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Friday, January 25, 2013

J & S Deli, Norton St.

I always feel as if - and hope - that despite my years-long quest to unearth and try every pizzeria in the Rochester area, there will always be another one waiting to be discovered.
And along those lines, the city of Rochester itself can seem both fertile and barren ground in the hunt for more pizzerias. Fertile because it's harder to pin down every place in the city that sells pizza, but barren because a lot of places that do, sell convenience-store pizza:  premade crust that's been topped, baked and stuck in a warmer. 
For that reason, when I drive around Rochester, I pass by a lot of places that advertise pizza, because I wouldn't expect to find anything worth stopping for, and I don't think that my readers would either.
But when, one day, I happened to drive by J & S Deli on Norton Street, it caught my eye.
So I did stop in, and from what I saw and what the proprietor told me, it did look like a "real" pizzeria. And a couple of weeks or so later, I ordered a medium pepperoni pizza to go.
The crust was thin to medium n thickness, with a browned but dry bottom. The interior was likewise on the dry side, crunchy, and dense - not heavy, exactly, but just not puffy, with uniform, small air holes throughout. It wasn't a bad crust - I mean I much prefer this to a spongy, overly soft crust - but it seemed like a premade or frozen crust. I'm not saying it was, but that internal dryness just brought to mind a frozen crust.
Up top, a basic tomato sauce and mozzarella combo was overlaid with thin slices of pepperoni and a generous sprinkling of dried herbs. The pizza had a marked flavor of oregano.
Pizzas at the J & S Deli come in 9", 12", and 16" sizes, and they offer eight toppings (hamburger, pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, olives, onions, sweet peppers, and hot peppers). They also serve wings ("boss" or Buffalo sauce), hot and cold subs, and a full range of deep-fried items, from chicken fingers to shrimp to Jamaican beef patties.
This pizza was OK. No, the crust wasn't great, but overall the flavor was pretty good, and I'd rather have a dry crust than a greasy crust. So in thinking about my grade criteria, this comes in at about average. It wasn't typical Rochester pizza, because the crust here just wasn't typical of Rochester pizza, but it wasn't bad, and I had no difficulty finishing it off. So it rates a C from me.
J & S Deli and Subs, 625 Norton St., Rochester, 14617
Mon. - Fri. 11 a.m. - 7 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., closed Sun.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mark Your Calendar for the Irondequoit Pizza Challenge

On Saturday, January 26, the Summerville Presbyterian Church, at 4845 St. Paul Boulevard in Irondequoit, will host the Irondequoit Pizza Challenge.
This event debuted in 2010, and it's a good one. For a very low admission price ($5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children ages 3 and younger), you'll get to sample pizzas from several local pizzerias. And as local residents already know, there are some very good pizzerias in Irondequoit. The worst thing about this event is trying to decide which one you like the best.
The event runs from 4 to 6 p.m. All proceeds will benefit the Summerville Presbyterian Church. For more information, visit

Brick, Monroe Avenue

Having tried nearly every pizzeria around, I'm more interested than ever in finding new places. So ever since doing a double-take a few weeks ago when I drove past its "Coming Soon" sign, I've been looking forward to trying Brick, a new wood-fired pizzeria on Monroe Avenue in Brighton. I recently had lunch there with two friends, one of whom also got a pizza.
I ordered the Margherita, which is topped with house-made red sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. I like to get a Margherita, when I can, for its simplicity and to allow a fair, apples-to-apples comparison from one pizzeria to another. My pizza-eating companion went more exotic, with a Hawaiian pizza (red sauce, ham, pineapple, banana pepper and mozzarella cheese, drizzled with BBQ sauce).
Shortly after we placed our orders, we were served a large "family style" bowl of Caesar salad, along with a plate of focaccia (the name given it on the menu - I would've called it ciabatta, but we're splitting hairs here. It was a good, relatively flat, airy bread). The bread came with a tomato-based dipping sauce that had a peppery kick. I enjoyed it, although those with more timid palates or stomachs may find it a bit too fiery for their tastes.
Our orders arrived relatively promptly, but not too quickly to allow us to enjoy our salad and bread. My Margherita had a thin crust, with some charred spots underneath. It was crisp, though it lacked the exterior crackle of the best wood-fired pizzas that I've had. The underside didn't show any visible flour or cornmeal, but the crust had a certain crunch that led me to wonder if the dough might've had a bit of cornmeal mixed into it.
The pie was topped by a generous dose of thick, sweetish tomato sauce, which had a cooked-down flavor - not bad, but not typical of a classic Margherita, a hallmark of which is freshness:  fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, and fresh (or at least crushed, canned but uncooked) tomatoes. The overall flavor was enjoyable enough, but the sauce tended to overshadow the other components. That said, I did like the islands of fresh, nicely melted mozzarella, though the fresh basil leaves were overbrowned, to the point where they'd lost much of their flavor. The addition of an uncooked basil leaf at the finish would've been a welcome addition, for added aroma.
As expected, the toppings on my companion's Hawaiian pizza were much more assertive. In particular, this pizza was dominated by the thick, sweet sauce. Though the menu describes the pizza as "drizzled" with BBQ sauce, the sweet/tangy flavor of the BBQ sauce really took center stage here. It was not unpleasant, but a little overwhelming. The pineapple came next, with the ham and banana peppers playing supporting roles. Not a bad pizza, but a little out of balance, for my taste.
Oh yeah - my other companion ordered a burger and a side of potato wedges. He was very happy with his burger, which was thick and juicy, and the potato wedges were OK, if not as crisp as I would've liked.
It's been a while since I was at this spot, which has been home to several restaurants in recent years. The basic layout doesn't seem to have changed much from that of the old Mundo Grill, with a bar along one side and tables occupying most of the space. From what I could see, the bar was serving wine and beer only, with a small tap selection.
The pizza oven sits in the back of the room, and I could see what I assumed was the digital thermometer registering a bit over 700 degrees. Not bad, and the heat of the oven is reflected in that slightly blackened underside of the pizza. But it also appeared to me that the flame inside the oven was, on this occasion, entirely a gas flame. There were some artificial logs visible, but no wood, nor did I detect any smokiness in the air or in my pizza.
Brick's menu is pizza-centric, with 17 specialty pizzas, and though the toppings aren't separately set out, the menu advises you to "ask your server how you can create your own custom pizza." As a hothead, my eye is drawn to the pepper pie (red sauce and mozzarella, with green, jalapeno, banana and red peppers), and for more exotic fare, there's the Szechwan, with "Szechwan sauce, fire roasted chicken, shredded carrots, green peppers, scallions, peanuts and mozzarella cheese."
Aside from pizza, Brick offers a "make your own" pasta menu (your choice of pasta, topping and sauce, for $10), half-pound burgers, and several entrees including steak, salmon, chicken, lasagna, and eggplant. And wings, don't forget the wings.
This pizza wasn't bad, but it wasn't a standout. Perhaps as more and more wood-fired places open around town, my expectations have risen, but that's not a bad thing, I guess. It just means that things are getting better around here.
But I have generally avoided assigning grades to places shortly after they've opened. It often takes a while for a place to settle in and develop a consistent pizza. So while I'll say that this was about average for a wood-fired pizza, I'll hold off labeling it at this point. But there are enough intriguing menu choices to make me want to go back, which I'll try to do sometime, for an update.
Brick Wood-Fired Pizza & Pasta, 2833 Monroe Ave., Brighton
225-BRCK (2725)
Mon - Thu. 11 am - 10 pm, Fri & Sat 11 am - midnight,Sun. noon - 9 pm

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Product Review: Barista Prima Coffeehouse French Roast

As a daily coffee drinker, I welcomed a recent review sample of Barista Prima Coffeehouse's French Roast K-cups. The K-cup has changed the way a lot of us drink coffee, and for good reason. Why make a pot of coffee that's either going to get cold or develop that burnt flavor when you can easily and quickly make a fresh cup anytime you want?
The French Roast is Barista Prima's darkest roast, so it was practically made to order for me. Contrary to what you might think, dark-roasted coffee is not necessarily any higher in caffeine - in fact, it may be lower than lighter-roasted coffee. What it does have more of is flavor. And Barista Prima's French Roast delivers on that score, with a satisfyingly deep, full-bodied flavor, yet it's not overly bitter. It truly reminded me of a good, dark roast from a premium coffee shop, without the premium price; an 18-pack will set you back about $13, so it comes in at well under a dollar a cup.
Currently, Barista Prima coffee is available from several local retailers, including Tops, Bed Bath & Beyond, Target and Walmart. Check their Store Locations page for a full list. In addition to the French Roast, it's also available in Italian Roast (regular or decaf), House Blend and Columbia varieties. I haven't tried those others yet, but if the French Roast is any indication, they're well worth trying.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Catching Up with 2 Ton Tony

This is a good news/bad news post. First, some bad news. I missed 2 Ton Tony's Third Annual Christmas Eve Lunch, which was held on Saturday, December 22 (Christmas "Eve" is loosely defined here) at Tony's Irondequoit pizzeria. Tony had told me about it, and I intended to go, but in the crush of things to do just before the holiday, it simply slipped my mind.
As owner Tony Proietti explains it, his "grandparents had a family tradition at the original Proietti's Pizza on Goodman Street every Christmas Eve. They would invite [their] customers and friends to join [them] for lunch on the Proietti Family." That generous streak must run in the family, because Tony has revived that tradition, in fine style. I attended the inaugural lunch two years ago, and if this year's event was anything like that, nobody walked away hungry, or unhappy. So I was sorry to miss it this year.
But now, some good news:  this year's lunch raised over $2000 to help a local family in need. The dad in this family of six - who are customers of 2 Ton Tony's - is suffering from ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease), and the results have been as devastating as you might imagine. So for this year's lunch, Tony asked his guests to donate gift cards, cash or other items to help this family celebrate possibly their last Christmas together. It was a huge success, with substantial donations of cash and other gifts. Tony tells me that each child received nine presents, which is fantastic.
While I regretted missing this year's event, I thought it deserved to be mentioned, even after the fact. And since I had been looking forward to taking my wife and daughter to the lunch and introducing them to Tony, I decided I'd do the next best thing, and take them to 2 Ton Tony's for dinner. So on a recent wintry night, my family and I headed out to Tony's Spencerport shop, where we shared a dinner of pizza and wings, with a side of Tony's often hilarious anecdotes about the original Proietti's restaurant and bar on North Goodman Street.
Now more bad news - when our food arrived, I discovered that my camera's batteries were dead, so I was unable to take any photos. I'm currently awaiting the arrival of a new camera phone, but on this occasion I had only my ancient, camera-less phone, so I was stuck. You'll have to visualize, then, but take it from me, the food was good - a medium pizza, with pepperoni, sausage and bacon on half, and sweet peppers and onions on the other half (my wife and daughter don't always see eye to eye where pizza toppings are concerned, so our pizzas tend to have a split personality). The medium-thick crust was nicely browned, with a slight crunch and a bready interior. The flavorful toppings were applied in good proportion with each other and the crust, and after several slices I still wasn't sure if I preferred the meat or vegetable toppings. The wings were fine as well - meaty and crisp, and coated with Tony's distinctively spicy, house-made Buffalo sauce.
And then there were the stories. I won't try to repeat them all here, because it wouldn't do them justice. But if you ever get a chance to talk to Tony - and you should - ask him about the truck fire, or better still, the alarm button incident (the one where he was singing along to the jukebox - he'll understand). I was still laughing in the car on the way home, just thinking about those and his other tales of the old days.
Expansion has bedeviled many a pizzeria, but Tony is striving mightily to maintain consistency and quality at both his locations - you'll find him at one or the other virtually anytime they're open. If you haven't been, make a mental note to go.
And I'm making a mental note not to forget about next year's Christmas Eve lunch. It's a great time, and the fundraising aspect gives it an added dimension, reminding us of the ripple effects of good deeds, and the way that kindness begets kindness.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The Green Front, Canandaigua

Finding pizza in unexpected places is one of the best things about doing this blog, and so I was excited recently to run across a reference to pizza at The Green Front in Canandaigua. Pizza in an old-time tavern/restaurant dating back to 1928 - what's not to like?
I stopped in for a lunchtime visit just before Christmas, and found the place packed. The interior was attractive, with a metal-topped bar up front and tables in the back. The current owners seemed to have done a good job of updating the space while preserving its essential character.
Though I was sticking with Diet Coke, rather than one of The Green Front's local microbrews on draft or other adult beverages, I was glad to find an empty bar stool, as I was dining alone and wouldn't have wanted to hog even a small table for myself.
Although I usually like to keep it simple, I also gravitate toward a place's specialties, and the pizza to order here seemed to be the Polimeni, which is topped with mozzarella, tomato sauce, crumbled Italian sausage, sauteed green peppers and onions, and Parmesan cheese.
This pie had a very thin crust, with slices that were supple, even floppy, though the underside was crisp on the surface. They were well browned and dusted with corn meal underneath. Though not particularly bready, the dough had a subtle but pleasing flavor.
The pie was topped with a moderate helping of smooth, stringy cheese, and a thin layer of bright-tasting tomato sauce. The sausage was mild in flavor but nice and meaty, and the sauteed peppers and onions were soft but not mushy. A very thin, crisp and crunchy lip along the perimeter finished off each slice.
The Green Front offers pizzas in 12- and 16-inch sizes, with 10 toppings available. In addition to the Polimeni, they offer one specialty pizza, a white garlic pie with fresh tomato and basil. The rest of the menu is rounded out with basic bar food staples, including burgers, wings, chili, and Italian sausage, plus a few less common items like fried bologna and deep fried green beans.
I liked it here, and I liked their pizza. I've been in enough bars to know that they're not always good places, for the people inside them or for their neighbors. But a well-run tavern can also be a valuable neighborhood asset, and they're an American institution that goes back to colonial times (stop once in a while to read those roadside historical markers and you'll see what I mean). This was just one brief visit, but from what I saw, The Green Front is a well-run tavern, and a true neighborhood meeting place.
And this was good bar pizza. I do think that bar pizza is a particular breed of pizza, not so much geographical as cultural. This was a good example - thin, pan-baked but crisp, and tasty. It rates a B from me.
The Green Front Restaurant, 35 Niagara St., Canandaigua
(585) 394-7015
11 a.m. - 1 a.m. daily