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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Hole in the Wall, Perry

I'm not sure how I discovered this, but some time ago I ran across a reference to The Hole in the Wall restaurant in Perry, serving wood-fired pizza.
Now that  name caught my eye, because I remember as a little kid having a meal at least one time in the Hole in the Wall, which back then was located in the two- or three-block "business district" along Main Street in Perry. I remember the name more than the place, but as I recall it, it was aptly named, small, with good food, but mostly of the diner variety:  burgers, sandwiches, and so on.
So a new, relocated Hole in the Wall? With wood-fired pizza, no less? Pizza or no, I had to check this out.
And so my wife and I went one night, recently, for dinner at The Hole in the Wall. And were we glad we did.
This was a far different Hole in the Wall from what I remembered going to as a kid.  The new incarnation of the HlTW is not on Main Street, but is down a side street leading to nearby Silver Lake. It's also much bigger than what I remember.
While the building itself is rather nondescript,  it was clear upon entering that the owners are aiming for something higher than than the diner of my youth. The interior has an airy, comfortable feel, with high ceilings and a muted color scheme. Add a few sunburned guys in polo shirts and khaki shorts, and this could've been the clubhouse at a local country club.
I wasn't surprised to see that the owners weren't trying to replicate the atmosphere of the old HITW, since the original, as good as it was, was one of the last places I would've expected to find wood-fired pizza. Of course, back then, nobody'd even heard of wood-fired pizza. Not around here, at least. But if you're now offering wood-fired pizza and craft beers, that's a pretty good indication that you're striving to be something more than just a diner.
When a restaurant decides to go upscale, it can go well or badly. If they can pull it off, great. If they overreach, as they often do, it can be a disaster. But based on this visit to the Hole in the Wall, I'd say it's gone very well indeed.
Upon entering, we were promptly greeted and asked if we preferred the bar area near the door, or the dining room, which is entered via a ramp just off the bar. The bar area looked pleasant enough, and was pretty quiet at the time (a little after six), but we opted for the dining room.
My wife and I were ushered to a table near the window, which gave us a view of the farm fields and trees across the road. I wouldn't call it scenic, exactly, but it was eye-pleasing enough.
Even before I got the menu, I knew I was getting pizza; it was only a question of which one. The pizza bianca (olive tapenade, green olives, broccoli, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmesan) was tempting, but I ended up going with my usual Margherita (as at so many other places, misspelled "Margarita" on the menu).
While we were waiting for our food, we were given a complimentary appetizer of grilled flatbread with tapenade. I love good olives, so I enjoyed this.
Next up was our salads. Often, a "side" salad is unremarkable, but I asked for crumbly blue cheese on mine, and was happy to find that it was sprinkled with smoked blue cheese, something I'd never had before. I was informed that it was Moody Blue from Wisconsin. While I like to see places use local ingredients, I couldn't complain about this out-of-state choice. The smokiness of the cheese was not overpowering, but added a layer of complexity that elevated the entire salad.
But on to the pizza. My Margherita was thin and crisp, and lightly, spottily charred. It was topped with a thick, somewhat sweet sauce, which was most noticeable near the edge. In the center of the pie, the sauce was very thin and had mostly evaporated.
Dollops of fresh mozzarella dotted the pie, and were nicely baked, neither runny nor rubbery.
The basil, often little more than a garnish, if not an afterthought, was the most interesting part. Here, it consisted of basil sprouts, tender but with long stems. They were OK, but a little bitter, and somewhat awkward to eat, as they tended to fall off the slices. I preferred them to the dried basil flakes or burnt shredded basil leaves that I've had on some pizzas, but I think I'd still rather have full-grown basil leaves, added as soon at the pie comes out of the oven.
My wife ordered the stuffed chicken breast (bacon, spinach, onions, provolone, sun-dried tomato, and cream sauce), which was very good, and we shared a tiramisu for dessert. I don't have a particularly sweet tooth, but I do love a good tiramisu, and this was a good one. A little oddly presented, parfait- style in a tall glass, but it was still among the best I've had, with a creamy but light texture and a flavor that was sweet but not cloying.
Luckily, we happened to go on a Wednesday, when pizzas are half price. So my pizza was only $5.50. Amazingly, our bill came out well under $40.
I'm not one to overemphasize price - I'd rather pay more for a good meal than pay less for a mediocre meal - but this was one of the biggest bangs for the buck that I've had. The food was uniformly good, and our total bill came to about what I've paid in the past for one person's meal, of equal quality, at some other restaurants.
Ah yes, the grade. This pizza wasn't perfect - I think I've explained why - and yet I would drive out of my way to go here. I'm giving it a B, for now, but it's not much short of an A. And that's the pizza, not the restaurant as a whole, which I would give an A. But I rate pizza, not restaurants.
Let me conclude by saying that I hope that the local community is supporting the Hole in the Wall, because it's a treasure. It's about a 30-mile drive for me, but I know I'll be back.

Hole In the Wall Restaurant
7056 Standpipe Rd, Perry, NY 14530
Phone:(585) 237-3003

Wed. & Thu. 11:30 am – 8:30 pm, Fri. 11:30 am – 9:00 pm, Sat. 11:30 am – 9:00 pm
Sunday 11:30 am – 8:00 pm

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pizza Stop Winner!

Diane Gelose, who entered a comment here on July 11 at 1:15 p.m., is the winner of two $10 gift certificates to The Pizza Stop. Congratulations, Diane!
All I need you to do is send your mailing address to me at, and I'll get them in the mail asap.
Thanks to everyone who participated and thanks for reading The Rochester NY Pizza Blog. Keep watching for more giveaways in the future.

Interview: Angelo "Sonny" Veltre

In 2011, I did a post about Veltre Bakery, one of Rochester's original pizzerias. A few weeks ago, I sat down over lunch with Angelo "Sonny" Veltre, who ran that bakery for many years, and worked or helped out there more years, both before and after he was in charge. He's a wonderful guy, and it was a pleasure to speak with him.
The old Veltre Bakery used to be on Parkway St. in Rochester, just off Lyell Avenue. When Angelo's parents bought it in the 1930s, it had been in use for some time, and had incorporated a coal-fired oven, built into the wall, from the start.
Angelo's father learned his trade at the long-gone Bond Bakery in Rochester, which seems to have been something of a training ground for bakers around here.
Angelo, who was born in 1928, started working at the Veltre Bakery as a young boy, and part of his tasks included taking small pizzas around the neighborhood for sale.
In the beginning, pizza was no more than an adjunct to bread, which was Veltre's mainstay. They'd offer small pizzas, which in those days were as simple as can be, topped with little more than tomatoes and oregano. To make a little more money, Sonny was tasked with taking pizzas around to local bars at the end of the day, offering them for sale to patrons for ten cents apiece. At that time, pizza was a novelty, and many customers didn't even know what it was at first. But they quickly came to like it; Sonny recalled one night when a bar fight broke out over the sale of his last pizza (fortunately for him, Sonny got out before the fists started to fly in his direction).
Notably, Sonny also told me that Veltre sold some of its wares out of a truck. As the saying goes, eventually everything old is new again. Veltre was operating a food truck decades before the current food-truck trend took hold.
In the 1940s, Sonny got drafted, though he never made it overseas. He got in late in the war, and stayed stateside. But thanks to his military service, Sonny was able, under the GI Bill, to attend a bakery trade school, where he honed his craft. In fact, he learned so much that he was able to bake his own wedding cake on a Friday for the next day's reception.
And he learned how to use Veltre's coal oven. Sonny described it as a "primitive" oven, which to me makes it sound all the more intriguing. He'd show up for work at around 4 or 5 a.m. to start the fire, with wood, before adding the coal. The oven did incorporate a blower to blow off the coal smoke, but besides smoke and heat, coal produces ash, and cleaning the grates was a daily task.
How hot did Veltre's coal-fired oven get? Sonny didn't know. It had no thermometer, and he didn't need one. The baker had to use his judgment regarding where to place the loaf, or pizza, and when to turn it or take it out. Pizza went to the back, the hottest part of the oven, and bread closer to the front.
It was after WW2 that pizza started to change. Sonny doesn't give much credence to the theory that this was due to GIs returning from Italy, and I've had my doubts about that myself. But for whatever reason, the pizzas got bigger, and mozzarella and pepperoni became more common toppings.
The post-war years were the peak of the bakery. There was a spate of weddings at that time, and it wasn't uncommon for soldiers and their brides to order a few sheet pizzas for the reception. As Sonny put it, "pizza and beer, and you're all set." Veltre was also supplying bread to local restaurants and delivering downtown, turning out 100+ loaves a day.
Interestingly, in those days, apparently pizza boxes hadn't yet been invented, or at least they weren't in widespread use. Instead, to-go pies were typically put on a cardboard disk, tied with twine. Sonny recalled one winter night when a customer in a hurry grabbed a pizza to go, tied only with one string, instead of crossways. To Sonny's horror, he saw the pie slide off the base, right under the customer's car, into the snow and slush along the curb. Sonny ran out and offered the guy a new, fresh pizza.
Things continued to go well for Veltre Bakery, but change was in the wind. In the old days, amazingly, Veltre didn't lock its doors at night. As Angelo put it, "Who would rob the guy next door?" And neighbors were welcome to use its ovens. It truly sounds as if Veltre was a genuine neighborhood institution.
But as time went on, the neighborhood became less neighborly. Whether real or perceived, crime in the city was on the increase. Neighbors didn't know each other as well, if at all. At age 62, Angelo retired, more or less, and his son Dave took over. Angelo stayed on as a consultant.
The end came in 1999, when Dave decided to pursue a career as a sheriff's deputy. Angelo completely supported that decision, and I can't fault him for that. There's no more honorable career than law enforcement.  But with no buyers stepping forward to take over the bakery, Veltre closed its doors, and they've remained closed since.
But that was hardly the end for Sonny Veltre. For the past fifteen years, he's worked as a lifeguard at the Northwest Family YMCA on Long Pond Road, where he's saved several people from drowning. Most of these were not dramatic, "Save me, I'm drowning!" kinds of rescues of the type we imagine, and I suspect that few are. Mostly they've involved heart attacks or seizures in the water, with the swimmers silently slipping under the surface, which requires diligent attention by the lifeguard. When that's happened on his watch, Angelo has pulled out the swimmer and called for additional help. But in describing one such rescue, he half-jokingly added that he was "only" 78 years old at the time.
As far as I know, the Veltre Bakery building, including the oven, is still intact. I'd love to find a way to go inside - legally of course - and take some photos. I'll continue looking into that possibility.
I'm also going to watch a movie. Mr. Veltre told me that back in the 1980s, a movie, "Moving Target," used the bakery as a shooting location at one point. I've found a movie by that name on Neflix, and have added it to my queue, but I haven't been able to confirm that it's the movie he's talking about. When I watch it, I'll keep my eyes out for anything that looks like a bakery.
I wanted to meet with Angelo "Sonny" Veltre to discuss pizza and baking, and I did, and that was indeed very interesting. But I also got to meet an amiable man who's lived a very full and productive life, and who's still going strong at age 87.
I'm sure I wasn't the first to do so, but I couldn't resist asking Angelo to what he attributes not just his longevity, but his vitality. His response was, in effect, "Just lucky, I guess." I hope we call all be that lucky. And I know I consider myself lucky to have met this fine gentleman.

Monday, July 14, 2014

King Arthur Baking Education Center

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a four-day class on "Advanced Artisan Bread" at the King Arthur Baking Education Center in Norwich, Vermont. This was partly a birthday present from my wife, and also part of a weeklong family vacation in Stowe, Vermont. Stowe, which is a bit east of Burlington, more or less in the mid-northwest part of the state, is about a 90-minute drive from Norwich, which is on the New Hampshire border, in the mid-southeast part of the state. But thanks to some friends who own a timeshare, we were able to stay at a great place in Stowe for a very affordable price, which made it well worth the daily drive to and from Norwich.
The King Arthur facility comprises a gift shop, cafe, kitchen, and the baking center, where classes are offered for both home and professional bakers. Before I got to the classroom, I took a peek at the kitchen, where visitors can watch King Arthur's bakers preparing that day's loaves and pizzas. Some of their more artistic (and probably petrified) creations are visible through the windows.
I then headed for the classroom, which was a baker's version of a high school chemistry lab, with long workspaces facing the instructor's table in front. Several ovens lined an adjacent wall, and a large video monitor hung over the instructor's work space.
I got there early, and chose a seat up front, the better to see what was going on. But it didn't matter much, as students were free to come up close to watch whenever the instructor was demonstrating any techniques.
Over the course of four days, we covered a wide range of breads: grissini (crunchy breadsticks), pissaladiere (a kind of southern-French pizza), roasted-potato bread, brioche, baguettes, sourdough bagels and bread, ciabatta, deli rye, and volkornbrot, a German sourdough bread made entirely from rye.
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If that sounds like a lot to cover in four days, well, it was. Though the mood was light, this was no recreational, "come out and bake while sipping on wine" kind of class. We were kept busy throughout. No sooner had I finished one task than we were moving on to the next. There was little if any down time.
The disadvantage of covering such a broad range of breads, I suppose, is that the class was more broad than deep. I left with some gained knowledge, for sure, but we couldn't get too deeply into any one style.
Having said that, I did learn a lot. We did some breads, in the same style, using different pre-ferment starters, so we could compare the results. We also made baguettes using three different types of flour (interestingly, most of us agreed that the all-purpose flour yielded better results than the so-called European- and French-style flours). And the instructors were always on hand to watch us and offer helpful advice on our dough-handling technique.
One of our final assignments was to split up into teams of three to create our own bread recipes. With the help of our instructors, my team came up with a cinnamon raisin bread recipe. I guess we were successful, because my wife loved it and wants me to make it again. I'll post the recipe soon.
Despite the brevity of the course, the final day felt like graduation day. The mood was festive, and the class was capped off by the presentation of certificates of completion. Each of us was also given a brotform/banneton (bread proofing bowl), and a sourdough starter to take home with us. As a bonus, the staff prepared a to-die-for chocolate cake in honor of that day's birthday of one of my classmates.
The cake and banneton were not the only freebies, though. Every night, I returned to our condo with several loaves of bread, far more than we could possibly eat. of breadsticks. I was so overwhelmed that one night my daughter and I went around knocking on doors and giving bread away to our neighbors. We ran into one family a couple of nights later in Stowe who thanked me effusively for the bread, so that made me feel good. What we couldn't eat or give away, I mostly wrapped and froze. Some I gave away after we got home.
I'd be seriously remiss if I neglected to make special mention of our instructors, Amber, Jessica and Sharon (there were at least a couple of others assisting, but those were our primary instructors - my apologies to the others for not thanking them by name). They were terrific, and did remarkably well at imparting their knowledge, keeping the mood light, and answering frequent questions. I can't say enough about them. I was especially grateful to have them spend time with me, individually, to help me improve my bread-baking techniques, from kneading wet dough to shaping loaves, to the proper way to slash the top of a baguette. And without their assistance in formulating a recipe, I probably wouldn't want to pass on our cinnamon raisin bread recipe.
Finally, let me say a word or two about my classmates. We had quite an interesting mix, from my teammates, science-teacher Dave and car-dealer Frank, to the student who rode for hours on her bike each day back and forth to the ladies who came up from the deep South together. I haven't mentioned them all, and we covered quite a spectrum, but they were a great bunch. With all its various ingredients, a dough might make a good metaphor.
If you're interested in going yourself, know that baking classes at King Arthur aren't exactly cheap. This four-day class cost $475. But if you're really into baking, they're well worth it. You're getting intensive training, the use of their world-class facilities, the benefit of their instructors' expertise, a few freebies to take home, and some great memories. I'm not sure if or when the opportunity will again arise, but I'd love to go back.

King Arthur Baking Education Center
135 US Route 5 South
Norwich, Vermont 05055

phone: 802 649 3361
fax: 802 649 3365
email: bakers@​

Monday–Sunday 7:30am to 6:00pm
Closed New Year's Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pizza Stop Giveaway!

I stopped in to The Pizza Stop on State Street in downtown Rochester for a couple of slices today. I decided to keep it simple this time:  a Sicilian (thick) and a Neapolitan (thin) slice, each with pepperoni.
Both were up to The Pizza Stop's usual standards, which is to say, pizza that is every bit as good as what you'd find in New York Ciry. There's a false perception that New York pizza is the same thing as thin crust, just as there's a false perception that Chicago pizza always means deep dish.
In fact, in any decent pizzeria in NYC, you'll find thin and thick crust pizza, and The Pizza Stop does a great job on both. The thin-crust pies have a nicely charred, crackly-crisp bottom with some chewiness, while the thicker-crusted Sicilian pizza avoids the all-too-common, overly-oily pitfall of its Americanized and bastardized cousin, the "sheet" pizza. That's why, when I go to The Pizza Stop, I usually get one of each. As much as I like thin-crust pizza, it's just too hard to pass up their Sicilian slices.
But don't take my word for it. I've got two $10 gift certificates to give away, so you can see for yourself. And both are going to one lucky winner. That will get you plenty of pizza.
To enter to win, all you need to do is leave a comment here, after this blog post. I'll pick a winner, at random, in one week, on July 18, a little after noon. You don't need to leave all your information now, but I will need to be able to identify you as the winner, and I will need a full name and mailing address if you win.
Check back here next Friday to see if you've won. I'll also post the winner on my Facebook page, and I'll send out a tweet. If you enter, you can also send me an email immediately at, to identify yourself, and I'll contact you if you win.
Lastly, if you win, when you use your gift certificate, please let the folks at The Pizza Stop know that you got it through the Rochester NY Pizza Blog. For me to continue to offer these giveaways, pizzeria owners need to know that it's worth their while. Thanks, have a great weekend, eat some pizza, and good luck!

The Pizza Stop
123 State Street
Rochester, New York 14614

(585) 546-7252

Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Wolfgang Puck Express, Farmington

Wolfgang Puck Express on Urbanspoon
Somewhere in my online research, I ran across  a reference to Wolfgang Puck Express, a pizza place at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack.
Wolfgang Puck is one of the fathers of so-called gourmet pizza, which has since morphed into "artisanal" pizza.
I don't question his qualifications as a chef, but when chefs turn themselves into brands, often something gets lost in the translation. Puck, for example, has a line of frozen "gourmet" pizzas. I've never tried one. For all I know, they might be very good. But it's a long way from a chef making his own pizza, to overseeing others making pizza under his direction, to selling mass-produced frozen pizza by the thousands.
Still, if you're a well-known chef, and you want to preserve your reputation, I would think you want to ensure, to some extent, that what's being sold under your name is actually good. At least relative to its competitors.
So when I went to FLG&R, I didn't expect to see Wolfgang Puck back there stretching dough, but I was hopeful that this would be better than the average, quick, chain pizza. And it was, though not by much. And all in all, it was no better than any other pizza you could get in the area.
Let me start with my experience going there. The pizzeria is inside the casino. I couldn't find it right away, so I wandered about a bit looking for it.
In contrast to the young, attractive, euphoric people I've seen on TV ads for casinos, the early-evening crowd here was mostly middle-aged and older. I didn't see anybody laughing, as in the ads, or even particularly happy looking. Most of the patrons were staring blankly at the slot machines, into which they pumped coin after coin, like automatons. I had to wonder whether any of them were actually enjoying themselves.
After some time wandering among this sea of blinking lights and electronic sounds, I found Wolfgang Puck's, tucked into one corner of the casino, to the left of the main entrance. It's a "fast casual" place, where you place your order at the counter, and they bring your food out to you. Nothing special, but a nice oasis from the gaming tables (in case you hadn't noticed, I'm not a fan of casinos).
My pizza choices were a Margherita, BBQ roasted chicken, pepperoni pomodoro, and roasted mushroom. The menu also included sandwiches, pasta, and some other choices, which you'll find here.
I got a Margherita. It was thin and supple, with some significant charring along the edge and underneath.The underside was a bit floury,quite dark in some areas and pale in others. It was rather soft, though not greasy. I detected some aroma, a blend of toasted bread and fried dough.
The toppings were, on the whole, pretty good. I liked the mozzarella, which was well melted, smooth and creamy. The tomato-sauce base was slightly sweet, with some herbal accents, and the fresh-tomato chunks were tasty as well. My one complaint is that I would've like more than a token smattering of basil, which I could see but barely taste.
A few weeks ago, while channel surfing, I ran across an episode of "Hell's Kitchen," in which the contestants were tasked with making gourmet pizza. Wolfgang Puck himself was the judge, and while he wasn't as nasty as host Gordon Ramsay, he pulled no punches in identifying the flaws in the contestants' pizza.
I wondered how Wolfgang would have critiqued this pizza that bore his name. I don't mean to hold it to a higher standard than any other pizza, but I think if he were honest, Puck would find some fault with it. For all its color, the crust didn't wow me. The fact that it wasn't crackly-crisp wasn't the issue; the problem was, it was very dark over some swaths of the underside, but it hadn't developed much flavor. It wasn't oily, but it reminded me of a pancake that's sat on the griddle for a little too long.
Again, the toppings were pretty good, although to me, any decent Margherita should have more basil than this. Overall, though, I did like the flavor.
This is a little hard to rate, frankly. In some respects, it was pretty good. It tasted good. But the crust was nothing special, and again I would have liked more than a token amount of fresh basil.
And I'm trying not to hold this to a higher standard, just because of the name attached to it. The fundamental question remains, how does this stack up against other pizza in the area?
In the end, I go with my gut. There were things I liked about this pizza, and things I didn't. But I can't say that, overall, it was any better, or any worse, than your typical Rochester-area pizza. Different, but not better than average. So it gets a C.

Wolfgang Puck Express
Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack
5897 Rt. 96, Farmington

Sun., Wed. & Thu. noon - 9 p.m.; Fri. & Sat. noon - 10 p.m.
Closed Mon. & Tue.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Little Beans, Painted Post

On a reader's recommendation, I stopped recently at Little Beans Pizzeria in Painted Post.  I'd been to its sister restaurant, Jelly Beans, and liked it, so I was intrigued.
I got two slices, a plain cheese slice and a white slice with rosemary, garlic and sliced tomatoes.
I'll start with the good news. The white slice was delicious. It was bursting with flavor, with the herbs, cheese, garlic and tomatoes playing off each other beautifully.
My wife liked the plain cheese slice, but I found it a little bland. The sauce was visually apparent, but I didn't notice it much on my palate, and much of it seemed to have soaked in to the crust. The scattered cheese - which had settled in among the several bubbles in the crust - was good, as far as it went, but it was too scanty to add much interest. There was some background flavor of herbs, oregano I think being most prominent, but all in all I found this a rather boring slice.
And I say that as somebody who likes a good cheese slice. I often order plain cheese because it's a useful benchmark for a pizzeria's ability. This just didn't do it for me.
So one hit, one miss (although again my wife enjoyed the cheese slice, so we're getting into matters of personal preference here). But where I really had a problem was underneath.
The crust on both slices was soft and pale, particularly on the white slice. I like a crisp, charred crust, but I don't assert that pizza has to meet that description to be good. I've had good pan- and screen-baked pizza, and pizza in every shade from golden to blackened, that I've enjoyed.
But a pizza's underside shouldn't be pale. And these were. A few brown blotches here and there didn't save them. They were soft, flabby and doughy-tasting.
Now in fairness, I should mention that the server did offer to reheat the slices, which might have given them a crisper bottom. But he said that they had just come out of the oven within the past ten minutes, so I declined. In hindsight, that was a mistake. But if Little Beans is deliberately undercooking their slice pies, they should recommend reheating, rather than just asking. I'm also making a mental note to check from now on, especially at a place I'm not familiar with, to see whether the underside would benefit from a few more minutes in the oven.
So to the extent that this was my fault for not investigating these slices' doneness, I'll take the blame. And I also want to add that Little Beans' pepperoni pie looked especially tempting, and that I passed it up only because two slices were all that I wanted.
I rate these at a B for the white slice and a C for the cheese slice. The flavor of the former was enough to overcome the disappointing crust. The latter, to me, was just OK. I'm not going to add grade labels for this post, because I assume that when readers search my grade labels, they're generally looking for pizzerias nearer Rochester. Overall, these were interesting enough for a future revisit, but a little disappointing this time around.

Little Beans Pizzeria
315 South Hamilton Street

Painted Post, NY 14870



Fax: 607.377.5069

Mon - Fri: 11:00 am - 9:00 pm
Sat - Sun: 3:00 pm - 9:00 pm