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Friday, February 6, 2015

Tavern 19, Hamlin

I don't make it out to Hamlin too often, especially in winter, but I did so after learning about Tavern 19. The site has housed many restaurants over the years, but Tavern 19 houses a wood-fired oven, and specializes in pizza.
Wood-fired pizza has become almost commonplace around Rochester in the past few years, but I was intrigued by the story on their website, which details the owners' love affair with pizza. The story dates back to their college days in New York City, up to their opening of Tavern 19, which features a state-of-the-art, revolving-deck wood-fired oven that reaches temperatures up to 900 degrees.
So to celebrate my wife's birthday, she and I had dinner at Tavern 19 on a recent Saturday night. My wife wasn't in the mood for pizza (what?!), so she got a pasta dish, while I ordered an "All Seasons" pizza, topped with plum-tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, Seville olives, and prosciutto di Parma. I asked them to skip the portabella mushrooms called for on the menu, as mushrooms are one of my few no-gos, foodwise.
My pie came out with a nicely done crust: a little blistering along the edge, and an underside that was brown, with a bit of char-spotting. It was crisp on the outside, but not crackly, and the slices were pliable, with a light dusting of what I think was semolina on the bottom. The edge was puffy, and the center was well balanced between outer crispness and interior chewiness.
The crust was a little more brown than I would've expected from a 900-degree oven. I'm used to seeing pizzas from high-temperature, wood-fired ovens with a bottom that's more pale overall, but with a good deal of black "leopard spotting." This crust had some char spots, but was more evenly done. Perhaps that had something to do with the revolving deck, which may result in a more gradual cooking process. But I had no complaints, as the crust had a good texture and an aroma of freshly baked bread, with some toasty accents.
My choice of the All Seasons pizza proved to be a wise one. The toppings complemented each other well, the sauce had a rich tomatoey flavor, and the cheese was melted but not overdone or rubbery.
I mentioned Tavern 19's background story above, and it's laid out in full on their website, but in short, Craig and co-owner John went to school in NYC, where they fell in love with NY pizza. They attended a master class administered by Goodfella's, which has won numerous awards over the years for their wood-fired pizza. Craig and John came back to this area and found a suitable spot to pursue their pizza dream in Hamlin, in a great old building on Route 19, a/k/a Lake Road.
As I mentioned, they installed a revolving-deck oven, unique to this area. The deck is mostly useful when they're baking several pies at once. Instead of having to move pies (or other wood-fired dishes) from one spot to another, the pizzaiolo simply has to rotate them as they pass by the open flame. But that doesn't take the artistry out of the equation; the pizzaiolo still needs to pay constant attention to the pizzas, especially given the high temperature of the oven.
Tavern 19 has an extensive pizza menu, but they do a lot more than just pizza. My wife enjoyed her penne pasta with basil pesto, which was a special that night, and I'd like to go back and either try a different pizza (probably the pizza alla vodka, which they seem especially proud of) or a non-pizza dish altogether. You can see the full menu here. Several selections look tempting to me, including the clam soup, steak au poivre, and the burgers; after pizza, burgers are pretty high on my list of favorite foods. I do think, though, that I'd not order the three-pound "killer burger," though you may want to take the challenge; if you finish it singlehandedly, it's on the house.
At this point, it's an open question where wood-fired pizza is going, locally. Is it a trend that's going to overexpand, and burn itself out? Or are we going to see wood-fired pizza become commonplace and scattered around the landscape, even in small towns?
I don't know the answer, but I suspect that at some point, just advertising "wood fired" isn't going to be enough to sustain a restaurant. In the end, it's the product that matters. Turning out a good pizza, wood-fired or otherwise, requires time and commitment, and the owners of Tavern 19 have put in both. It shows in the pizza. I live quite some distance from Hamlin, but I'd drive here again, for the pizza, so it gets an A from me.

Tavern 19, 1549 Lake Road, Hamlin
(585) 636-4104

Mon. - Sat. 4 p.m. - 2 a.m., Sun. noon. - 2 a..m. (the closing time may be bar hours, not food hours - call ahead if you need to know for sure).


  1. In your honest opinion, who makes the tastiest pizza in Rochester?

  2. I'll assume by "tastiest" you mean best overall. If not, please advise. If I've got to pick one place, it's Fiamma. But they don't sell slices. If you want a slice, there are several at the top. My default is The Pizza Stop, but there are other worthy contenders. At some point it just comes down to a matter of personal preference.

  3. Thank you! I appreciate the straight answer. I assumed I was going to get "a bunch for different reasons" answer. I have never been to either of these places. Thank you, really.

  4. I was told to look at this blog. I am Italian, and from New York City, and the pizza I had at the 19 tavern was horrible. Since, then, others have commented on how terrible the pizza (along w/other food items, such as the oysters) is, along with the rest of the food. Many are even wondering if the pizza is truly what they say it is.....wood fired. I felt compelled to comment on Pizza Guys blog when it comes to 19 tavern. Nothing personal, just my honest observation of what I experienced, as well as what others have felt. They might need to go back to school, especially since Goodfella's name is being promoted.

    1. Thank you for your input. I have been informed by the owner that early on there were some issues (at least partly staff-related) with the pizza, but that those have been addressed. And I have learned over the years, not just with pizza but with restaurants in general, that sometimes it takes a while for a new place to get their act together.
      Rosie, I hope you read this response, because I have a few questions for you. Roughly when did you visit Tavern 19, and why was the pizza "horrible"? What exactly was wrong with it? And did you inform the staff? What was their response? I'm curious to know.
      But I can assure you, they use a wood-fired oven. You can see it in the photo.
      Thanks again for your input, I always welcome honest opinions.

    2. Hi,
      Thanks for your open mindedness in regard to my comments. First, I will answer your questions. My husband and I went to 19 tavern, June 15th, 2014, to give the pizza a try.. The pizza was by far the most disgusting pizza that I have ever had....lack of flavor, the sauce was like they just took tomato sauce out of a can. The toppings were skimpy,(we paid extra for mushrooms) and there was little to no cheese. The crust was so so. I e-mailed the owner Craig, and told him exactly how my dining experience was. He even made a nasty reply back after one of my which I was able to reply to. He couldn't care less about winning me back as a customer. That is when I began reviewing his restaurant on independent sites.. He removed all of my negative comments on his site, and appears to be in denial that he does indeed have a problem...several problems in fact. I fully understand, that it sometimes takes a while for a new place to get their act together. However, he has been opened, for what two years now, and the same problems keep rearing their ugly faces. When he does respond to a negative review, he always uses the same excuses that either they were short staffed, the waitress was new, etc. Please, if you will, look at the recent reviews for just this month on google. , and see how others have come forward to say that the pizza was a huge disappointment, and how they aren't even sure whether it is wood-fired. These comments were made by customers who have had wood fired pizza. Also, if you notice in their comments, this is not the first poor experience (but will be their last) that they have had with 19 tavern. One customer wrote how, after having horrible food, they asked for the owner, and the waitress said he wasn't there, so then he asked for a manager, and she replied there wasn't any manager on duty. So, this has been an ongoing thing, and especially since they have been around the restaurant business with Charlotte their other restaurant, you would think that by now they would know how to operate a successful business. On that note, I will close. My comments have been straight-forward and honest, and I felt compelled to answer your questions because I feel that you are a forth-right individual, who takes what he does seriously. I love your blog by the way!!! Very detailed in all respects.

    3. Thanks for responding. My visit was more recent - January 2015 - and I thought the pizza was pretty good, as described in my post.
      I don't want to get drawn into somebody else's fight, but I've seen your comments about Tavern 19 on other sites and I frankly wonder why after all these months you're still at this. Maybe you should do yourself a favor and let this go. Just a thought.

    4. I'm not in any fight, and I have reviewed many places besides tavern 19. I've also given reviews based on my experiences when it comes to lodging, and other things as well. That's the beauty of the internet. I don't know why you would think that I'm engaged in a fight with the place. I only recently responded to a review when they suggested that I go back to tavern 19, and that I also check your blog out. If not for that, I would not give it a second thought about what they serve at that place. Also, I answered your questions because you seemed to be sincerely interested (even though I thought it best not to engage you) and even though I wondered why you asked so many specific questions. So, please do not misunderstand my intentions. I am very honest, and pointed in my writing, but I do tell the truth in my reviews about my various experiences. Aside from that, since you looked at my other reviews on the tavern 19, did you bother to look at the other recent reviews on google? Just wondering. After all is said and done, I'm glad that the day you got pizza from the tavern 19, that it was satisfactory. The day I went it wasn't.

    5. Rosie,
      Thanks again for responding. I asked those questions because I wondered if they were based on a visit before I went to Tavern 19 (which might mean that things had gotten better by the time I went there, or, I suppose, that the pizza is just inconsistent), what exactly the problem was ("terrible" is not too informative), and because I was genuinely curious about whether you'd complained and what the response was. I just wanted more information.
      If I was incorrect in thinking that you were in a running feud with the owner, I apologize for that misconception. But it's hard to tell sometimes on the internet. I do thank you again for your honest opinions and for reading the blog.

    6. Sure thing.
      Did you know that before Jay Leno did his show in Rochester, he wanted pizza (of course) and went to Pontillo's?
      I will continue to read your blog, which I find quite informative, and wish you nothing but the best.