Rochester NY Pizza Blog Rochester restaurants LocalEats featured blog

Thursday, December 31, 2015

East of Chicago, W. Henrietta Road

On a recent weekend, my wife, daughter and I, along with a friend of my daughter, stopped in to East of Chicago Pizzeria, which recently opened on West Henrietta Road in Brighton.
As I reported on my Facebook page, I had become aware of this pizzeria before it opened, so before we went there, I learned that East of Chicago is a chain, based in Ohio. Most of their locations are in or near Ohio. There are a couple in South Carolina and the Rochester location is their first in New York.
East of Chicago offers six crusts, which set off some red flags with me. I tend to think that a pizzeria that is trying to do too many things can't do them all well. But the proof is in the pizza, so I tried to keep an open mind.
East of Chicago offers the following crusts, the descriptions of which I quote from their website:

Pan - Our Signature Crust. Light and airy with a Crunch! "Best pan Pizza East of Chicago".
Crispy - A very thin crust with a distinctive crunch 12" & 14" only.
Thin - Hand tossed with a golden brown crust.
Square - Thin crust - 16" only.
Authentic Chicago Style - Seasoned pie crust filled with your favorite toppings, a generous layer of our blended cheese. Medium only.
Loaded Crust - Thin center with cheese & Pepperoni baked inside a folded edge.

Pizzas come in no less than seven sizes, from a six-inch "flash pan" pizza to a 32-slice sheet.  There are fifteen available toppings, not including extra cheese.
I figured, go with what they claim to do best, so we got a pan pizza. Sausage won the vote as a topping.
This is a "fast casual" place, where you order at the counter and they bring the food to the table, but it was a quiet day, so we were waited on at our table. The service was efficient, informative (we asked some questions about the different crusts) and friendly.
When the pizza came out, it looked good, with a medium-brown, well-formed cornicione, and nicely melted cheese. The underside was pockmarked with a bubbly pattern. It was dry to the touch, with just a trace of oil.
And all in all, it was enjoyable, if not exceptional. The underside of the medium-to-thick crust was crisp underneath but the slice was pliable. The interior had a mouth-pleasing chew and a faint breadlike aroma. The mozzarella cheese was well melted, slightly browned and gooey, but a bit bland. Thicker pizza tends, in my mind, for a little more assertive cheese, so the inclusion of some Provolone or Parmesan would've been welcome here.
Between the crust and cheese lay a basic, mildly seasoned tomato sauce, which was applied in good proportion to the other components. T chunks of sausage were thick and meaty, also mildly seasoned.
Besides pizza, East of Chicago  does wings, oven-baked subs, salads, sides, and a few sweets. There's a daily lunch buffet from 11 to 3, and a dinner buffet on Wednesdays from 6 to 9. Buffet prices vary (e.g. a kid's lunch buffet is $4.99, an adult's dinner buffet is $9.99).

This location has housed numerous restaurants over the years - Sai Gon, Thai Time, Portobello, Portofino, and I imagine some others. Frankly, if I were opening a restaurant, that would make me a little nervous. But maybe East of Chicago will prove to be a good fit.
As for the pizza, it was, as I mentioned, reasonably good if not outstanding. So don't take the following as an indictment, but just an explanation. 
I hope I'm not just being subconsciously influenced by my knowledge that East of Chicago is part of a chain, but I do think there was something "chain-like" about this pizza. That's not meant to be damning; there's no reason a chain pizzeria or other restaurant can't turn out top-notch food. But the pie seemed a little formulaic. The individual components were good, if a bit bland, but they didn't quite all meld together, nor did I pick up any of the subtle aromas, flavors or textures that mark first-rate pizza. For what it was, it was OK. It just didn't wow me.
I would like to try some of East of Chicago's other varieties sometime, though it does concern me a little when a place tries to do too many things. It's like when you go to a Chinese restaurant and they've got 500 items on the menu, from every culture in Asia. Now East of Chicago is certainly not in that category, but again I think it's somewhat typical of a certain chain-restaurant or corporate mentality to try to bowl over the American consumer with an array of choices.
Having said that, that marketing strategy must pay off, or so many companies wouldn't be doing it. And it must work with me too, because I will go back eventually to try one or more of East of Chicago's other crusts. I'll hold off on a grade until I've had a chance to sample some of those other pies, but consider this one on the high side of average.

East of Chicago Pizza, 2171 W. Henrietta Rd., Rochester 14623

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

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Scotch House Pub Report and Giveaway

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with Paul Smith, one owner of The Scotch House Pub on Goodman Street in Rochester.
Over the years, this location has housed several establishments, but the Scotch House just passed its two-year anniversary, which I think puts it over the hump in the bar and restaurant business, where most businesses fail 
But The Scotch House also had just passed what for me was a more significant anniversary:  two weeks of serving pizza.
The drink side of things seems pretty well established at this point. When I arrived at around 5 p.m., shortly after they opened, the place was quiet, but I was told that the Thursday crowd would begin to arrive soon for the "Mug Night" special ($1 beers, $2 wells).
But Paul, who's something of a foodie, would like to get more into the food side of things. And that's where the pizza comes in.
When I got there, Paul had just put a pepperoni pizza in the oven. After we chatted for a few minutes, he brought out the pie, which I was happy to sample.
The first thing I noticed, aside from its general appearance, was the fresh-bread aroma of the crust. The crust was on the thin side of medium in thickness, and a little browned underneath with some screen marks.
The underside was browned in spots, but a little pale. To his credit, though, before I could offer an opinion, Paul opined that he should've left the pie in the oven a minute or two later. As an avid home baker who's my own worst critic, this told me that he's striving never to be simply satisfied.
And truth be told, the crust was pretty good. When I folded my slice, it cracked on the surface, underneath, but did not break clean through, which to me is a good sign. Surface crackling, chewy interior - that, to me, is a hallmark of good pizza.
I could also tell from our conversation that Paul has, and continues to, put a lot of effort into the business. Prior to opening The Scotch House, Paul worked in the computer field, but eventually decided to get into business for himself. That led to The Scotch House, which he owns with a silent partner.
Having become pretty well established, Paul wanted to expand his scope and he settled on pizza as a focus of the menu. Local pizza lovers should be glad he did.
Again, I could see that he was not one to plunge into something casually or without putting in the time and effort.  I got a look at the kitchen, which houses a stainless steel-topped prep table and a Blodgett pizza oven.
They also make their own dough at The Scotch House, unlike a lot of bars and restaurants that buy their dough elsewhere or use premade pizza shells. Not that you can't make good pizza that way, but making it in-house shows a certain dedication to the craft of making pizza. And this is good dough.
After settling on pizza as a major addition to the menu, Paul went through a bunch of dough recipes before settling on what he uses now. The dough goes through cold-temperature retardation to bring out its flavor, before going into the oven. And Paul, who's very much a hands-on owner, is learning all about his oven, including how to deal with "hot spots." That's why our conversation was interrupted a couple of times, as he excused himself to go check on and rotate the pizza.
I asked Paul if he'd considered doing wood-fired pizza. I know, certainly, that wood-fired pizza is not inherently better than pizza made in a gas or electric oven. But wood-fired ovens are "hot" right now - pun intended - so I wondered if he'd given it any thought.
He had, but decided he wasn't ready to go that route, at least not yet. I was happy to hear that. It's all too tempting for an owner to jump on the wood-fired bandwagon without doing one's homework. And frankly, I think the local market for wood-fired pizza is pretty close to the saturation point. 
It had been a long time since I was inside this building - I think I came in once for lunch when it was an Asian noodle restaurant, and years before that, when it was a bar - but it was obvious that there'd been a lot of work done inside. Dark wood paneling, a well-appointed bar and dining area, and plenty of TVs make for an attractive, comfortable setting. Again, I got there shortly after they opened, but it seemed to me that the bar area was well set off from the tables, providing some separation between diners and the bar crowd.
Now back to that pizza ... it was well balanced, and topped with a straightforward red sauce, nicely melted mozzarella, and just-crisp slices of pepperoni. The sauce is not made in-house, although they do tweak the sauce a bit to customize it.
The Scotch House's pizza menu includes ten toppings, two sauces (red or white), and seven specialty pizzas, including Buffalo chicken, a "Scotch House Plate" pie, Philly cheesesteak, and mac 'n' cheese pizza. They also serve slices, as any bar/pizzeria should. Other menu items include wings, sandwiches, wraps, quesadillas, salads and sides.
If you'd like to check out The Scotch House for yourself, what better way to do it than with $25 to spend, on the house? I have a $25 gift certificate to give away to one lucky reader, courtesy of The Scotch House. This is good for anything they offer, food or drinks.
Because of the upcoming holidays, I'll run this a little longer than usual.  Email me your name and mailing address at by noon on Monday, January 4, and I'll pick a winner at random. Just make sure to include "Scotch House giveaway" in the subject line. As always, rest assured that I will not use your personal information for any other purposes, or give it to anyone else.

The Scotch House Pub, 373 S. Goodman St., Rochester 14607

Mon - Wed: 5 PM - 2 AM
Thurs & Fri: 4 PM - 2 AM
Sat & Sun: Noon - 2 AM

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Root 31 Cafe, Pittsford

I stopped the other day for lunch, with a couple friends, at Root 31 Cafe & Eatery in Pittsford Plaza. It's in what used to be a location of Colie's Cafe, whose Park Avenue location I reviewed in 2012. (There's now just one Colie's, in Eastview Mall, which apparently does not offer pizza. Read the details here.)
According to its website, "Root 31 has partnered with farms that feature pasture raised & grass-fed animals that produce premium dairy, meats, cheeses in addition handcrafted sundries, condiments , jams and jellies. Produce, fruits, and berries all from family farms in the countryside Counties of western NY. The finest ice cream, sorbets, chocolates, vanillas, fruit purees available. Whenever possible we use local, organic ingredients guided by principles of sustainability."
All well and good. I applaud them for that. So how's the food?
This is a "fast casual" place, where you order at the counter and have your food delivered to the table. Root 31 is not a pizzeria as such, but it does feature pizza on the menu. Pizzas here come in two sizes, "petite" and "personal." I was hungry, so I got a personal cheese pizza, which was about the size of a dinner plate.
Before getting on to the pizza, I have to say, I found the prices rather curious. A personal cheese pizza was $8.25. Specialty pizzas ranged from $8.95 to $9.95. But individual toppings on a personal pizza were either $2.50 or $2.90. So if I got a white pizza with one veggie topping, that would come to $10.75. But I could get a "Chef's Style" white pizza, with bacon, onions and other toppings for $8.95. Maybe there's some logic behind that, but if so, I'm missing it.
So I got a plain cheese pizza. At first glance, it didn't look too bad. The cheese seemed a little overbrowned, but the pie looked OK overall.
But things went downhill from there. The underside was rather pale, and the crust was thin, limp, and floppy. When I tried to pick up a slice, it flopped over, and the toppings slid off.
I have given great reviews to pizzas whose slices might justly be characterized as floppy. Some are best eaten with a knife and fork, as I ended up doing here.
But those pizzas had crusts that were slightly charred, aromatic and flavorful. The crusts were good enough to eat on their own. This crust was just dull and lifeless. It seemed undercooked, and it didn't have much to recommend it. This was one of the few times that I have left some of the crust on my plate, and discarded it.
Sometimes good toppings can partially save a bad crust, but not this time. The cheese was rather overbrowned, as I've said. It wasn't hard, but neither was it smooth, and the oil that it exuded had settled into a few pools here and there.
I wasn't too thrilled about the sauce, either. I probably notice the sauce mostly when I don't like it.
As here. As I was eating this pizza, "SpaghettiOs" popped into my mind. The sauce reminded me of SpaghettiOs sauce.
Make no mistake, I have fond memories of SpaghettiOs. But I don't necessarily want my pizza sauce to taste like something that came out of a can of Franco American pasta.
I'm not saying this sauce came out of a can. For all I know, it was made from organic, locally produced ingredients. I'm just saying that the flavor reminded me of SpaghettiOs, with that distinctive tanginess of salt and Parmesan cheese, and not much tomato flavor. Maybe if I'd liked the crust, I would have been more predisposed to like the sauce, I don't know. I didn't exactly dislike the sauce, but it just didn't seem to help the pizza much. A little more tomatoey sweetness and some herbal accents would've been welcome.
One of my companions got a pepperoni pizza. To put it briefly, it was about the same, and she wasn't too happy with it.
Not to pile on, but it also took a loong time after I got my pizza, for her pizza to come out, and I think it was pretty obvious when we ordered that we were together. It would've been nice to get our pizzas at around the same time.
I wish I could say that my other companion's hamburger (which arrived with the pepperoni pizza) partially saved the day. But it didn't. He wasn't asked how he wanted it cooked, and this was well done. A thin patty, with no trace of pink inside, and from his account, as dry as it looked. That's why there's ketchup. I know some places won't do burgers less than well done, for health reasons, but if that's Root 31's policy, it should've been disclosed.
I don't enjoy giving bad reviews. But I have to be honest. If I thought we'd just caught Root 31 on a bad day, I'd hold off. But I don't. So I have to be honest and give the pizza a D.

Root 31 Cafe & Eatery
3349 Monroe Ave., Pittsford
(585) 383-5660 -

Mon-Sat 9am - 9pm, Sun 9am - 8pm