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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