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Friday, March 30, 2012

Our Winners Are ...

Ragin' Ron and KillerOkapi! Each of you will be getting a $25 gift card good for any menu items at Perri's Pizza on Lyell Avenue in Gates. I don't think either of you have yet sent me your mailing address, so please send me an email at, with your name and address, and I'll get them in the mail. I have your email addresses from your user profiles, so if I don't hear from you in a day or two I will send you an email.
As for the other participants, don't fret! I also have cards for Perri's locations in Greece and Canandaigua, and I may be able to offer coupons for their Brockport location, which is due to open soon. Look for those giveaways to begin in the near future.
Thanks to everybody who participated, to Perri's for their generous donation, and congratulations again to Ragin' Ron and KillerOkapi!

Napa, South Clinton, Revisited

Napa Wood Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon
I have previously posted about Napa Wood Fired Pizza on South Clinton Avenue, and I've been impressed with their pizzas. Wood-fired pizza has become trendy in recent years, and when that happens, people tend to jump in, thinking it's a good way to make a buck, without necessarily knowing what they're doing. With wood-fired pizza, what happens all too often is that either they don't take advantage of the high heat afforded by a wood-fired oven, so that the pizza comes out with a soft and pale crust, or they go over the top, turning out burnt pizza that they assure their customers is the way wood-fired pizza is "supposed to be."
The South Clinton location of Napa, in my experience, gets it right. The crust is crisp, and charred in spots, yet still pliable, with the flavor of baked - not just burnt - dough.
On a recent visit with two friends, I got Napa's Diavola pizza, with house-made red sauce, crushed red pepper, roasted red peppers, spinach, and a blend of Mozzarella and Provolone cheeses (the "Napa cheese blend," on the menu), finished with house-made garlic oil. One of my companions ordered the Cuban pizza, topped with BBQ sauce, pulled pork, ham, dill pickles, Mozzarella and Provolone, and finished with fried onions, while the third member of our group got the "Tasty," with pepperoni, sweet sausage, roasted mushrooms, caramelized onions, Mozzarella and Provolone.
All three were nicely cooked. The undersides were charred, in spots yet evenly, and I would not describe any of the crusts as burnt. (By the way, is it "burnt" or "burned"? Here's one take on that question.) The crusts were thin and pliable, yet crisp, and in short, were pretty close to what I expect, or hope for, from a wood-fired pizzeria.
I would also note, in that regard, that the charring here wasn't just along the edges. I've had wood-fired pizza that is relatively pale underneath, but charred along its circumference. I think what happens there is that the oven floor is not all that hot, but by getting the pizza close to the flames, the pizzaiolo can achieve some charring along the edge. That's fine, as far as it goes, but I'd prefer to see charring underneath, which means that the whole crust - not just the edge - got the benefit of the wood fire's heat.
The toppings? No complaints there. Napa offers a dizzying array of 32 pizzas, as well as 35 toppings if you want to go the create-your-own route, so the possibilities are, if not endless, virtually so. My Diavola had just enough peppery heat to excite my taste buds. The Tasty was, well, tasty, and though I found the Cuban a bit overloaded, that's not the kind of topping-heavy pizza I would have ordered in the first place. But if you like a well-topped pizza, or unusual toppings, you'll almost certainly find something to satisfy your tastes on Napa's menu.
Following our meal, I stopped by Napa's kitchen, located just off the dining room/bar area near the patio, and spoke for a few moments with the pizzaiola, Bridgette. She informed me that Napa uses a 100% wood-fired oven, with no "assist" from natural gas or any other fuel source. For that reason, the fire is kept going, 24/7 - each morning, the embers are stoked, and give birth to a new fire for that day.
The oven temperature is typically somewhere in the mid 600s. That's hotter than what's achievable in the typical home oven, but not outrageously hot, and from the results, it's obviously hot enough to yield a nicely charred pizza.
I'll defer to the experts, but I sometimes wonder if the quest for hotter and hotter pizza ovens, and shorter and shorter cooking times, doesn't result from the same kind of peculiarly American, more-is-better mindset that's given us inedibly hot pepper sauces and mouth-puckeringly bitter microbrews with alcohol levels that often exceed that of wine. As a home pizza baker, it's nice to know that it's quite possible to achieve excellent results at temperatures well below that of the surface of the sun. (On that score, check out this video of a very nicely charred pizza made in a conventional - though no doubt expensive - home oven by no-knead guru Jim Lahey.)
At some point, I think I need to make a return visit to Napa's sister location in Fairport. I reviewed a pizza from there once before - and wasn't terribly impressed - but a revisit is in order. I can only hope they're comparable to the pizzas turned out by the South Clinton Napa, which, based on my experience, I'd say are among the city's best. I'll give these pies an A.
Napa Wood Fired Pizzeria, 573 S. Clinton Ave.
Sun. - Thu. noon - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. noon - 10 p.m.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wayne County Pizza Contest this Saturday

Just a reminder that this Saturday, the Wayne County Chapter of the American Red Cross will be sponsoring its Second Annual Wayne County Pizza Contest, to select the best pizzeria in Wayne County. 
The event will be held at Captain Jack's in Sodus Point, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. Four judges, including yours truly, will be selecting the best pizzeria in Wayne County, from among eight contestants, and there will be an additional prize based on the popular vote by the attendees.
Admission is only $5, and $3 for kids 10 and under. When and where else are you and your family going to be able to eat this much pizza, from this many pizzerias, for that price?
Again, the event runs till 3:00, but you must get there before 2:00 if you want to participate in the popular vote. There will be music supplied by a DJ, and Captain Jack's is a terrific spot on the bay. 
I've been to a number of pizza contests, and this promises to be a good one. You'll have fun, you'll eat some great pizza, and you'll help support a very worthwhile cause, all in one shot.
What: American Red Cross 2nd Annual Pizza Contest
When: Mar. 31, 2012, 1 p.m. - 3 p.m.
Where: Captain Jack's Goodtime Tavern, 8505 Greig St., Sodus Point 

Road Trip: Cam's in Penn Yan, Faro's in Canandaigua

As I've mentioned before, hiking is one of my pastimes, and our recent warm weather has sparked the hiking bug in me. This past weekend I headed down to Connecticut Hill. After my hike, I'd planned to swing by Ithaca, where I intended to check out a couple of places I'd read good things about, Finger Lakes Flat Bread and Shortstop Deli, although after running across this site I may have to rethink my priorities, as some other pizzerias look good too.
As it turned out, I didn't stop at any of those places, for hiking or pizza. What looked like decent roads on the map turned out to be more of a challenge for my car than the Finger Lakes Trail would've been for my legs. After breathing a sigh of relief at getting out of the forest with my undercarriage intact, I headed home, frustrated, but with a vow to come back and try again, next time parking just outside and walking into the forest instead of trying to drive in and starting in the middle. (Mental note: next vehicle will have 4WD and a relatively high ground clearance.)
But all was not lost. I did manage to climb a couple of anonymous hills on the way home, after which I continued on my way, which took me through Penn Yan and Canandaigua. Both afforded me an opportunity to stop for pizza.
My first stop was a place in Penn Yan. I'm a sucker for any pizzeria with "New York" in its name, and I'm sure I've seen this spot before. In fact, I think I've stopped there before.
What I had forgotten, though, is that upon closer examination of the sign on the building, you'll see, in small letters, the name "Cam's." That's right. This is a Cam's Pizzeria.
Now that's not a bad thing, exactly. I like Cam's. They do a good job at turning out New York style pizza at multiple locations. But I was thinking that I'd unearthed a little independent gem of New York pizza in the heart of the Finger Lakes. Instead I'd found an outpost of a growing regional chain.
Well, as it turns out, this is, according to their website, one of the oldest Cam's Pizzerias, dating back to 1982, just two years after Cam's started. So that was some consolation. Kind of like finding a McDonald's that still has the giant arches along the sides of the building.
I got a cheese slice, which was pretty good - no surprise there, as I've never had a bad slice from Cam's. The thinness of this slice did surprise me, though; while Cam's basic pizza is always thin, this was the thinnest I've had yet. Almost paper thin, with virtually no interior. Basically, just a bottom crust, with sauce and cheese on top.
Which is not necessarily a bad thing, I guess - it depends on what you like. If you think the crust is just there to hold the sauce and cheese, you'd have loved this. I liked it, but I could've used a little more backbone and interior in the crust, and a bit darker underside. Still, it was tasty enough, and, my appetite whetted by some climbing in the hills to the south, I downed it quickly.
I hadn't planned on any more pizza that day, but on coming up East Lake Road south of Canandaigua, I ran across Faro's, whose sign is emblazoned with the magic words, "New York Pizzeria."
After making sure that the name "Cam's" wasn't hidden in there somewhere, I went in for a slice. Although it was the middle of the afternoon, I assumed that they'd have slices ready - any place that advertises New York pizza should have slices, all the time. And they did.
At first, though, I was taken aback at seeing a couple of sliced pies on racks, in an unlit warmer, especially after the guy put a slice on a plate for me without rewarming it. I was afraid they were going to be stale. But on getting the slice out to my car, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was quite fresh, and still hot enough that the cheese was semi-liquid.
That cheese elevated this pizza above the usual slice. I'm a crust guy, and this crust was good, with some char spots and a nice, crisp surface underneath. But the cheese was excellent - not just stringy, but smooth and creamy. Unfortunately it had migrated toward the center of the pie, i.e. the point of the slice, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. I have to confess that it distracted my attention from the sauce, so I can't tell you much about that except that it was moderately applied, in proportion to the thin crust.
Both of these slices were good. I'm not trying to pick a winner here, but Faro's was a real find. Outside of people on the east side of Canandaigua Lake, it's not exactly convenient to the Canandaigua area in general, but based on this one visit, I'd say it's well worth a drive.
While a trip to Ithaca remains on my to-do list, this excursion served as a reminder that good pizza is to be found all around us. You've just got to keep your eyes open, and be ready and willing to pull over when something catches your eye.
Grades? I'm not sure where to draw the geographic line - I generally don't assign grades to places outside the Rochester area - but I'll grade these. The Cam's gets a B. Cam's has in the past gotten a B+ from me, but this was a shade too thin, and a shade, literally, too light underneath. But it was still good.
Faro's gets a B+. This was close to an A-minus, at least, but with only half the slice covered with cheese, I have to deduct a little. Still, very good pizza, and next time I'm down that way I'll stop in again.
Cam's New York Pizza, 25 Main St., Penn Yan
Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Faro's Pizzeria, 3530 East Lake Road, Canandaigua
(585) 396-2840
Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday Giveaway: Two $25 Gift Certificates to Perri's in Gates

Whenever I can, I like to do giveaways for my readers, and this may be the best yet. Thanks to a very generous donation from Perri's Pizza, over the next three weeks I am going to be giving away six $25 gift certificates to Perri's - two for each of their current locations on Lyell Avenue in Gates, Stone Road in Greece, and Canandaigua. (A fourth location is in the works for Brockport, and coupons for there may be coming soon.)
I'll be doing these one location at a time. Today we start with the Gates Perri's, which is at 2000 Lyell Avenue, just off 390, a short distance east of the Lyell Avenue Wegmans, at the corner of Lee Road. Heck, these cards even look nice, in a little glossy envelope and everything. They're good for anything on Perri's menu, from pizza to wings, subs, chicken and more. Me, I'd go for Perri's thin-crust pizza, but for $25 you can throw in some wings or other dishes as well.
To enter to win, simply leave a comment at the end of this post, no later than Friday, March 30 at noon. I'll then pick two winners randomly, using, and mail each winner a gift card.
A few things: I will need a way to identify you as the winner, and to get the cards to you. So an anonymous comment is not going to cut it - either your comment, or your user profile, has to include an email address, or you can email me with your email (or postal) address at
Leave as many comments as you like, but multiple comments will not increase your chances of winning.
It's not required, but I'd like you to take a look at Perri's menu (you can find it here) and tell me what you think you might like to order - a specialty pizza, perhaps? Or wings, with one of Perri's 13 sauces?
As I mentioned, I'll be giving away the cards for the Greece and Canandaigua locations at a later date. You can enter all the giveaways, but just keep in mind that the cards are only valid at one location, which this time around is the one in Gates. OK, comment away!

Mr. Sam's Pizza Kitchen - CLOSED

Mr. Sam's Pizza Kitchen on UrbanspoonThanks to a tip from a reader, I learned that Ferrara's Pizza on Spencerport Road had beed replaced by Mr. Sam's Pizza Kitchen. I was rather saddened by that, as I really liked Ferrara's, which I wrote about here, here  and here.
But when one door closes, another opens, or something like that. So my disappointment was tempered by my excitement and curiosity about a new pizzeria opening.
So upon learning of this new place, I got over as soon as I could, and asked for a slice at lunchtime.
It turns out that Mr. Sam's doesn't offer slices, exactly. Instead, you can get a personal-size pie, measuring about eight inches across.
The crust on my pepperoni pie was thin - about an eighth of an inch thick. The underside was pale and somewhat floury, with a bit of corn meal visible. The bottom was firm but not crisp. Not bad, but the raw flour was a bit off-putting.
On the whole, this was a well balanced pizza. I wondered if the slightly browned cheese was a blend of mozzarella and maybe Provolone, as it seemed to have a bit more flavor than you typically get from straight mozzarella, which for all its "meltiness" (I feel free to make up words when the occasion demands) is among the blandest of cheeses. The sauce was moderately applied, in proportion to the crust and cheese, and had a slightly herbal flavor.
Mr. Sam's offers 14 pizza toppings, and no specialty pizzas as such, although their pizzas come in two versions, "traditional red" and "Old World white," which is topped with oil, garlic, Romano cheese and "spices." They also serve strombolis, wings, burgers and hots, and hot and cold subs, including "Mr. Sam's famous hot egg subs," which come with egg, cheese, and assorted other toppings. You can also get salads, sandwiches, soup, and sides.
This pizza wasn't bad, but the crust wasn't the greatest. Acceptable, but a little lifeless, a little too pale, and a little too much flour underneath.
Since Mr. Sam's just opened, I'm going to hold off for now on a rating. This pizza was, on the whole, somewhere around the middle of the pack locally, but I'll go back in a few weeks (although every time I say that it turns into a few months) for another check, and report back then. For now, it's worth checking out.
Mr. Sam's Pizza Kitchen, 485 Spencerport Rd., in CVS Plaza near Long Pond Rd.
Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. 1:30 p.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Closed Mondays

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pizza King, Wellsville

Continuing my exploration of Rochester's New York style pizza roots, I stopped the other day at Pizza King in Wellsville (seen here, just across the street from the Evil Empire). If you've been following the blog lately, you'll know that this is the pizzeria opened by the brother of Bill Giovanniello, who owns Giovanni's in Hornell, which indirectly led to The Pizza Stop, Joe's Brooklyn Pizza, and - oh, just read the blog post.
So - Pizza King in Wellsville (there's another in Hornell, which is sort of related - again, read the previous post) was opened by Bill's brother Peter, or Pietro, in 1972. He's since retired, and the business is now run by his son.
I'd previously been through Wellsville, but not in a while. It seemed like a cool little town, more interesting than I'd remembered. There were a few vacant storefronts, to be sure, but some funky, well preserved spots that looked worth a visit in themselves, like Modern Diner (see bottom photo), the Beef Haus, the Texas Hot diner, and Better Days tavern, which was open but had a large "For Sale" sign in front. Wellsville in on Rt. 417, which runs south of the expressway (Rt. 17 / I-86), but I recommend it if you're an off-the-beaten-track kind of person.
And then there's Pizza King, which with its red, white and green awning, looks as if it's been transplanted straight from Brooklyn.
I got two slices, one cheese, one pepperoni. These were good slices, thin but well balanced, with chewy, slightly browned cheese layer that complemented the foldable crust.
Having said that, these weren't quite true New York style slices. I believe Pizza King uses a conveyor belt oven, which is not in itself a bad thing, but in my experience such ovens don't turn out pizza that's as crisp underneath as you get from a typical gas oven, which is what you generally find in New York slice joints. These slices were also more uniformly browned underneath than I would expect from a downstate pizzeria. Again, we're getting into subjective issues of taste here, but a typical New York slice will tend to be charred in spots, and relatively pale in others, underneath and along the edges.
Now I like my pizza crisp, and a little charred. Others may like a more pliable, evenly browned bottom. Either way, these were undeniably tasty slices, and I happily downed them.
Pizza King offers 15 pizza toppings and seven specialty pizzas, plus calzones, strombolis, wings, subs, tacos, quesadillas, wraps and sides. There's some seating available.
In keeping with past practice, I won't assign a grade to these slices. I do that in part because I have no plan to cover the Southern Tier, or anywhere outside the Rochester area, in any depth, and I prefer to reserve the grades for Rochester-area places. But I'd put these in the "very good" range, and if I lived around Wellsville I think I'd have Pizza King's number stored in my phone. As you can see in the top photo, they're right across the street from an outpost of the Evil Empire, and after 40 years in business, they're clearly doing something right. So if you find yourself driving across the Southern Tier sometime, do yourself a favor, get off the expressway, and head west on Rt. 417. You'll find some cool little places, and maybe some good pizza, along the way.
Pizza King, 35 N. Main St., Wellsville, NY 14895
(585) 593-2330 or 593-7500
Sun. noon - 10 p.m., Mon. - Wed. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Thu. 11 a.m. - 10:30 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Book Review: Words to Eat By

As with anything that people are passionate about, pizza generates a lot of debates. One of the perennial, and maybe silliest, debates, concerns what is, or is not, "pizza." This usually comes up in discussions of Chicago-style, deep dish pizza, but it also relates to any prepared food involving a bread-like base with one or more toppings (is a pita pizza, e.g., really pizza?).
There is, of course, no definitive answer to such questions. As much as we might like to think that words have black-and-white meanings, more often than not there's a gray area where reasonable people will disagree.
Still, words do matter, and that's particularly true of food. How many people who enjoy an occasional steak tartare would as willingly dig into "raw cow flesh"?
That connection between what we eat, and what we call it, is the underlying theme that drives Words to Eat By: Five Foods and the Culinary History of the English Language, by Ina Lipkowitz. Lipkowitz, a literature professor at MIT with a concentration in biblical studies, examines, in some depth, five food categories, from a linguistic perspective: fruit (apples in particular), leeks, milk and dairy, meat, and bread.
The basic theme of Lipkowtiz's book is that the English language betrays a split cultural personality, between the language and heritage of the ancient Celtic and Germanic peoples who originally populated Northern Europe, and those of the Romans (and indirectly, their Greek forebears), who came later. That divide was echoed, and reinforced, centuries later, with the Norman invasion of Britain in the eleventh century.
The gist of this divide, according to Lipkowitz, is that the ancient Britons and Northern Europeans were not overly concerned with "preparing" food - in other words, with cooking - and that they tended to call food exactly what it was. Angles and Saxons ate flæsc (flesh); Normans ate meat.
Those kinds of terms also reflect what Lipkowitz describes as an inferiority complex among English speakers. We tend to think of Southern European and Mediterranean food (particularly French food) as superior to English, and by extension American, food. So - her theory goes - we're much more apt to order a cup of soupe a l'oignon than of the Scottish cock-a-leekie. And while we happily order a tarte aux pommes at our favorite fine-dining restaurant, at home we eat apple pie.
It all makes for interesting, if not necessarily compelling, reading. I can't say I agreed with all of Lipkowitz's assertions (and she does repeat the widely believed but false claim that Marie Antoinette uttered the phrase, "Let them eat cake"), but there is some fundamental truth to the notion that culinarily, we tend to be more impressed by French-sounding dishes. It's not that you can't find beef stew at a restaurant; it's that you're apt to find it at a "home cooking" type place, while boeuf Bourguignon shows up only at pricier, if not necessarily better, establishments.
Toward the end of the book, Lipkowitz recognizes that the pendulum has swung, a bit, in the other direction, as a subset of foodies strive to get back to what is perceived as "real," unadulterated food. But much of her text tends to be a variation of the same basic themes concerning the cultural divide evident in our culinary vocabulary. The premise is stated in the introduction, repeated in the five succeeding chapters, and recapitulated in the epilogue, which centers on the demise of Gourmet magazine.
If I have a complaint about this book, it's that repetitiveness. Lipkowitz writes well, and I found the etymology of our food-related words interesting, but after a while I began to weary of the reassertion, and reexamination, of the same fundamental ideas. While Words to Eat By is written at a level accessible by the average, non-specialist reader, then, I think it will mostly appeal to those with a particular combination of interests in food, cultural history, and linguistics.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Southern Tier Tour, Part I: Giovanni's, Hornell

Giovanni's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
After my recent visit to Billy's in Belmont, I knew I had to get to Giovanni's in Hornell, which is owned by Bill Giovanniello, who came to the Southern Tier from Long Island, and trained Joe Staffieri, the owner of Joe's Brooklyn Pizza, and the brother of Jim Staffieri, the owner of The Pizza Stop. Which is a long-winded way of saying that this guy is practically the grandfather of New York style pizza in Rochester.
So I took advantage of a recent drive south to meet up with Bill. He was hard at work making pizzas, but he did take a few minutes to chat with me.
Bill was born in Avellino, Italy, a town just northeast of Naples, which is the ancestral home of American pizza in general, and New York style pizza in particular. As a child, he often ate pizza prepared by his mamma at home, which at that time is where most Italians got their pizza - from a home kitchen. Only later would the pizza craze hit the U.S., then cross back to Italy via American tourists, who gave rise to the pizzerias you'll find all over Italy today.
When Bill was in his early teens, his family immigrated to the U.S., initially making a home for themselves in Brooklyn. Bill later moved a bit further out on Long Island. During much of his adult life downstate, Bill owned or worked in one pizzeria or another.
Eventually, Bill's older brother migrated upstate, to Wellsville, where he opened a pizzeria, Pizza King. Three years later, Bill followed suit, and decided to settle in Hornell. The verdant hills and open fields of New York's Southern Tier, which are apparently reminiscent of the countryside around Naples (hence its namesake village here), were much of the attraction for both of them.
Bill opened his own pizza place in Hornell, also named Pizza King. He later sold it to a former employee, and moved into a bigger space about a half mile away, which he named Giovanni's.
The extra room makes Giovanni's something of a hybrid between a pizza joint and a restaurant. In addition to pizza, they serve the usual pizza partners like wings, subs, and quesadillas, as well as pasta, chicken, eggplant and veal parm, and eat-in customers can avail themselves of the salad bar.
But my focus was, of course, the pizza. Giovanni's does thin (Neapolitan), thick (Sicilian) and stuffed pizzas, plus calzones and stromboli. The thin is quite thin, with a crust that's maybe an eighth of an inch thick. It's broadly in the New York style, but, despite its thinness, perhaps a little breadier than a typical New York slice. My slices, fresh out of the oven, were more brown than charred underneath, but dry and medium-crisp, firm but not crunchy.
These were also on the cheesy side, with a cheese layer that's about as thick as the crust. The sauce was moderately applied and had a middle-of-the-road, tomatoey flavor.
Now on a prior occasion (Bill wasn't around at the time), I did stop in and grab a Sicilian slice as well. The crust on this one measured just under an inch thick, and unlike some pan-baked pizza, it had a dry, not oily underside. The interior was airy yet substantial, with some heft to it. The overall flavor was about the same as the thin slices, the biggest difference being the thicker, more breadlike crust, which had a pleasant crunchiness along the edge.
During my talk with Bill, I was able to watch some of the process involved in making their pies. I particularly noticed one Sicilian pie in the oven, covered with sauce, but no cheese. I asked Bill about that, thinking that perhaps it was a "tomato pie" in the Utica style, but he told me that no, it was simply a Sicilian pizza. As he explained it, and I quote, they "prebake" their Sicilian pizzas with just sauce, to give them a chance to firm up a little bit and lose some moisture before adding the cheese. Smart idea, and reminiscent of an episode of Tyler's Ultimate that I saw a couple of years ago in which he watched a southern Italian woman prepare pizza in her home kitchen, in which she did the same thing, applying the cheese about halfway through the baking process.
I've made it a practice not to grade pizzas outside the Rochester metro area, and I won't assign these a letter grade, but this was very good pizza. It was well worth stopping for in its own right, but also because of its broader significance. I don't want to overstate things, but it seems to me that without Bill (and let's not forget his brother), you've got no Joe's Brooklyn Pizza in Henrietta, and no Pizza Stop downtown. And the ripple effect goes beyond that. Those establishments have led to others around town, either directly (such as Empire Pizza in Penfield, which started as an offshoot of The Pizza Stop), or indirectly, by helping popularize thin-crust, New York style pizza in this area.
If you're a Rochester pizza aficionado, then, well ... I'm not suggesting that you need to hop in your car right away and drive the 70 or so miles south to Hornell, but Giovanni's should be on your mental list of pizza pilgrimages to make someday (what, you don't have a mental to-do list of pizza pilgrimages? Shame on you). Chances are, Bill will be there, along with his daughter Cindy and veteran employees, and if you can avoid the lunchtime rush, he'll be more than happy to talk to you.
Giovanni's Pizza Restaurant, 119 Seneca Rd., Hornell NY 14843
Tel.: (607) 324-6000
Hours: Sun. noon - 11 p.m., Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - midnight

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Back to Nino's

I had guests over recently, and we wanted pizza and wings, so I took the opportunity to head back to Nino's on Culver Road, which I hadn't been to in several months.
I felt the need to apologize to Nino for ordering a simple cheese-and-pepperoni pizza. If this had been for me only, or if my dining companions and I all saw eye-to-eye where pizza's concerned, I probably would have asked for basil, garlic, maybe some tomatoes or artichokes, perhaps olives, and Locatelli Romano cheese. Or just tell him to use his own judgment, which I trust. But sometimes you gotta give the people what they want. And Americans want processed Mozzarella and pepperoni.
Well, that's OK. You could still do a lot worse than to get a pepperoni pizza from Nino's. 
Nino's does pizza with thin or thick crust, and I wouldn't steer anybody away from either one, but the thick crust is their signature, default style, so I didn't specify, just ordered a pizza.
One of the things I love about Nino's is that it is distinctive. Now there's good distinctive and bad distinctive. But this is good distinctive. It's not only good, it's not quite like any other pizza you'll find around Rochester. And that, to me, is how pizza ought to be. 
This pizza was on the thick side, then, although not extremely so. I didn't measure the thickness of the crust, but I'd call it medium to thick. The underside was browned, with occasional bubbled areas indicating a slow rise on a pan.
The pizza was well balanced, with enough sauce and cheese to stand up to the relatively thick crust. The sauce was Nino's distinctive - there's that word again - slightly sweet, herbal, well-cooked sauce, with the flavor of a sauce that's been bubbling away on your grandmother's stove all afternoon.  Is that the best way to make pizza sauce? No. There is no best way to make pizza sauce. Some people may prefer, and some pizzas may be better with, a quicker-cooking, minimally seasoned sauce, or even just crushed tomatoes. But Nino's sauce is right for Nino's pizza. This is not a flash-baked, cracker-thin, 2-minute pizza from a 900 degree oven, but a slower-cooking pizza, for which a slow-cooked sauce seems more appropriate.
The cheese was well-melted mozzarella, obviously good stuff, as it melted together well, pooling a bit around the bubbly mounds of the crust. Cheaper cheese tends to sit in place, with the individual shreds simply drying out and sticking to each other more than truly melting.
Nino puts his pepperoni on before spreading the cheese, which keeps it meatier and chewier. If you prefer your pepperoni bacon-crisp, better ask. For me, it's a tough call - there's something to be said for both.
Oh, and the wings were good, too. Meaty, with a homemade sauce that was a bit hotter than I expected from the mild sauce that I'd ordered (no complaints from me, but those with a low tolerance for heat might find them overly hot), and fairly crisp.
Nino's pizza menu is pretty extensive, and well worth exploring. But even something as simple as a pepperoni pizza is a thing of beauty here. It's an overworked term, but this is comfort-food pizza.
Nino's Pizzeria and Focacceria, 1330 Culver Rd. 14609
Phone:  482-2264
Hours: Sun. 4 - 10 p.m., Mon. - Sat. 4 p.m. - 11 p.m.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sneak Preview: Pizza Stop's Frozen Stuffed Pizzas

Even occasional readers of this blog probably know the high regard that I have for The Pizza Stop on State Street in downtown Rochester. One of my first blog posts was about The Pizza Stop, and over the past three years I've sampled and reported on their New York style, Sicilian, and stuffed-crust pizzas, as well as various toppings, and I've yet to be disappointed.
Now there's no substitute for going to The Pizza Stop to get a hot slice or pie right at the source, but I know that for reasons of geography and time constraints, that's not always feasible for everybody.
But if you find it difficult to get to The Pizza Stop, I've got good news. At least one of The Pizza Stop's wares may be coming to a store near you.
Owner Jim Staffieri has been at work for some time now on perfecting a frozen version of his stuffed pizza, and what I'll call the beta version is currently being tested. Jim was kind enough to let me try three of these pies recently, each with a different stuffing:  sausage and banana peppers, pepperoni and Italian sausage, and chicken and Ricotta.
Each pie measured about 7" across. While that may sound small, these pies were hefty, and each could easily make an entire meal for one person, or serve as a shared entree for two people, with a salad or other side.
Jim prebakes these pies, then adds sauce and cheese before freezing. He recommended a quick thaw in the microwave before popping into a 375 degree oven for 15 minutes or so. I gave mine 20 minutes on a pizza stone, and they came out very nicely - hot throughout, with well-melted cheese on top.
The underside of these pies was dry and slightly crisp, although obviously these are not going to be as crisp (nor would you want them to be) as a thin-crust, New York style pizza. What was especially nice about these was that they had a fresh, bready aroma and texture - not at all what you would expect from a frozen pizza. The sauce also liquefied nicely in the oven, without making the top crust soggy.
The stuffings were all well heated after 20 minutes in the oven, and if I had to pick a favorite, it would be the sausage and banana peppers. But I'm a hothead, pepperwise, so no surprise there. My 8-year-old daughter polished off nearly the entire sausage and pepperoni pie herself, but she's got a thing for pepperoni. Must be in the genes. Basically, whatever you like on your pizzas, could be put into a stuffed pizza, so it comes down to a matter of personal preference.
I wish I could tell you that these are now available at local supermarkets, but they're not. Not yet. Business and legal details remain to be dealt with before that happens. In the meantime, ask Jim about them next time you're in The Pizza Stop, and he may have some on hand. If so, grab 'em. You'll want a stack of these in your freezer.
The Pizza Stop, 123 State St., Rochester 14614
Tel. 546-7252
Hours: Mon. - Thu. 10:30 a.m. – 7 p.m., Fri. 10:30 a.m. – 9 p.m. Closed weekends.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Colombini's, Revisited

It had been a long time since I reviewed Colombini's, a pizzeria/deli on Chili Avenue. And somebody, I think, told me I should go back for one of their giant slices. So I went back.
On my first visit, there were two choices available, pepperoni and Buffalo chicken. Since they were quite large, I didn't really want one of each, and I opted for the Buffalo chicken. The Buffalo chicken pie looked fresher, plus I figured this would allow me to check out Colombini's take on this style, which I've been covering, off and on, for some time now.
The slice, which was briefly reheated before being given to me, was big and floppy, with an orangey-brown bottom that was pockmarked with a few bubbly craters. It wasn't really greasy, but there was clearly some oil present, which is not too unusual with Buffalo chicken pizza. As is often the case, it was hard to tell if the oil was in the dough to begin with, applied to the baking surface, or had just seeped down from the toppings.
The crust was reasonably firm, and a little crisp along the edge. I'm not quite sure why you see three different, distinct areas underneath in the photo - the craters, as I call them, the orange area on the right, and the dark brown area along the perimeter. The crater is where there was a bubble in the dough, but I'm not sure why there's such a clear differentiation between the orange and brown areas. Perhaps some oil did seep down from on top, and caused the crust to brown more in those areas.
There was a mix of cheeses on top, mozzarella and cheddar, I think, along with chunks of unbreaded, diced white meat. The base consisted of a thin, medium-hot sauce, with no tomato sauce.
On my second visit, I was told that no hot slices were available, though there were some wrapped Sicilian slices in the deli case. I got a couple of those, which I reheated for 10 minutes at 400 degrees in a toaster oven, directly on the rack.
These were pretty good. The bottom was rather pale, but reasonably crisp, with no oiliness. The reheating definitely helped in that regard.
The dough was nicely risen, and the crust had an airy texture with a bit of crunch underneath, but softer on top, where the water from the sauce had soaked in a bit. The edge was quite crisp, with a crunchy bite.
The slices were topped with an ample layer of thick tomato sauce and plenty of dried herbs. The only cheese was a generous sprinkling of grated Romano.
So in two visits, I did not try a basic cheese or pepperoni slice, but between the Buffalo chicken and the Sicilian pizzas, I preferred the latter. Partly that was because of the toppings - although I like wings, where pizza's concerned, I guess I'm more of a red-sauce-and-cheese guy than a hot-sauce-and-chicken guy, but I also liked the crust better. It was crisp and airy, but with enough substance to provide some bite and chewiness. And I liked the flavor - you can hardly go wrong with a good tomato sauce, Romano cheese, and herbs.
The Buffalo chicken slice was acceptable, but I found the crust too soft and oily for my taste. But the flavor wasn't bad.
The deli itself, just from what I saw, is also worth a stop. There is a nice selection of cold cuts to choose from, and they make their own bread. I haven't tried their wings, but they have gotten excellent reviews.
As has been my custom, I will not assign a rating to the Buffalo chicken pizza, since there is so much variation within that style, but the crust fell somewhere into the average category. The Sicilian slices could've been a little more done on the bottom, but all in all, I liked them, and I'll give them a B.
Colombini's Pizza & Deli, 3193 Chili Ave.
Tel.: 889-2213
Hours: Sun. - Thu. 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 9 a.m. - 10 p.m.