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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Old Italy, Latta Road

I recently learned that Old Italy Pizza opened on Latta Road in Greece. This spot in a small strip plaza has seen several pizzerias come and go over the years, including Paulie's, Grande Amore, and apparently one that I missed entirely, Fosterino's. When a certain type of business keeps failing in the same place, I start to wonder if it's just a bad location, but we'll see.
I stopped into Old Italy recently at lunchtime for a couple of slices. It was a good deal - two slices and a can of pop for $4.50.
The slices were decent, if unspectacular. The crust was medium thick, with an underside that was lightly browned and crisscrossed by screen marks. The edge was formed into a thin cornicione, and its texture seemed a bit "tough," suggesting that it was made from high-gluten flour. That's commonly used in pizza, and it has its advantages, but it can yield a somewhat tough, chewy texture.
The slices were well balanced, with a layer of melted, just-browned mozzarella, and some small cheeseless spots. The moderately applied sauce was pretty basic, with some tomatoey sweetness, a bit of salt, and a faint herbal background. The thin, wide slices of pepperoni were average.
To quote from its menu, Old Italy "take[s] pride in [its] daily made fresh dough, house made sauces, hand battered chicken fingers, fresh cut French fries and [its] fresh ingredients." They offer ten specialty pizzas, and all their regular comes in small, medium, large and sheet sizes. They also do wings, available in no less than 15 varieties (!), calzones, hot subs, "plates," salads and sides.
A reader reported that a pizza he got from Old Italy was one of the best he's had in the area. I don't doubt it, although I'm not prepared to put these slices in that category. They were reasonably good, basic, Rochester-style pizza slices, but I wasn't bowled over by them. I remain intrigued enough to go back, but for now I'll hold off on assigning a grade, and leave this post as just a report on what I had at this still-new pizzeria. But please, if you're in the area, check it out for yourself and share your experience with me and other readers, either in the "Comments" section after this post, or on my Facebook page.

Old Italy Pizza, 1250 Latta Road
(585) 445-8782

Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - midnight
Sun. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Brandani's sheet pizza

For my daughter's birthday party last month, we needed to feed about 12 kids and the occasional adult, so a sheet pizza seemed like a good, economical option.
We went with Brandani's. It's among my local favorites, for its consistently good, traditional Rochester-style pizza: medium thick crust with generous but well-balanced sauce and cheese.
I usually stop into Brandani's at lunch, to take advantage of their array of slices. I also do the occasional takeout pie for dinner.
But I don't often have a reason to get a full sheet pizza, from Brandani's or anywhere else. When I've had sheet pizza, too often it's disappointing, with bottoms that are soggy, spongy or overly oily. Sheet pizzas also are often not at all representative of what you'd get with a pie from the same place.
Not so with Brandani's. This was good pizza, and essentially a sheet-size version of their pies.
Now I'm not saying that a pizzeria shouldn't offer two different styles of pizza, pies and sheets, or thin and thick, or Neapolitan and Sicilian, or whatever you want to call them. Nor am I saying that a pizzeria's "sheet" version ought to be nothing more than a larger, rectangular version of its smaller pie. I'm only saying that a lot of places that make pretty good pie pizza also make pretty lousy sheet pizza. At Brandani's, they're both good, and aside from their size and shape, they're not all that different in style.
I got a sheet with half pepperoni and half double cheese. My thinking was, some kids don't want pepperoni, so half and half seemed good. But I know it can be tricky to bake a pizza with added toppings on only half; either the cheese-only side gets too brown, or the toppings don't cook enough, or the toppings shield the cheese from cooking properly. So I thought double cheese on half would be a good way to go, to keep things more or less even.
And it did work well. The cheese side was spottily browned, but the cheese was still well melted and not dried out. On the other half, the thin slices of pepperoni were fully cooked, and slightly crisp, while the cheese was nicely melted, with a good balance of stringy and chewy. The slightly sweet, tomatoey sauce served well as the third leg of the crust-cheese-sauce triad.
I was very pleased with the crust, which was well browned underneath, lightly charred, and dry to the touch. Again, too often with sheet pizza, the crust is oily, fried and overly crunchy. But Brandani's makes its sheet pizzas the same way it makes its pies, right on the oven deck. The result is a crust that's dry underneath, with a bit of surface bite and a bready, chewy interior.
I arrived early to pick up my pizza, and had a chance to chat with proprietor Joe Cenzi. There may be some future developments in the works for Brandani's, but nothing official yet. I'll pass on any news as soon as I get it. But rest assured, Brandani's will continue to turn out what I consider to be among the best pizza in our area. It's a local classic.
And by the way - the kids liked it too. There wasn't much left at the end of the party.

Brandani's, 2595 W. Henrietta Rd.
(585) 272-7180

Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Sun. noon - 7 p.m.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


As the College Town development on Mt Hope continues to grow, pizza continues to be part of the mix.The latest entrant is Grappa, which opened in June.
Grappa which bills itself as "Italian nouveau." My regular-guy inner self recoils a bit at a term like "Italian nouveau," but my pizzaholic self can get over that, if the pizza's good. And on a recent lunch visit with a friend, it was.
Grappa offers six pizzas, although I imagine they could do custom pizza if you asked. I got a Margherita, my friend got a pepperoni, and we shared.
The crusts were thin, with an underside that was crisp, but not crackly, and spottily browned but not quite charred. (These are not wood-fired, by the way.) 
Which is not to say that they weren't good. I don't like limp, soggy pizza, but neither do I think that a thin-crust pizza has to be blackened and shatteringly crisp underneath to be good. These straddled the line between crisp and pliable.
Aside from that, the crust wasn't especially flavorful or aromatic. I had no particular complaints about it, but it was more serviceable than sublime. But the toppings were good enough to pretty much make up for any shortcomings in that regard.
My dining companion and I don't always see eye to eye on pizza, but we both enjoyed these. My Margherita was a little unusual for having both tomato sauce and sliced tomatoes; most places do one or the other. But it was a nice combination. The sauce was lightly applied, and not heavily seasoned, while the sliced tomatoes had an acidic edge that balanced the slight sweetness of the sauce.
With its two-tomato topping, the Margherita was not a minimalist version, and that carried through to the cheese. Some Margheritas are dotted with islands of slightly melted fresh mozzarella. This pie was blanketed by a uniform layer of processed mozzarella, which was slightly browned, with a good balance (there's that word again) between chewy and stringy. The shredded fresh basil added enough flavor and visual appeal to round out the pie nicely. The basil seemed to have been added right after the pizza came out of the oven, as it was still bright green and aromatic.
The pepperoni pie was highlighted by three different types of sausage, which I think is a great idea that I'd like to see more pizzerias adopt. Small, crisp, cupped slices, and meatier, wide, beefy slices were combined with thin strips, adding variety and interest with each bite. A moderate layer of basic red sauce and well melted cheese, which was applied nearly all the way to the thinly formed edge made for a very satisfying pie.
Grappa's additional pizza choices include:  a Mediterranean pie with artichokes, roasted red peppers, cured olives, feta cheese, arugula, and garlic pesto sauce (which I came very close to ordering, but I decided to stick with my usual Margherita); funghi (garlic bechamel sauce, roasted portabello and button mushrooms, and truffle oil); a white pizza with garlic bechamel, fresh herbs, ricotta, mozzarella and shaved Parmesan; and a spicy meatball pie, with house-made meatballs, ricotta and a Roma tomato blush sauce.
Beyond the pizza, Grappa's lunch menu includes several pasta options, panini, and a grab bag of other dishes, including a burger, grilled salmon, chicken cutlet, greens & beans, and "zesty Parmesan" wings. The dinner menu adds several more entrees, such as steak, pork osso buco, and frutti di mare, with a medley of seafood. Pricewise, pizzas run 10 to 12 dollars, entrees are mostly in the 20s, and pasta dishes in the teens.
The layout is partitioned into several dining areas. On this visit, we were given a table on the south side of the restaurant, which afforded plenty of sunlight at lunchtime. Since I had to get back to work, I didn't take the time to look around the rest of the dining area, but if you go, you might want to ask for a table in one area or another, depending on whether you want more privacy or to do more people watching.
I debated whether to give Grappa a grade, considering that it only opened a couple months ago, but unlike at some places, I didn't get the sense that they were still working out the bugs. These were well made pizzas, and it seems fair to rate them. That said, I found these clearly above average, but not quite among the top tier for our area. So I'll give them a B.

Grappa, 30 Celebration Drive (just west of Mt. Hope Ave. between Elmwood and Crittenden)

(585) 445-5750 

Open for lunch and dinner daily
free parking

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Book Review: Serbian Cooking

I don't like to apply the term "foodie" to myself, but I am interested in food, beyond just pizza, and I'm particularly interested in the foods of different cultures, especially those with which I'm unfamiliar. So when I was recently offered a choice of titles to review from Schiffer Publishing, I quickly chose Serbian Cooking:  Popular Recipes from the Balkan Region.
I think my geographical knowledge is better than the average American's (which isn't saying much), and I had a rough idea where Serbia is, but it was a little fuzzy. Serbia is in the Balkan region of southeastern Europe. Hungary lies to the north, Macedonia and Greece to the south. At various times, Serbia has been part of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, and more recently, Yugoslavia. So considering all those neighbors, and Serbia's history, I was intrigued by what Serbian food might have to offer.
The book comes in at a relatively modest 104 pages, but it is well written and illustrated, and it's made for thumbing through. Most dishes take up two pages, with the recipe on the right and a color photo on the left.
The recipes, which are arranged in three chapters -- appetizers, entrees and desserts -- do reveal cross-cultural influences. The recipes for chicken paprikash (two versions), baklava, stuffed peppers, and cherry strudel take in culinary influences from Hungary to Greece, Poland and Austria.
The more intriguing recipes, to me, were for dishes with which I was unfamiliar, even if the ingredients were pretty basic, like djuvec (baked pork chops with rice and tomatoes) and cevapi, a hand-formed sausage of ground pork, beef and turkey. Many recipes include interesting ingredient combinations, like the roasted peppers with cheese, balsamic vinegar and capers.
The desserts also encompass unfamiliar but interesting dishes, like bombica, which are basically little chocolate bombs, and tulumbe, a pastry soaked in a vanilla-and-lemon syrup. Again, some familiar-sounding recipes include a twist, like peach pie made with puff pastry.
Some of the recipes were a bit obvious. The recipe for "cold cuts platter" was, literally, "arrange various cold cuts and other foods, including the must-haves of olives, goat cheese, and lettuce." And the recipe for fried potatoes was essentially, slice potatoes, season them with "Vegeta," whatever that is, and fry them.
I would've appreciated a little more narrative from the authors of what makes these recipes particularly Serbian, as well as a glossary. For example, there are recipes for "burek" with meat and with cheese, but only through deductive reasoning could I figure out that "burek" seems to be a kind of pastry.
Nonetheless, I like Serbian Cooking, and I plan to prepare several of its dishes. Serbian cuisine is obviously far broader in scope than Serbia's geographical area, and I'm happy to add Serbian Cooking to my kitchen bookshelf.

Serbian Cooking: Popular Recipes from the Balkan Region
by Danijela Kracun and Charles McFadden
104 pages
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd. (March 28, 2015)

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Carnival Pizza

Ideally, we all grow up with fond childhood memories. And one of those memories should include the summer carnival.
Having missed our local carnival this year, I took my daughter to the Hemlock Little World's Fair in July. It's got a great name, but it's basically a carnival, albeit a good one, with a lot of rides. We had a great time.
Foodwise, carnivals usually mean corn dogs and cotton candy, but I decided to give the pizza a shot this time. And it wasn't bad. Not great, but not bad, although my lowered expectations may have helped.
My slice was translucently thin, as you can see in the photo. That doesn't surprise me. I like thin crust pizza, as you can see here, so I'm not complaining. But I know carnival operators are trying to make a buck. Every ounce of dough costs them money, and they don't want you to get filled up on a slice of pizza.
If it were bad pizza, I'd complain. But it wasn't bad. The underside was crisscrossed by screen marks, lightly browned, and dry on the surface. It was more pliable than crisp, but it wasn't oily, spongy or brittle. The edge was well formed and actually had some breadlike qualities, with some interior chewiness and aroma.
The slice was topped with a simple, straightforward tomato sauce, which I'm guessing came out of a can. It was OK, and it had been added in good proportion to the crust and cheese. The melted mozzarella was marked by numerous small bubbly, pockmarked depressions, suggesting that it wasn't exactly premium stuff. The best mozzarella tends to melt together and take on a creamy quality; the cheap stuff has a way of settling in place and hardening, as the liquid evaporates. That's what this had done. But it sufficed.
I think I paid three bucks for this slice. If it were sold at a pizzeria in Rochester, I don't think I'd go back anytime soon. Not at that price, anyway. But price aside, it was OK. I'd take it over a corn dog.
I imagine that carnival pizza varies from one site to another, but I also assume that you'll see the same vendors at a lot of local carnivals. Based on this one slice, I'd say that if you head out to one of this summer's remaining carnivals or fairs, and get hungry, you could do worse than to get a slice of pizza. If it looks decent, it's probably good enough to satisfy your pizza craving. And you'll still have room left over for a cotton candy.