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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fat Boys Pizza, Phelps

On my way back from a weekend trip with my wife to Watkins Glen - and let me give a quick nod here to Echoes of the Glen B&B for a great stay - I stopped off for a slice of pizza from Fat Boys in Phelps.
I had intended all along to get pizza in Phelps, but not here. In fact, until I saw it, I wasn't even aware of Fat Boys' existence. I meant to stop at a place across the street, but it wasn't open. There's also a bar/restaurant down the road in Phelps that does wood-fired pizza, but I had neither the time nor the inclination to get a full meal just then.
But this turned out to be a good thing, because otherwise I wouldn't have learned of Fat Boys, which, based on this visit, makes some pretty good pizza.
I got just a single cheese slice (the only other choice was pepperoni), since it was late in the afternoon and I didn't want to ruin my appetite for dinner. I opted to get it reheated, which I've learned is generally a good idea.
The thin crust was pliable but somewhat crisp on the surface, with some crackling near the outer edge. There were no screen marks.
There were some dark brown areas underneath, in a more or less tiger-stripe pattern. The slight caramelization gave the crust a boost of toasty, breadlike flavor and aroma. The reheating may have helped there.
The slice was a little heavy on the cheese, not that I'm complaining about that. There was, though, a "naked" cheeseless gap of an inch or two along the edge.
A bit of orange-colored oil had exuded from the cheese, which I allowed to drip off into the box. The cheese was lightly browned and a little congealed, with a texture that was more chewy than stringy.
The sauce had a fairly thick consistency, and a tomatoey flavor. It had been applied in good proportion to the rest of the slice, and overall the slice was well balanced. It was not heavily seasoned - the flavor profile was pretty much just crust, tomato sauce and cheese, without a lot of oregano, basil or other herbs noticeable.
Fat Boys offers 11 pizza toppings (including anchovies, which you don't often see), and 8 specialty pizzas. They also do subs, wings, calzones, platters, pasta, salads, and more.
I liked this slice, in general. My first concern is always the crust, and this had a pretty good crust. It was well balanced, and tasted good. On the downside, it was a little oily, for a plain cheese slice. I would've liked just a bit more crispness underneath. But it was an enjoyable slice of pizza. I'll decline to give it a grade, which I try to confine to the Rochester area, or at least the 585 area code, and Phelps is out there a ways. But I'd say that Fat Boys is worth a stop if you're in the area.

Fat Boys Pizza, 114 Main St., Phelps
(315) 548-8656

Other locations at 480 Hamilton St. in Geneva (315) 789-1999, and at 74 Fall St. in Seneca Falls (315) 568-8800

Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bee Hive, Canandaigua

In addition to watching for new pizzerias, I'm always on the lookout for pizza popping up on restaurant menus. Recently I learned of one such example, the Bee Hive Brew Pub in Canandaigua. It's located in a converted train station, which it shares with Twisted Rail Brewing Co. My understanding is that there's no direct connection between the two, but Twisted Rail does make some house beers for Bee Hive.
While Bee Hive does carry an impressive lineup of beer, my sights were set on the pizza. There were several interesting selections to choose from, but I opted for "Ann's Favorite Pizza," which is topped with tomatoes, artichokes, mozzarella and garlic aioli, which is a fancy way of saying sauce. It sounded good to me to begin with, and its identification as a house favorite tipped the balance for me.
This was a personal-size pie, about 12 inches across. The medium-thick crust was dark brown underneath, and slightly oily to the touch. It was firm but not crisp, and the interior was likewise right down the middle, texturewise: not dense, but not puffy, with a moderate chewiness.
Aside from the diced tomatoes, this was a white pizza, in other words, no tomato sauce. As with most white pizza, the cheese played a prominent role, and played it well. It was nicely melted and stretchy, smooth but slightly chewy, with just a bit of lactic tanginess.
The cheese was well complemented by the toppings. I'm guessing that there are people out there who don't like the taste of artichokes, but I'm not among them. Their sharp, almost citrusy flavor works well with cheese, and here it was also well balanced by the background of garlic and olive oil, making for a tasty combination. By comparison, the tomatoes were, if not quite an afterthought, less important. They weren't the rock-hard, flavorless chunks that you often find, but they weren't particularly sweet, and their contribution was comparatively minimal.
As I mentioned, Bee Hive has an interesting pizza menu, with options for both carnivores and herbivores. That's in addition to the rest of their menu, which includes salads, sandwiches, wraps, burgers, and various sides and appetizers. From what I've read, they're particularly renowned for their burgers.
Getting back to this pizza, I enjoyed it, but rating it is a tough call. It was tasty and distinctive, but I can't say it was so good that I'd drive out of my way to get it. I'd have no problem ordering this again, or trying another of Bee Hive's pizzas, but if I'm holding them to the same standard as I would any pizzeria, I'd have to say that this pizza was somewhat, but not a lot, better than average. So I'll break my own rule about not using pluses and minuses, and give this one a B-minus.

Bee Hive Brew Pub, 20 Pleasant St., Canandaigua

(585) 919-2471

Open 11 a.m. - 1 a.m. daily

Friday, December 5, 2014

Atlas Eats

One place that's been on my to-do list for some time now is Atlas Eats in Irondequoit. For whatever reason, they only offer pizza on Sundays, and since I don't live near there, it's been difficult to work it into my Sunday schedule. But I was downtown on a recent Sunday, so I made a short trip up Clinton Avenue to check it out.
I chose what was effectively a Margherita pizza (though I don't think they call it that), with red sauce, cheese and shredded basil. Like all the pizzas here, this was a personal-size pie, and came unsliced (I sliced it later at home).
The underside was a dark, mostly uniform brown, and deeper brown along the edge. It wasn't particularly crisp, but it was firm, and neither soggy nor oily. There was a light dusting of flour underneath.
On olfactory inspection, a pleasant, toasty, breadlike aroma greeted my nostrils. The crust was medium thick, with a chewy texture and a few bubbled spots near the edge.
For all its simplicity, this was a flavorful pizza. The tomato sauce had a fresh, bright flavor, and the cheese, though not heavily applied, was tangy and sharp; not overpoweringly so, but enough to balance out the other components. I'm not sure what kind of cheese they used - I suspect it was a blend - but it was a good example of how a pizza doesn't have to be heavily laden with cheese if the cheese has some flavor.
I like basil, and I wouldn't have minded a bit more, but there was enough here to add flavor. It was wilted just enough to mellow it a bit, but not dried out or burnt.
As I indicated, Atlas Eats is not a pizzeria as such; they only sell it on Sundays. But they do offer breakfast and lunch Thursday through Sunday, as well as some very good bread. On a prior weekday visit (before I knew they had no pizza during the week) I bought a baguette, which was excellent. And pay attention for their "Edible Atlas" Dinner Series, when they put together some terrific meals; currently upcoming is a "tour of New Orleans" featuring Cajun and Creole cuisine.
As for the pizza, it was very good. I'm not putting it in the top rank of Rochester pizza, but it was better than average, with a good crust and flavorful, well balanced toppings. So I'll give it a B.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Product Review: The Original Survival Bar

Readers of this blog will know that I do a lot of hiking. In fact my weekend day hikes in the Finger Lakes and the Southern Tier have led me to visit a lot of the pizzerias I've reviewed on this blog.

So I was happy to accept a free sample of The Original Survival Bar, from Hallelujah Acres. While I typically go on day hikes of five to ten miles, that's enough to want an energy boost along the way, without getting filled up or weighed down.

This would make a good choice. A 2.4 ounce bar provides 300 calories, with 13 grams of fat, 32 grams of carbs, 13 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and a modest 30 mg of sodium. It contains no added salt, refined sugar, preservatives, or artificial flavors or colors. It's 100% organic and vegan, and contains "living enzymes," which means absolutely nothing to me, but I presume it's a good thing.

OK, so it's good for you. How does it taste?

I shared a bar with my 11-year-old daughter and we both liked it. It's got a chewy but not sticky texture, and is sweet but not cloyingly so. In terms of the flavor, I wasn't surprised to see that the first two ingredients are organic almond butter and date paste, or that it also contains raisins and sesame seeds. Imagine a combination of ground nuts and dried fruits and you'll have a pretty good idea of how it tastes.

Hallelujah Acres makes a variety of supplements and other vegan and organic products, which are easily found online. As an avid hiker, I can say that the Survival Bar makes a good alternative to the bags of trail mix I've often stuffed in my cargo pockets, which usually end up spilling out and/or getting stuck together. It's lightweight, convenient, nutritional, and tasty.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Alloco's, Long Pond Road

I've done several reviews of Martino's on Long Pond Road, some good, some not so good. But Martino's is no more (there is an unrelated pizzeria named Martino's in Webster, which remains in business).
In its stead comes Alloco's, which opened a few months ago. I stopped in the other day for a couple of slices.
One initial pet peeve - the pies for slices weren't out where I could see them. I always like to see what I'm ordering when I get a slice. That way I can see how fresh they look, or maybe one pie will just look more appealing than another on that particular day.
This visit provides another example. I asked for pepperoni, and that's what I got, but it appeared to me that these were cooked cheese slices that had some pepperoni slices added, prior to reheating in the oven.That's not the worst thing, but had I known that, I probably would've just ordered plain cheese. Adding toppings to a cooked slice and then reheating it simply doesn't allow the added toppings to integrate into the rest of the pizza, plus in the case of pepperoni, it doesn't get properly crisp.
But OK, this wasn't the end of the world. Aside from that, how was the pizza?
The crust was rather thick - if memory serves, thicker than Martino's - though pies can be ordered thick, thin, or "traditional." I assume this was traditional.
It had a dry, crackly bottom that was nicely browned, with a smattering of corn meal visible. Not the even, shiny golden brown you get with overly oiled pizza, but the shade that bread or pizza dough turns when it's in contact with a hot oven deck. I wouldn't exactly call it charred, but a thicker crust shouldn't necessarily be charred anyway, as it needs time to bake fully through.
While I found this crust fully baked, it was, unfortunately, a little gummy on top. Maybe it had sat a little too long with its toppings before going into the oven. There have been lengthy online discussions of the "gum line" phenomenon; Some folks have suggested that the act of slicing the pizza may itself create the appearance of a gum line. I don't think that was the culprit here, though.
I've probably made more of this than it deserves, and I won't speculate further. I will say that I've seen a lot worse than this, as far as gumminess is concerned, but I mention it in the interests of accuracy and thoroughness.  The outer edge, though, I'm happy to say, was nice and crisp, with a breadlike interior.
The cheese was fairly thick, and seemed to be 100% processed mozzarella. I removed the pepperoni from one of the slices (which was easy to do) to give you a better look at the cheese. It wasn't particularly smooth or stretchy, but neither was it mealy or overly chewy; pretty basic pizza cheese.
As was the sauce. It had a slightly sweet flavor, with just a hint of herbs in the background. Overall, the slices were well balanced among the various components.
So kind of a mixed bag here. The underside of the crust was well baked, but the gumminess up top detracted from things a bit. The toppings were certainly adequate, and were applied in good proportion to each other, but again I wasn't crazy about the pepperoni apparently having been added after the pie was baked.
Alloco's offers a wide variety of pizza toppings, and some interesting specialty pizzas, like a cheeseburger pie and a tater tot pizza. They also do subs, wings, breakfast items all day, seafood, pasta, and more. Download the full menu here.
Since Alloco's has been open for only a short time, I won't rate this pizza. It showed promise. The crust seemed fundamentally good, though the execution could've been a bit better. But the bottom line is, it was good enough to go back, and I hope to do so before too long.

Alloco's, 1742 Long Pond Rd.
585-426-8646 (426-TOGO)

Mon. - Thu. 8 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. 8 - 1 a.m., Sat. 10 - 1 a.m., Sun. 11 - 10

Friday, November 14, 2014

Avoca Pizzeria

On a recent hiking excursion to Urbana State Forest, I stopped on the way home at Avoca Pizzeria, in its namesake town. Having worked up an appetite after a morning of hiking, I was ready for a slice of pizza.
The choices were limited to plain cheese or pepperoni, and I went with the latter.
It was OK, but barely OK. The underside of the thin-to-medium thick crust was spottily browned, with screen marks.
The crust hadn't risen much, and was a bit gummy on top. It was easily folded, and not crisp. It wasn't particularly oily to the touch, but I did pick up a faint hint of cooking-oil aroma.
As for the toppings, the sauce had a somewhat thick consistency, and a pronounced tomatoey flavor. The mozzarella was well melted, and had accumulated in between the bubbly areas of the dough.
This was, well, as I said before, an OK slice of pizza. But frankly it could have been better. My number one concern is the crust, and this crust had several issues, from lack of rising to gumminess on top to its overall limpness.
I won't assign a grade to this, because it's quite some distance from Rochester and there aren't many places nearby to compare it to. And I don't want to come down too hard on them, based on one slice of pizza, but, for what it's worth, this wasn't great.

Avoca Pizzeria, 2 N. Main St., Avoca

(607) 566-2200

Open 11 a.m. - 9 p.m. daily

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Revisit to Two Ton Tony's

One of the challenges of writing this blog is keeping up with developments in the local pizza scene while still returning to old favorites. 
One old favorite of mine is 2 Ton Tony's in Irondequoit. The pizza's consistently good, and owner Tony Proietti is always a pleasure to converse with. He's passionate about his pizza, and he's always got a story or two to share, often involving his family's long history in the pizza business.
I stopped by 2TT's the other day at lunchtime. From among the several slices available, I got a pepperoni & banana pepper slice. These are big slices, and Tony sliced mine in half, down the middle, although that proved to be unnecessary, as I ate them both in one sitting.
Tony's slice-ready pies start out on a screen, but are baked in a stone deck oven. Unlike a lot of screen-baked and "mega" slices I've had, this one was crisp and dry on the bottom, not floppy, soft or oily. Upon folding, the surface cracked, but the crust remained intact. The interior of the medium-thick crust had a soft texture and a fresh-bread aroma.
Tony takes pride in using top-notch ingredients, which showed in the toppings. The cheese was nicely melted and silky smooth, and the sauce had a good balance of salt and tomatoey sweetness. I love the combination of pepperoni and banana peppers, and they made for one very tasty slice of pizza.
I'm also going to mention here a slice I got a couple of months ago or so that I never got around to reporting on until now. This was a slice of "Eileen's Dream," a white pizza topped with spinach, artichokes and ricotta. My go-to pizza will always be a red pizza, but I like a good white slice now and then, and this one caught my eye.
Without tomatoes, a white pizza needs a little something to give it some oomph, and this slice accomplished that, with tangy artichokes that nicely complemented the slightly bitter shredded spinach, and nuggets of ricotta adding some additional flavor and textural interest.
I don't know if I could ever go to 2 Ton Tony's and not have pizza, but there are other options (you can view and download the entire menu here). Tony has added a very popular Friday fish fry, which includes battered haddock, potato wedges, cole slaw, hush puppies and tartar sauce There are also several new choices in the sweets department, including a s'mores calzone filled with graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows. They're also now serving Perry's ice cream, which I've been a major fan of for years. After I finished my pizza, I had barely enough room for a sample of Perry's cannoli ice cream (which is not available in stores, by the way) - yum.

This section of Irondequoit remains a pizza hotbed - I think you could go to a different pizzeria every day of the week and never drive more than half a mile - but with 2 Ton Tony's continuing to turn out such consistently good pizza, I'm not sure you'd want to.

2 Ton Tony's, 545 Titus Ave. (at Hudson Ave.)

Mon. - Thu. 11 - 9, Fri. & Sat. 11 - 10, Sun. noon - 9

Friday, October 31, 2014

Brooklyn Bakery, Olean

On a recent family visit to Olean in Cattaraugus County, I hunted down Brooklyn Bakery. This wood-fired bakery/pizzeria has been open for a few years now, but I'd been unaware of it until recently.
And when I say that I hunted it down, I mean I hunted it down. Tucked away on a side street, and partially hidden from view even from that street, it's not the easiest place to find. But I managed to track it down, and it was worth the effort.
You can make good, bad, or just mediocre pizza in any type of oven, wood-fired, gas, electric or otherwise. But one constant I've found is that good pizza is baked by people who have a passion for what they're doing. And building your own wood-fired oven is a pretty strong indication that you are dedicated to the art of baking.
As is Michael DiPaola, the founder and owner of Brooklyn Bakery. DiPaola, who opened the bakery in August 2011, clearly has a vision of what he wants to do. It's a business, but it's also a craft, and one to which he's plainly dedicated.
A native of Olean, DiPaola started his pizza journey in, of all places, Pizza Hut. He's been "all over," he told me, but eventually decided to return to Olean and start his own place.
One aspect of Michael's story that I could relate to is that he did a lot of research before launching his venture. I don't do something as simple as buying a home appliance without exhaustively researching the subject, so I can only imagine what's needed for as major an undertaking as opening a wood-fired bakery and pizzeria.
But all that research paid off, as evidenced by the end result. Brooklyn Bakery utilizes a large brick oven, with separate chambers for the fire and baking, making it a so-called "white" oven. DiPaola uses a variety of hardwoods to fire the oven, which provides indirect but very effective heat to the baking chamber. He also uses some coal, which burns a lot longer than wood, so it needs less frequent stoking.
On my visit, I ordered an "American Pie," which is a basic pepperoni pizza. Had I been alone, I might've gone for something different, but I was sharing this with an 11-year-old daughter, and I was happy to oblige her.
Our pizza had a thin crust, which was spottily browned underneath. The slices were pliable, but not floppy, with a slightly bubbly edge. The edge was not charred, as is often the case with wood-fired pizza, but that is a result of the indirect heat of this oven. I didn't mind that, as I've been to too many places where they seem to think that cooking wood-fired pizza means simply shoving the pie close to the open flame, and giving it a quick rotation just before it comes out of the oven, to give the edge a surface char, while the bottom remains pale.
While a pepperoni pizza may seem rather pedestrian, this proved to be a good choice. The slices of pepperoni (nicely arranged, as you can see in the top photo) were crisp, meaty and flavorful. The cheese, a blend of mozzarella, provolone and Asiago, was just browned, and nicely straddled the line between stringy and chewy, while the sauce had a medium-thick consistency and a rich, tomatoey flavor.
Besides the American Pie, Brooklyn Bakery also offers a white pizza with basil pesto and sliced Roma tomatoes, a white oil & garlic pie with broccoli, Roma tomatoes, and fire-roasted red peppers, and sixteen toppings if you'd like to customize a pie.
And, of course, there's the bread. BB's naturally-leavened boules include basic Italian bread, a whole-wheat "peasant" loaf, and loaves stuffed with Kalamata olives, locally-produced cheese, and tart cherries with pecans. You can also get meat pies (meatball marinara, sausage & pepper and ham & spinach), cookies and brownies.
At this point, the pizza seems to be the star of the show; Michael told me that it represents the bulk of his business, with bread currently accounting for around 20% of orders.
Three-plus years into it, Brooklyn Bakery seems to have established itself, and I hope that local residents appreciate what they have in their midst. While it's become nearly ubiquitous in the Rochester area (not to mention in larger cities like New York), wood-fired pizza probably still faces hurdles to overcome in smaller towns and cities, where local tastes tend to run toward the safe, familiar and conventional. (And having grown up in Olean, I think I can say that from experience, not from any sense of cultural superiority.) If you live down that way, or find yourself in the area, do yourself a favor and stop by. This is good stuff.

Brooklyn Bakery, 111 N. 14th St. (just off West State St.), Olean
(716) 372-1800

Mon. - Sat. noon - 9 p.m.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Book Review: Food Substitutions Bible

If you cook much, you know the feeling:  you get started, but then you go to your cupboard, spice rack or pantry, and a key ingredient is missing.
I know the basic rule of mise en place:  have everything ready to go, before you start. It makes eminent sense. I just don’t always do it. Or I try to do it, only to discover as I’m getting everything ready that I’m missing a key ingredient. And I may not have the time or desire to go to the store to get it.
So what’s a home cook to do? The best alternative, if it’s possible, is to come up with a substitute ingredient. Sure, for some things there are no easy substitutes, but if comes down to a teaspoon of coriander or oregano, there must be some way around it, right?
At that point, I tend to get online and start searching for substitutes. That’s fine, but it can be time-consuming, especially when you start to find contradictory advice.
So it’s nice to have an authoritative book on hand to answer these questions. And that’s why I was so happy to receive a complimentary review copy of The Food Substitutions Bible, by David Joachim.
Joachim is the co-author of The Science of Good Food, has won the International Association of Culinary Professionals award and been nominated for a James Beard award, and has been involved in the writing of more than thirty cookbooks. So he knows whereof he speaks, foodwise.
This is, literally, not a lightweight book. It runs close to 700 pages, and lists more than 6500 food and ingredient substitutions. For sheer comprehensiveness, it warrants the “bible” monker.
There are the basics, of course, like brown sugar, eggs, and evaporated milk. But the book goes well beyond that. One of the pleasures of thumbing through this book has been to read about the myriad ingredients I’d never even heard of, like Bryndza, cupuaƧu, and kefalotyri. Get familiar with these terms, and you’ll be a Scrabble champion in no time.
The list is not limited to ingredients, either. There are also entries about equipment, like rice cookers, electric mixers, and cheesecloth.
If that’s not enough, there are several excellent appendices. These include sections on measurement equivalents, and ingredient guides covering coffee, chiles, rice and other kitchen staples. One of the handiest is the guide to pan size equivalents, so you’ll quickly know, without needing a calculator and geometry formulas, whether your rectangular cake pan holds more or less than the round pan called for by the recipe.
I keep my cookbooks in a couple of places, with my frequent go-to books close at hand, and the “occasional” books on a shelf further from my stove. (Anything below “occasional” gets given away to my local library for their book sale.) This one’s going on the go-to shelf. It’s terrific.

The Food Substitutions Bible, by David Joachim
Paperback: 696 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose; (2nd ed.)

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Note on Reviews, Grades, and Reader Comments

I posted a review the other day of City Grill, which I gave a B. I hesitated about rating it at all, since it's been open for only about six months, but two friends and I shared three pies, which seemed like a pretty good sampling, and six months is not nothing, so I figured, why not?
We all liked our pizzas. My friends, I think, would've given them an A. But I found a few flaws, nothing too significant, so I gave it a B.
Today I see that a Facebook reader, Jason, went to City Grill the other night and pretty much hated the pizza. He'd give it a D. I was sorry to see that, because I hate to feel as if I've steered somebody wrong.
But I welcomed his comment. My reviews are based on one-time visits, and I'll be the first to agree that they are not definitive or comprehensive evaluations of a place. In writing this blog, I've found an inherent tension between wanting to provide a useful guide to local pizza and simply recording my experiences. So what I've tried to do is to record those experiences, with grades (most of the time), but with the caveat that they are just reports of individual visits, and that you take them for what they're worth. I simply don't have the time or money to pay multiple visits to each place before doing a review, and still keep up with all the pizzerias around here on a regular basis.
And that's why I invite reader comments, especially from readers who have been to the places I've reviewed. All I can do is give you my opinion, one visit at a time. If you go to a place I've reviewed, please take a moment to add your two cents here on the blog, to help other readers. Your opinion is as valuable as mine. All I ask is that you provide some specifics - "it was delicious" or "it sucked" doesn't help much.
So my apologies to Jason, but thank you for the feedback. I still think City Grill is worth a try, and I'll be curious to see what other readers think of it.

Friday, October 24, 2014

City Grill, Rochester

City Grill Rochester on Urbanspoon
With a couple of friends, I recently had lunch at City Grill, which opened some months ago at the corner of East Avenue and Alexander Street. I've lost count of how many restaurants have been in and out of this location in recent years, but this one might stick for a while.
What drew me there, of course, was pizza, in this case wood-fired pizza. I don't want to go into a long digression here, but before I go further, I should say a word or two about wood-fired pizza.
I have mixed feelings about the recent proliferation of local restaurants offering wood-fired pizza. Wood-fired pizza is not inherently better than pizza baked in other types of ovens. There are many factors going into any given pizza, from the ingredients to the preparation, to the attention paid to it while it's in the oven. The type of oven will certainly affect the end result, but a wood-fired oven does not by any means guarantee a better end result than a standard gas-fired pizza oven. In fact, if the pizzaiolo doesn't utilize it to its best advantage, a wood-fired oven can very easily yield a worse pizza than a more conventional oven.
But: the wood-fired trend has led to a lot more places around here offering pizza, and that's not a bad thing, from my perspective. So if I seem to be focusing recently on wood-fired pizza, it's mostly because I'm always looking for new places, and that's where most of the growth seems to be coming from lately.
OK. Back to City Grill. I don't think I'd ever been there before, under any of the restaurant's previous incarnations, because I was surprised to discover how large a space the restaurant occupies. There are two dining rooms (and an outdoor patio), and my friends were waiting for me in the back room. It's an attractive space, with a fireplace (not in use on this warm sunny day) and an open kitchen.
I ordered my usual Margherita (correctly spelled on the menu), while my two companions ordered a five-cheese pie and a "classic" pepperoni.
All three were nicely done, with some char spots underneath and a pliable crust that had some surface crispness.  There was some noticeable corn meal on mine, which was a bit unusual for a wood-fired pizza, in my experience. Some of the corn meal had carbonized, in other words, blackened, which I find a little off-putting, but it wasn't too bad.
To quibble a bit more, the crusts were a tad unevenly done, with some areas along the edge quite blackened, while others were only browned. But I know that's tricky with a wood-fired oven, and none of them were over- or underdone overall. So again, not a big deal, but I bring a critical eye to my pizza, and in the interests of giving a complete description I thought it worth mentioning.
Aside from those minor issues, I liked the crust, which had a bready aroma and a chewy but not tough texture. It was thin and pliable but not floppy, and was dry underneath.
We all enjoyed our toppings. The sauce seemed to be the same on all three, and had a basic tomatoey flavor with some herbs in the background. The toppings on my pie were  a little unevenly distributed, with the cheese and sauce coming close to the edge in some spots and other areas where there was a wide swath of naked crust, but this was no major cause for complaint. I would, however, have liked a bit more basil than just the few sprinkles that I got. What basil there was, though, was good, and had been added at the end, so it wasn't burnt, browned or dried out.
Pepperoni pizza is about as basic as American pizza gets, but this was a good one. The toppings were well balanced, and the pepperoni was especially tasty, with a good, meaty/spicy flavor, and just the right combination of crispness and chewiness.
The five-cheese pie was topped with mozzarella, aged provolone, Asiago, Fontina and Gruyere cheeses. While it wasn't overloaded with cheese, they combined to give it a sharp, pungent flavor and aroma. I liked it, but you've definitely got to be a cheese lover to appreciate this one.
In addition to these three pies, City Grill offers an "Italian," topped with crumbled meatballs, onions, tomatoes, cheese and parsley, a chicken-and-pesto pie with ricotta cheese and cherry tomatoes, a Greek pizza with shredded eggplant, kalamata olives, goat cheese, spinach, artichokes & roasted peppers, and the only one I would take a pass on, a wild mushroom pizza with shitake, portobello, crimini & porcinni, topped with a truffle sauce. All pies come in two sizes, which are priced at $11 and $15. The menu also features a variety of other dishes, including a wood-fired s'mores pizza with Belgian chocolate and marshmallows on a graham cracker crust. There's a full bar to boot.
So will City Grill succeed where so many others have tried and failed? I suspect that it might. I can't say what went wrong with the other establishments, but on this visit the food and service were good, business was brisk, and the atmosphere was comfortable yet - to use a word that I dislike, but that seems apt - sophisticated.
I'm not prepared to give City Grill's pizza an "A," at least not yet. (Maybe with the proliferation of wood-fired pizzas, I'm becoming more demanding, and I should probably revisit and re-rate some of the places I reviewed months or years ago.) But it's well worth a stop. For now, I'll give it a B, and I look forward to my next visit.

City Grill, 384 East Ave.

Mon. - Wed. 11 a.m. - midnight
Thu. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Apothic Dark Wine

A few weeks ago, I received a complimentary bottle of Apothic Dark wine, a seasonal offering from Apothic Wines.

To quote from the news release, Apothic Dark "combines flavors of blueberry and blackberry with enticing notes of coffee and dark chocolate for a rich and smooth mouthfeel with layers of texture. Apothic Dark's bold and decadent taste is the perfect accompaniment to hearty autumn fare, as well as confections and desserts, such as chocolates and fruit tarts. Apothic Dark is also great for holiday entertaining and makes the perfect hostess/host gift!"

Apothic Dark does indeed combine fruity flavors with rich overtones of chocolate, making for a complex yet accessible wine that goes well both with hearty meat dishes and dessserts, but which is also enjoyable on its own.

You'll find Apothic Dark at major area retailers. It retails for about $14 a bottle. For more information, go to

Friday, October 17, 2014

Harvest & Artists Market

On a hiking trip a few weeks ago, I spotted a sign for Harvest & Artists Market near Hammondsport.  What caught my eye was the word "pizza," specifically wood-fired pizza.
I couldn't stop at that time, but after I got home I did a little research and learned more about the market. Owners Jeff and Jodi have striven to create the "greenest farm/craft market in NY state," and in doing so, they've assembled an eclectic assortment of local farmers and artisans.
Given their off-the-grid approach, a wood-fired oven is a natural fit. The handmade, clay "earth" oven is outdoors, on a covered porch just off coffee house in the main building. (There's also a separate indoor wood-fired bakery that turns out bread and cookies.)
I got a plain cheese pie, which was about a foot across. The edge was crisp and somewhat unevenly blackened. The underside was a bit floury, with some light charring. The crust overall was on the thin side, and about halfway between crisp and pliable, firm on the surface but foldable. The dough itself was nicely chewy, with a good, breadlike flavor.
It was topped with a fairly thick layer of cheese, which was lightly browned. The sauce was moderately applied, with a thickish consistency and a straightforward tomatoey flavor.
All in all, a very enjoyable pie, in very pleasant surroundings.
If you'd like to check out the pizza, or the rest that the market has to offer, now's the time, because the market is only open through the end of this month. (It will reopen next May.) You may want to head there on Saturday October 25 for "Halloween Harvest," which will feature hay rides, "pumpkin chunkin," spooky stories and more. It's a bit of a drive from Rochester, but it's a pleasant drive, and it will give you some time to work up an appetite for some very good pizza.

Harvest and Artists Market, 8383 Gallagher Road, Hammondsport
(607) 382-9598

Open May - Oct., Saturdays 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Also open on Fridays from 11 to 4 and Sundays from noon till 3 in July and August.

Book Winner

Laurie, who left a comment here on October 7 at 6:29 p.m., has won a free copy of Pizza: A Slice of American History, by Liz Barrett. Congratulations Laurie! All I need from you is your mailing address, which you can send me at, and I'll get it out to you. 

If you didn't win, you can take a peek at the book's contents on Amazon. If you're into pizza even half as much as I am, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, or at least add it to your Wish List.

Thanks to all who participated and to Liz Barrett for donating a copy of her book. Look for more giveaways in the near future.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Pontillo's Winner

Tracy, who left a comment here on October 4 at 12:44 a.m. has won a gift certificate from Pontillo's in Webster, good for one large two-topping pizza. Congratulations Tracy!
All I need from you now is your name and mailing address, and I'll drop it in the mail. You can email me at
Thanks again to Jerry at Pontillo's for this donation. To those who didn't win this time, stop by Jerry's store sometime at 807 Ridge Road West in Webster for a taste of authentic Pontillo's pizza. And don't forget that I'll be giving away a terrific pizza book next Friday, so be sure to enter for that. Watch for more giveaways to come!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Review: Pizza: A Slice of American History, and a Giveaway!

I recently received a review copy of Pizza:  A Slice of American History, by Liz Barrett. Actually I received two copies:  one for my bookshelf, where it is going to remain, and one to give away to one lucky reader.
And I do mean a lucky reader, because this is a terrific book. Barrett, who's an editor at PMQ Pizza Magazine, and the author of, has written one of the best all-around books on pizza I've come across.
There are some recipes and cooking tips in here, but it's not a cookbook as such. This is a broad-based exploration of pizza, its history and its place in our culture.
Barrett got my attention on the very first page of her text, where she writes about her memory of her first taste of pizza. I can't say that I remember my first pizza, but I do have fond memories of the pizzas of my childhood, which I suspect is true of many pizza lovers.
From there, Barrett provides a capsule summary of pizza history, and she then canvasses all the major styles, from the biggies like Neapolitan, Sicilian, and deep-dish, to less common styles such as New England Greek pizza and Ohio Valley pizza, which I'd never even heard of before. Our upstate neighbor Utica also gets a mention for its contribution to the development of "tomato pie."
There are also chapters on pizza crust, cheese, ovens, side dishes and beverage pairings, and even a movie trivia quiz. You'll find interviews with several prominent pizza experts, like author and baker Peter Reinhart, and Adam Kuban, the founder of Slice, America's foremost pizza blog. The text is accompanied throughout by both color and historic black-and-white photographs, and even a few New Yorker cartoons.
After receiving the book, I emailed Liza a few questions, to conduct a kind of virtual interview. Here they are, with her responses.

Have you tried all the styles you describe in the book?

- I've tried all of the main styles and most of the styles mentioned in the "More Pizza Styles" chapter. There are still a few from that chapter I need to experience.

Do you have any particular pizza goals on your to-do list (places to go, styles to try etc.)?
- There are dozens of pizzerias I still have on my list, but specific styles I'd still like to try include the grilled pizza at Al Forno in Providence Rhode Island, and the Colorado-style Mountain Pie at Beau Jo's in Colorado.

Based on all your travels, what would you say is the best city for pizza? Is there one city or pizzeria that should be on every pizza lover's bucket list?
- New York City is definitely the place to go if you want to try several styles of pizza, and really feel the history of pizza in America. Just strolling down a street in New York you can smell the pizzas cooking. Walking into one of the order-at-the-counter pizzerias and seeing the pizza maker tossing the dough and sliding the pies into the oven...there's nothing else like it in the world. On the same block, you can try New York-style, Sicilian, Grandma, Tomato Pie, Neapolitan and more. Whenever I want to just immerse myself in pizza, I always head to New York.

You wrote a little about your background, but how did you end up in pizza journalism?
- It was really by accident. I moved from Los Angeles to Oxford, Mississippi, in 2006, with plans for some laid-back southern living. But after about of year of freelancing, I got a little restless and wanted something else to do. That's when I picked up the paper and saw the ad for an associate editor at PMQ Pizza Magazine. Within three months I took over the editor-in-chief position. After five wonderful years, I hired the talented Rick Hynum as our managing editor, hoping that he would eventually replace me. When he did in 2012, I became PMQ's part-time editor-at-large, freeing up time for projects such as Pizza: A Slice of American History.

I've often said that to me, great pizza is all about balance:  among the different components, the crispness and chewiness of the crust, and so on. And that came to mind in reading this book. It balances history with recipes, interviews, pop culture, and great illustrations. Pizza: A Slice of American History is a fun yet informative read, that belongs on the bookshelf of any serious pizza lover.

Here's your chance to add it to your own bookshelf, for free. I'll be giving away one copy of Pizza: A Slice of American History, totally free, to one reader of this blog.

Same as always, to enter, simply leave a comment here, following this blog post. You need not leave your full name and address now, but you cannot leave a purely anonymous comment. If you win, I will need to get the book to you, so I will need your name and mailing address at that time.

I will pick a winner at random one week from this coming Friday, in other words, on Friday, October 17, 2014, a little after noon. I will post the winner here, on Facebook, and on Twitter. IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO CHECK AND SEE IF YOU'VE WON. You can send me your email address now if you'd like, at, or include it in your comment, and if you do, I'll email you directly if you win. Otherwise, you must check back here on October 17 to see if you've won. And remember, emailing me will not get you entered. You must leave a comment here to enter.

If you're reading this blog, you must like pizza. So you'll like this book. If you don't win, it's available on Amazon (click on the photo above to go straight there). Let the comments begin!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Pontillo's Webster: Interview and Giveaway

I sat down the other day with Jerry Fricano, owner and operator of Pontillo's in Webster. Jerry is a maternal grandson of Tony Pontillo, who with his brothers opened the first Pontillo's pizzeria in Batavia in 1947.
Pontillo's was one of the first pizzerias in our area, and it must've struck a chord in the local community, because it soon spread to Charlotte and elsewhere. Today Pontillo's locations can be found throughout the Rochester area.
The Webster location, though, holds the distinction of being one of the few that is still run by a Pontillo's family member. And Jerry still uses the original Pontillo's recipe.
Operating a Pontillo's was not a lifelong plan for Jerry. He went to college, got a degree, but then decided that he wanted to follow the family tradition. And so here we are, a couple of generations later, with the same pizza that made Pontillo's a local favorite.
In talking with Jerry, I saw what comes through with every good pizzeria, which is a passion for what he does. He learned the trade, the recipe and the method from his grandfather, and he takes well-deserved pride in sticking with that original recipe. I wasn't around in 1947, but I'm guessing that if Tony Pontillo magically walked in the door sometime, he'd recognize this as his own pizza.
You'll find Jerry at the store most days. With a young daughter at home (and I know how that is), he tries to limit himself to five days a week, but it's a full week, and he's developed a reliable staff to handle things when he's not at the shop.
The result of Jerry's faithfulness to the original recipe, as I can attest, is very good pizza. I was there at lunchtime, when they've got a wide variety of slices available, so going with my gut, I got a cheese slice and a white slice, each of which Jerry cut in half (the slices here are quite large).
The cheese slice had a crisp, slightly charred crust, while the white veggie slice was a little softer and more browned underneath. Each was medium thick, with a well-risen, chewy, breadlike interior, and a thick, puffy cornicione.
The cheese slice had a good balance of sauce and cheese, with a moderately seasoned, tomatoey sauce and nicely melted, slightly browned cheese on top. The white slice was quite tasty, thanks to three kinds of cheese (Ricotta, mozzarella and Romano), fresh tomato slices and chopped spinach.
But don't take my word for it - see for yourself. I've got a gift certificate to give away to one lucky reader, good for one large, two-topping pizza.
OK, you know the drill. To enter to win, leave a comment after this blog post. Any comment will do, as long as it's not completely anonymous. A screen name will suffice.
One week from today, on Friday, October 10, a little after noon, I'll pick a winner, using If you win, I will need to have your full name and mailing address to get the gift certificate to you. You can leave it in your comment, you can email it to me before next Friday, or you can wait to see if you've won and send it to me then, at Just remember, emailing me does NOT enter you to win. You must leave a comment here to enter.
If you send me your email address before next Friday, and you are the winner, I will let you know by email that you've won, but otherwise it's up to you to check back here to see if you've won. If you win and I don't hear from you in a few days, I'll award the gift certificate to somebody else. I'll also post the winner on my Facebook page and send it out via Twitter.
Win or not, if you're in the Webster area, stop by Pontillo's on Ridge Road. They carry a wide selection of pizza, as well as wings, subs, salads and sides. But do try the pizza.

Pontillo's, 807 Ridge Road (Webster Woods Plaza), Webster
(585) 671-1070

11 a.m. - 11 p.m. daily

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Back to Branca

One of the better food blogs out there is Chris Lindstrom's Food About Town. In addition to his blog, Chris also writes for City Newspaper, and he has spent some time learning the pizzamaking craft at one of our area's best pizzerias, Fiamma, under the tutelage of owner/pizzaiolo Giuseppe Paciullo.  So the man knows his food, and his pizza. And he's a good writer.
I've met Chris before, and he recently invited me to join him and his wife for dinner at Branca in Bushnells Basin. Branca specializes in Neapolitan style pizza baked in a wood-fired oven.
This was my second visit to Branca.. I reported on my first visit in August of this year. At that time, I thought it was pretty good. I did have some issues with the pizza, particularly concerning the crust, but you can follow the link to read further.
This time around, there were four of us - a coworker of Chris came along - and we decided to share three pizzas. As it turned out, we ended up with four pizzas, due to some confusion over the first pizza we ordered. In short, we got the first one for free, plus the three that we wanted.
I'll start out by saying that they were all pretty good, but in hindsight I wish I had agreed to my companions' suggestion that we order the tartufata pie, which is topped with mushrooms, mozzarella, Pecorino cheese and truffle sauce. (In one form or another, truffles figure very prominently on Branca's menu - I counted seven dishes with truffles.) I nixed that idea partly because I don't like mushrooms, and also because I wanted to try Branca's marinara con acciughe pie, with tomato sauce, anchovies, garlic, oregano, and extra virgin olive oil. At that point we'd already settled on the first two pies, plus I didn't realize that we were going to end up with a fourth pie.
The upshot is, we ended up with four red pies. Despite my general antipathy toward mushrooms, a white pie, even with mushrooms, would've been a welcome alternative. But there are worse things in life than trying four different red pizzas. Next time I'm there, I'll try the tartufata.
OK - on to the pizza. First up was the Margherita. This is what I had on my prior visit.
First impressions: an attractive pizza, with a uniform, well-formed cornicione, a moderate layer of bright red sauce, and a smattering of nicely melted, fresh mozzarella, with a few shreds of wilted basil.
An inspection of the underside showed that the crust wasn't as spottily charred underneath as I would like, especially from a wood-fired oven. There were a few darkened areas, but it was mostly light brown throughout.
And though nicely formed, the cornicione (i.e,, the edge or lip) was not as bubbly as I would've liked. It wasn't unleavened, certainly, but the air holes were uniformly small, and it lacked the textural complexity that adds interest to a crust.
Chris first called attention to this, but I had to agree that the crust seemed a little bland, mostly due to a lack of salt. With some pies, after I've worked my way through the toppings, I enjoy the cornicione at least as much as the rest of the pie. With this pizza, the "bones" were more of an afterthought. Not bad, but on their own, just not that great. If I'd had a sauce of some kind - marinara, blue cheese or hot pepper - I would've been dipping.
Having said all that, the pie tasted good. The sauce had a bright, tomatoey flavor, lightly accented with herbs, the cheese was melted just enough to reach its peak of liquidity without turning it rubbery, and the basil was wilted but not burned.
Next up was the bufala e pachini, with tomato sauce, water buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and basil. If that sounds close to the Margherita, it was. This goes back to the ordering mixup, which resulted in us getting two very similar pies.
And while overall the two pies were much alike, the crust on the bufala pizza, which arrived a few minutes after the first, was a little darker underneath, and a little stiffer along the edge. Perhaps it was baked in a hotter part of the oven, or for a bit longer. It also had a pronounced but not excessive aroma of burnt toast, which I consider a good thing. That aroma adds to the overall mix of flavors and aromas that I love.
As I indicated, the toppings weren't much different from the Margherita. Same sauce, and the cheese wasn't noticeably different either. The cherry tomatoes were nice and sweet, but seemed superfluous on top of the tomato sauce.
Next up was the Rughetta e prosciutto San Daniele, with tomato sauce, prosciutto San Daniele, mozzarella and arugula. I've never been a big fan of pizzas with raw greens on top, because to me, the greens just don't get well integrated into the pizza, but this was an enjoyable pie. The prosciutto was very good, lean but not overly chewy, with a lot of flavor and enough salt to balance out the relatively bland crust. This was more of a knife-and-fork pizza, but if you don't mind that, the arugula added a textural dimension and a subtle but welcome bitterness to the pie. Think of taking a forkful of salad with each bite of pizza.
It was at this point, I think, that we began to realize that the relatively unsalted crust made some sense, or at least that it worked well with some of the pizzas. That was borne out by our final pizza of the night:  the Marinara con acciughe, with tomato sauce, garlic, anchovies, oregano and extra virgin olive oil.
This was my choice, which I wanted to try because of its similarity to the tomato-and-anchovy pies that used to be favored by local Italian immigrants, long ago. I liked it, although by this time I was getting a bit satiated, and a little maxed out on red pizza, particularly since the sauce seemed to be the same on all of these pies.
Even more than with the Rughetta, I appreciated the relative blandness of the crust. The anchovies were quite salty, as anchovies tend to be. So the crust helped offset some of that salinity.
We generally agreed, though, that this pie was flavorful but one-dimensional. The anchovies overwhelmed the other toppings. Our group discussed what could be done to counterbalance the anchovies, and the thoughts ranged from olive oil to a hard, grated cheese like Parmesan or Romano, to hot peppers. I wonder, too, if the anchovies could've been desalinated a bit - supposedly, soaking them in milk helps, although the one time I tried that, it didn't seem to have much effect.
I guess I can't complain, since this pie was what the menu said it was, an anchovy pie. But while I remain intrigued by anchovies as a pizza topping, you'd better like them a lot to order this pizza.
My other observation about this final pie of the evening is that it was unevenly baked.  Blackened and blistered in one area, but quite pale underneath on the opposite side.
So - overall impressions? I like Branca. I plan to go back, and I'd like to try more of their pizza. But on this visit, it was a little inconsistent.
The crust on these pies was, for the most part, pretty good, nicely baked along the perimeter and softer in the middle. But they tended to be unevenly baked, and the dough didn't have quite the flavor or texture to rise above being much more than a base for the toppings. Not bad, just not great.
The toppings were good. I appreciate that Branca sticks to a pretty traditional menu. No Buffalo wing or taco pizzas.
Menu selection is important here, though. I wouldn't spring for the extra three bucks to get the Bufala e pachini pizza over the Margherita. And unless you're a true lover of anchovies, I'd stay away from the Marinara.
In the end, I guess the key question is, do I want to go back? Yes, I do. Branca has several more pizzas that I want to try. Frankly, I'd like to work my way through the whole list.
I've been to Branca twice now, and I liked it both times, although neither time did I think the pizza was among the best I've ever had. So I can confidently recommend it, but I can't rate it among the very best in our area. With a little attention to detail, it can get there. For now, I'd say it's very good, and well worth a visit, but not quite top-notch, so I'll give it a B.

Branca, 683 Pittsford-Victor Rd., Bushnells Basin

Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - midnight
Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m.
Sun. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.