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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indian Lay's Potato Chips

As I have before, I start this post with a disclaimer. This blog is about Rochester-area pizza. But now and then there's a food-related topic that I want to relate, that takes too much space to fit on my Facebook page. So here's one of them.
A few weeks ago, I stopped into Spice Bazaar on Jefferson Road in Henrietta. I love going into these kinds of ethnic markets because you see so many unusual foods, many of which are completely unfamiliar, if not unidentifiable, to most of us.
I had just come from dinner with my wife at Raj Mahal next door. We were on a tight schedule, due to a child-sitter's curfew, so I didn't have as much time as I would've liked to explore the shelves, which were filled with things I'd never seen before. Most had English-language labels, but that didn't help much. The names were unknown to me, and I had no idea what one would typically do with them. I did some quick searches on my phone, and was intrigued by much of what I learned about the fresh fruits, dried spices and prepared ingredient mixtures. My wife and I, both sated from our meal, agreed that we'd be back with some recipes in hand.
On our way out, my eye did catch one item that is nearly universal: Lay's potato chips. I'm a sucker for new and unusual chip flavors, and when I saw "Spanish Tomato Tango," "Football Favourites Apple Chilli," and "India's Magic Masala," how could I resist? So I grabbed a bag of each.
I'm aware of the view that somewhere deep in Frito-Lay's labs (Frito-Lay being part of PepsiCo, which for all I know is one of the corporations that secretly run the world), teams of scientists and flavor experts, sworn to secrecy, are at work, like 21st-century alchemists, coming up with combinations of chemicals that will addict us to their products. Or more benignly, they're just trying to tailor their products to what particular markets want.
What I got from these was, I think these would work in the American market, at least as a limited release.
The Tomato Tango was aptly named, as it was tomatoey and tangy. Flavor memories last a long time, and they distinctly brought back to mind SpaghettiOs. Now I happen to like SpaghettiOs, so I considered that a good thing.
The Apple Chilli was, both conceptually and in fact, the oddest of the bunch. From a very cursory internet search, I gather that this is a British or Indian combo used in chutneys, which are those relish-like mixtures that Americans have never quite caught onto. For these chips, think apple cider vinegar, crossed with dried chiles, and some sugar. Very odd, to an American palate, but Frito Lay doesn't typically push the envelope too far, and so these were relatively mild, if very interesting. I don't know why they're "football favourites"; maybe apple-chilli chutney is a favored snack of "football" fans in India, like wings in the US?
My third bag of chips, the Magic Masala, was, I think, my favorite. It most nearly captured the complexity of Indian food, with a spice mixture that defied simple description. The chips weren't spicy-hot, but they were spicy. Somewhere in there, I think, was some cumin and black pepper, but beyond that the spices mixed into an amalgam of flavor, the separate threads of which I could not unravel. That was appropriate, since garam masala is a less-well-known, but equally complex, cousin to curry powder. (I'm speaking here, of course, of this country; I'm sure that native Indians are well familiar with both.)
This was a quick foray into the world of food items available at Spice Bazaar. And as I said, I intend to go back, perhaps on a mid-afternoon when I can spend some time getting educated by the owner or staff. If you're at all adventurous, foodwise, you should check it out.

Spice Bazaar, 364 Jefferson Rd. (across from Southtown plaza)
Rochester, NY 14623
phone 585 292 5939

Hours open
Monday 11am to 9pm
Tuesday 11am to 9pm
Wednesday 11am to 9pm
Thursday 11am to 9pm
Friday 11am to 9pm
Saturday 10am to 9pm
Sunday 9:30am to 9pm

Friday, March 27, 2015

Akron, Part II: Tony's Pizza Shop

As I explained in my recent post on PizzaBella, Akron (NY, not Ohio) is blessed with two pizzerias within a block of each other. I don't often have occasion to travel to Akron, so once I was there, there was no way that I was going to pass up the chance to try both PizzaBella and its neighbor, Tony's Pizza Shop.
According to their website, Tony's has been in business, under the same family ownership, since 1957, which I think would put it among WNY's oldest pizzerias, especially family-owned pizzerias. So for that alone, I was looking forward to Tony's.
And my hopes were justified. I got a pepperoni slice, which was cut from a pie that had just come out of the oven, so it was steaming hot.
A pizza really needs a few minutes to set, so the cheese on this one was a little sloppy. But that's a good sign, as it means that the cheese truly melted in the oven - it didn't just separate into oil and milk solids, the way that fake cheese does.
Apart from that, it was a very good slice of pizza. The crust was thin to medium in thickness, but the slice had a substantial heft, thanks to the cheese and sauce. This was a saucy slice, but the sauce wasn't excessive, and the slice overall was well balanced.
The sauce had a medium consistency, neither watery nor thick, and a tomatoey flavor. The underside was very lightly dusted with corn meal. It was browned, with a few darker areas, and not quite charred. It was not quite crackly, but it was crisp. The edge was thick and bready, with a slightly chewy texture.
Perhaps befitting its old-time nature, Tony's pizza menu is relatively basic:  three sizes (small, large, and "party"), twelve toppings, and no specialty pizzas, although they do offer "double dough" and deep dish pizza. They also do calzones, wings, subs, salads, fish fry, spaghetti and ravioli, chicken parm, and various fried sides. There are a few tables available, in an informal, basic hometown pizza-shop setting.
Akron being some ways outside the immediate Rochester area, I didn't rate Tony's competitor, nor will I give Tony's a letter grade. But I'd describe it as a very good example of traditional Western New York pizza: a little thick, nice and bready, with plenty of gooey cheese, and ample sauce. And very tasty. In short, just about what you would expect, or want, from a family-owned pizzeria that's been around for nearly 60 years.
I wasn't there at the prettiest time of year, but I found Akron to be an attractive little town. Since it's about a mile north of Route 5, which is likewise about a mile north of the Thruway, I don't think I'd ever had occasion to visit it before. But if anybody from Akron is reading this, I will tell you that you should consider yourself lucky to have two very good pizzerias within a block of each other, in the center of town. Not only are they good, they offer contrasting styles of pizza: thin, NY style pizza at PizzaBella, and thicker, more traditional WNY pizza at Tony's. If I lived there, I honestly think I'd go back and forth, literally, between them, without ever settling on a clear favorite.

Tony's Pizza Shop, 36 Main St., Akron
(716) 542-2431

Sun. & Mon. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m., Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sat. 4 p.m. - 11 p.m.

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Akron, NY Part I: PizzaBella

I took advantage of my recent visit to the Perry's Ice Cream plant in Akron, NY to hit a couple of pizzerias in town.
Conveniently, they are located on the same block, on the north side of Main Street. First up was PizzaBella.
My cheese slice was a New York style, thin-crust pizza. And it was a good one.
The underside was spottily browned, but not quite blackened. It was crisp, and a little crackly along the outer edge. The crust was a little chewy, and very thin, but firm. I got some nice toasty notes from underneath, but there wasn't much interior to speak of. The narrow cornicione was crisp.
On top, the sauce and cheese likewise stuck to the NY-style profile - lightly seasoned tomato sauce, and a well-melted layer of mozzarella, with a few pockets of sauce poking through. The pizza was very well balanced, with the crust, sauce and cheese in good enough proportion to complement but not overwhelm each other.
PizzaBella offers 15 pizza toppings, and 14 gourmet pizzas. The latter range from an "Old Fashioned" with tomato sauce, Italian seasoning and Parmesan cheese, to a "Godfather" topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, sausage, ground beef, mushrooms, green pepper, onions, black olives and mozzarella. They also offer several white pizzas.
PizzaBella is a convenient place to stop for takeout, but it's also a full-service restaurant. Aside from pizza, you can get wings, salads, burgers, wraps, hot and cold subs, calzones and tacos. For more substantial fare, PizzaBella offers several pasta dishes, chicken or sausage cacciatore, and eggplant or chicken Parmigiana. They also serve wine and beer in the dining room.
Akron, which is about 55 miles west of Rochester, is more within the Buffalo metro area than in Rochester's. So I'll not give it a grade. Aside from its neighbor pizzeria just up the block (which I'll review soon), I simply don't have enough experience of pizza around there to say whether it's truly one of the best, or "just" above average.
But make no mistake, this was very good pizza. I could pick a few nits, I suppose - the underside was a bit more browned than charred (which affects the aroma and flavor as it hits your palate, although there you start getting into matters of personal preference), and the crust was so thin that it lacked much of an interior (though to its credit it was not floppy), but I would definitely go back, and if you're in the area, it's well worth stopping for.
Lastly, I should mention that PizzaBella is going to be moving down the street, to 66 Main Street, in a few months. Just keep that in mind.

PizzaBella's Italian Bistro, 42 Main St.
Akron, NY 14001

(716) 542-1122

Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sun. 4 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Perry's Ice Cream

Editor's Note: I try to keep this blog pretty much only about pizza, but I'm making an exception here, as this relates to an exceptional event for me - an inside look at the place where they make my favorite ice cream. I justify this decision on three grounds: (1) I'll be following up this post shortly with a new post reviewing some pizza I tried during my journey; (2) several local pizzerias serve this ice cream; and (3) it's my blog, and I want to post this.
I don't have a huge sweet tooth - at a party, I'll always gravitate toward the chips, rather than the sweets - but I do love ice cream. And my go-to brand is Perry's. I love their flavors, it's made in WNY, it's reasonably priced, and it just plain tastes good.
It's also showing up in some local pizzerias, like 2 Ton Tony's in Irondequoit. It was thanks to 2TT owner Tony Proietti that I was able to arrange a visit to Perry's plant in Akron, about halfway between Batavia and Buffalo. Perry's doesn't generally offer tours to the public, so this was a real treat, literally.
For reasons, I suppose, of protecting trade secrets, I wasn't able to photograph much. The photo you see here is part of an exhibit on Perry's history on the second floor, where a visitor can also take a look at Perry's operation at work, through plate glass windows.
On the day I visited, they were making ice cream sandwiches, which ties in to Perry's origins as a supplier to local school districts. Ice cream sandwiches are one of the few fond memories I have of school cafeteria lunches.
Today, with the health police upon us, ice cream sandwiches, like pizza, have become demonized as the reason our kids are fat, so schools don't account for so much of Perry's business these days. But maybe that's worked to the advantage of the rest of us, as Perry's has expanded into supermarkets and ice cream parlors, where we have we now have many Perry's choices available to us in supermarkets. If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be Bittersweet Sinphony - coffee flavored ice cream with bittersweet fudge swirls and fudge chunks. A few years ago, my local Wegmans stopped carrying it, and I shot off an email to them begging them to bring it back. I don't know if that played a part, but they've since seen the error of their ways, and it's back in the freezer case.
Many of Perry's flavors are only available seasonally, in ice cream shops. I was excited to learn that one of my favorites in that category, Fireball, may be available in packages at some point. If you're a fan of those little cinnamon candies, either the heart-shaped ones or the nuclear-meltdown-hot ones, you've got to try it.
Best of all, I got to sample some of Perry's new flavors for 2015, including Toasted Coconut and Deep Sea Treasure. Both were good, but I'd give a slight edge to the former, as I love the flavor of toasted coconut. The fact that the shreds of coconut are coated with fudge didn't hurt.
I tend to seek out unusual flavors (speaking of which, watch for an upcoming post, either here or on my Facebook page, on some Indian potato chips I found recently, but I digress), and so with what remaining room I had left in my stomach, I had to check out Movie Time, described as "popcorn flavored ice cream with sea salt caramel swirls and amazing caramel truffles." A huge whiff of buttery-popcorn aroma, with sweet and salty notes on the palate. This one would probably tend to divide people, but I enjoyed it.
As I look out my window, it seems hard to believe, but I know warmer weather is coming. And while there's always a container or two of Perry's in my freezer, one of the joys of our all-too-short summers is going with my family to our local ice cream shop for a cone. Check out Perry's Flavor Locator to see what's available in your area, and let me know if you have any recommendations.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Tomaso's, Mount Morris

I have occasion to pass through Mt. Morris from time to time. When I travel, my eyes and brain have become attuned to spotting pizzerias, and some months ago, I spotted a new place, Tomaso's Trattoria. It wasn't open yet, but every time I'd pass through town, I'd give it a look. Not open. Not open. Not open.
Eventually, I figured it just wasn't going to happen, but one day, the lights were on, and there were people inside. Pizza!
I've never been to Italy, but I gather that there, a trattoria is a relatively informal restaurant that offers takeout. But here in the U.S., such terms tend to get thrown around rather loosely, so I wasn't sure what to expect. What I found was a clean, well-lit, but fairly typical pizza/sub shop, with some tables in front and a counter in back. So I'm not sure Tomaso's would qualify as a trattoria in Italy.
But that's just an observation. In the end, I don't really care what they call themselves, as long as the pizza's good. I got a couple of cheese slices to go.
The medium-to-thick crust was pretty evenly browned underneath, dry to the touch, with a light dusting of what I think was corn meal (it could've been semolina, but I think it was too coarsely ground for that). It was crisp, if not quite crackly. The texture and flavor were pretty average, unobjectionable but unremarkable. Some chewiness, some toasty notes, no noticeable defects.
The slices were topped with a thick tomato sauce, with a detecatable flavor of herbs - oregano and basil among them, I believe. The cheese seemed to be straight mozzarella, and was spottily browned on top. It was just a tad overdone, for my taste, and had started to pull away from the edge.
Tomaso's offers 17 pizza toppings (plus extra sauce or cheese) and eight specialty pizzas, including the "Meat Overload" (sausage, beef, pepperoni, bacon and ham) and, at the other end of the scale, a white spinach-artichoke pie. They also offer a 10-inch gluten-free pie.
Tomaso's menu includes hot and cold subs and wraps, wings, soups, and salads. Apparently they will also have ice cream, in season, and sidewalk tables as well.
You can read about Tomaso's background here. It's another entrant in the ongoing makeover of Mt. Morris, as detailed by the NY Times back in 2011, and by the RIT University News last year. Tbe whole thing is really quite an intriguing story.
To get back to the pizza, these were perfectly acceptable slices of pizza, but I can't say they were exceptionally good either. Considering the thickness of the crust, I would've liked a tad more sauce, and a chewier, less-well-done layer of cheese. Then we might be talking classic Rochester style pizza. As it was, they had some pluses and some minuses,
Since they couldn't have been open for too long when I stopped in (they apparently had their "soft" opening on Feb. 1), I'll forgo a grade here, but these slices were, on the whole, of average quality for the area.

Tomaso's Trattoria
40 Main Street
Mount Morris, NY
(585) 658-1045

Monday – Thursday 11:00am – 9:00pm

Friday & Saturday 11:00am –10:00pm

Sunday Noon – 8:00pm

Friday, March 6, 2015

Cinelli's, Long Pond Road

Cinelli's Pizza Ristorante on Urbanspoon
Thanks to a reader, I learned recently about a new place, Cinelli's, which opened in January on Long Pond Road. They advertise "NY Style Thin Crust Pizza," which always both catches my attention and makes me skeptical; all too many places seem to think that if a pizza's thin, it's "New York style." Not so, and I've had a lot of bad so-called New York style pizza.
But regardless of how they describe themselves, I try to get to every new pizzeria I hear of, as soon as I practicably can, so I recently stopped in to Cinelli's for a couple of lunchtime slices. I got one cheese slice and one pepperoni slice.
The slices were a bit unevenly cut - the cheese slice was wider than the pepperoni - but aside from that, I had no complaints. In fact, I was rather impressed.
The slices were thin, and the undersides were crackly, with a few small charred spots. The crust was quite good: crisp, with a toasty aroma of fresh bread and a nice balance of crackly and chewy.
The slices were well balanced overall. The cheese was nicely melted and creamy; the sauce was tomatoey and mildly seasoned, and the thin-cut pepperoni was just slightly crisp along the edges.
Cinelli's full name is "Cinelli's Pizza Ristorante," and that's an apt description. It's a full-service restaurant, but with an emphasis on pizza. Entrees include all the Italian basics (chicken or eggplant parm, lasagna, shrimp scampi, and pasta), plus a custom option, which allows you to choose your pasta, sauce, and "protein" (perhaps they could come up with a more appetizing term), which basically means any added toppings, including various veggies, anchovies, chicken, meatballs, etc.
Cinelli's has some daily specials worth checking out, particularly their Tuesday special (in effect at the time of this writing, but make sure before you order), an 18" cheese pizza for only $10.99.
Subsequent to my getting these slices, City Newspaper ran a brief piece about Cinellli's. I refer you to that for further information about Cinelli's background, which includes a genuine Italian grandmother.
Cinelli's is not among the closest places for me to get to, either from work or home, but I plan to go back, for sure. This was an impressive debut.
I've sometimes put off rating a place if it hasn't been open very long, but that's generally been when my pizza wasn't that good, and I wanted to give them a break, to see if they could get their act together. Based on these slices, I'd say Cinelli's has already crossed that hurdle. I plan to return, and I'll judge future slices or pies on their own merits, but I'm giving these slices an A.

Cinelli's Pizza Ristorante, 840 Long Pond Rd.
(585) 287-5458

Tue. - Thu. 11 - 9
Fri. & Sat. 11 - 10
Sun. noon - 8
Closed Mon.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Book Review: Passion for Pizza

At the very beginning of Passion for Pizza:  A Journey through Thick and Thin to Find the Pizza Elite, authors Craig Whitson, Tore Gjestland, Mats Widen, and Kenneth Hansen ask the question, "Does the World Really Need Another Book About Pizza?" After reading their book, I agree with them that the answer is "yes."
A lot's been written about pizza, and given its popularity, the steady stream of books will continue for some time. So a book worth buying, and reading, had better have a fresh take on the subject.
The authors here have taken an unusual approach, dedicating the first half of the book to profiling over 60 "iconic" pizzerias in the U.S. and Italy, and the second half to over 50 recipes for making pizza at home, similar to what's produced by those pizzerias. It's a pretty entertaining read, even if it left me wanting a little more.
That first half consists mostly of interviews with pizzeria owners and pizzaioli, from well-known figures like Domenico DeMarco of Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn to Scott Wiener, who has made a successful business out of conducting New York City "pizza tours," to pizza personalities who will be less well known to American readers, like Maria Cacialli, who, as a female pizzaiola, is relatively rare in Italy.
The interviews are concise but well-informed. They're not just a series of "what's your favorite style of pizza" questions. Along the same lines, while the book is well illustrated with color photographs, it's not all photos and no substance. Yes, you'll read about some of the interviewees' favorite styles, but you'll also learn about the personalities behind the pizzerias, their history, and the techniques they use. The interviews are interspersed with features on various pizza-related subjects, from ingredients, to reheating pizza, to what to drink with pizza
As much as I enjoyed the interviews (which got me thinking that I should do more of those for this blog), I was more interested in the recipes. I've got a shelf full of pizza books, but if you're like me and you like to cook, or bake in particular, it's never a bad thing to pick up more advice and ideas. While I wouldn't recommend this as a first book on how to make homemade pizza, if you have a little experience, the authors do a good job on explaining the process. I've long been interested in Chicago thin-crust style pizza, which few people outside of Chicago have even heard of, and the recipe here is well detailed and clearly laid out. I plan to give it a shot, with this book opened on my kitchen counter, in the near future.
Many of America's truly iconic pizzerias are covered here, but I was surprised to see New Haven, CT omitted in the interview section (although New Haven style pizza does appear in the recipe section). I've not been to New Haven, sad to say, but it has almost mythic status among American pizza lovers. I would've liked at least a brief feature on Connecticut pizza.
But the authors don't make any claim that this book is a comprehensive guide to pizza, American or otherwise. That's both a weakness and a strength. Passion for Pizza is a mixed bag, part overview of the pizza scene in the two most important pizza countries in the world, part cookbook, and part reflection of the authors' personal pizza-related experiences. It may not be your go-to book on all things pizza, but neither is it just another glossy, generic coffee-table book. There's enough here to keep any pizza lover occupied for many hours of happy reading, in the living room, den, or kitchen.

Passion for Pizza:  A Journey through Thick and Thin to Find the Pizza Elite. 286 pages. (c) 2015 Pizza Angels AS.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Tolleson's, Fairport - CLOSED

Tolleson's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

This establishment appears to have closed since this post was originally published.
On a recent drive to the east side of town, I spotted Tolleson's Pizzeria, which opened last summer on Whitney Road in Fairport. The site has housed, I think, at least a couple of pizzerias over the years, so maybe this time will prove the charm.
On my first visit to a pizzeria, I often try to go with just a slice or two, but I thought I'd take a chance on a whole pie here. I got a large cheese pie (not too exciting, I know, but I was trying to keep my costs down).
On opening the box, the pie looked pretty good. I don't mind a thick, bready, well-baked "naked" cornicione, but the toppings here were applied right up to the edge, which is fine too. The edge was nicely formed, with some browned bits of cheese.
The underside bore a mottled pattern, with an underlying paleness dotted with darker brown spots. I noticed a few dimples, apparently from the pan that the crust had been in, and a dusting of flour. The edge was crisp.
On biting into it, the medium-thick crust was pretty good, if not outstanding. I could detect some raw flour on my tongue, not a lot, but enough to notice. I know it's common to use some form of grain to help a pizza crust slide around on, and off, the peel, but I don't like to notice it on my tongue.
The texture was pretty good, but better underneath than on top. The top side was a little gummy.  Not terribly so, but a little.
Having said that, I must mention that when I phoned in my order, I did ask that the pizza be ready about 45 minutes later, to allow for rush hour drive time from my workplace. Maybe they prepared it right away and let it sit unbaked, until closer to pickup time. Or maybe they baked it immediately and it sat on top of the oven until I arrived. I don't know. But it was a little bit gummy on top. I suspect that if I had arrived 15 minutes after ordering, things may have been different. I don't know.
Flavorwise, the pie was fine. It was a little light on both the sauce and cheese, but the crust was on the thin side, so the overall balance was OK. I detected some herbs, faintly. The pie was evenly baked, with some browning along the perimeter and none in the center. The cheese seemed to be straight mozzarella, and hit the right balance between chewy and stretchy.
Aside from pizza, Tolleson's does wings and a full range of other fried foods, plus salads and subs. In other words, it's your basic, reliable, pizza-wings-subs joint, and there's nothing wrong with that. They also offer gluten-free pizza.
This is a tough pizza to grade. The underside was pretty good; the topside less so, although some of that might be related to the time lag between my order, picking it up, and getting it home. The flavor was good, but the toppings seemed a tad skimpy.
Allowing for the effects of the drive home, and going back to the factors that go into my ratings, I'm giving this a C. Nothing wrong with it, I was happy to eat it, but it was, on the whole, of average quality for the area. Fortunately, the average quality of pizza in the area is pretty good, so that grade shouldn't be taken as a dig at Tolleson's. It was decent, just not exceptional compared to other pizzerias in the area.
As I've said before, I rate pizzas, not pizzerias. I think that Tolleson's is worth a visit, and I intend to go back. This particular pie gets a C.

Tolleson's, 541 Whitney Rd. (near Baird Rd.), Fairport
(585) 203-1808
Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 - 11, Sun. 11 - 8

Also 419 N. Main St., Newark
(315) 332-8008