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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Three Pizzas and More About Fiamma

I just gave away a $100 gift certificate to Fiamma, but I had to do an additional post, for a couple of reasons.
First, I want to say something about the pizzas that my wife and I shared on our November visit, when chef Giuseppe Paciullo generously agreed to donate that gift certificate. Second, I've been given some information about Fiamma that I think you may find interesting.
Let's start with the pizza. I got a Regina Margherita, topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, imported buffalo milk mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, oregano, basil, Gran Cru (an imported aged sheep's milk cheese), and extra virgin olive oil. My wife ordered the Amalfi, with mozzarella, arugula, thin-sliced bresaola carpaccio, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice.
I'd previously had Fiamma's Margherita off the "tradizionali" side of the pizza menu; the "Regina" is on the "Specialita" side. It had been so long (too long) in between visits that I can't give you a specific description of how they differ, but the Regina is a little on the wet side, with semi-liquid dollops of Buffalo milk mozzarella and chunks of cherry tomatoes rather than just a pureed sauce. The flavors blended and complemented each other beautifully, the crust remained crisp underneath, and it was with some difficulty that I was able to leave some on my plate to take home.
The Amalfi provided a nice contrast to the Margherita, and was a study in contrasts in itself. The carpaccio was reminiscent of salami, but more intensely flavored, leaner and chewier. My only complaint was that the slices of carpaccio needed to be individually cut, with a knife, into bite sizes; Fiamma provides pizza cutters with each pie, but they didn't really do the job on the carpaccio, and my attempts to bite off a small piece as I was eating the pizza were largely unsuccessful. Smaller, thinner strips would've been easier to work with, even if not as visually attractive as these.
The arugula and shot of fresh lemon juice added further contrasts, both texturally and flavorwise. I'm not always a big fan of fresh greens on pizza, but this was a fine combination of flavors, colors and textures. Definitely not your average American pizza, but quite enjoyable.
Upon learning that this was my wife's and my anniversary (well, one day short, but close enough), chef Giuseppe prepared us a special treat, a Nutella pizza. I fell in love with Nutella while traveling in France years ago, where I ate plenty of crepes laden with the chocolate-hazelnut spread. This was reminiscent of those, but with a crisp, wood-fired crust rather than a soft, rolled-up crepe. And like most of Fiamma's wares, this was made with the genuine article, imported Nutella, not its sweeter, more chocolatey American counterpart (which is still good, mind you, just not as good). I'm not sure if this "pizza" appears on Fiamma's menu, but I suspect that they can whip one up for you on request.
Oh, and the second thing - a reader (whom I thank) recently sent me an email with some background information about Fiamma. Turns out that pizzaiolo Giuseppe Paciullo spent some time working at this pizzeria in New York City, which is owned by his uncle Roberto, before moving to Rochester. I've never eaten at Zero Otto Nove, but it's gotten rave reviews, like this one. As you'll see, there's a strong resemblance to Fiamma's pizza.
The more I get to know pizzeria owners, the more I come to learn that all pizzerias - the best ones, at least - have a history, and family roots. Great pizzerias generally don't just spring up on their own, because the owner read a cookbook. There's always a background story. So this provides us with some insights into Fiamma's roots.
More than that, it points up how fortunate we are to have a pizzeria of this caliber in Rochester. New York City has long been home to some of the best pizzerias in the country, and the pizza scene there now is hotter than ever. We're lucky enough to have a pizzeria in our midst that can hold its own with the best of them.

Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Rd. 14624

Lunch: Mon. - Sun. 11:45 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.,
Dinner: Sun. - Thu. 4:30 p.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4:30 p.m. - 'til

Friday, December 27, 2013

Back to The Pizza Stop

Yes, I've reported on The Pizza Stop before, more than once, but a blog is, in part, a log, a record of one's activities. And since I stopped, after a too-long absence, at The Pizza Stop on State St. the other day, I'll provide a brief report. 
If nothing else, I can confirm that they remain consistently good. I got one thin pepperoni slice and one Sicilian cheese slice. And the worst part of the experience was trying to decide which one I liked better.
I've been accused of being biased in favor of thin-crust pizza, and I'll be the first to admit that I generally do prefer a thin crust. But maybe that's partly because a lot of thicker-crust pizza that I've had has been, well, not so great. Think of your typical sheet pizza, with an oily crust, fried-crunchy bottom, and squishy, cotton-like interior.
Done properly, though, a thick Sicilian pie is a thing of beauty. Pizza Stop's is thick but well balanced, with a crisp underside and an interior that's chewy but not dense. The slightly sweet, tomatoey sauce and thick layer of nicely melted mozzarella provide enough moisture to balance out the crust, and to add some textural contrast. I could eat this for a long time without missing thin crust.
But fortunately I didn't have to. I didn't eat these slices in sequence, but alternated, with a bite or two of each. The thin, New York style slice was as good as ever, with a pleasant bite and a nicely charred bottom that provided the perfect base for that unbeatable combination of cheese and sauce that almost meld into each other. And while I'm perfectly happy with a plain cheese slice, once in a while the addition of thin-sliced pepperoni adds a nice extra layer of flavor without compromising the simplicity of the slice as a whole. It also made for a bit of extra contrast with the Sicilian cheese slice.
Now while I'd be more than content to stick with these, once in a while I will get a little adventurous and try one of Pizza Stop's specialty pizzas, which run the gamut from vegetarian pies like a spinach, artichoke hearts and ricotta pizza to the "Mega Meat" with pepperoni, meatball, sausage and bacon, and one of my favorites, the never-disappointing meatball parm. (Check the full menu here.)
I'm always on the lookout for new pizzerias and places I haven't tried before, but now and then you've gotta get back to the old standbys, and The Pizza Stop remains on my short list of Rochester's best. It's nothing fancy-schmancy, no exotic ingredients or trendy styles, just good, basic pizza that's as close, pizzawise, to New York City as you're going to get this side of the Hudson River. So I may have said it before, but I'll say it again:  if you haven't been there, get there. You owe it to yourself.

The Pizza Stop, 123 State St., Rochester 14614
Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m . - 7 p.m., Fri. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Also at 2532 Ridgeway Ave. in Greece
Sun. noon – 7 p.m., Mon. & Tue. 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Wed. – Sat. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I hope this isn't too irreverent, but if I were a Magus (I think that's the correct singular of "Magi"), and I saw pizza in the sky, I'd ride a long way on my camel to find it. And if I found a baby instead I'd be happy with that too.
I've got some draft posts in the works, but with Christmas coming up it may take a week or so. Until next time, I hope all my readers have a great Christmas, and I thank you again for following the blog. If you're traveling over the holidays, try to check out the local pizza, wherever you go, if you can. And if friends or family are coming to visit, introduce them to our local pizzerias, again, holiday schedule permitting. Merry Christmas to all!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Winner Is ... Beads! BB, I have sent you an email at the address listed on your blog. I assume that's a current address. Either way, please send me your full postal address and I'll put the Fiamma's $100 gift certificate in the mail right away. Thanks to all for participating, have a Merry Christmas, and look for more giveaways in January!

Friday, December 20, 2013

J Dubs, Alexander, NY

As I've mentioned before, I do a fair amount of hiking in our general area, mostly to the south, where it's a little more hilly than around Rochester. And despite the wear and tear on my legs and joints, I prefer to hike over hills. So I pass through a lot of small towns, hamlets and villages, south of Rochester.
On one recent excursion, I drove through Alexander, a town and village in Genesee County, with a history going back over 200 years.
Near the main intersection, of Rt. 98 and Buffalo St., just south of Rt. 20, you'll find J Dubs. It's a small place, just a basic small-town pizzeria, with basic, small-town pizza. (The Facebook page hasn't been updated in a long time, but it's the same place.)
I got one pepperoni slice, in the early afternoon. The crust was mostly thin, except for the outer edge, where it was formed into a thick cornicione. The underside was crisscrossed by screen marks and was a bit oily to the touch, with the golden-brown color that is indicative of oil, either in the dough or on  the baking surface. The cornicione was crunchy on the outside, but the interior was what I call "cottony" - chewy but soft.
What was more immediately noticeable about this slice was the sauce. It had a thick texture and a sweetish, pronounced herbal flavor. I thought I detected some basil in particular. I was OK with it, but it was assertive, as sauces go, and if you like your sauce to stay more in the background, you might not care for it.
Atop the sauce lay a fairly thick, uniform blanket of cheese, basic mozzarella, melted and congealed. It separated quite easily from the slice. The pepperoni was thin-sliced and a little crisp.
While price generally doesn't enter into my reviews, I do have to say, this was a very affordable buck-twenty-five a slice. And that's one of the things you gotta love about small-town pizzerias.
All in all, this was OK. Next time I'm passing by this way, if I'm in the mood for pizza, I'd stop in. It was nothing I'd go out of the way for, though.
Since J Dubs is the only pizzeria in Alexander, as far as I know, and since it's so far from my home base, I'll not rate it. But if you run across it, based on this visit, I'd say you can expect the slices to be decent but unexceptional.
J Dubs, 4 Corners (10573 Main St.), Alexander, New York 14005
Tue - Thu: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Fri - Sat: 11:00 am - 10:00 pm
Sun: 1:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Monday, December 16, 2013

New Giveaway: $100 gift certificate to Fiamma! read that correctly. Fiamma, whose food I would rank among the best I've had - pizza or otherwise, Rochester or elsewhere - has agreed to donate a $100 gift certificate to some lucky reader of this blog. This would make an amazing stocking stuffer or a gift to yourself. In fact it's hard for me to give it away, but I will.
I will select a winner at random one week from today, Monday, December 23, around noon. If you are the winner and you do want this by Christmas, I will be able to get it to you if you're willing to meet me to pick it up.
To enter, just leave a comment at the end of this blog post. Any comment. You do not have to fully identify yourself at this point, but anonymous comments will not count. Multiple comments will do you no good.
If you are the winner, I will need a way to get in touch with you. If you don't need it before Christmas, I'll mail it to you. If you want it sooner, I'll need a phone number or email address so we can make arrangements.
Now I know you probably don't want competition for this, but please tell your friends about this giveaway. This is a very generous donation by Fiamma so I'd like to use this opportunity to spread the word about them. Maybe you and your friends can reach a deal where if one of you wins you'll take the other as a guest. Just please don't try to stuff the ballot box. We're all part of an online community and I think we'd all like to be fair to each other.
Whether you win or not, if you are a pizza fan (and I presume that you are, if you're reading this), you owe it to yourself to get to Fiamma. I don't know if I'll ever make to Italy, but I can't help believing this comes awfully close. (If you haven't seen my reviews of Fiamma, type "Fiamma" into the search box on the blog to pull them up.)
Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road, Gates 14624
Mon - Thu: 11:45 am - 9 pm, Fri: 11:45 am - 10 pm, Sat: 4 pm - 10 pm, Sun: 11:45 am - 9 pm

Friday, December 13, 2013

Our Winner Is ...

cephraim, who posted the very first comment, has won the Brandani's gift card! (He did not get an advantage by posting first, by the way; I chose a winner using, and #1 came up this time. First time ever for that, I believe.)

Craig (I know the name from Facebook), you may have done this in the past, but shoot me an email at with your mailing address, and I'll see that you get your gift certificate, good for a large pizza with unlimited toppings, a dozen wings, and a 2-liter drink from Brandani's. Let me know if this makes you a thick-crust convert!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Morey's, Canandaigua

Morey's Pizza Subs on Urbanspoon

I thought I'd mostly covered the Canandaigua pizza scene until I ran across a reference to Morey's, which is on a side street and had thus far escaped my notice. So off I went, around dinnertime with my daughter.
I got a small (9") pepperoni pie, and my daughter got a sub (which she liked, as she usually does).
The medium-thick crust was pliable but on the crunchy side, with a pale golden-brown bottom. Morey's offers pizzas in several sizes, on up to sheets, which suggests that they make and stretch their own dough, but this wasn't a great crust. It may have been made from fresh, just-stretched dough, but it was more reminiscent of a frozen or parbaked crust.
As for the toppings, they were generously but not overly applied. The healthy dose of tomatoey sauce helped provide some liquid to the slightly dry crust.
The cheese, which seemed like straight mozzarella, was well melted and stringy, but slid off the crust quite easily, probably because of all the sauce underneath. It was slightly browned and was concentrated toward the center of the pie, leaving a strip of sauce between the cheese and the outer crust. The pepperoni was pretty basic, I had no complaints, but it was nothing out of the ordinary.
Despite its name, Morey's Pizza & Subs isn't just a pizza/sub shop. It's more like a diner that serves pizza. Or maybe it's a pizzeria that serves diner food.  The pizza is available in 9-, 12- and 16-inch sizes, plus 12"x16" sheets and "party" pizzas twice that size. A relatively modest ten toppings are available, and they do four specialty pizzas.
Morey's also does wings, hot and cold subs and sandwiches, and breakfast items until 11 a.m. I'd be happy to go back sometime for some of those, but I don't think I'd get the pizza again. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't particularly good. The crust just didn't do it for me, though it was redeemed, a little bit, by the ample tomato sauce and the nicely melted cheese.
I've been trying not to use pluses and minuses in my pizza grades, but I'll make an exception here. I can't say this was an average pizza for this area. It was a little worse than that. But it wasn't quite a "D," either, which means, it's really pretty bad but it's good enough to eat, once you've paid for it. This wasn't that bad. So I'll give it a C-minus. Next time at Morey's, though, it's a burger and fries for me.

Morey's Pizza & Subs
113 West Ave., Canandaigua, NY 14424
394-4410 or 394-4939

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

LocalEats Gift Cards

Full disclosure:  I have been compensated for this post, in that I have received the item being reviewed.
For some time now, I have been an affiliate of, which highlights, and provides a convenient way to find, some of the best restaurants in cities across the United States and around the world. At this point, their comprehensiveness varies from one city to another, but they're growing, fed in part by bloggers like me and by readers like you.
As part of their ongoing effort to make LocalEats better, they're now offering local gift cards. These can be used at any participating restaurant. For some cities, that means a lot of places to choose from, with the highest concentration in the South.
At the moment, the only Rochester restaurants that are participating in this program are the Tap & Mallet, the Tap & Table, and Mr. Dominic's at the Lake. But it's reasonable to think that the number will grow.
And what is especially good about this program is that the participating restaurants, around the country, have been recommended by locals. So if you, or a gift recipient, travel much, you can use this card with some assurance that you're going to a place where the locals go, not just to some tourist trap or generic restaurant. Nothing against national chains, but when I travel, I want local food. And LocalEats doesn't do national chains.
When I travel, then, I always seek out good local places. If you're the same way, or you know somebody who is, consider picking up a LocalEats gift card. They're available, in a number of conveniently-priced denominations, here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Brandani's: Italian, family, tradition've been accused, from time to time, of having a bias against thick-crust pizza. That accusation stems from my admitted love of New York style pizza, as well as its culinary ancestor, Neapolitan style pizza.
But it's an unfair accusation, and to counter it, I often point out that one of my favorite pizzerias around here is Brandani's.
Not that Brandani's pizza is exceptionally thick - we're not talking deep-dish here - but it is on the thick side.
Brandani's quickly earned an "A" rating from me, though, shortly after I started this blog in 2009, and it's held that rating since. A large part of the reason for that is the crust. It can hold its own with any in this area - toasty, slightly charred, breadlike, aromatic and chewy.
So, having reviewed Brandani's on more than one occasion, it was high time that I learned more about the people behind the pizza. To that end, I recently sat down for a chat with Joe Cenzi, the proprietor of Brandani's. He filled me in on Brandani's background and his own love affair with pizza.
Brandani's history (much of which is also related on their website) starts with Frank and Pia Brandani, who immigrated here in 1961. Frank and Pia haled from the Abruzzi region of Italy, where Frank had been working as a baker, just like his father. After a few years here, the Brandanis opened a pizzeria in Irondequoit, which they operated for about a decade before deciding to return to their native country.
That stint back in Italy turned out to be relatively brief, however; in 1986, Frank and Pia returned to Rochester, and reopened their namesake pizzeria in its current location on West Henrietta Road.
In the late 1990s, Frank and Pia's son Romeo took over the reins of the business, and it was about that time that Joe got involved. Romeo carried out a major renovation of the interior of the pizzeria, and Joe,  then age 19, got involved in helping out through a friend who was related to the Brandanis.
At the time, Joe had no intention or idea that this would be the start of a long-term relationship. Little did he know.
Romeo eventually decided to return to his previous line of work, and Frank and Pia were back at the helm. Joe also left at around that time to pursue other interests.
But it wasn't a clean break. "Most everyone who worked here back then," Joe told me, "if they weren't family, they became family."
Including Joe. Even while he worked elsewhere, he maintained his connections with the Brandani family and their pizzeria, filling in once in a while when they were shorthanded. "Once you were part of the family," Joe says, "you were part of the family forever."
Finally, though, Frank and Pia decided to retire. Well, sort of. At least they wanted to get away from the day-to-day operation of the pizzeria.
Fortuitously, at about that time Joe was also looking to leave his then-job, and it didn't take any twisted arms before he'd become the new proprietor of Brandani's.
Since assuming ownership of Brandani's about nine years ago, Joe has made a few changes; he's added delivery, has done some advertising (Frank and Pia relied strictly on word of mouth, which alone is a testament to their pizza), and has expanded the menu a little.
But in its essentials, Brandani's pizza remains the same. The dough recipe is unchanged, and is a closely guarded secret, being known only by Joe, his father (who has had some involvement in the business), and the Brandanis.
Brandani's has always offered a wide variety of toppings, not just as options on a made-to-order pie, but on slices as well. Their lunchtime selection is among the widest in the area, and the slices I've gotten have always been fresh. Joe has added a few new ones since taking over; a current big seller is the sweet and sour chicken. That's not one I would ordinarily gravitate to, but I think I'd better try it out.
One respect in which Brandani's stands out from the crowd is that it offers ice cream and gelato. That too, started with Frank and Pia Brandani. I had a vague understanding of the difference between gelato and ice cream, but Joe explained that gelato is typically denser, and contains less fat, than ice cream, being made from milk rather than cream. With pizza as good as Brandani's, I would have to make a conscious effort to save room for either gelato or ice cream, but I should make it a point to do so sometime.
Near the end of my conversation with Joe, we returned to the subject of family and his personal connection to the pizza business. As a third- or fourth-generation Italian American, Joe didn't eat pizza any more often than the average American kid while he was growing up. But it's clearly in his blood now. He told me that he eats Brandani's pizza every day, and of that I have no doubt.
As far as the job goes, it's certainly a lot of work, but worth it. Joe gets in early and works long hours, which I'm sure is typical of pizzeria owners. With rare exceptions, he and only he makes the dough daily.
When Joe can't make it into the shop - a rare event, I think - Frank Brandani, now in his late 70s, will still come in to oversee operations. In fact, even when Joe is there, Frank comes in on a regular basis, to make use of Brandani's ovens for his homemade bread. Clearly that man was born to bake.
Joe doesn't see himself staying in the business as long as Frank, but he can envision it being passed on to one or more of his four (soon to be five) children. He frequently brings them into Brandani's, even on Christmas, for some pizza or other treats.
Will we see any new Brandani's locations in the future? Perhaps. An earlier planned expansion into Churchville fell through, and while Joe is open to the idea, it would have to be a good fit, in the right circumstances. With a growing family to attend to, and already working long hours, he's not particularly interested in adding a great deal of stress to his life. I can sympathize with that.
What I do know is that we can expect Brandani's to continue serving some of Rochester's best pizza. That's owing both to its great tradition and to Joe's ongoing commitment to pizza and the pizza business. I asked him if he thought that, given Frank's continuing involvement with the pizzeria, the business might keep him young too. He wasn't so sure about that, saying that at times, "it ages you pretty quick." But at the very least, it's not dull or boring; Joe told me that "a day never goes as planned here," what with equipment malfunctions, delivery problems, and other day-to-day crises.
Which is not to say that Joe's gotten burned out or tired of the business. While he may or may not be stretching pizza dough into his 70s, for now at least, Joe has an obvious and continuing dedication to what he does. "You've got to be passionate about what you do," he told me. "If you lose that, you're done."

Brandani's Pizza, 2595 West Henrietta Rd.,Rochester, NY 14623

NOTE:  In conjunction with this post, Joe Cenzi has agreed to give away to one lucky reader a gift certificate good for a large pizza with unlimited toppings, a dozen wings, and a 2-liter bottle of pop. See the accompanying post to enter.

Brandani's Giveaway!

In conjunction with my post spotlighting Brandani's Pizzeria, owner Joe Cenzi has graciously agreed to give away to one lucky reader of this blog a gift certificate, good for one large pizza with unlimited toppings, a dozen wings, and a 2-liter bottle of pop.

To enter to win, simply leave a comment at the end of THIS blog post (not the post about Brandani's). I will pick a winner one week from today, Friday, December 13, shortly after noon. The winner will be picked at random.

If you win, I will need some contact information, so I need at least an email address, and at some point a postal mailing address. That can wait until the contest is over, but do not leave an anonymous comment; there must be some identifying information, even if it's just a user name. And I won't share your personal information with anyone, other than Brandani's. If you want to identify yourself now, so I know which comment is yours in case you win, email me at

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Aunt Rosie's, Downtown Rochester

I don't always stop into pizzerias shortly after they've opened, because sometimes they need some time to get their act together. But I was eager to check out Aunt Rosie's, which opened in November on East Main Street in downtown Rochester.
Aunt Rosie's offers brick-oven pizza, antipasto, pasta, hot and cold sandwiches, and desserts. Of course, I was there for one thing only.
When I stopped in, a little before noon, there were two sliced pies available, cheese and pepperoni. I got two pepperoni slices, to go. Had I been there with companions, I would've eaten on the premises, which are attractive, with large windows and a contemporary, comfortable feel.
My slices were quite thin, with a nice-looking spinkling of cup-and-char pepperoni on top. The underside was very blackened, with a crackled, blistered surface and a very noticeable toasted-bread aroma. The crust wasn't quite burnt, but it came right up to the line.
This was a crust that might divide people. It was a shade too blackened for my taste, but with a thin crust, I'd rather err on the side of over-, rather than under-done. So I didn't mind, much.
The crust was a little dry, and was firm but supple; it wasn't brittle, and could be folded without breaking. All in all, I liked it.
The other components were good and in balance with the crust. The cheese had a smooth texture, if not a lot of flavor; it seemed to me to be entirely composed of aged mozzarella. Similarly, the tomato sauce was straightforward in flavor but was applied in good proportion, just enough to add some moisture and acidity. And the pepperoni slices were nicely crisped along the edge. No one topping stood out from the rest, which is the sign of a well-balanced pizza.
The obvious emphasis here was the crust. Each bite brought with it that marked flavor and aroma of dark-toasted bread. It seemed like a ramped-up version of New York style pizza, which is typically thin and charred underneath.
This was good pizza, in my opinion, though whether you would like it depends on your taste in pizza. It brought to mind, though, some food trends in this country toward extremism. For example, "killer" hot sauces, mouth-puckeringly bitter beers, and the like. Whatever your opinions about those, extremism generally doesn't work with pizza, at least as far as the crust goes. "Artisanal" pizza is a trend these days, and a charred crust is associated with artisanal pizza. I like a well-charred crust as much as the next guy, but this came close to being simply burnt. It's a fine line, but this came close to the line.
Close, but not quite there. Good pizza, overall, and worth a stop, for sure. Since Aunt Rosie's just opened, I won't give it a grade, but I'll be back. But consider it if you're downtown. And do check out their Facebook page for daily specials.
Aunt Rosie's, 350 E. Main St.
Mon. - Fri. 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.