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Monday, January 30, 2012

Caraglio's, Gates

I recently paid a visit to the Caraglio's in Gates, at the corner of Elmgrove and Lyell, where DiRosato's had been. I got a pepperoni slice.
Usually the first thing I check is the underside of the crust. But the first thing I noticed on this oversized slice was that it was a little skimpy on the pepperoni. You can see for yourself in the photo. It was good pepperoni, nice and crisp, but four little slices? Come on.
But on to the crust - it was pretty thin, with prominent screen marks on its browned bottom. I picked up a faint aroma of cooking oil.
This wasn't a particularly saucy slice. Given the thinness of the crust it was reasonably well balanced in that regard, but it was perhaps a bit over-evaporated. The sauce was pretty middle-of-the-road, with a mild tomatoey, if a bit bland, flavor. The mozzarella was well browned, a bit more than I like, and it too was on the dry side. Maybe this slice had been sitting out for a while. (And to those who tell me I shouldn't judge a pizzeria based on a slice, I repeat my usual rejoinder:  I'm not rating the pizzeria, I'm rating this slice. Take it for what it's worth. And if a pizzeria sells slices, they should see to it that they don't sell stale slices.)
This marks my third visit to a local Caraglio's. Generally, this slice fit the profile - big, screen-baked, a little floppy - but it differed in some ways from both the other two visits (on Dewey Ave. and in Hilton). The crust was OK, perhaps the best of the three, but it was rather dry and skimpy on the toppings, even for a thin slice. I'll give it a C-minus.
Caraglio's, 3869 Lyell Rd. 14606
Tel. 426-0270
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Romeo's, Greece: Pepperoni Pie

Two years ago (wow - has it been that long?) I did a post on Romeo's in Greece, where I tried a Margherita pizza. The crust wasn't quite as crisp as I would've liked from a wood-fired oven, but it was good enough to rate a B.
I've been back since, with friends, one of whom got a pepperoni pizza. I opted for pasta, but I got to sample the pizza.
This had a surprisingly thick crust for a wood-fired pizza, although that was partly owing to my companion who ordered it. She could've opted for a thinner crust, but went with a "regular" thick crust, which is probably more in line with what people are used to on Rochester's West side, which is a bastion of traditional Italian-American food.
In a nutshell, the flavor was good, but, for my taste, the crust was a little soft. There was a generous amount of sauce, which had a very tomatoey, slightly herbal flavor. It was topped by well-melted, slightly gooey mozzarella, and tasty, crisp slices of pepperoni.
So far, so good. But the crust - to go with Romeo's golf-themed menu terminology, a holdover from its former incarnation as Bogey's Woodfired Grill - was not quite up to par. It tasted all right, but it was rather soft underneath. Now that might be fine with some people, but it was also slightly gummy where the dough met the sauce, and to me that's a no-no. It wasn't terribly gummy, mind you, but a little.
This was a well-balanced pizza, with crust, sauce and cheese in good proportion to each other, but I think this was a case were less might've been more. If they had simply scaled back on everything, the crust might've been crisper, without that gumminess that results when liquid from the sauce strts to dissolve the dough before it gets a chance to cook.
Still, that was the only real flaw here, it was, as I said, attributable in part to what was ordered, and otherwise the pizza was pretty good. I don't see any reason to depart from my previous "B" grade for Romeo's.
Romeo’s Restaurant & Bistro, 2500 Ridgeway Ave.
Tel. 342-9340
Mon.-Wed. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Thu. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. 4 p.m. - 8 p.m. (Bar opens at noon on Sundays, stays open every night till ?)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cam's, Mt. Hope

A couple of people have asked me to review the Cam's on Mt. Hope Avenue near Elmwood. I've made a couple of stops there, so here's a report.
I have found Cam's to be pretty consistently good. As regular readers know, I'm no fan of chain pizzerias, but I have been impressed with the job that Cam's does of turning out reasonably good, New York style pizza, at numerous locations. And this was, generally, no exception.
On one visit, I got a cheese slice and a stuffed slice, something I don't remember seeing before at Cam's. It may have been there all along, I just never noticed.
The cheese slice was decent, with some spotty, light charring underneath. It did seem unusually thin, so much so that the crust lacked any bready interior, except along the edge. Maybe it was just me, that day, but although there was a bit of toastiness underneath, the crust also seemed a tad bland, as if there wasn't enough salt in the dough.
A good New York style slice should strike a balance between crispness and pliability. This came close, but the needle seemed to be tilting a little more toward the "pliable" end of the scale. So while the crust was OK, it mostly served as a platform for the sauce and the cheese.
Speaking of which, the sauce and cheese were pretty good. The sauce was slightly sweet, with some herbs in the background, and the slightly browned cheese had a slight tanginess that balanced it out well. (Cam's menu says that they use Grande® mozzarella, which many pizza connoisseurs consider among the best.)
Next up was a slice topped with cheese and pepperoni, and stuffed with sausage and pepperoni. As you can see from the cross-section photo, it wasn't as heavy, or thick, as it sounds. The bottom, and top, crusts were paper-thin, almost as if they'd managed to take the thin crust from my cheese slice and slice it in half horizontally. And the stuffing, while certainly noticeable, wasn't, well, overabundant. Don't get me wrong - it was a tasty, well-balanced slice. I'm just saying, don't confuse this with a deep-dish or casserole-type pizza.
That said, this was a heavier slice than the cheese slice, since it was mostly meat. The cheese layer was also thin but solid, covering the entire slice. Neither it nor the underside were as browned as on the cheese slice. The pepperoni slices on top were hardly necessary, but added some additional flavor.
On a separate visit, I got a Buffalo chicken slice, and a white-pizza veggie slice, which made for a more nutritionally balaced duo than on my other visit. The former came with finely diced chicken, tossed in a medium-hot Buffalo sauce, along with Ken's blue cheese dressing and mozzarella. A smattering of banana pepper rings added a vinegary edge and a bit more heat, although the overall flavor profile still hovered around medium. If you're tolerant enough of spicy food to be ordering one of these, then I'm sure you'd have no problem with the heat level on this one.
At first, I thought the veggie slice was Cam's take on a Margherita, but no, that's not basil, that's spinach, and that's feta, not fresh mozzarella.
Cam's veggie pizza is described as being topped with "fresh spinach on a bed of garlic butter & Grande mozzarella with your choice of tomatoes or artichokes, finished off with feta cheese crumbled over the top" (obviously this one had tomatoes). Those made for an enjoyable combination.
When I was a kid, I loved Popeye cartoons, but they never convinced me to eat spinach. In fact, I've long thought that Popeye cartoons were pro-spinach propaganda, but now I realize that they probably did more to turn me off spinach than anything else. I knew that if ate spinach (canned spinach, no less), my biceps wouldn't really blow up like a balloon, nor would I be able to turn an alligator into a matching set of luggage with one punch from my cinderblock-size fists, but I did get the impression from those cartoons that kids were expected to hate spinach, so I refused to touch the stuff.
Of course, the spinach on my family's dinner table at that time was usually the frozen kind, which is about as appetizing as the stuff you clean out of your gutter in late fall. So it was a revelation for me to discover, as an adult, that fresh spinach leaves are actually not bad. Not on my favorite-foods list, but not bad, and they contributed a nice flavor here, which was well complemented by the sharp, salty feta, garlic butter and tomatoes. Even the tomatoes were reasonably good - they looked to be Roma tomatoes, which in the off-season especially, are often a better choice than so-called "slicing" tomatoes.
I'm not going to individually rate all these pizza slices. I will say that in general, they were typical of Cam's - reliably good, if not quite top-tier, thin-crust pizza. The crusts were decent, reasonably crisp, with some light charring, and the toppings were of good quality and tasty. I'd say these average out to about a B-plus.
Cam's Pizzeria, 1290 Mt. Hope Ave., Rochester 14620
Tel.: 256-7437 (PIES)
Hours: Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Sinbad's "Pitza"

Sinbad's Mediterranean Cuisine on Urbanspoon
It's not uncommon at Greek or Near Eastern restaurants to see some variant of pizza on the menu, usually involving pita bread. Despite - in fact, because of - my love for pizza, I typically don't order those. If I want pizza, I'll go to a pizzeria. If I'm at a Greek restaurant, then I generally want more traditional fare like souvlaki or a gyro. (Now for all I know, the Greeks may have been eating pizza-like flatbreads for thousands of years, but I'm talking about traditional American-style Greek food, or what most Americans think of when they think of Greek food.)
But on a recent visit to Sinbad's on Park Avenue, I decided to break from my usual routine and try one of their "pitzas." There are eight on the menu, and several of them did sound tempting. Hot sauce or peppers are usually the clincher for me, though, so I went with the "Ganbari" pitza, which the menu described as topped with "our hot sauce as a base, with shrimp, spinach leaves, roasted pep­per, arti­choke hearts and parme­san cheese."
It was a good choice. Not terribly spicy (though I've built up quite a tolerance for spicy-hot foods over the years), but very tasty indeed. The mélange of flavors worked quite well, as the toppings complemented rather than clashed with each other. And while the toppings were laid on pretty generously, there wasn't so much going on here as to overwhelm my taste buds or to turn into a mismatched mishmash (try saying that three times fast). The savory, peppery shrimp played off the tart artichoke hearts (kudos for the absence of hard, unchewable artichoke leaves) and the sharp grated Parmesan, with the roasted red pepper slices and wilted spinach leaves adding some welcome, subtle background flavor.
And I must say that I liked the crust as well. I was afraid that it might either be brittle and crackerlike, or simply like an ordinary pita, soft and chewy. This was crisp but not brittle, and a bit bready as well. Judged purely as a pizza crust, I might not give it exceptionally high marks, but for what this was - a flatbread-like hybrid between a pita and a pizza crust - it was pretty good.
The fact remains, this wasn't a traditional pizza, so I'm not going to give it a rating. If you really want pizza, I don't think you'd go to Sinbad's to get it. But it was pretty good. And you may want to check out some of the other "pitzas," like the "Sultan's," with tahini, char­broiled beef and lamb, onions, pep­per rings, toma­toes, feta and pars­ley, or the "Ali Baba," with gar­lic sauce, toma­toes, char­broiled egg­plant, feta, olives and pars­ley. And there are plenty of other dishes to choose from - I've been going to Sinbad's for years, as I've always enjoyed their various Mediterranean dishes.
Sinbad's, 719 Park Ave, Rochester NY 14607
Tel.: 473-8270
Hours: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Rubino's, Webster

Rubino's Imported Italian Food on Urbanspoon
I've long been familiar with Rubino's, going back to when they had a location at the Midtown Plaza food court. I always thought they made pretty good subs, but Midtown's only a memory, and in recent years I kind of stopped paying attention to Rubino's. I think they also had a small place on State Street across from Kodak for a while, but that's gone too, and since I started this blog my sub consumption has declined precipitously.
So I owe some thanks to the reader who recently informed me that Rubino's has a place in Webster that serves pizza. Come to find out, their other locations do too, according to the menu on their website, but Webster's the one that I checked out.
I ordered a medium pepperoni pizza to go (the photos were taken immediately after I got it, so it was still fresh and hot). It had a thin to medium crust, with a soft pale bottom. It was a little doughy, and just a bit crisp along the edge. As is often the case with soft-crusted pizzas, I liked the crisp edge better than the soft middle.
The crust was topped by a thin layer of sauce, which had some herbal flavor, but was nonetheless on the bland side. The melted mozzarella was a little chewy and easily separated from the crust.
I haven't been to any of the other Rubino's, but the one in Webster is, I believe, unique among them in that it includes a sports bar. The atmosphere, at lunch anyway, was more deli than bar, and they close at 8 p.m., so it's not a place to go hang out all night, but the bar and numerous HDTVs make it a good option for watching a daytime or late-afternoon game over a cold pint and a pizza.
Or more likely, a sub. Rubino's is still primarily a deli, not a pizzeria, as one look at their menu confirms. It's dominated by the subs, which are far too numerous to list here, but they've got as wide a variety of hot and cold subs as you'll find in the area. And prices include up to seven toppings of your choice. I'm particularly intrigued by the "garlic subs" - which I guess means on a toasted, garlic-bread style roll. They also offer panini, pasta and salads.
The pizza? Well, it was OK. Not great, but good enough. But the subs are a better option here, and for pizza I'd probably go elsewhere. I'll give the pizza a C-minus.
Rubino's Italian Submarines and Sports Pub, 44 E. Main St., Webster
Tel.: 265-0870
Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. -8 p.m.
Other locations at 343 East Ave. and 1659 Mt. Hope Ave. in Rochester, and 349 W. Commercial St. in East Rochester

Friday, January 13, 2012

Vinny's Twofer

I've posted about Vinny's Bakery & Deli in Fairport twice before, in August 2010 and in March 2011. I've consistently been pleased and impressed with their pizza, particularly the Sicilian pizza. That's no great surprise, considering that the owners are from Sicily.
And I frankly just love these kinds of places. If the pizza was bad, I'd say so, but in my experience, pizzerias that are run by Italian immigrants, or that have stayed in the families of Italian immigrants, make good pizza. And Vinny's is no exception.
I recently split a Sicilian sheet pizza with someone, which gave me more than enough to feed my family of three.
Unfortunately, thick-crust pizza with no mozzarella is a tough sell in my house, so I also got a "regular" pizza, half plain, half pepper and onions. And I got half of my Sicilian with mozzarella, again to please my family (what can I say - they're not pizza purists). The other half was the "true" Sicilian pizza, with just tomato sauce, garlic and grated Romano (there are two slices in the upper right of the top photo with no cheese - that's due to the mozzarella sticking to the inside cover of the box, which probably has more to do with my driving than anything else.
So let's get right to the star of the show, the Sicilian pizza. A reader who's a big fan of Vinny's urged me to try a traditional Sicilian, partly because the use of grated cheese, rather than a blanket of sliced or shredded cheese, allows the moisture in the dough to evaporate, resulting in a crisper crust.
This is one that I've had to think about. Now it stands to reason that a thicker layer of dough will contain more moisture than a thin crust. And some of that moisture has to evaporate in order to get a crisp crust.
A solid blanket of cheese would certainly seem to impede the evaporation of moisture from inside the crust. Does that mean that a pizza with a sprinkling of grated cheese will have a crisper crust?
At first blush, that might seem to make some sense, but I'm not so sure, even after eating this pizza. I didn't see any big difference between the slices with the sliced mozzarella and those without. In thinkinig about it, I also think that the sauce itself would be the primary impediment to moisture evaporating from the crust. And this was saucy pizza. I think where the cheese matters most is probably on the top side - if the sauce is exposed to the hot air inside the oven, some of its water will evaporate, concentrating the flavor of the sauce, and avoiding the gumminess that can result when water from the sauce leaches back into the top layer of the crust. But I don't think it probably makes much difference as to the underside, especially if you eat the pizza while it's still hot.
Having said all that, I really liked this pizza. The underside of Vinny's pizza is not quite like that of any other pizzeria around here that I've tried (and I've tried nearly all of them). It literally shines, with a glossy surface that's crisp and smooth, yet not at all greasy. The interior of the crust is light and airy but not overly soft. It doesn't quite have the complexity of flavor that I would expect from a slow-rising dough - but it makes a very good base for the toppings.
Ah yes, the toppings. I love a good plate of spaghetti and meatballs, but sometimes the best part is mopping up the sauce with a thick slice of Italian bread. This was very much like that experience, only a few notches higher. Each slice was topped with a thick, tomatoey sauce, infused with chunks of garlic, and a generous sprinkling of pungent, grated Romano cheese. There are lots of good food combinations out there, but none better than tomatoes, garlic, and Romano.
Given the relative lack of cheese, as compared with a typical, mozzarella-topped American pizza, the sauce was added in good balance with the thick crust, enough to provide moisture and flavor without overwhelming the crust or making it soggy. The slices with mozzarella (thin sliced, not shredded - this was clearly good mozzarella, hand-sliced off a block) were equally good, although the mozzarella seemed superfluous to me, even if it did make the pizza more acceptable to my young daughter, as it conformed more to her conception of what pizza should look like.
But both she and my wife were more interested in the "regular" pizza - a standard pie, with tomato sauce and mozzarella, which I got half-topped with peppers and onions. What can I say? It was very good, though to me it took a back seat to the Sicilian. The thin-to-medium crust was lightly charred underneath, with a dry, firm underside. What I noticed most about this pizza was the cheese, which was very nicely melted, and which was clearly top-shelf stuff - no dried-out shreds here, or orangey oil exuding from the cheese, just a smooth, creamy blanket of mozzarella.
If you really prefer standard, American-style pizza, then you should be more than happy with Vinny's version. It's got a nice crust and tasty toppings, and easily rates a B+. But it would be a shame to go to Vinny's for a pizza and not get a Sicilian. I've never been to Sicily, but I have to think this is as close as it gets, in these parts. It gets an A from me.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mama's Pizza Kitchen, Revisited

After I gave a C-minus to Mama's Pizza Kitchen on Lake Avenue back in 2010, some readers urged me to go back there and give them another try. It's taken me a while, but I did.
I would've liked to try a full pie, but I just didn't need or want that much pizza to deal with, so I got two cheese slices, which had just emerged from the oven, so I figured they'd be pretty representative of a fresh pie. And Mama's does seem to be kind of a slice joint, with big, floppy slices that are made for walk-in traffic around Charlotte.
These were big, thin slices, with a medium-brown, screen-baked underside. They were just a bit oily to the touch, and had a faint aroma of cooking oil. The crust was quite pliable, making the slices easy to fold, but they were not crisp at all.
The toppings were added in pretty good proportion to the crust, but the cheese was more prominent than the sauce. It was on the salty side and just a little browned. It had congealed into a solid blanket, and was more chewy than smooth or stringy.
Between the cheese and crust was a thin layer of tomatoey, slightly tangy sauce. A sprinkling of dried herbs on top rounded out the flavor profile.
I thought this pizza was OK. I didn't mind it. And it had some things going for it. Any big, floppy, cheesy slice of pizza will usually be sort of good, at some level.
But it was only marginally better than last time. There was a little more sauce, and the cheese had a better texture than last time, when it was overcooked. And though this doesn't affect the grade, the service was good, friendly, and accommodating. So I guess it does deserve to get bumped up a notch, but that's all, I'm afraid. This one comes in at a C.

Mama's Pizza Kitchen, 4410 Lake Ave., Rochester 14612
Tel.: 581-0222
Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sat. noon - 2 a.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m. Closed Mon.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Pontillo's, Hudson Ave. & East Ridge

Some time ago, somebody asked for a review of the Pontillo's in Irondequoit. I'm sorry it's taken so long, but I finally made it there.
Often, I like to get a plain cheese slice, or maybe a pepperoni slice, as they serve as useful benchmarks for pizza. But on this occasion, confronted with a wide variety of slices to choose from at lunchtime, I went with a Buffalo chicken slice and a pepperoni Sicilian slice. Next time I'm up that way, I'll get a regular cheese slice.
The Buffalo chicken slice was very thin and easy to fold, with a lightly browned bottom. It was not at all charred, unlike most Pontillo's pizzas I've had. (As has been pointed out before, Pontillo's is a very loosely knit chain, with different locations often sharing no more than a name, so what you get at one may not be much of an indicator of what you'll get at another.) But there was no greasiness, either; the underside was dry and a bit floury, with some surface crackling, a good sign of a crisp crust. The edge was nice and bready, with the texture and flavor of Italian bread.
Buffalo chicken pizza may be one of the most variable styles, with options including tomato sauce, hot sauce, breaded or unbreaded chicken (which might be ground or cubed), mozzarella or blue cheese, celery, carrots, and various permutations of all of those. This one was topped with a thin layer of wing sauce. It was fairly mild, but packed some punch, as it more flavor than physical substance, as compared with a typical tomato-based pizza sauce.
Atop that, small chunks of diced, unbreaded white meat provided the protein. They were a little on the dry side (wouldn't dark meat be closer to real wings?), but you may prefer that to right-out-of-the-fryer, breaded chicken coated with grease that spreads oil all over the pizza.
The cheese here seemed to be all mozzarella. It was about as thick as the crust itself, but since the crust was thin, this wasn't overly cheesy pizza. If there was any blue cheese in there, it was well in the background, as I didn't taste any. The overall flavor of this slice was of chicken, overlaid with mild Buffalo-style spices, with the thin but bready crust as a base, and the mozzarella cheese as a condiment. In some ways, this was almost like a Buffalo chicken wrap - a cup of blue cheese dipping sauce would've been nice.
I don't recall having seen Sicilian slices at any Pontillo's before, not that I'm any expert on Pontillo's, but that's why I opted for one here. These were available with either cup-and-char or "regular" pepperoni, and I chose the former.
This slice was about an inch thick, and roughly six by six inches. The underside was well browned, and just slightly oily to the touch, which is not uncommon for a pan-baked pizza. It was firm underneath, with a bit of crunch on the surface, and dotted with bubble holes and craters of various sizes. As I have generally found to be true of Pontillo's crusts, this one was chewy and bready, with a well-risen interior marked by numerous air pockets.
The tomato sauce also seemed very similar to what I've had at other Pontillo's locations, with a medium-thick consistency and a touch of sweetness. The mozzarella cheese didn't blanket the entire slice, but seemed to have settled into some low spots on the surface as it melted. The pepperoni was more evenly distributed and was good and crisp along the edges, with a nice crunch followed by a meaty chewiness. All in all, the slice was on the heavy side, a bit dense, but more from the substantial, thick, chewy crust than in an overloaded or oil-soaked way, as is the case with some pan-baked pizzas.
The Irondequoit Pontillo's has a little seating, and a basic menu consisting of pizza, calzones and wings. Service was friendly, despite the lunchtime crush. Oh, and despite the official address, the entrance is on Hudson Ave., just north of East Ridge.
These were both pretty good slices, further confirming that despite its loose-knit organizational structure, Pontillo's generally turns out reliably good pizza. I'll give the Buffalo chicken slice a B, on the strength of its good crust and tasty toppings. The Sicilian gets a B as well, for a crust with nice crunch, appropriate density and chew, and overall good balance.
Pontillo's,702 E. Ridge Rd. (Hudson Plaza), Rochester 14621
Tel.: (585) 467-6900
Hours: Mon. - Wed. 3 p.m. - 10 p.m., Thu. - Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.