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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Little Park Ave - CLOSED

(This establishment is now closed)
Park Avenue in Rochester is home to several pizzerias. One of the more recent entrants is Little Park Ave Pizzeria, near the corner of Park and Oxford. It is in fact a little place, and the diminutive name has a certain symbiosis with the Half Pint Pub a couple of doors down. And since the Half Pint doesn't serve food, that symbiosis might extend beyond the names.
On a recent lunchtime visit to LPA, I got a cheese slice and a Buffalo chicken slice. (The other option was pepperoni.)
Both were thin, with a dark brown underside, criss-crossed by screen marks. The bottom was not crisp, but firm, and the slices were foldable, i.e., not floppy. The crust wasn't great, but it was serviceable, in other words, it was not bad and was a good-enough base for the toppings.
I usually love a basic cheese slice, but in this instance I preferred the Buffalo chicken slice. The cheese slice was OK at best. The cheese was a little browned, and sprinkled with dried herbs, among which the oregano stood out.
Some oil had exuded from the cheese. The sauce was thinly applied, which was reasonable given the thinness of the crust, but I found the sauce rather bland. This slice just seemed to be missing something. I would've liked a little more flavor or complexity from the crust, or cheese, or sauce. Aside from the dried herbs, there just wasn't much going on here.
Not surprisingly, the Buffalo chicken slice was more flavorful. It was topped with wing sauce, which was mild but had a little kick, and a distinctive flavor. A little less vinegary than your typical wing sauce, with the herbs playing a role too. Intriguing, and not bad.
Atop the sauce was scattered mozzarella and bits of breaded chicken. A spiral of blue cheese dressing added the right accent. The slice wasn't heavily laden with toppings, but the toppings were in balance with the thin crust. 
Little Park Ave offers pizza in 10- and 16-inch sizes, with two dozen available toppings and ten specialty pizzas, including a mac-and-cheese pie and a signature house pie with red sauce, capicola, ham, mozzarella, Asiago, and fresh spinach. They also do an Italian-bread pizza, which is a foot-long sliced loaf of Italian bread topped with red sauce and cheese, and a flatbread Mexican pizza. Subs, soups and salads are also on the menu.
I've never graded Buffalo chicken slices, because it comes in so many ways that there is no benchmark for the style. I couldn't give this cheese slice a very good grade, but I don't want to just average the two slices out and slap a bad grade on Little Park Ave., because that might dissuade people from trying it. I liked the Buffalo chicken slice, and I'd like to try some of their other pizzas. So I'll just say that, for my taste, the cheese slice was not the greatest, but the Buffalo chicken slice was good enough to make me want to come back for more of LPA's other offerings. I'd encourage you to try it for yourself and let me and other readers know what you think.

Little Park Ave Pizzeria
371 Park Ave.

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

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fiorella, Rochester Public Market

On a recent Wednesday evening, I met my friend John Vito for dinner at Fiorella, which opened this past August at the Public Market.
John, as many local foodies will already know, is the author of Food and Stories, which partly documents his history as proprietor of O'Bagelo's and Baked and Carved, two fondly, and deservedly missed downtown restaurants. His site also provides recipes for some of his most-missed offerings, like his legendary chocolate chip cookies.
Suburbanite that I am, I found it most convenient to go right after work, so we got there around 5:30, and had the joint to ourselves. By the time I left an hour and a half later, most of the tables were full. So word has obviously gotten around about Fiorella.
I was there to try Fiorella's pizza. Fiorella's is the newest (I think - it's getting hard to keep up) pizzeria in our area using a wood-fired oven. I would've wanted to try it eventually in any event, but what especially intrigued me was Fiorella's statement that it uses "naturally leavened" dough. I quote from their website:  "our dough is made with organic flour, water and sea salt only and naturally leavened for better health."
I'm not convinced that those ingredients lead to better health, but as a home baker of sourdough bread, I was intrigued by the "naturally leavened" aspect. From what our server told me, I gathered that Fiorella uses something along the lines of pâte fermentée, which basically involves saving a bit of dough from each batch, every time you bake, to get the next batch started. That's a little different from a traditional sourdough, where you keep a starter on hand, "feed" it on a regular basis, and take some as needed. At some point, I'd like to talk to the baker to clarify how they make their dough.
I ordered a "Rosso" pizza, topped with San Marzano tomatoes, oregano, basil, extra-virgin olive oil, and fresh mozzarella. Aside from the oregano, that's a Margherita to me.
It was good, but flawed. The crust was very thin, with a puffy cornicione. The crust was pliable.
One of the first things I noticed was how blackened the underside of the crust was, in some areas. I know that some people who aren't used to wood-fired pizza may complain that the crust is "burnt," but sometimes that adjective does apply.
Along the edge, there was some "leopard spotting" on one half, and some black stretches in others. Underneath, there were areas that were quite blackened, to the point where the surface had  carbonized and was completely blackened, resulting in a tar-like surface.
That didn't ruin the pizza. Other areas of the bottom were browned or pale, due partly to the bubbly underside, where the crust was not in direct contact with the oven deck. This was good, well-made dough, but it seemed to have been left a little too long in one spot on a very hot oven deck.
The dough was thin but had risen somewhat, and had a pleasant chewiness. Again, my biggest problem with it was that it was either blackened, or pale, or browned. I would've liked a more uniformly-baked bottom.
In spite of that, the pie was enjoyable. It was coated with a uniform layer of tomato sauce, which had a "medium" texture and flavor. Pretty basic, but where pizza's concerned, nothing wrong with basic. The rounds of fresh mozzarella, which covered most of the surface, were melted just to the edge of browning. They weren't creamy-smooth, but they weren't over-baked or rubbery.
The pie was topped with a few shreds of fresh basil. They were good, but I would've liked a few more, to round out the flavor of the pie.
Fiorella's other pizzas include a bianca (white) pizza with: fresh garlic, smoked mozzarella, pecorino, and market greens, and a daily "market" pizza with a selection of seasonal toppings (I regret that I didn't take note of that day's market pizza). Organic salame or mushrooms may be added to any pizza as well.
The menu extends beyond pizza, to pasta (John got the tagliatelle, which despite my antipathy for mushrooms looked good), and daily specials. On this Wednesday night, Fiorella offered a "brick steak," meaning cooked under a brick. Sounded good, but I was there for pizza.
Despite its shortcomings, I liked my pizza. There were no leftovers. I could only speculate if the blackening of the crust was related to this being the first pizza of the night, so I won't speculate about that. If the execution improves and can stay consistent, this could be some top-notch pizza.
For now, I'll consider the pizza here a work in progress. But I also consider Fiorella well worth checking out.

Restaurant Fiorella, 5 Rochester Public Market
Rochester, NY 14609

Wed. 11 am - 2 pm, 5 pm - 10 pm
Thu. 10 - 2, 5 - 10
Fri. 11 - 2, 5 - 10
Sat. 8 - 2, 5 - 10
Sun. - Tue. closed

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ciccino's, Geneva

As I mentioned in a post last week, I was in Geneva, NY recently, and used the occasion to hit a couple of pizzerias.
One of which was Ciccino's, which for Rochester-area visitors is conveniently located on Rt. 14 (Exchange St.) just as you get to downtown Geneva.
Ciccino's is a full-service restaurant, but there's a separate counter area if you want something to go, with a decent selection of pizza slices.
Since I'd just gotten a cheese slice at Uncle Joe's, I went with the same here. A reader once complained that I so often order and review "plain cheese," but (1) I like it, and (2) it provides a good universal standard to compare pizzerias. And this thin, triangular slice made for an interesting contrast with the thicker, square-cut slice I'd gotten from Uncle Joe's.
I opted to have my slice rewarmed. I've found that's generally a good idea, even if you don't plan to eat it immediately, as it makes the underside more crisp. I noticed that while Ciccino's pies were baked in some large deck ovens, my slice was reheated in a small, stand-alone side oven.
I was impressed with the result. The slice was nicely charred underneath, with some surface crackling. The charring added some toasty notes, and the crust had a pleasant chewiness.
Ciccino's doesn't call its pizza New York style, but it generally fits into that category. I gave my slice the "fold test" for New York style pizza - can you hold the slice, folded, horizontally, without the tip flopping down? I found that if I held my folded slice at a slight upward angle, the tip would droop down just a little. I don't mention that to pass judgment on the slice, but only to give you an idea of its relative pliability vs. rigidity. On the scale of floppy vs. brittle, it was a shade closer to the former.
One of the things I like about cheese pizza is its simplicity, and the trinity of crust, sauce and cheese was well balanced here. The crust was topped with modest but adequate layers of basic tomato sauce - not too salty, not too sweet - and well melted mozzarella, which was just a bit blistered and browned, with a bubbly spot of dough bulging up here and there.
On my visit, Ciccino's had a few other sliced pies available, including one with standard, thin-sliced pepperoni, a white pie, Buffalo chicken, and a sausage-and-peppers pie. If you're ordering a whole pizza, Ciccino's offers a traditional Margherita with crushed plum tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil, and a selection of other pies, including thick-crust Sicilian pizza; the family behind Ciccino's is of Sicilian origin, so I imagine they do a good job on that. For further exploration of their pizza offerings, I refer you to their menu, where you'll also find their meat and seafood dishes, pasta, salads and sandwiches. There's a full bar as well.
For a number of reasons, I have been assigning fewer letter grades of late. That's a topic for another day. But one factor is a pizzeria's proximity to Rochester. Geneva's a bit of a drive from Rochester, and I don't expect to become fully familiar with the pizza choices out that way anytime soon. So I'll pass on giving a letter grade to this slice. But I will say that I enjoyed it. I'd recommend a stop if you're in the area.

Ciccino's Pizzeria & Restaurant, 401 Exchange St., Geneva
(315) 789-4613

22 East Main St., Waterloo
(315) 539-1064

Both locations hours: Mon. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Tue. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 - 11, Sun. noon - 9 p.m.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Shooters, Revisited

It was back in March 2011 that I last reviewed Shooters, a bar and restaurant in Fairport, or Perinton, depending on how you look at the map, or go by postal designations. Either way, it's at the corner of Fairport Road (31F) and Baird Road. But it was overdue for a revisit.
With that in mind, I recently stopped at Shooters with my beautiful wife for lunch. She opted for a salad (ah, women, what can I say) while I got a Margherita pizza.
It was thin, as expected,  with an underside that was generally golden brown, with a light dusting of flour. There were a few charred spots along the edge, but not underneath.
It was tasty, with a thick layer of bright-tasting tomato sauce and several well-melted dollops of fresh mozzarella, and some fresh basil that had been added at the end. The pie had also been dusted with a grated hard cheese, probably Parmesan.
Although the underside wasn't shatteringly crisp, it was firm. As you can see in the photo, I was able to fold and hold a slice up, horizontally, even as the well-melted cheese stretched out.
There was a genuine wood fire in the oven; it wasn't just a gas fire, as I've seen in some places. From a brief conversation with the pizzaiolo, though, I learned that the fire typically gets cranked up, and the oven temperature is typically higher, in the evening, resulting in a shorter baking time.
That's understandable; the lunch crowd was relatively sparse, and I can see not wanting to go through a lot of fuel during low-volume hours. I suspect, then, that a pizza ordered during the dinner hour would likely come out a little more charred and/or crisp underneath.
But this pie was not underdone, even if it was a little different from what I would've gotten had I ordered the same pie that evening. It was not blistered or charred underneath, but it was firm. If your ideal pizza is "leopard spotted" underneath, try coming here for dinner rather than lunch.
Shooters offers twelve pizzas, and while I went with my default Margherita, I'd like to try their clams Casino pizza and their andouille sausage pizza. They also have an extensive burger menu, as well as sandwiches, panini, salads, wings, and other sides and appetizers. There's a full bar, and a lot of TVs around to keep sports fans happy.
I liked this pizza, and I liked the place itself. The service was attentive, and the pizzaiolo was obviously dedicated to his craft. This particular pie wasn't among the very best I've had, in my opinion, but it was good overall, and good enough to make me want to go back. So a B seems about right.

Shooters, 1226 Fairport Road
Fairport, NY 14454

Mon. - Sat. 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sun. noon - midnight
Pizza available till 11 p.m.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Uncle Joe's, Geneva

I recently went to Geneva, NY, to attend an event at the Smith Opera House. In addition to pizza, I love crosswords and word puzzles in general, and NY Times crossword editor (and NPR puzzlemaster) Will Shortz was the featured speaker at this event. I got to meet Will, and it was a very enjoyable evening, as he told us a bit about his background and then led the audience through several word games.
While it's not that far away, I don't get out to Geneva all that often, so naturally I had to take advantage of this trip to hit a couple of local pizzerias.
First up, and the sole subject of this blog post, was Uncle Joe's. I was predisposed to like this place from the start, given its location in an old building in a residential neighborhood. Read about its history here.
On my 5 p.m. visit, there were just two kinds of slices available, cheese or pepperoni. Both were thick and square cut, in trays in a display case at the front counter.
I ordered a cheese slice, which was given a brief rewarming in the oven. This was a big, hefty slice, and despite the minimal toppings, it would've been a meal in itself, except that I saved some for later, since I wanted to hit one more pizzeria.
The crust was thick, browned underneath, with one large burst bubble, and was reasonably dry to the touch - in other words, not overly oily. The bottom was firm, and the interior was OK. A little chewy, not especially breadlike, and a bit bland. The outer edge, or cornicione, was a little dry.
Topside, a scattered layer of melted mozzarella sat atop a coating of tomato sauce, which had a bright tomatoey flavor. Flavorwise, this was a pretty simple, if well made slice.
I did take note of the pepperoni slices, which were topped with cup and char pepperoni. Oddly, the pepperoni only seemed to cover half the slices; maybe it hadn't been carefully applied, or the pizza wasn't carefully sliced after coming out of the oven. But as both the cheese and pepperoni slices were the same price - $2.50 - I guess there wouldn't be much cause for complaint.
If you want an individual, made-to-order pizza, Uncle Joe's offers 10- and 14-inch pies, with 19 toppings. There aren't many specialty pizzas as such, but they do offer a white pizza with fresh garlic, a "poor man's" pie with red sauce, pepperoni and Romano (which ironically costs more than a regular cheese pie), and gluten-free pizza. They also do subs and sandwiches, fried haddock, pasta, soups and salads. Beer and wine are available as well, which you can enjoy in the dining room, just off the front counter area.
Not a bad slice of pizza, this, but not exceptional either. At the very least, it was better than the generic stuff offered by many places today, and all in all I liked it. I won't give it a label as such, but for the Rochester area, I'd put this in the roughly average category.

Uncle Joe's, 99 N. Genesee St., Geneva
(315) 781-1199

Mon. 11 am - 10 pm, Tues. closed, Wed. & Thu. 11 am - 11 pm, Fri. 11 am - midnight, Sat. 4:30 - midnight, Sun. 4:30 - 10 pm