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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pontillo's, Mt. Hope

I've never intended to visit every location of every local pizzeria chain, but I have been slowly working my way to the various Pontillo's locations around town. I've heard time and again that different Pontillo's locations have better, or worse, or just different pizza, from others, and I pass by them often enough, and I've generally like their pizza enough, to want to try more.
Recently I stopped at the Mt. Hope Avenue Pontillo's. I got a cheese slice and a broccoli/tomato slice.
The cheese slice had a dry, firm underside that displayed some light charring. A little corn meal was visible underneath, as was a tiny bit of oven soot.
The crust was of thin to medium thickness, but this was a heavy slice. Some of the heft came from the thick, bready cornicione, but there was also a fair amount of cheese. It had migrated a bit away from one corner, due to the dough puffing up in the oven, but this slice was on the cheesy side, though not overly so. The cheese appeared to be all mozzarella, and had just slightly browned.
In contrast, the slice was relatively light on the sauce. It had been applied thinly and some of what was there had either evaporated or soaked into the top layer of the crust.
The broccoli/tomato slice was of comparable thickness, though with a cornicione that was thinner but more hollow and puffy than the cheese slice. The underside was well browned and crackly, though softer near the tip (not unusual, as whatever liquid there is on top tends to gravitate toward the center of the pie).  A little oil also seemed to have seeped in toward the middle of the pie on this one, perhaps after it was sliced, but it wasn't overly greasy.
The tomato slices were pretty flavorless, but I should've expected that. It's rare to get a fresh tomato at any sort of restaurant around here with much flavor. Your best bet is to look for smaller varieties, like plum, grape or cherry tomatoes.
The broccoli added more aroma and flavor. There wasn't a lot of it, but there was enough to notice. The cheese on this white slice was uniformly spread, and though it was a little oily on top, that's typical of a white pizza, which is often given a brushing or drizzle of oil before the toppings are applied. Even without that, melted fat that exudes from the cheese has no tomato sauce to mix with, so it's more noticeable on a white pizza.
To sum up, both slices were pretty good. The cheese slice could've used a tad more sauce, for my taste, and the tomato broccoli slice was a little on the bland side - good, but next time I'd give it a shot or two of grated Romano and red pepper flakes. Or I might go for a spinach and artichoke slice, which also looked good. These were better than average slices of pizza, and I'll give them both a B.
Pontillo's, 1687 Mount Hope Ave. 14620
(585) 442-6865
Hours: Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. - Sat. 10 a.m. - midnight, Sun. noon -10 p.m.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review: Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip

I see in my latest blog poll that potato chips easily won over popcorn, tortilla chips and everything else as readers' salty snack of choice. It doesn't surprise me. I love chips, and Americans in general have loved chips since they were invented over a century and a half ago.
Since I also I like history, I recently picked up a copy of Crunch! A History of the Great American Potato Chip, by Dick Burhans, a biologist by education, and a self-described avian ecologist, graphic artist, and part-time musician.

Burhans grew up in eastern Ohio, which has long been a center of the potato chip industry, so "chippers" from there get a fair amount of attention in the book. But he also covers manufacturers from Pennsylvania (still the heart of the industry) to the South, Midwest, and other regions.
The approach is generally narrative and chronological, from the legendary birth of the potato chip in Saratoga in the mid-19th century, through the sweeping changes brought about by the advent of mass production and interstate transportation, the late-20th century rise to dominance of Frito-Lay, and the recent resurgence of small-scale chippers employing traditional methods. Along the way, Burhans gives the reader a solid overview of both the technical side of making chips and the behind-the-scenes marketing battles - supermarket shelf space is a biggie - that few of us are aware of as we reach for that bag of chips at the grocery store.
Coming in at just over 200 pages, and written in a straightforward, approachable style, Crunch! is a quick, fun read, providing a wide-ranging overview of the potato chip industry from the 1850s to today. If you've ever wondered how the modern potato chip got to be the way it is - from the frying to the packaging to its placement on a store shelf - you'll enjoy this book.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Leaning Tower, Mt. Morris

Leaning Tower on Urbanspoon
I'm not sure where the geographical range of Rochester pizza begins and ends, but according to the Census Bureau, Rochester's metro area includes Monroe, Livingston, Ontario, Orleans and Wayne counties. So I guess Mount Morris, in Livingston County, is not too far afield.
With that in mind, today I offer a report on a recent stop at Leaning Tower, a Mt. Morris pizzeria that has a sister establishment in Dansville, which I reported on last December.
On trips to the Southern Tier, I often get off 390 at Mt. Morris. If you go down that way much, you may know the routine already - 390 to Mt. Morris, 408 to Nunda, and then Short Tract Road to Rt. 17. This shaves about 20 miles off your trip, if you're headed to the southwestern part of the state, and the roads are nice and straight, and rarely heavily trafficked.
I wasn't so much hungry as curious to try this place, so I just got a single pepperoni slice. It had a browned, slightly puckered bottom marked by some lighter areas, typically where it had been punctured, or "docked" prior to baking, to prevent it from bubbling up in the oven. The crust was medium firm, with a nice crunch along the outer edge. It was not greasy underneath, but it was not exceptionally crisp either.
The toppings started with a sweetish tomato sauce, topped by a layer of shredded mozzarella that had pooled a bit toward one side, but which had not entirely melted together, so that some individual shreds were still visible. I wonder if this was a part-skim cheese, as it didn't have a particularly creamy texture.
The wide and thin slices of pepperoni were on the spicy side, which is fine by me. Thery were more chewy than crisp, which is typical of this variety. A light dusting of herbs was visible, but I can't say I noticed it on my palate.
This was a basic small town pizzeria - which every small town should have - along Mt. Morris's Main Street, which has gotten some media attention of late thanks to the efforts of one man to breathe new life into it. They serve the usual pizza, wings, subs, etc., and there's a little seating.
In short, this was OK pizza, not bad, not great. The crust was adequate, and the toppings were serviceable. There were no particular defects, but for me it was no better than average. So I'll give it a C.
Leaning Tower
25 Main Street, Mount Morris, NY
(585) 658-3600
Hours: Mon-Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.
Delivery: Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 1 p.m., nightly 4:30 till close

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Wegmans, Calkins Rd.

I have occasion to stop at the Wegmans on Calkins Road fairly often, and when I walk through the hot-food section, my eyes are often drawn to the pizza.
Now I suppose my eyes would be drawn to the pizza, no matter what, but in this case it's partly because the pizzas always looked pretty good to me.
I've reviewed Wegman's pizza before, and I was in no hurry to try any more. It's not that the ones I had before were bad; but they weren't outstanding, either, and I'm generally not eager to try chain pizza or supermarket pizza. And Wegmans pizza is both.
But the sight of those pies finally got to me. So the other day I picked up a cheese slice and a Buffalo chicken slice.
The former had a thin, pliable crust. The underside was firm but foldable, well browned and dry, with some corn meal visible.
The slice was topped with a thin layer of cheese that easily separated from the crust. A thin oily layer, that may have been from the cheese itself, the sauce, or another source, seemed to be the main cause.
The cheese seemed to be all mozzarella, and was melted just shy of browning, though it was a bit congealed by the time I got it to my car.
There was a fair amount of sauce on this slice, but it was particularly noticeable thanks to its very tomatoey, lightly seasoned flavor, which gave it a pungency not found in sweeter or more heavily seasoned sauces.
It didn't take me long to work my way to the outer edge, which was marked by a thin, narrow cornicione that was somewhere between crisp and crunchy.
My Buffalo chicken slice was topped with unbreaded chunks of chicken, which had been given a light coat of seasoning. The chicken was not exactly abundant - some here, some there - but it wasn't skimpy either.
This was essentially a white pizza with seasoned chicken. It had a very mild flavor overall, there was no tomato sauce, and I didn't notice any hot sauce. It was rather oily on top, so maybe the crust got a drizzle or brushing of oil.
Or maybe the oil came from the cheese. There seemed to be a mix of cheeses on this one, including both mozzarella and blue, perhaps some Provolone or a sharper cheese in there as well. There was just enough blue cheese - a few small chunks scattered about - to add some faint background flavor.
The crust on this slice was similar to the cheese slice, but seemed a little softer and more pliable. Parts of the underside were well browned, and again there was some corn meal visible.These weren't bad. If you're doing some grocery shopping here and you're hungry, and the food samples aren't enough for you, these are OK.
But while they're not as convenient to eat on the go, I'd take one of Wegman's subs over these. These were roughly New York style slices, but judged against that standard, they didn't quite measure up. The crust wasn't terrible, by any means, but it was a bit limp and lifeless. And since the first thing that hits your palate is the underside of the crust, the crust is the key to a great slice. These were good enough, but not great, and I'll give them a C.
Wegmans, 745 Calkins Road, Henrietta 14623
334-4010 (store), 444-2015 (pizza)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Corn Hill Exchange Market, Revisited

In April 2011, I did a post on the Corn Hill Exchange Market, where I had picked up one of their large slices. I thought the crust was less than tremendoust, but that the pizza tasted good, and that there was "real potential here." I didn't assign it a grade, since they had just recently begun serving pizza.
I was at this year's Corn Hill Festival, and since I didn't see any pizza at the festival itself (I'm sure there was pizza there, I just didn't see any), and I was walking by the market on the way back to my car, I stopped in for a slice.
The pizzas that day were in what appeared to be cast iron pans, some ready to go, others in various stages of preparation. Cast iron is not a bad way to make a pizza - you can get some excellent results, as evidenced by the rave reviews for the Lodge cast iron pizza pan on Amazon - but this wasn't great. I think the pizza had simply sat too long in the pan after coming out of the oven, so that the moisture from the crust had nowhere to go.
The result was a wet, soggy underside, which is never a good thing on a pizza. I can handle a little oil, but water doesn't belong on the bottom of a pizza.
The underside also had a "pancake" bottom, with medium-brown areas interspersed with bubbly areas. Why the difference between this pizza and the pizza turned out by this blogger? Well, she preheated the pan in the oven, then slid the pizza onto it when the pan was at 539 degrees. The result was a crisp crust that was, in her words, "about as good as it gets."
These pizzas, I think, were stretched out in the pan, then the whole thing went into the oven, at room temperature. The result was a slower baking process, and a bottom that was anything but crisp. Things got worse when the pizza was left to sit in the pan long after it came out of the oven. Only along parts of the edge was the crust anything like crisp, but that was more burnt than charred. I'm not really sure what led to that. Again, I didn't see the baking process, so I don't know for sure if this is what happened, but that's my best guess.
As to the pizza's other attributes, the crust was thin and floppy, and well covered in a bright tomatoey sauce. The cheese seemed to be all mozzarella and was had congealed to a chewy consistency. The overall flavor wasn't bad, but was more than offset by the poor crust.
Based on this visit, I'd say that the pizza at the Corn Hill Exchange Market hasn't lived up to that early potential that I alluded to last year. Maybe during the Corn Hill Festival wasn't the best time to go there; maybe they made a lot of pizzas in anticipation of a big demand, and they sat there for too long. But they shouldn't have sat in their own moisture. I'm afraid I have to give these a D.
Corn Hill Exchange Market, 315 Exchange Blvd. 14608. 454-6333
Open daily 8 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Salvatore's, Mt. Read

Salvatore's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Three years between visits is long enough for any pizzeria, and so I recently decided to pay a return visit to Salvatore's, which I hadn't been to since April 2009, shortly after I started writing this blog. I don't go out of my way to try chain pizzerias, but if they're local chains, I will check them out. And even with some 23 locations (if I counted right), Salvatore's is still pretty much a Rochester area chain.
On my prior visit, to the East Main Street location, I faulted my slice mainly for being bland. It had a very crunchy exterior and a very soft, almost too soft, interior. I gave it a C.
This time, I stopped by Salvatore's at another city location, on Mt. Read Boulevard. My "slice" (a quarter of a pie, cut down the middle) was pretty thick - about 5/8" for the crust - with a pancake-like bottom, meaning that there were dark brown spots where the dough was in direct contact with the cooking surface (a pan of some sort, I suppose), and other lighter-colored spots where it had bubbled up. It was not greasy, though I did detect a faint scent of cooking oil. The underside was slightly crisp, the edge more so.
The sauce on this slice had a thick consistency, with a cooked-tomato flavor. It was reminiscent of tomato paste - not because it was made from tomato paste, but when much of the moisture from tomato sauce has evaporated, you're going to end up with something that is like tomato paste.
The cheese, which seemed to be all mozzarella, was well browned, and easily peeled away from the crust. It was a little overdone, for my taste.
This pizza was somewhat different from the one I had back in '09. The crust wasn't as airy as that one, and the underside, though not oily, had a bit more of a "fried" aroma and appearance.
I wasn't crazy about this pizza, but that doesn't mean I'm done with Salvatore's. I see from their online pizza menu that they do a "Thin-Thin" pizza that I'm curious to try. Salvatore's also now offers gluten-free pizza, which I don't plan to try, but I know some people do look for it.
This wasn't a great slice of pizza, in my estimation. I don't mean to bash Salvatore's - I mean, there must be a lot of people who like their pizza - but I would describe this as a little better than convenience store pizza, which it rather resembled. There were no glaring faults, but there were several minor ones, from the less than stellar crust to the overbaked cheese to the dried-out tomato sauce. I have to give this one a D.
Salvatore's, 433 Mt. Read Blvd., Rochester
Sun. noon - 9:05 p.m., Mon. - Thu. 7:05 a.m. - 9:05 p.m., Fri. 7:05 a.m. - 10:05 p.m., Sat. 10:05 a.m. - 10:05 p.m.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Trusello's, Lewiston

As I mentioned the other day on my Facebook page, I recently took a day trip to Fort Niagara, to see a reenactment of the British assault on the fort in 1769. It was very well done, and if you're at all interested in such things, I urge you to check out their schedule of events, which is going to be quite busy what with the current bicentennial of the War of 1812.
In advance of that trip, I also mentioned that I was hoping to check out at least one pizza place in Lewiston.
Actually, what I meant was a pizza place in Youngstown, which is the closest village to Fort Niagara, but I guess I got my geography mixed up. After a reader recommended Trusello's in Youngstown, though, I decided to put it on my agenda.
We did stop there for dinner, after we left Fort Niagara. Trusello's is a little place, right on Center St., in the heart of Lewiston, that concentrates on pizza, wings and subs, with a few more substantial dishes available. (Apparently Trusello's is a Niagara Falls bakery that bought out what had been Vincenzo's pizzeria in Lewiston, as explained here.)
One thing you can't help noticing about Trusello's is their cartoon-like drawing suggesting that you'd better not say anything bad about them. I wish I'd asked where that came from, but it's got an old-time look that I really like.
I was tempted by the stuffed Hungarian peppers listed on the specials board. This is apparently a signature dish at Trusello's, with a blend of cheeses, sopressata and spices. But I wanted to save room for pizza so I restrained myself.
Alas, I probably didn't choose my pizza well. Trusello's menu had several very interesting sounding specialty pizzas available, including a white pizza topped with the aforementioned Hungarian stuffed peppers, and they also have a "Grandpa's" tomato pie.
In a moment of indecision, however (and partly with the idea of saving time and money, since the slices were cheap and ready to go), I got one each of the slices that they had available - one cheese, one pepperoni, and one veggie. Nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but in hindsight I should've gotten a fresh pie, and probably should've asked what was most popular, or what they'd recommend for a newcomer. Had I done that, I think I could've gotten a better idea of what makes Trusello's unique.
But I didn't. So I ended up with three roughly similar slices, which weren't particularly distinctive.
They weren't bad, but they weren't great either. The medium-thick crust was bready but a bit brittle (the veggie slice broke completely in half when I picked it up), though I'm not sure if that's how they came out of the oven, or if they'd just been sitting in the warming tray for a little too long. The undersides on the three slices varied somewhat, from a pale gold to darkish brown. All had some corn meal underneath, and were reasonably crisp.
The components were pretty well balanced, with a slightly sweet tomato sauce, added in good proportion to the crust, and a fair amount of cheese. The cheese was prominent on all three slices, though I wouldn't call them overly cheesy. Without any extra toppings, the cheese slice in particular allowed the flavor of the cheese to come through, and from its tanginess I'm guessing that there was Provolone on there as well as mozzarella.
In keeping with my usual practice, I won't rate this out-of-town pizzeria, but I did like it, enough to go back, at least. Again, my only regret is that I didn't try one of their signature pizzas, made to order. But after three slices and half of my wife's chicken wing order, I was more than satisfied. (I should also mention that this visit showed that the closer you get to Buffalo, the better the wings get. There are good wings to be had in Rochester, to be sure, but in or near Buffalo, even an ordinary, hole-in-the-wall joint like this turns out better wings than most Rochester places.)
It's only a matter of time before I swing out Niagara way again, for events at the fort, to see the falls, or for some other reason, and I will mentally file Trusello's away for a future visit. If you're headed that way, give it a try yourself, and let me know what you think.
Trusello's Pizzeria, 742 Center St., Lewiston
(716) 405-7031
Tue. noon - 8 p.m., Wed. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sun. noon - 7 p.m.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Perinton Pizza Emporium Revisited

Perinton Pizza on Urbanspoon
Back in December 2009, I did a post about Perinton Pizza (a/k/a Perinton Pizza Emporium), which I gave a D based on the oily, bland crust and overbaked cheese on the slice that I tried.
As with most of my negative reviews, that didn't sit well with everybody, and some two and a half years later a revisit was clearly overdue, so I went back recently for a small cheese pie. Since my prior experience with a slice wasn't so great, I thought a pie might be a better gauge of their pizza.
This pie had a dry bottom - that was certainly better than last time - but it was soft underneath, with no exterior "bite."
The crust was medium thick, with pretty good, bready flavor and a yeasty aroma, though on top, where the crust met the sauce and cheese, it was rather gummy, almost like wet dough. The crust was much better along the thick cornicione, which had a nice exterior crunch, giving it some of the characteristics of a good loaf of bread.
My pie was topped with a tomatoey sauce, of medium-thick consistency. Some herbs were noticeable on my palate. The mozzarella had pooled a bit toward the center of the pie (this will tend to be more noticeable on small pies), and was slightly browned and very stringy. All in all, the components of this pizza were well balanced.
This was, without question, an improvement over the slice I got last time. The primary improvement was the relative dryness of the underside, without all the oil that marred my previous slice. It also had pretty good flavor, nicely melted cheese, and a pleasantly crisp outer edge.
But I like a crisp crust, and aside from the cornicione (which will account for less of the crust on a larger pizza), this was not a great crust. It was OK, but still too soft underneath for my taste, and as I mentioned, the top side was a little gummy, probably from the moisture of the toppings seeping into it. So while this was not a bad pizza, on balance, I'd say it was no better, or worse, than average for this area, and I'll give it a C.
Perinton Pizza, 11 Courtney Drive, Fairport
Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bocaccini's, Perinton

Bocaccinis Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon
As I've mentioned in the past, restaurant pizzas generally take me longer to getting around to, but I do get around to them eventually. My most recent was from Bocaccini's, near the corner of Rts. 31 and 250 in Perinton. (The "official" address says Fairport, but it's not in the village of Fairport, it's in the town of Perinton.)
For some reason I had been under the impression that this was a chain restaurant, but it's not. Must be something about the name and the suburban location, but it just sounds like a chain place.
At any rate - the food here includes some traditional items like veal, chicken, or eggplant parm, more inventive dishes such as herb-crusted pork tenderloin with butternut squash ravioli in a maple-Dijon glaze, as well as basic, simpler fare, including panini, wraps, and, yes, pizza.
Unlike some comparable places, Bocaccini's doesn't have a wood-fired oven, but advertises its pizza as "thin crust brick oven pizza." The pizza oven was visible from our table, thanks to Bocaccini's open kitchen.
From the nine pizzas listed, I had to go with the Margherita (spelled "Margarita" on the menu). In addition to the standard tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, I requested fresh garlic, which wasn't listed as a topping on the menu, but which is generally available.
My plate-sized pizza had a very thin crust; in fact, the crust was thinner than the cheese layer. It was good cheese, smooth and stringy, and definitely needed to be consumed while the pizza was still hot.
The underside of the crust was well browned toward the center of the pie, much lighter toward the edge. While it was reasonably crisp, however, there was way too much corn meal underneath. I don't mind a little corn meal, I know it serves a purpose (primarily to keep the dough from sticking to the peel), but this was really coated with it. Some places do use it to give the crust extra crispness (though I don't generally care for that), but this was just gritty.
The crust itself was all right, with a chewy texture, but it wasn't so bready or flavorful that I could really enjoy eating it all by itself. So the wide "naked" ring of crust along the edge wasn't a plus here either. Not a big problem, but again this crust benefited from the toppings, which could have been spread a little closer to the edge.
The sauce was more apparent to the eye than to the tongue. I think it was simply applied thinly - not much moisture could have evaporated, under that layer of cheese, and the crust wasn't soggy, so I don't think much soaked into the dough either. But it was hard to taste, and aside from the cheese, I didn't pick up much moisture here. The bits of shredded basil were OK, if a little dry. If you like basil, I think it's best to add some fresh basil at or very near the end of the baking process; dry basil has relatively little flavor, unless it cooks in a liquid, such as tomato sauce, for some time. This basil looked fresh, but it also looked as if it had dried out in the oven, which sapped it of much of its flavor and aroma.
The garlic was a good choice, and I'd recommend it, unless of course, you don't like garlic. It had a mild yet pronounced flavor that added an extra dimension to this pie.One of my companions also got pizza, a white, four-cheese pie. We agreed that it was good, but the four cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, Asiago and Romano) tended to blend together into one mass, and we couldn't pick up their distinctive flavors or tell what each contributed to the whole. I'm frankly inexperienced with "quattro formaggio" pizza, so maybe that's just how they are, and I don't fault Bocaccini's for that. Maybe the whole point of the style is to blend four different cheeses. But for me, if I'm getting a pizza with four distinctive cheeses, I want to be able to taste them each and get a sense of how they play off each other.
This was a pleasant enough lunch - the setting was comfortable, with an open, airy feel, and faux-industrial decor accented by some splashes of color. Service was fine. Oh, and my third companion very much liked his panini, and he can be a tough critic.
The pizza? No huge complaints here, but several little flaws. The excessive corn meal underneath, the wide, barren strip along the edge of the relatively bland crust, the absence of any noticeable sauce layer - none of these were enough to make me dislike this pizza, which all in all wasn't bad, but collectively they knock it down to a no-better-than-average C.
Bocaccini's, 6720 Pittsford Palmyra Road (Rt. 31), Fairport, NY 14450

Sun. 4 - 9 p.m., Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Sat. noon - 10 p.m.