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Friday, January 31, 2014

Compané: Italian Tradition in Fairport

In connection with my current giveaway for Compané Bistro in Fairport, I had a conversation with Mario Cristofori, the controller/manager of Compané. While I was already sold on Compané's pizza, by the end of our discussion I was even more eager to return for a meal. And it might not even include pizza.
Compané (pronounced com-PAH-nay) got its start in August 2010. As with many good pizzerias and restaurants, it's a family affair. Mario's father Guido is from the Abruzzi region of Italy, and he opened Compané with the aim of replicating the food he knew and loved back home.
Compané is the family's third venture into the restaurant business, which started with a pizzeria/deli in Henrietta, followed by Grappa, a former Fairport establishment in a location that is now the site of a Chinese restaurant.
Despite this history, Guido's primary work background was not in the pizza business, but in masonry. That's proved helpful, though, because Guido put those skills to good use in building Compané's impressive wood-fired oven, as well as its very comfortable back patio.
An electrical fire on the restaurant's first New Year's Eve resulted in Compané closing for several months, mostly to cope with water damage. But reopen they did, and that's fortunate, because the pizza here is very good indeed.
Maybe it's a stereotype to characterize Italians as having some special cooking skills, but Mario told me that his family has "always had a knack for the kitchen." That starts with "Nana," who, well into her eighties, still comes in regularly to make gnocchi. Once I've reviewed a restaurant, I enjoy going back and not feeling obligated to try the pizza. Next time I go to Compané, I'm ordering gnocchi.
But let's get back to the pizza. Compané's oven is a work of art, although much of what you see is a facade. That's not to say that the oven is some sort of fake. It's a serious wood-burning oven. But the actual cooking space is relatively small, as it has to be; you want to trap the heat from the wood fire, not just let it go up the chimney.
And that oven is 100% wood fired. No gas flames there, it's wood from the get-go. Compané uses various woods, but they are all "neutral" hardwoods - no aromatic fruit woods. Fruit woods are fine for barbeque, but for pizza you are generally not looking for a distinctive smoke.
To be ready in time for dinner, somebody generally gets the fire started between 2 and 2:30 in the afternoon. And again, it might be Mario's dad Guido, who's there daily to monitor the oven.
But starting the fire is the easy part. The fire has to be maintained throughout the evening, holding the temperature at between 600 and 700 degrees. That's a good temperature not only for pizza, but for some of the other dishes that Compané uses the oven for, like wings, ribs and roasts.
Another tricky aspect to using this oven is that Compané's oven is big; it can hold seven to eight pizzas at a time. That's good, in a way, when they've got several pizza orders coming in at once, but it also means that a lot of skill, and close attention, are required to keep an eye on the pizzas and make sure that they're all getting properly done, each at the right time.
Fortunately, Compané can count on an experienced set of employees to keep things running smoothly. I'm sure there are the usual hiccups and crises that you find in any restaurant, but based on my visit and their continued success, Compané seems to be managing rather well.
And while Compané turns out very traditional Italian food, I should mention that they offer gluten-free and whole-wheat pizzas as well.
Compané exhibits a lot of the characteristics that I find common to good pizzerias. It's family based (Mario's mom and sister are also involved), and everything is made from scratch. It's also locally based - Mario grew up in Fairport - but its roots go back to Italy.
Whether you win a gift card or not, you'd do well to give Compané a try. I enjoyed it and I think you will too.

Compané, 80 N. Main St., Fairport

Mon. - Sat. 5 p.m. - 10 p.m.

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