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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Road Trip: Antica Pizza & Ristorante, Niagara Falls, Ontario

A few weeks ago, to celebrate my birthday, I took a day trip to Niagara Falls, Canada with my family. I could go on at length about Niagara Falls' curious mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly, but let me cut to the important part, for our purposes - the pizza.
After a mile and a half walk from the free parking lot that I had discovered (a bit longer walk than my wife and daughter had anticipated, but I felt smug about it, as we walked past the suckers paying up to $20 for a parking spot), we found ourselves in the Clifton Hill area, which is the heart of Niagara Falls' touristy district.
It was mid-afternoon, we hadn't eaten since breakfast, and the walk had whetted our appetites, so it was time for some sustenance. Having done some research, I had my sights set on Antica Pizza & Ristorante, which was highly rated in online reviews.
Antica is a wood-fired pizzeria, though that's not why I went there. Had I found a nearby, well-regarded Mom & Pop slice joint that opened 50 years ago, I'd likely have gone there. But while we did walk by some places offering slices, they didn't seem especially promising. And while I'm notorious within my family for my capacity for walking long distances without seeming effort or fatigue, I knew my wife and daughter needed to get off their feet for a while, and Antica is a full-service restaurant.
The first thing that struck me was what a big operation it was. The wood-fired oven is huge, with openings for two pizzaioli to work at once. The high ceiling and the stonework on the front of the oven also made for an impressive image.
As visually arresting as it all was, I was beginning to lower my expectations for the pizza. Big place, lots of tourists, get 'em in and get 'em out ... I was prepared to be disappointed.
Maybe those lowered expectations helped, or maybe it was my hunger, but I was pleasantly surprised by the pizza. I ordered a "bianco," topped with mozzarella, garlic, oregano, arugula, roasted red peppers, sweet onions, chicken, and Asiago cheese, and drizzled with olive oil. I don't usually get white pizza, but I thought it would provide some balance to my daughter's "meat lover," with tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, bacon, sausage and ham.
Both were quite good. The crusts were charred underneath, in some areas. They weren't what you'd call "leopard spotted" (in other words, small dots of charring) which is generally desirable, as it shows a nice, even charring and slight bubbling of the dough. But they were charred here and there without being burnt, and they were well browned along the edge. The crusts were thin, with a good balance of pliability and crispness.
And both pies were good overall. The toppings were generous, perhaps even a bit too generous given the thinness of the crust, but fresh and flavorful. The meat lover pie had a good tomatoey base, well complemented by chunks of meat scattered across it. And the assortment of vegetables on my bianco provided enough flavor and texture to satisfy me, despite the absence of meat or tomato sauce. The aromatic smattering of garlic didn't hurt either.
Antica has an intriguing pizza menu, which ranges from a simple no-cheese Napoletana, with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, basil and olive oil, to a Calabrese, with tomato sauce, mozzarella, garlic, oregano, hot Calabrese salami, mushrooms, kalamata olives, roasted red pepper and Asiago cheese.
But the menu goes well beyond pizza, and extends to pasta, meats, salads and panini. Considering how busy they were, even mid-afternoon, service was efficient but friendly.
In my vision of a perfect world, the area around Niagara Falls would've been left pristine, as a bi-national park, with enough acreage that a visitor's view of the falls would not be tainted by towers, casinos, or other commercial developments. But it's not like that, and we're stuck with what we've got.
Niagara Falls is still an attraction, though, and many of us who live in the Rochester area are going to go there from time to time.When we do, we're going to want something to eat, and if you're like me, you're apt to be looking for pizza. If you want more than a quick, to-go slice, Antica Pizza is well worth a stop.

Antica Pizza & Ristorante,
5735 Niagara Falls, ON Canada
(905) 356-3844

Noon  to "close" daily (from what I can tell, typically "close" is about 11 p.m.)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fiamma Update

If I seem to post about certain places over and over again, it's not necessarily that I'm running out of pizzerias, it's just that I keep returning to certain places, because I like them, and that I've got something new, I hope, to say about them.
Fiamma is one such place. I had lunch there recently with two friends.
I got a "San Daniele," topped with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, baby arugula, prosciutto, shaved Parmigiano Reggiano, and balsamic cream.
I tend to lean toward minimalism where pizza is concerned, but I'm not a purist. I understand that in the Italian tradition, pizza is a base, the same way that pasta or rice is a base, for other toppings.
That said, I'm still not a fan of overloaded American pizza. Just dumping a bunch of toppings onto a crust does not make for good pizza, in my opinion, although I know there are those (including my daughter, whose default pizza is the "meat lover's") who will disagree with me.
But this pie, despite all its toppings, was not an exercise in gluttony. There's a reason that Fiamma's pies, like those in Italy, come with a knife and fork and a pizza cutter. You treat it as a main dish. And this was a well-balanced dish, with classic Italian flavors over Fiamma's excellent crust.
One reason I like going to pizzerias with my friends, besides the pleasure of their company, is that I get to try three pizzas. One friend got a diavola, topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella, spicy soppressata, basil, and spicy olive oil, and the other got a capricciosa, with tomato sauce, parma cotto, mixed mushrooms, mixed olives, mozzarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil.
As much as I liked my San Daniele, I think I would've traded it for theirs. I love good olives, and I love spicy food, so both pies were right up my alley (although I will never love mushrooms, so I'd probably ask to have those left off if I ordered a capricciosa).
It may be needless to say, but all the pizzas had an excellent crust - blackened but not burnt, crisp but chewy. Thin in the middle, thick along the edge, this crust could stand on its own, with no toppings at all.
I had a moment to chat with Giuseppe, the proprietor. Work continues on Fiamma's new location in the city, at the corner of Atlantic Ave. and Russell St. It sounded as if they had hit a few minor snags, physically, which is typical, I think, so look for them to open later this summer or this fall.
In the meantime, get to Fiamma at its original location in Gates. It's world-class pizza.

Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road


Mon-Sat - 11:45am-2:00pm

Mon - Thurs 4:30pm-9pm
Fri - Sat 4:30pm-10pm
Sun 4:00pm-8pm

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Book Review: Vegan Everyday

I'm not a vegan by any means -- you can have my chicken wing when you pry it from my cold, dead hand -- but in my household, we do try to incorporate vegetables and grains into our meals, and occasionally we eat what amount to vegan meals. I do enjoy it, now and then. If the day before I ate a 16-ounce steak, or a half rack of ribs for dinner, my body often tells me to go meatless the next day.
In other words, you don't have to be a full-time vegan to be interested in vegan recipes. So I was glad to accept a review copy of Vegan Everyday, written by Douglas McNish and published by Robert Rose.
At 576 pages, this is a hefty book. It starts with a brief but useful summary of  a "vegan gluten-free pantry." The recommended pantry includes no foods made with genetically modified organisms ("GMO").
There are 500 recipes here. organized into a dozen categories. So if you're looking for vegan recipes, this is about as comprehensive a volume as you're going to find.
Personally, I don't agree with, but am not surprised by, the book's recommendation that you avoid GMO foods. I think the GMO phobia is a left-wing version of the right-wing's denial of climate change; in other words, a stubborn refusal to accept what scientists tell us, which is that GMO foods, in general, are safe to eat. But I know that many vegans will never accept that, so I get it. (But if you want to read about an example of this, read this NY Times article.)
I'm a little more puzzled by the emphasis on avoiding gluten as part of a vegan diet. It's not animal based, and though I know some people can't tolerate it, most of us can. Humans have eaten wheat-based foods for thousands of years, mostly with no significant adverse effects. And there is substantial evidence that going gluten-free can have adverse effects, if you go about it willy-nilly.
Having said all that, I liked the book. Its not a treatise on veganism, but a cookbook, pure and simple. The book is broken down into chapters covering breakfast foods, soups, snacks, pasta, beans and grains, drinks, and more. Individual recipes average about a single page each, with some more complex recipes, like "tempeh croquettes with vegetables and rice," stretching to two full pages. Instructions are clear, and useful tips accompany each recipe. The recipe for peanut sesame soba noodles, for instance, includes information about what soba noodles are, and advice on how best to use and prepare fresh gingerroot and cilantro.
Naturally, I looked for pizza-related recipes. I found one for pizza with a crust made from chickpea flour (which I had never heard of), and another for pizza rolls using a gluten-free flour blend. 
The book is not fully illustrated, but there are two sections of full-page, full-color photographs. The index is well detailed.
I don't plan to go vegan anytime soon, and I don't think I'll ever be a fan of tofu or mushrooms. But if I can add some variety to my diet, in a healthful way, I'm all for it. Moroccan-style collard greens? Sweet potato, ginger and coconut soup? Sauteed vegetables with a three-chile blend? All sound good to me. So while, as a confirmed omnivore, I don't plan to try all, or maybe even most of the recipes in this book, there's enough here to keep me busy in the kitchen for some time. If you or anyone you know is a vegan, or considering veganism, this would be a useful volume to have around.

Vegan Everyday: 500 Delicious Recipes, by Douglas McNish
Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Robert Rose (May 15, 2015)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Pizzeria FAVO, Monroe Ave., PIttsford

Pizzeria FAVO opened last month in Pittsford Colony Plaza, on the northeast side of Monroe Avenue, across from Pittsford Plaza.
FAVO is among the first local examples of what I'm guessing is an emergent trend, or actually a combination of two trends: fast-casual pizzerias that use a gas flame, to mimic wood-fired pizza.
That sounds like something I would dislike, just on grounds of principle. But ultimately the end product is what counts, and this was good pizza.
At FAVO, you order at the counter, and in a few minutes you pick it up a little further down the line. There you'll see the Italian-made oven, which utilizes a gas flame and a rotating deck.
My Margherita came up quickly, in just a few minutes. It displayed a somewhat unevenly baked edge, with some charring, and not-quite-charred blistering along the other. The underside was firm, but not crackly crisp (that's not a criticism, just a description). The bottom was slightly dusted with either corn meal or semolina; whatever it was, there was too little of it, and it was too finely ground, for me to identify it.
One issue I have with some places these days, using open flames, is that the edge gets charred, but the underside remains pale. It's easy enough to get some blackened blistering along the edge, if you expose the edge of the pie to a flame for a few seconds. It creates a nice appearance, but with a thin-crust pizza baked in a high-temperature oven, I'd like to see some "leopard spotting" on the bottom as well.
The crust here was browned underneath, but not spotted. I don't want to make too much over some sort of pizza-snobbish criteria ("charred - check"; "spotted - check"), but I'll confess to being mildly irritated about a crust that's blackened along the edge, but not underneath. It seems to be done more for appearance's sake than anything else.
Having said all that, this crust was enjoyable. It lacked the toasty, slightly smoky notes of a great wood-fired crust, but it was bready, a bit chewy, and thin but not paper thin.
The toppings were good as well, both on my and my companion's pies. On my Margherita, a thin layer of tomato sauce was layered with slices of fresh tomato, melted rounds of fresh mozzarella, and a smattering of torn basil. One of my companions found the sauce a bit metallic; I thought it was acidic, in a tomatoey way, but maybe that's just a case of us coming up with two different adjectives for the same thing. But it was not a sweet sauce.
My friends both liked their pies. The pepperoni pie was a well balanced take on an American standard. My other friend's Paesano was very tasty, with a light layer of tomato sauce, topped with processed mozzarella, sliced sausage, mushrooms and tender, sweet grilled onions.
We got there relatively early, right around noon, and initally had the place almost to ourselves, though the crowd started to pick up quickly shortly thereafter. Service was efficient, and the manager seemed to be on top of things, making sure that everything ran smoothly.
FAVO's website doesn't seem to be fully up yet, although I did find an image of their menu on Yelp. They offer seven "classic" pizzas, and six "specialty" pizzas (I'm not quite sure how some of them ended up in one category or the other), and a very reasonably priced "build your own" option, which includes a choice of sauce, crust ("traditional" or "ancient grains"), cheese, meat, and unlimited veggie toppings for $8.95. They also offer gluten-free crust for an additional $2.50. There are a few salads on the menu, as well as self-serve gelato.
Pizzeria FAVO's menu states that they are "inspired by the spirit and traditions of classic brick-oven pizzerias from Naples, Italy to New York City." That's probably a good way to put it. This is an Americanized, neo-Neapolitan pizza, suited to the fast-casual format and at a relatively low price. For what they're doing here, I'd say they're doing a good job.
To grade, or not to grade? With new places, I often hold off on assigning grades. But having sampled three pies, and given its standardized procedures (which presumably result in some consistency), I feel safe in giving Pizzeria FAVO a B. I can't say it's among the very best I've tried in our area, but I was pretty pleased with it, as were my companions, so I do think it's worth checking out.

Pizzeria FAVO, 3400 Monroe Ave. (Pittsford Colony, opposite Pittsford Plaza)
(585) 310-7383

11 a.m. - 10 p.m. daily

Friday, July 10, 2015

East End Pizza & Deli

As I noted in a late June post, Stromboli Express recently moved from its former location on East Avenue to a site across and down the street, and has become Stromboli's Restaurant.
While I can understand that move and change, I figured the area around its former location still needed a slice joint, especially one that's open late. Despite being in a bar-heavy area, Stromboli's has always closed relatively early, even on weekends. (And I can understand that too - I don't think I'd want to deal with people coming out of bars at 2 a.m. But if you're willing to tolerate those customers, there's money to be made.)
In Stromboli's former space  now comes East End Pizza & Deli. I stopped in the other day and got a slice.
At my noontime visit, they had just cheese or pepperoni slices available. I got one pepperoni slice.
My immediate reaction was a bit of shock at the price - $3.75. I can get a pretty good slice around town, or even in New York City, for well under that. So if you're charging $3.75 a slice, it had better be good.
And it was good, but not that good. I was told that they had a special, two slices & a 20 oz drink for $7,which isn't bad, but I didn't really want two slices, or a drink, or to spend $7, so I declined.
On to the slice: I was asked if I'd like it rewarmed - that should always be asked, so that's a plus - and I said yes. I've learned that in general, even when they say a pizza has just come out of the oven, it's usually a good idea to get your slice rewarmed. Mine spent maybe another minute in the oven.
This slice had a dry, crackly bottom, with some screen marks.There was a light dusting of either corn meal or semolina flour - it was very light, so I couldn't tell. I don't have a problem with that. The slice also held up to the "fold test," meaning that I could fold it and hold it out straight, without the tip flopping down.
The slice was extremely thin near the tip, i.e. the center of the pie. Some oil had seeped through, also near the tip, but as I said, the crust was mostly dry to the touch. It was considerably thicker and more breadlike near the outer edge. The cornicione was nicely formed, with some light bubbling and blistering on top.
On the negative side, the cheese was a little overdone - maybe that was the downside of having the slice rewarmed - and it didn't seem like the greatest cheese. It hadn't melted so much as separated, and I wondered if the oil separating from the cheese was the source of some of the oil on the bottom of the slice. The pock marks on the cheese indicated that the solids and liquids comprising the cheese had separated from each other.
The pepperoni was pretty good. It was thin, crisp and a little spicy.
The slice was light on the sauce. It was there, but it was lightly applied, and frankly I had a hard time identifying it on my palate. There was nothing wrong with it, as such, it was just so much in the background as to be almost undetectable.
I'll let you peruse East End's menu for yourself, but it is interesting. No wings, but they do offer sandwiches, including prime rib sandwiches, and, under the heading "comfort food," sausage rolls, mac & cheese, and grilled cheese.

As for the pizza, this was not bad, overall, but in my judgment this slice was not worth the price. Maybe their late-night customers won't mind, but during the day, I can get pizza at least as good, not far away, for less. That said, and price aside, there were things to like about this pizza, and I hope they do well.

East End Pizza & Deli, 113 East Ave.

Sun. noon - 11 p.m.
Mon. & Tue. 11 - 11
Wed. & Thu. 11 - 2 a.m.
Fri. & Sat. 11 - 2:30 a.m.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Pizza Stop

I continue to search out new pizzerias, but as this blog is a record of my pizza experiences, allow me to do a quick post on an old favorite, The Pizza Stop, where I got a large cheese pizza the other day.
When it comes to toppings, as far as I'm concerned, you can't beat a simple cheese pizza. Especially with a New York style pizza, which is The Pizza Stop's specialty. Crust, sauce, and cheese - if they're all good, nothing else is needed.
And they're all good at The Pizza Stop. I'm probably repeating myself, but that's only because the pizza is consistently good at The Pizza Stop.
I'll say this again, too - to me, good pizza is all about balance, and The Pizza Stop gets that. The crust on this pie was dry to the touch underneath, with a few char spots, but not dried out inside, and it had some interior chewiness. It was evenly baked, which is also important - no overly blackened or pale areas.
The sauce had a straightforward tomatoey flavor, with a good balance of sweetness, salt, acidity, and herbs. The well-melted mozzarella was added in good proportion to the crust.
Since I've written about The Pizza Stop before, I won't repeat a lot of what I've already said about them. Just keep in mind that they moved a few months ago, just up the street, to more spacious quarters at 131 State Street. But the ovens moved with them, so you'll get the same great pizza you did at their former location. And I should also repeat that if you like a thick-crust pizza, don't think that The Pizza Stop is all about thin crust. Try The Pizza Stop's Sicilian and stuffed pizzas, both of which are also among the area's best.

The Pizza Stop, 131 State St., Rochester
(585) 546-7252

Monday - Thursday, 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Friday, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Saturday, 2 p.m. - 8 p.m