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Friday, September 25, 2015

Buffalo: Jacobi's and Riva's

I don't get to Buffalo too often, so I make no claim to be able to cover the Buffalo pizza scene. But when I do get pizza in Buffalo, I figure it's close enough to Rochester to warrant a blog post. If you live in the Rochester area, you probably make it out to Buffalo from time to time, and if you are reading this blog, you'll want to know where to find good pizza when you get there.
In July, I hit two places in the Buffalo area. I was on my way to the Ralph for a Stones concert, so I didn't have a lot of time to pick and choose. My first choice, Two Guys, had no slices available. So I just drove down the road, and ran across Jacobi's on Walden Avenue.
I think they opened here relatively recently. Apparently this address used to be the site of a now-closed, "R J's" pizzeria. I would strongly suggest to Jacobi's that they work on their web page, since the "About Us" page now consists of a fill-in-the-blank form that hasn't been completed yet. Their home page says they've been making pizza since 1989, but clearly not in this location, so I'm not sure what the history is.
I got a big pepperoni slice. The crust was medium to thin, and the underside showed that it had been baked in a pan. There was a clear delineation between the cornicione and the well browned, bubbly underside. It was flavorful and well balanced, with a uniform layer of melted cheese, crisp pepperoni, and a straightforward sauce, with a tomatoey flavor and salty/sweet accents. I like a crisp crust, and this wasn't that, but aside from that I enjoyed it.
Just down and across the road was Riva's Pizza, where I got a giant pepperoni slice, cut down the middle. It was thinner than Jacobi's, with an underside that was a lighter shade of brown, not so much bubbly as striped. Again, it was pliable, not crisp or crackly, and clearly some oil must have been present when it was baked, although it wasn't oily or greasy to the touch or on the palate. But the crust clearly took a supporting role here, on a slice that was dominated by the cheese.
The pie had just come out of the oven, so I didn't get it rewarmed (obviously that would have some effect on the color and crispness of the underside). The cheese was still hot, so it was a bit sloppy, but in a good way - nicely melted and gooey. It had a mild, slightly salty flavor, and it seemed to be straight mozzarella.
The pepperoni slices were a bit sparse, but what there was, was browned and crisped along the edge. The sauce was added in good proportion to the other components, and had a simple tomatoey flavor.

To look beyond these particular slices, let me mention that Jacobi's has an extensive menu, with numerous specialty pizzas, wings, subs, pasta, sandwiches and ribs. Riva's menu is a little less comprehensive, but still covers all the basics - pizza, subs, wings and salads. (Most pizzerias seem to offer salads, so I assume somebody's ordering them, but for the life of me I don't know who.)
So, two interesting takes on Buffalo-style pizza, not quite as thick as what I expect around Buffalo, but both pretty heavy on the cheese, and with good overall flavor. I can't say I was crazy about the crust on either, but all in all, I enjoyed them well enough.

Jacobi's Pizzeria, 3575 Walden Ave., Lancaster, NY
(716) 685-0000
Mon. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 9 p.m.

Riva's Pizza, Subs and Wings, 3488 Walden Ave., Depew, NY
(716) 681-2021
Mon. - Thu. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 10 a.m. - 11 p.m., Sun. noon - 10 p.m.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Baker Street Bakery, Park Ave.

Anybody who loves pizza almost certainly likes bread, and I'm exhibit A, there. I've been to most of the bread bakeries around town - in fact, I've toyed with the idea of expanding this blog's scope to include bread - but it was only very recently that I finally made it to Baker Street Bakery on Park Avenue.
Baker Street opened, I believe, in 2007. There's a combination of reasons why it's taken me this long to get there, but I did stop in recently.
BSB doesn't offer pizza as such (which is one reason it's taken me this long), but they do offer focaccia, which to most of us would be indistinguishable from thick-crust, pan-baked pizza.The difference is more semantic than real.
I got a veggie slice, topped with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, sliced tomatoes, black olives, caramelized onions, and jalapenos.
At first glance, this would seem not to be something I'd go for. If I could only eat one kind of pizza for the rest of my life, it would probably be a thin-crust, foldable, New York style cheese slice.
This was the diametric opposite of that. It was enormous, and heavy. I ended up cutting it in half, for lunch, and saving the rest for the next day.
But despite my general preferences, I've always taken a catholic approach to pizza. Thick, thin, cheese-only or multiple toppings, any pizza can be good, if it's well made.
And this was good, whether you call it pizza or foccacia. The underside was evenly browned and dry to the touch. The interior was bubbly and nicely risen, and the crust was flavorful.
It was also well balanced. Despite its heft, this was not simply an overloaded slice of pizza. The toppings were added in proportion to the thick crust. I don't think I'll ever get over my distaste for mushrooms, but they blended in with the other toppings, which made for a flavorful medley. Slightly sweet, salty and savory, with a bit of kick in the background.
I will nitpick a bit, for the use of what seemed to be canned black olives. I'm OK with canned olives, but they don't quite match up with the non-canned, cured variety. The dusting of grated cheese also added little if any flavor or aroma; it had a powdery texture similar to ground bread crumbs.
Those quibbles aside, this made for an enjoyable lunch. A good base of bread dough, and a well-chosen blend of toppings.
Beyond foccacia, Baker Street offers a wide range of breads, including sourdough and whole-grain breads, as well as delectable pastries. In a perfect world, every town and neighborhood would have its own bakery, and in the central Park Avenue neighborhood, Baker Street fills that niche very nicely.

Baker Street Bakery
745 Park Ave.
Sun. - Mon. 6 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Tue. - Sat. 6 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Friday, September 18, 2015

A Florida trip, and some thoughts about Rochester pizza

I just got back from a 10-day vacation in the Orlando, Florida area. As I do every time I go away, I did some pizza research ahead of time.
As it turned out, I only had pizza once, from Bruno's in Kissimmee. It came very highly rated online, for its NY style pizza.
My family, our hosts and I shared a cheese pizza and a meat lovers' pie. They were good, but not exceptionally good. I'm not going to review Bruno's pizza, because this is a Rochester pizza blog. But it got me thinking.
Many areas of the country don't have much if any of an indigenous pizza culture. I can't say that I even scratched the surface of Florida, or for that matter Orlando-area pizza, after just this one experience, but from what I saw, most of the pizza around there seemed to be an attempted version of an established style. New York style was especially prevalent, which is hardly surprising, considering the number of transplants and tourists that make up the local customer base. And there were the now-usual wood-fired places, and generic American pizza, a la Papa DominoHut.
Again, no surprise. Much of Florida's economy is based on tourism, and the tourists aren't coming to see or experience anything authentically Floridian. They're coming to see fake Bavarian castles, fake lagoons, and fake movie sets. (I was particularly bemused by the Harry Potter section of Universal Studios, part of which is supposed to look like London, as it appears in the HP movies. It was, then, an imitation of an imitation.)
And - based on my extremely limited experience - so it is, mostly, with pizza. I didn't run across any place in Florida, either through my online research or my travels, that made me want to go there to find some hidden nugget of genuinely local pizza.
I'm not saying that such places in Florida don't exist. Maybe they do. My point is, this trip made me appreciate our local pizza culture. Yes, I often report on the latest wood-fired pizzeria, and I return time and again to our local New York-style pizzerias (which benefit from our relative proximity to NYC), but what I love most about the pizza around here is its diversity, and the fact that we do have a local style of pizza, with roots going back many decades. I'll keep that in mind next time I bite into a nice thick, chewy slice of local pizza. It's good to be home.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Dobber's, Canandaigua

I don't get to Canandaigua too often, but I consider it to be in the Rochester area, so I try to stay current on the Canandaigua pizza scene.
With that in mind, I recently got a pizza from Dobber's. It's on Lakeshore Drive, just east of the lake.
Dobber's bills itself as a sports bar and grill, rather than a pizzeria as such, but pizza is on the menu. I wasn't sure what to expect, since they only offer one size, which generally suggests the use of premade crusts. And I think that's what I got, but more on that later.
Dobber's offers three pizzas: the "classic cheese and pepperoni," with a garlic base, marinara, pizza spice, tomatoes, peppers, and Parmesan; the "veggie lover's," with a garlic base, mozzarella, pizza spice, tomatoes, peppers, onions, mushrooms, banana peppers, black olives and jalapenos; and a Buffalo chicken pie, with a garlic base, mozzarella, pizza spice, diced chicken tossed in the sauce of your choice.
I got the veggie lover's, sans mushrooms. I don't have many dietary taboos, but I don't do mushrooms. I don't eat anything that grows in caves, or that's a fungus, or that has the texture of rubber. Or that tastes like mushrooms.
In a nutshell, the toppings were pretty good; the crust, not so much. It was medium thick, generally pale, and somewhat dry. It could've been hand formed - the underside didn't have a machine-made look to it - but it did not have a freshly-baked aroma or texture. It wasn't crumbly or brittle, it simply was not much more than a base for the toppings.
And the toppings were good, as far as they went, but they literally didn't go very far. There was quite a gap between the toppings and the edge of the pie. Had the crust been exceptionally good, that wouldn't have mattered so much, but it wasn't.
On the plus side, where the toppings were applied, they were pretty good. The olives were canned, but I've always been OK with canned olives. The conglomeration of sliced and chopped veggies, atop a layer of well-melted mozzarella, was rather tasty, with a nice interplay of flavors - salty olives, hot, vinegary pepperoncini, milder green bell pepper, and decent chopped tomatoes, atop a bed of smooth melted cheese.
But it just wasn't quite enough to elevate the pizza as a whole. Some people (I'm not one of them, in case you hadn't guessed) are more concerned with the toppings on their pizza than with the crust. If that's you, then you want the toppings spread close to the edge of the crust. And these weren't.
I care about the toppings, certainly. It's the combination of the crust and toppings that makes pizza more than just bread. But for me the crust is where it all starts. And my test is, when I've finished the "topped" part of a slice, to I want to eat what's left - the "pizza bone"? The answer here was no.
I genuinely dislike giving a place a bad review, especially when it's not just a pizzeria.. So again I will emphasize that I am rating Dobber's pizza, not Dobber's as a whole. Dobber's offers way more than just pizza. As I waited for my pizza, I saw a plate of chicken wings go by, and they looked and smelled heavenly. The menu covers all the bar basics, and then some. They occasionally do a "pizza soup," which I would love to try. And there's a wide selection of beers, including their own house brand, Three Huskies.
Pizza aside, I came away with a good impression of Dobber's, overall. The place was clean and well maintained, the service was good, the patrons were friendly, and my impression was of a local bar and grill, in the best sense of that term. I think you could feel equally comfortable going there for a drink, or for a casual dinner with family or friends. (There is no physical divider between the bar and the dining area, and I imagine things may get a little more raucous as the evening goes on, so keep that in mind.)
So, bottom line. I'm giving the pizza a D. This was below-average pizza.
But I hasten to add that if I were in the area, looking for a place to stop into for a drink, meal or both, alone or with my family, I'd have no problem stopping at Dobber's. I just wouldn't order a pizza.

Dobbers Sports Bar & Grill, 401 Lakeshore Drive, Canandaigua, NY 14424

Monday - Friday 11 am - midnight
Saturday 11 am - 1 am
Sunday noon - 10 pm