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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Red Osier Metro Cafe

I learned recently that The Red Osier had opened a lunch spot downtown and that they are serving pizza. Now The Red Osier is known mostly for its beef - which, at least at the original, flagship location is well worth a drive to Stafford in Genesee County - so I wasn't sure what to expect from their pizza, but any new pizza place piques my curiosity, so it didn't take long for me to check it out.
They had several slices available on warming racks, and I got a single pepperoni slice. It had a thin to medium-thick crust, with was dotted with brown spots underneath, from the pan on which it was cooked. Except for those spots, which must have been where the holes in the pan were, it was pretty pale underneath.
The crust was soft and doughy, and a bit gummy. Not a very good crust, I'm afraid.
The slice was topped with a solid layer of melted, congealed cheese, a fairly generous application of thin-sliced pepperoni, and a thick, tomatoey, somewhat salty sauce, with a noticeable presence of dried herbs. The overall flavor wasn't bad, fairly typical of Rochester-area pizza.
In addition to pizza, the Red Osier Metro Cafe offers a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, wraps and salads, and of course their signature roast beef. It's located on the ground floor of the County Office Building, but you can get to it without going through the hassle of the metal detector/security check at the main entrance.
I've had dinner at The Red Osier's original restaurant on Rt. 5 in Stafford, just east of Batavia, and very much liked it. And I plan to go back to the Metro Cafe for a beef on weck sometime. But based on this visit, the pizza is not great. Sometimes places don't stick to what they do best, with less than stellar results, and this was one example. I have to give this pizza a D.
Red Osier Metro Cafe, 39 W. Main St., Rochester 14614
Mon. - Fri. 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Wine Review: Barefoot Red Moscato

One of the many great things about pizza is that it pairs well with many different kinds of drinks. Cola over ice works well, as does a cold lager beer, a British-style ale, or a glass of wine.
With wine, there are lots of ways to go. Generally, whatever works with pasta, works with pizza. And a basic red pizza seems to call for a basic red wine.
One such wine that I recently received is Barefoot Red Moscato. This California winery turns out a wide variety of wines, which are generally affordably priced and accessible, meaning that you don't need to be a wine connoisseur to appreciate them.
The Red Moscato is a bit on the sweet side, though not cloyingly so, with a fruity, berrylike aroma and a flavor marked by hints of cherry.
I'm not sure I'd drink this with a pepperoni or other spicy pizza, which to me would call for a more robust, full-bodied red, but chilled, this makes a good partner for a simple cheese or veggie pizza. And at about $7 a bottle, it's an excellent value. It's available at most wine shops and liquor stores, so look for it or ask your retailer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Compané Bistro, Fairport

Compane Brick Oven Bistro on Urbanspoon
As I've explained before, it takes me a while to get to certain places, particularly restaurants that serve pizza, but are only open for dinner. I've got a family, and it's not we're going out to dinner that often. And when we do, it's apt to be a kid-friendly place with hot dogs or mac 'n' cheese on the menu.
So as much as I've been wanting to check it out, it was bound to take me some time to get to Compané Bistro in Fairport. You could take a kid there, but it was worth the wait until my wife and I could go on our own.
It was a warm, sunny, late afternoon, so we asked to be seated outdoors on Compané's patio. The surrounding area is not exactly picturesque, just a couple of parking lots and the back sides of some buildings in downtown Fairport, but they've done a nice job of creating a pleasant dining area enclosed by wooden fencing and two walls of Compané's own building, which with a little imagination (and maybe a few glasses of Chianti) could almost be somewhere in Italy.
Compané has a full menu that includes steaks, chicken, fish and pasta, but the centerpiece, both literally and figuratively, is its wood-fired pizza oven. There are eleven pizzas and fourteen toppings to choose from, but I went with my old standby, the Margherita, which here goes by the name "Main Street."
This super-thin pizza was quite crisp along the edge, and got softer and more supple toward the center. There was some charring around the perimeter, and spotty charring underneath.
In that respect, this crust fit the profile of a lot of wood-fired pizzas I've seen. The radiant heat from the fire tends to char the edge of the pizza, which, with the help of some skillful manipulation by the pizzaiolo, will be more or less even along the edge. But the deck of the oven is not hot enough to give the underside the same degree of crispness, especially when the thin crust is topped with tomato sauce and maybe other moisture-laden toppings.
This is where it gets tough to separate my personal preferences from a purely objective viewpoint. From some things that I've read (like this), wood-fired pizza in Italy is often so supple and "wet" that it needs to be eaten with a knife and fork. So despite my fondness for pizza that's crisp on the outside and chewy on the outside, this may come pretty close to the original, Neapolitan mark.
I'll get back to that thought, but first let me mention some other aspects of this pizza. It was fairly saucy, especially for its thin crust, and the sauce was dominated by a bright, tomatoey flavor. Though this was a sauce, not simply crushed tomatoes, as on some Margheritas, it did not have the "cooked" flavor that you get on a typical American-style pizza.
The cheese was nicely melted mozzarella, with some stringiness, topped with a sprinkling of Romano. The fresh mozzarella here was not the thick-sliced rounds that you see on some pies, but a creamy, well-melted layer that was just a bit browned on top. A few wilted basil leaves added the final touch of authentic Margherita flavor.
One thing I appreciated about Compané's pizza menu was that there were no overloaded pies on there - no meat lovers' pizza, no "trash plate" pizza - just well-chosen combinations, like the Fourth Avenue, topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, prosciutto, olives, and artichokes, or the Galusha, a white pizza topped with garlic, mozzarella, arugula, red peppers, and goat cheese. There are also more unusual, creative options, like the Potter Place, with house-made arugula pesto and walnuts, and you can always come up with your own combinations.
This was also one of those places where it was difficult to limit myself to the pizza menu. A number of entrees sounded tempting, but I was there to try the pizza. I'd like to go back so I can sample some of Compané's pasta and meat dishes, which you can peruse here
Compané closed for a while due to a fire, but I'm thankful it reopened. This was good pizza, and a very pleasant dining experience.
I'm in the process of simplifying my rating system - just A through F, no pluses or minuses - and I've been on the fence about this one, trying to decide on an A or a B. Nothing wrong with a B, but was this really among the top tier of local pizza?
My biggest issue with this pizza was that the center wasn't very crisp. But I think that comes down to my own particular tastes. And I've read enough about pizza in Italy - Naples, in particular - to conclude that Italian wood-fired pizza is typically soft, wet or floppy in the center. The Neapolitan style is what they're going for here, I think, and it wouldn't be fair for me to judge them by a standard that's more in line with New York-style pizza, which is descended, but significantly different, from Neapolitan pizza.
So without the benefit of having been to Italy, I think Compané has done a very good job of producing pizza in the Neapolitan style. And it was pretty doggone good, no matter what you call it. So it gets an A from me.
Compané Brick Oven Bistro, 80 N. Main St., Fairport
Mon. - Sat. 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Finger Lakes Flat Bread Pizza, Ithaca

Another hike, another pizza.
A recent hike in Tompkins County on a Saturday morning allowed me to take a short drive into Ithaca, where I got a pizza from Finger Lakes Flat Bread, which is a regular vendor at the Ithaca Farmers Market. The market in general is reminiscent of the Rochester Public Market, but with a decidedly different vibe. Where Rochester's market has an urban feel, with a mix of vendors and patrons from a spectrum of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, Ithaca's has a more affluent, liberal, NPR-listening atmosphere. It's more Berkeley, California than Upstate New York, which is to say that it reflects the overall feel of Ithaca itself.
Not that any of that matters, in pizza terms, but it'll give you some idea of the overall atmosphere.
And so it makes it no surprise that there would be a wood-fired pizza place on site. While wood-fired pizza has been around for centuries - probably since the dawn of pizza itself - my impression is that its current popularity, like that of a lot of food trends, can be traced back to the west coast, from Seattle to Southern California. (A search of the Lexis "All News" database tends to confirm this.) Wood-fired pizza and hipsterism just seem to go together.
OK, on to the pizza. Finger Lakes Flat Bread serves up fast-baking, thin-crust pizzas from an oven that reaches temperatures around 800 degrees. On the day I visited, there were three pizzas available, and I went with the pie that came closest to a classic Neapolitan pizza, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, basil and garlic oil. (I don't remember exactly what the other two choices were, but I think one was a white pizza and the other was a much "busier" pizza with a bunch of toppings.)
My pie was ready very quickly, in probably no more than three minutes. The most immediately noticeable thing about it was its irregular shape. Now I know from making pizza at home that getting a pie into a round shape is not as easy as it sounds. And personally I don't particularly care what shape my pizza is. Still, I couldn't help being reminded of this scathing critique of "faux primitive" pizza. I suppose you could look at this, though, as demonstrating that each of FLFB's pizzas is a work of art, not a cookie-cutter pizza cranked out on an assembly line.
While there was a bit of charring on the underside and along the edge, it was relatively modest, and the crust was quite pliable, more so than I had expected. The crust did have a nice, mildly bready flavor, but its most significant attribute was its thinness. It had some crispness, and was enjoyable enough, but didn't have quite the depth and complexity of flavor and texture that make for world-class pizza.
The toppings were good. The pizza had a prominent but not harsh flavor and aroma of garlic, and a well balanced trio of creamy, melted mozzarella, tomato sauce and shredded basil. Once I'd gotten photos of it, this pie did not live a long life.
So while I'm not giving this an "A" rating, make no mistake that I liked it. And I'd stop there again. I would not like to take a chance on overcooking the cheese, but I might ask next time that my pie be given an extra 30 seconds or so, just to get the crust a little bit more done.

Finger Lakes Flat Bread
Saturdays and Sundays; Steamboat Landing, Ithaca, NY 14850
Tuesdays and Thursdays; Dewitt Park, Ithaca, NY 14850

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Book Review - Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

I've been offered the opportunity to review a few books lately, and if they sound interesting to me, I'll accept. One book that I've gotten is the Ball® Complete Book of Home Preserving.
Admittedly, this doesn't have an obvious connection to pizza, but as a pizza enthusiast, I am also interested in a lot of aspects of home cooking, and one such is preserving food. Where pizza is concerned, anybody who makes homemade pizza on a regular basis probably makes sauce from scratch now and then, and oftentimes I find myself with a bigger batch than I know what to do with, especially when our homegrown tomatoes all ripen at once.
Then there are the toppings. I'm a bit of a hothead, foodwise, and canned jalapenos and other hot peppers are among my favorite toppings. Who wouldn't want a few jars of those in their kitchen when putting together a pizza? And while those ingredients aren't exactly expensive to buy, there's still something nice about canning them yourself. We now have a variety of peppers, from mild to hot, sprouting in our backyard garden, and don't want to waste a one of them.
Our harvest is still months away, so I have yet to can anything, but I think this book will be dog-eared by the time this season is over. It's a terrific guide to the process of preserving food, with a particular emphasis on canning, and it contains over 400 recipes - which take up the bulk of the book - so you can go way beyond simply canning individual types of produce, au naturel. You could can a simple applesauce, but how about brandied apple rings instead?
There are also a lot of recipes for ingredients that the typical Rochesterian won't have growing in his or her back yard. But these may inspire you to pick up a few extra items in the produce section, so you can make some mango-raspberry jam, or apricot-date chutney. Or if you've always wished you could make some use of that crabapple tree in your yard, this book will explain how to turn those otherwise inedible fruits into a tasty jelly.
And yes, there are some pizza-related recipes. There's a recipe for pizza sauce that calls for plum tomato puree, lemon juice, dried oregano, black pepper, salt and garlic powder. I might want to tweak that a bit, but the recipe is very specific that you should not change the proportion of tomato puree to lemon juice. (For a half-gallon, i.e., four pint, batch, it calls for 13 cups of puree to half a cup of juice.) Lemon juice in pizza sauce sounds a little odd to me, but I guess it's needed as a natural preservative, and the relatively low proportion should mean that your pizza sauce won't taste noticeably lemony. There are also a bunch of other tomato-based recipes, and various recipes for canned vegetables that would be suitable as pizza toppings, like bell and hot peppers, onions, and garlic.
Once our garden harvest starts to come in, I plan to try some of these. I've always been a little intimidated by the idea of canning food, but this book lays out the process pretty clearly, and I think it'll give me the confidence to do it without fearing that I'm creating a bunch of botulism cultures that are going to poison my family and me. I'll do a post later this year on how it went, but at this early stage of the growing season, this is a valued addition to my kitchen bookshelf.
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving, by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine.
Robert Rose, pub. (2006). 448 pp. Paperback.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Retreat, Long Pond Rd.

Certain places are on my radar screen for a long time before I get around to trying them. One such is The Retreat on Long Pond Road in Greece. It's primarily a bar, but it serves pizza, and I don't just mean microwave pizza, French bread pizza, or pizza on premade shells. This is house-made pizza, and so it deserved a visit.
Pizzas here come in "personal," medium (12 inches across) and large (half sheet) sizes. The menu lists a modest eight toppings. I picked up a medium pepperoni pizza.
The crust was about a half inch thick. The underside showed it to have been pan baked, in other words, allowed to rise on a pan and baked in the same pan. You can tell from the bubbly areas underneath. The golden brown color also indicates a pan-baked pizza.
Pan baking typically results in a softer bottom than a pizza baked directly on the oven deck, and that was true here. It was also just slightly oily to the touch. None of those attributes are defects, mind you - this comes down to a matter of individual taste - though I still generally like my pizza more crisp on the bottom.
It seemed to me that the crust also had a slightly sweet flavor. It could just be that it was made with relatively little salt, allowing the natural sweetness of the risen dough to come through more. It was slightly crumbly, which suggests a relatively high proportion of oil or other shortening in the dough.
The most outstanding feature of this pizza was its sauce. That's a little unusual, because in my experience the sauce is typically the least prominent of the three fundamental components of a pizza (the other two being the crust and the cheese). This sauce was thick but not dried out, rich and flavorful. Good sauce, and in good proportion to the thickness of the crust.
The cheese was slightly browned, and texturally was at a cross between smoothly melted and congealed. I'm guessing it was part-skim cheese, as it did not have a particularly rich texture. The pepperoni had a nice, meaty, spicy flavor.
The Retreat offers a full range of food, from standard bar fare like wings and quesadillas to barbequed ribs, NY strip steaks, and pasta dishes. The centerpiece of the interior is a large, rectangular bar, similar to the one on Cheers, which The Retreat openly compares itself to.
Situated right next door to Pizzeria Americana, and just a few doors down from Russo's Clubhouse Pizza, The Retreat is unlikely ever to become a pizza destination in its own right. But this wasn't bad, particularly for bar pizza, which all too often is nothing but a dry, frozen crust with a few toppings slapped on. This was average pizza, nothing wrong with it, but nothing special, and I'll give it a C.
The Retreat, 512 Long Pond Road, Greece. 227-9100
Mon. - Sat. 4 p.m. - 2 a.m., Sun. noon - midnight

Friday, May 11, 2012

Our Winners Are ...

Kate and Mike! Congratulations to you both on winning $25 gift certificates to Perri's Pizzeria in Canandaigua. All I need you to do now is shoot me an email at with your mailing address, and I'll get them in the mail to you.
Thanks to everybody who participated. I've got more places lined up for the coming weeks!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Pizza Giveaway - Perri's in Canandaigua

It's time for another giveaway!

I have two $25 gift cards for Perri's Pizzeria at 2485 Rochester Rd. (Rt. 332) in Canandaigua. They are good for anything on Perri's extensive menu, from pizza to wings to subs to ... well, there's a lot to pick from.

I will be giving these away to two lucky readers in one week, on Friday, May 11. All you have to do to be eligible to win is to leave a comment at the end of this post, and provide me with some contact information. That's it.
You don't have to give me the contact information right now - you can wait until you win - but I will need to be able to identify you as the legitimate winner. So an anonymous comment will not cut it. I need at least a screen name or email address.
I'll pick a winner at random shortly after noon on May 11, so get your comment in before then. Leave as many comments as you wish, but multiple comments will not increase your chances of winning.
Though Perri's also has locations in Gates, Greece, and now Brockport, these gift cards are only good for the Canandaigua location. But even if you don't live out that way, if you're like me you visit Canandaigua now and then, so why not get some free food while you're there? And if you are an East Sider, this one's for you, so get commenting!
Perri's Pizzeria, 2485 Rochester Rd. (Rt. 332), Canandaigua
Sun. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Back to Acme

Acme Pizza & Bar on Urbanspoon
After I gave Acme Bar and Pizza a B-minus back in November 2009, I got several responses saying that their pizza deserves a better grade, and that I should try it again. And it has been a long time, so a return visit was overdue, and I went back recently.
I got a medium cheese pizza. The crust was super thin - about 3/32nds of an inch thick, on average (the quarter in the middle photo will serve as a reference point). The bottom was dry and quite pale, and the slices were very supple. There was a small amount of corn meal underneath.
The sauce was thinly applied, though in proportion to the very thin crust. I spotted a lot of dried herbs, and to some extent they were noticeable on my palate.
The cheese was pretty good, a nicely melted layer of shredded mozzarella, without much exuded oil, which I took as a sign of high-quality cheese.
This pizza was broadly in the New York style, at least in appearance, but aside from its thinness, the crust was not typical of a true NY pizza. Way too pale, and lacking in both crispness and breadiness.
I don't want to get hung up on taxonomy, but you could, I suppose, call this "bar pizza." In a literal sense, it is just that, of course, but stylistically, if there truly is a subspecies of American pizza that falls under the heading of bar pizza, that term generally refers to a pie that's not only thin (so as not to be too filling), but very crisp and crackly or crunchy, and maybe a bit oily. That's probably because most bars don't have true pizza ovens, or the time and wherewithal to make fresh pies, using pizza peels, so when they do make pizza, it usually involves baking a pie on an oiled pan in an ordinary commercial oven.
This pie certainly had the thinness part down, but not the crisp/crunchy/crackly part. And it wasn't oily, which was fine with me.
Not that it's not particularly important to me whether a pizza fits some preconception of what it "ought" to be like in order to fit within the parameters of a given style. I do have certain criteria of my own that I look for, and I know what I like and don't like. Categories can be useful to help explain what a pizza is like, and so I mention this just to say that this pie didn't really conform to either NY style or the bar-pizza paradigm.
But in the end, what matters is, was it good or not? Well, I like crisp crusts, and this just wasn't crisp. Some places make their pizza this way on purpose, so that when somebody orders a slice, they can reheat it and crisp it up. But I didn't order a slice, I ordered a pie. I don't know about anybody else, but I like my pizza crisper than this. And I like it a little more well done underneath.
Having said that, this did taste good, and that's not nothing. I had no problem slurping down several slices at one sitting.
But this could've been better. The fact that some readers have said that they got great pizza from Acme means that either their likes and dislikes are much different from mine, or that Acme is inconsistent. And inconsistency is not good for any pizzeria.
I'm not going to say that I disliked this pizzeria, but given that pale, soft crust, which lacked any sort of bready qualities, I can't say it was above average either. So it gets a C from me.
Acme Bar & Pizza, 495 Monroe Ave., Rochester, NY 14607
271-ACME (2263)
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sat. & Sun. noon - 2 a.m.