakes its reputation, justifiably, on its sandwiches. No surprise there, as the meats and breads are both of high quality. And proprietor John Vito's wit and wisdom are worth a visit in themselves.
As for the pizza, it makes for a good, if occasional, alternative to B&C's other fare. The crust had good flavor, although I would've liked a more crisp bottom, and the various components worked well together. Nothing particularly distinctive about this pie, aside from the generously laid-on sauce, but it would make for a satisfying lunch, or a light meal at the adjacent bar. I'll give it a C, along with an "unofficial" B for Baked & Carved's menu as a whole.
Baked & Carved, 107 East Ave. 14604
Facebook: Facebook/bakedandcarved
Mon. - Thu. 11 - 10, Fri. 11 - 11, Sat. 3 - 11

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Fiamma, Buffalo Road

This past summer, I decided to take a drive over to General Hoock's on Buffalo Road, a pizzeria I hadn't been to for a while, just for an update. I was disappointed to see that it was closed, but my disappointment was partially mitigated by the sign in the window advertising a wood-fired pizzeria opening in that space soon.
I've been to enough wood-fired pizzerias by now to know that the presence of a wood-burning oven is no guarantee of great pizza, so while I was interested, I wasn't overly excited about the news.
A couple of weeks ago, I drove by again, and noticed that the restaurant had opened, under the name Fiamma. I arranged to meet some friends there for lunch.
The pizza portion of the menu was broken down into two categories: Le Pizze Tradizionali, and Le Pizze Specialita, each of which had a Margherita on it. On the traditional side was a $12 Margherita with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, and Gran Cru cheese. The specialty Margherita, at $16, came with San Marzano tomato sauce, imported buffalo milk mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, oregano, basil, Gran Cru cheese, and extra virgin olive oil.
As I understood the menu, all of Fiamma's pizzas are made with San Marzano tomatoes, and though I was tempted to spring for the specialty version, I ended up going for the regular, "traditional" Margherita. Both my friends ordered a Diavola, which comes with tomato sauce, mozzarella, soppressata, basil, and spicy olive oil, also at $12.
Truth be told, I was a little taken aback by the prices. I know you can pay $5 for a single slice in New York City, but Fiamma's prices seemed a tad high for this area, especially for a pizzeria in a small strip plaza on a relatively nondescript stretch of Buffalo Road in Gates. Still, I tried to keep an open mind, and hope for the best.
Or at least I thought I was hoping for the best. What I got was better than what I had hoped for, and by the time I was done, the prices seemed eminently reasonable.
On arrival, the pie looked like a pretty good, if typical, wood-fired Margherita. But the closer I looked, the more intrigued I became.
First, there was the charring. I've had wood-fired pies that have a nice charred edge, but a pale underside. It's almost as if the charring is just there for show. And then there are some that are, quite frankly, burnt. There is a difference between charred and burnt, and to be sure, some customers aren't aware of that distinction, complaining that their pizza is burnt when in fact it's simply charred, on the surface. But some pizzaioli don't always seem to know the difference, either, serving up burnt pies and explaining that they're "supposed" to look that way.
This pizza showed the difference. It was lightly charred along the edge, and speckled with char spots underneath, across its bottom surface. In other words, it wasn't just blackened around the perimeter, by being exposed to the open flame for a few seconds - it was charred (not burnt) from the flame, yes, but also from coming into direct contact with a very hot oven floor. The edge was thick, but not heavy or dense, with crisp bubbles of charred dough encasing a series of small air pockets.
Despite the charring of the crust, the toppings didn't appear to be overdone at all. The fresh mozzarella had melted beautifully into the sauce, and the basil was wilted but still retained some of its vibrant green color.
What really struck me most, though, visually, was not the charring. On lifting up one side of my pizza (pizzas here arrive at the table unsliced, as in Italy), I found that the crust was actually translucent. If you've made bread or pizza, you probably are familiar with the "windowpane" test, which involves stretching a small piece of dough in your fingers. If you can stretch the dough thin enough for light to pass through it without the dough tearing, the gluten has been adequately developed. If it tears, keep kneading. This entire pie had been stretched to that point,with no holes or tears.
But the proof of the pizza is in the eating. If the crust were overly dry, or floppy, or flavorless, then its translucence would be no more than an impressive, but purely technical achievement. I mean, I can stretch Silly Putty until it's paper-thin, too, but I wouldn't want to eat it.
Happily, this pizza delivered on that score as well. For all its thinness, the crust was neither dried out nor limp, retaining enough structural integrity to bear the weight of the toppings, yet supple enough to fold without cracking.
As for the flavor - even before it reached my mouth, this pizza greeted my nostrils with its aroma, an enticing blend of toasty crust, tomatoes and basil. Those flavors - as felicitous a trinity as any in gastronomy - carried through on the palate. The sauce was rich, with a hint of sweetness from the tomatoes, and judiciously applied, as were the smooth, creamy slices of fresh mozzarella and the torn leaves of basil.
I did sample one of my companions' Diavola pies, which was also outstanding, broadly similar to the Margherita but with a peppery kick and the added textural dimension of thinly sliced soppressata. But I was more than happy with the subtle simplicity of my Margherita.
Particularly on a first visit, I rarely identify myself as a pizza blogger, and to the extent possible, I try to be subtle about taking notes and photos. I'm not looking for special treatment. But I had to meet the person responsible for this pizza.
That would be 32-year-old Giuseppe Paciullo, a native of Salerno, Italy, who learned his craft as a youngster before bringing his skills to New York City, where he spent the last few years before moving here. He told me that his girlfriend, who's from Rochester, convinced him to come here and open his own pizzeria, and all I can say is, thank you, girlfriend.
Talk with Giuseppe for a few minutes and you'll realize how devoted he is to pizza. With the exception of the fresh basil, all his ingredients are imported from Italy. I'm all for buying American, but this tells me that Giuseppe knows his ingredients, knows what he needs to make the pizza he has in mind, and will settle for nothing less.
Fiamma's oven burns a blend of hardwoods, which is the only heat source. And what a heat source. Giuseppe told me that the oven temperature generally reaches about 1000 degrees.
I used to think that stuff about extremely high oven temperatures was just so much hype, but I can't argue with the results here. As I spoke with Giuseppe, I watched as he put two pies in the oven, turning them every few seconds, and then took them out after what couldn't have been more than two minutes, perfectly done.
(That heat, I'm sure, is directly related to the thinness of the crusts. A thick crust would either come out with an underdone interior or a burnt exterior. But these? Perfect.)
Fiamma is a small place, with just a few tables and a small bar, which is awaiting its liquor license (although they appeared to have wine). Unless I'm way off the mark, you may soon find it packed on many nights, so I'd get there ASAP. They don't deliver, either - this is not the kind of pizza that you want to spend 30 minutes in a box before it gets to you. Only sheer willpower kept me from devouring my entire pie at lunch, and although it seems a crime to put this into a styrofoam container, I wanted my wife and daughter to be able to try it, even under less than ideal conditions (we'll all go there as a family soon, I assure you).
I've never been to Italy *sigh* but my gut tells me that this is as close as I've come, pizzawise. Forgive me if I've strayed into hyperbole here at times, but this was some of the best pizza I've had, period. It was right in so many ways, from the charring to the light, crisp, supple texture of the crust to the blend of flavors of the toppings ... well, I've think I've said all that I can. The next step is for you to go there and try it for yourself. Do I guarantee you'll like it as much as I did? No, and I never would. People's tastes can differ. But if your taste in pizza is anywhere close to mine, and I'm thinking it probably is if you're reading this blog, do yourself a favor and try Fiamma. It's a great example of the pizzamaker's art.
Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road, Gates
Lunch Mon. - Fri. 11:30 - 2:30
Dinner Mon. - Sat. 4:30 - 10:00
Sunday for private parties only