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Monday, December 19, 2016

That's All, Folks ... Sort Of

Where it all started - a labor of love
Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I've been posting less frequently, of late. There's a reason for that.
After a long period of reflection, contemplation and soul-searching, I've decided to stop writing The Rochester NY Pizza Blog. Well, sort of. Allow me to explain.
When I started this blog in 2009, it seemed like a fun way to document something I wanted to do anyway, which was to try every pizzeria in the Rochester area. And it's been that, for sure.
It's also been far more successful, in terms of readership, than I ever expected. When I started, I wanted to attract readers, certainly, but I was amazed by how many I eventually got. I was especially gratified to receive thanks from readers for helping them find good pizza around here. Even more than trying new pizzerias, communicating with my readers has been the most rewarding aspect of writing this blog.
But over time, the blog took on a life of its own. It was no longer simply a log of my pizza-related activities, that I did for fun, but an entity that needed to be maintained on a regular basis.
I've never lost my love of pizza. I love it as much as ever. But if writing the blog was always a labor of love, lately it's become more labor and less love.
Even as my enthusiasm for the blog itself dimmed, I remained determined not to let the blog slide into dormancy. I've seen too many blogs that started with a flurry of posts, and then petered out. So I always strived to keep posting regularly.
Eventually, I'd covered probably over 90% of the pizzerias in the Rochester area. But the beast I'd created had to be fed. So I started revisiting places. Searching out new pizzerias, always. Trying different types of pizza (Buffalo chicken, white, etc.). Traveling farther.
And I tried to go to restaurants that serve pizza. Weekday lunch dates with friends, and family dinner outings, began to be driven by whether the restaurant offered pizza.
I created a to-do list of places to go to. A new pizzeria opened in Webster? OK, have to go there. Haven't been to this place in three years? Add it to the list. It got to the point where I wasn't going to the places I loved anymore, because I felt as if I needed to get to places to write about.
So, for a while, it was fun. But the fun's diminished over the years, and I've reached the point -- in fact I reached it some time ago, I've just not acted on it until now -- where I've been putting more into the blog than I get out of it. And so I think it's time to call it quits.
Now let me be clear, I am not complaining, I'm not whining, and I'm not saying that this has been tough on me, or anything like that. It's been fun, I have no regrets, and I've been glad to write this blog. I'm just explaining why I'm ending it, now.
But, back to that "sort of" that I mentioned earlier.
The post you're reading right now is not the last blog post I will ever do. I still have one more review in mind, and I think you'll want to read it. I'd also like to do, if not a farewell address, an essay encapsulating some of my thoughts on what I've learned over the past seven-plus years. And there may be a few loose-ends kind of stuff. To name one example, I owe a book review to a publisher that sent me a free review copy of a book. And if the mood strikes me, I'm not ruling out an occasional review or other post in the future. I'm just not going to make any particular effort to keep posting on a regular basis, or to keep searching out and reviewing new places.
I do plan to keep the Facebook page going, at least to report on local and national pizza news. Openings and closings, interesting news items, that sort of thing. I intend to keep up with the pizza scene, for my own benefit, so if I see something of interest, I'll pass it along.
So I'm not going to get all weepy here and say goodbye. I'm not going away. I'll still have a web presence. But to be honest, it already feels like a weight off my shoulders not to feel as if I have to keep writing blog posts or reviewing every new pizzeria that comes along. I look forward to maintaining contact with my readers, and I urge you to send me any pizza news you have, recommendations, inquiries, and so on.

Buon appetito!

The Rochester Pizza Guy

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Book Review: Refreshed

I have received the occasional review copy of a book from time to time, and one of the more diverse, eclectic catalogs comes from Schiffer Publishing. They're very strong in history, military history in particular, which I love. But Schiffer offers books on an array of subjects, from animals to woodworking.
That includes books on food and cooking. A recent new issue, Refreshed: Lighter Simpler Comfort Food, caught my eye, and I accepted a review copy.
The book's author is Jim Bailey, who goes by the moniker "the Yankee Chef."  This is his second cookbook, following up on The Yankee Chef: Feel Good Food for Every Kitchen.
Bailey comes from a family with deep roots both in cooking and in New England. Some of those regional influences come through in dishes like New England style lobster fried rice, hot cross buns with cranberries, and traditional corn pudding.
That said, this is not a New England cookbook as such. The focus here is on comfort food, with a particular emphasis on lightening up the ingredients a bit.
If you recoil at the idea of "lite" cooking, fear not. Bailey's recipes don't suck the life out of these dishes; they simply avoid heavy, fat-laden cooking. No "weird" ingredients, no lack of seasoning, and no lack of flavor. Maybe the occasional egg whites instead of whole eggs, a light touch with cooking oil, and the use of skim rather than whole milk. But there's butter, there's meat, and you could easily substitute the full-fat ingredients, if you're so inclined.
The book is well illustrated, with full color photographs throughout, and each recipe begins with a brief introduction by Chef Bailey. The recipes are logically and clearly laid out, and are simple yet informative. Occasional sidebars offer tips on ingredients and techniques. The chapters cover breads, soups, vegetables, grains, fish, meat, poultry and desserts.
There's a lot of good stuff packed into these 272 pages, and something here to please just about any palate. This volume would make a welcome gift for any home cook, or a good addition to a home kitchen bookshelf.

Refreshed: Lighter, Simpler Comfort Food, by Jim Bailey
Schiffer Publishing 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016


Jonathan P. has won the $20 gift card to The Pizza Stop. JP, I'm sending you an email to get your address so I can get it out to you. Thanks to all who participated.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Pizza Stop, One More Time - And a Giveaway to Boot

When I started this blog in 2009, one of the first places I reviewed was The Pizza Stop in downtown Rochester. That was no accident, because The Pizza Stop was one of my favorite pizzerias. And it remains so.
Interestingly, that post, which I published on March 5, 2009, remains one of my most read posts of all time (oddly enough, the most-read is a post about a patent for a pepperoni-making machine).
As I wrote recently, I have decided to stop writing The Rochester NY Pizza Blog on a regular basis. There will, I think, be a few more posts in the future, but I wanted to do one last review, before I hang it up. So what better way to do it than to go back to The Pizza Stop?
This review actually encompasses two recent visits. A few weeks ago I picked up two pies at The Pizza Stop: a Chicken Spinoccoli, which is a white pizza, and a red pie with chicken, pepperoni and bacon. My wife and daughter made those selections, respectively. But I was happy with both.
On the second visit, I got back to basics, with a large pepperoni pie that I shared with two friends for lunch. I'll get to each in turn.
If I could only eat red or white pizza for the rest of my life, I'd choose red, hands down. That said, I like a good white pizza now and then, and this was very good indeed. The underside was crisp and charred, and the toppings were flavorful and well complemented each other. The mozzarella was melt-in-your-mouth smooth, and the other toppings, chicken, broccoli, spinach, extra virgin olive oil and garlic, made for an outstanding combination. I can't say I missed the tomato sauce.
My daughter selected the three-meat pie. I'll have to admit, it's gratifying that I haven't raised a tofu-eating vegan (just kidding!). But to be honest, while I am a full-fledged carnivore, I generally do not much like meat-heavy pizza. That said, this was tasty, not greasy, and well executed. The trio of meats that my daughter chose seemed odd to me at first, but the thick chunks of chicken held their own quite well against the spicy pepperoni and the smoky bacon. And I did grab a second slice before I was done.
On my more recent visit, I got a large pepperoni pie, pictured at top. Since I've written at length about The Pizza Stop's pizza in the past, I won't go on at length about it, other than to say that it was a fine example of The Pizza Stop's usual, reliable, classic New York style pizza. Well balanced and flavorful, with a thin, bready, crisp crust.
While I was waiting for my pie to come out of the oven, I had a chance for a brief conversation with owner Jim Staffieri. Business continues to be good -- no surprise there -- but fans should take note of The Pizza Stop's frozen stuffed pizzas, which are made in house and are currently available only in house. Eventually you may see these in your local supermarket, but for now you'll have to buy them at The Pizza Stop itself.
Having decided to take a respite from keeping up this blog on a regular schedule, I may find myself going back to The Pizza Stop more often than in the past. In fact, I expect to hit several of my old favorites more often than I used to, now than I don't feel the pressure to keep up with the newest pizzerias. And I may post about them, now and then, either here or on my Facebook page. But for now, let me sign off on my regular reviews by saying what I said in 2009. For its classic New York style pizza, The Pizza Stop remains one of my all-time favorites.
Anyone under the age of 40 (maybe 50) may be unlikely to get this cultural reference, but as Lt. Columbo used to say, "Just one more thing."  Jim graciously agreed to donate a $20 gift certificate for me to give away to a reader. So as in the past, all you have to do to enter to win is to shoot me an email at Put "Pizza Stop" in the subject line. I'll need your name and mailing address too, which I will under no circumstances share with anyone else.
I usually run these for a week, but since we're coming up on Thanksgiving, I'll extend the deadline to Monday, November 28, at noon. I'll pick a winner shortly thereafter. Until then, eat good pizza!

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

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Pizza Paul's, Reconsidered

Way back in 2009, I did a post pitting against each other two Geneseo pizzerias, Mama Mia's and Pizza Paul's. In that post, I gave Mama Mia's an A, and Pizza Paul's a B-minus.
Since then, I've generally considered Mama Mia's my go-to place in Geneseo. But on a recent Sunday afternoon, when I was in Geneseo with my wife and daughter, I decided it was time to stop back at Pizza Paul's. And I'm glad I did.
I got one pepperoni slice. It was markedly different from the slice that I got back in 2009. Or at least it seemed so to me.
That slice, at that time, seemed like a poorer version of Mia's pizza. This time around, it struck me as qualitatively different from Mia's, but equally good.
The crust was between thin and medium thick, with a big, puffy cornicione. It had the flavor and texture of freshly baked bread, right out of the oven, which is basically what it was. I tore the crust open to get a picture to show the interior.
The toppings well complemented the crust. The smooth layer of mozzarella was nearly covered by the thin slices of pepperoni,  and the medium-thick sauce was noticeably present.
The underside was more browned than charred (sorry, I neglected to get a photo), as was the cornicione. I know that at times I (and other reviewers) wax rhapsodic about charred undersides, but I do not think that every pizza needs to be charred underneath, anymore than I think that every loaf of bread should be charred or crackly on the outside.
What I don't like is pizza that's oily or flabby or lifeless. And this was none of those things. The uniformly browned crust allowed some of the nuances of the baked dough to come through, and made me realize, again, that pizza is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
We also got an order of Nutella-dipped nuggets, which I think had a humorously suggestive name. If you like fried dough and/or Nutella, you'd like these.
Pizza Paul's pizzas come in 10, 13, 16 and 18 inch pies, as well as sheets. They offer 17 toppings and 7 gourmet pizzas. They also do regular and boneless wings (7 sauces), subs, "subzones" (a cross between a sub and a calzone), and a bunch of fried sides, including an interesting array of "gourmet fries," including Buffalo Blue, Greek and taco fries. Check out the full menu here.
Now I find myself in a bit of a quandary when I'm in Geneseo, wanting pizza. But it's a good quandary to be in. New York style at Mia's, or a breadier, WNY style at Paul's. Local residents and students should consider themselves fortunate that they have two A-rated pizzerias, across the street from each other.

Pizza Paul's, 110 Main St., Geneseo
(585) 243-3690
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - midnight, till 3 a.m. while college is in session

Second location at 5808 Big Tree St. in Lakeville, (585) 346-2680

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Back to Nino's

Lately I've been mostly focusing on going to places I haven't previously posted about. Mostly new places, and places some distance from Rochester.
But now and then you need to get back to basics, to the tried and true. So it was a few nights ago, when I went to Nino's on Culver Road. I've written about Nino's before, several times, but it had been years, which is far too long.
You can find some background information about Nino's in this post, so I won't go over that ground again. But owner Giacomo has been making his trademark focaccia and pizza in Rochester for close to four decades.
Nino's does not deliver, but that's a good thing, to me, because I enjoy going there. 
Why? Well, there's the place itself. If anybody ever wants to shoot a movie involving a scene in a pizzeria set in the 1970s or '80s, this would be a good choice. Not much has changed here since 1977, including the pizza.
That's not to say that Nino's hasn't kept up with the times. Giacomo showed me something on his smart phone, which was a generation or two ahead of mine. And I liked seeing an old model of one of Christopher Columbus's ships, of a style I remember from my teenage years (I'm referring to the model, not the ship) right next to the computer.
But I particularly love going into a place where the cooler still bears the logo of Like Cola. Obviously Nino's abides by the principle, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. And Nino's pizza doesn't need any fixing, any more than the cooler.
I got a medium pie, which was plenty for my daughter and me (my wife was not partaking on this occasion). Nino's standard pizza is thick, and that's what I went with, the standard. I've gotten thin-crust pizza from Nino's before, and liked it just fine, but a thicker, focaccia-style crust is what they know and do best, so I went with that.
I did not phone in my order, but instead ordered upon my arrival. I did that in part to give myself some time to chat with Giacomo, who remains as affable as ever. Having spoken to him at length before, we briefly touched on pizza-related matters, but soon moved on to current affairs and American history. I realized that Giacomo's knowledge extends well beyond pizza, and that he probably knows considerably more about our country than most native-born Americans, but after about 15 minutes I had to cut our conversation short, as the pizza was ready to go. I stuck it in my insulated pizza bag and rushed it home.
The crust was about an inch thick along the edge, a half to three quarters toward the center. It was well risen and breadlike.
The underside was browned, with some bubble spots. It was firm on the surface, and though not crisp, it had some surface bite, and was not oily. The interior was chewy and bready, and as befitting Nino's self-description as a "focacceria," it would've been well worth eating, unadorned. All pizza is, at some level, bread with toppings (leaving aside such deliberate oddities as cauliflower-crust pizza, ramen-crust pizza, etc.), and Nino's pizza exemplifies that.
Not that I mean to sell the toppings short. This pie was coated with a light layer of red sauce, which had slightly soaked into the crust, and smoothly melted mozzarella cheese. I'm more of a crust guy than a cheese guy, but the cheese is a real standout here. I'm never quite sure what's meant by that vague advertising term, "quality cheese," but if it means anything, this is quality cheese.
I don't usually go for meat-heavy pizza, but my daughter does, so I deferred to her preferences, and got sausage and meatballs. They were crisp on the outside, meaty on the inside, with a mild flavor, and despite my generally non-carnivorous leanings, a good complement to the other components.
As always, a very good pizza from Nino's. Having said that, I will add, in all candor, that this style may not be to everyone's liking. If your ideal pizza is thin and cracker-crisp, well, this isn't that. But I can only describe what I had, and give you my opinion.
And in my opinion, Nino's remains a local treasure. Nino's was making artisanal pizza before anybody around here had ever heard of the term. It deserves a spot on any local pizza lover's must-do list.

Nino's Pizzeria, 1330 Culver Rd., Rochester 14609
(585) 482-2264

Sun. - Thu. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 4 p.m. - midnight

Friday, October 14, 2016

Papa Roni's, Pavilion

Another road trip report here, from Pavilion, NY, which is about 35 miles SW of downtown Rochester, in Genesee County, at the crossroads of Routes 19 and 63. (And Pavilion itself pretty much consists of a crossroads.)
I'm into local history, and a little digging revealed that Pavilion was named after a hotel in Saratoga, NY. That seems a trifle odd to me, but I guess it must've been some hotel.
Like any good, small town, Pavilion has its pizzeria, Papa Roni's. I stopped a few weeks ago and picked up a couple of pepperoni slices.
The crust was thin, with a medium-brown, screen-marked bottom. It was firm, but not crisp. I'd call this crust "serviceable," in the sense that it sufficed as a base for the toppings, but in itself it was frankly nothing special. The cornicione was narrow and crunchy.
And the toppings were pretty good. These slices were relatively heavy on the sauce, which was tomatoey and a bit sweet. The cheese had melted into a uniform layer, and it straddled the line between chewy and gooey. The thin slices of pepperoni were fine, if unremarkable.
PapaRoni's offers small, large and sheet pizzas, with 18 toppings to choose from, and six specialty pizzas. They also do wings (10 sauces), subs, sandwiches, wraps, and fryer food, plus a Friday fish fry.
So my take on this pizza? OK crust. A little too flabby for my taste, but it had no significant defects.  The toppings were tasty and well balanced. The cheese was good but not great, and the overall combination of crust, cheese, sauce and pepperoni made for a decent slice. I enjoyed eating these, which is the bottom line. So I'd say these slices were more than the sum of their parts. A better crust, either more breadlike or more crisp, would make a big improvement, in my opinion, but these were good enough to warrant a stop in, if you're passing by.

PapaRoni's, 11090 S Lake Rd, Pavilion, New York

(585) 584-3170

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

Friday, September 30, 2016

Meisner's Deli, Attica

In my various wanderings, I stopped a few weeks ago at Meisner's Deli in Attica to pick up a couple of slices of pizza. I was in the area, and it was highly rated, from the reviews that I'd read.
Meisner's is a typical small-town deli, which is a lot different from what a resident of New York City would consider a deli. It's part grocery store, part pizza/wing/sub shop, with a modest selection of cheeses and cold cuts.
And these slices were pretty typical for this kind of place as well. The crust was uniformly brown underneath, not oily, but without much backbone. They were medium thick, but with a substantially thicker, wide cornicione. Some bread-like flavor, but my overall impression was that this was a fast-rising dough that hadn't developed much flavor or complexity.
The sauce was moderately applied, and had a sweet/salty flavor. The generous layer of mozzarella cheese had melted and congealed into a uniform blanket. A scattering of thin pepperoni slices rounded things out.
Meisner's offers pizza in 12- and 16-inch sizes, 17 toppings, and three specialty pizzas (white, taco and chicken finger). They also do burgers, hot and cold subs, wraps, salads, sides, wings and several desserts. Check out the menu here
Nothing to complain about here, all in all, but these particular slices were nothing special either. I wouldn't go out of my way to get this pizza, but I admit to having some fondness for this style. Every small town and village should have at least one pizzeria, and for Attica, Meisner's fills that niche. It's about what you would expect it to be, nothing more, nothing less.

Meisner's Deli & Sub, 231 Main St., Attica

(585) 591-0840

Mon. - Sat. 9 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., Sun. 1 - 6 p.m.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: The Ultimate Wood-Fired Oven Book

We've all got our mental lists of things to do. Some are chores: this week I've gotta mow the lawn, go to the dry cleaner, etc. Some are things we want, and actually plan, to do:  going to an upcoming event, perhaps, or trying that new pizza place that just opened up. And of course, there's the bucket list:  "If I live long enough, someday I will ___."
And then there's another list, that I'll call the fantasy list. It's the list of things you'd like to do, but that deep down you know you almost certainly never will.
I, for example, have a fantasy of someday visiting the Faroe Islands. (It would take too long to explain here.) I'm pretty sure I never will, but that doesn't stop me from daydreaming about it.
And that's more or less how I feel about a home wood-fired oven. I'd like to have one. Love one, in fact. But deep down, I know I don't have the combination of the means, desire and know-how to get it done.
But that doesn't mean I don't like thinking about it. That's why it's a fantasy. And who knows? Things could change. Maybe I'll finally get on Jeopardy!, win enough to pay off the mortgage and send our daughter to college, and still have enough left over to pay somebody to build me a state-of-the-art wood-fired oven, while I'm off hiking across the Faroes.
So I was happy to accept a review copy of the second edition of The Ultimate Wood-Fired Oven Book, from Schiffer Publishing. In its 144 pages, author Anna Carpenter addresses what you need to know about designing, building and using an outdoor wood-fired oven. It's got enough practical advice to guide you through the entire process, and enough eye candy to keep you amused, even if all you want to do is fantasize about what your dream oven might look like, someday.
The book is lavishly illustrated, with lots of full-color photographs. But those photos are accompanied by enough text to make this a useful guide to actually constructing a wood-fired oven.
Let's start with the text. The book is logically organized, starting with the anatomy of a wood-fired oven, and progressing through planning, materials, building and using your oven, as well as a chapter on tools and accessories that you'll want to keep handy once you start cooking.
Naturally, I zeroed in on the pizza recipe. Keeping in mind that this is not a cookbook, it's fine, as far as it goes. The dough recipe calls for a short two-hour rise (better to plan ahead and refrigerate the dough overnight) but it's good enough, as a basic quick recipe. And the instructions on baking the pizza are useful, but if you've taken the trouble to build a wood-fired oven, you'll want to learn more about mastering the art of wood-fired pizza.
One thing I found interesting is that the pizza recipe calls for applying fresh mozzarella in cubes, rather than round slices. I guess the idea is that the oven will be so hot that the cubes will quickly liquefy and spread out. I'll try that next time I make pizza.
As useful as the text is, the photos are the best feature of the book. They are varied enough to give the reader good ideas about how to place, design and build a wood-fired oven. Where I live right now, the spot I've picked out for my fantasy oven is right underneath a tree, which concerned me, but the photos in the book indicate that it might be very doable. (So there goes one of my excuses for not having built an oven yet.)
There are also photos and hand-drawn illustrations of the construction process, as well as cross-section diagrams of different types of wood-fired ovens. The latter include detailed specs identifying the particular components and their placement.
Even the photos that don't have any direct relevance to my situation, I found fun to look at. They run the gamut from relatively modest ovens, in a variety of settings, to behemoths worthy of a Roman emperor (speaking of which, there are some photos at the beginning of the book of an excavated oven in Pompeii, Italy, that show how little has changed in the basic design of wood-fired ovens over the past 2000 years).
If you're seriously considering installing a wood-fired oven at home, you'll want this book. I'm sure you'll want to consult some additional resources, too, but for its combination of how-to advice and inspiration, this volume is hard to beat. It might even get you to move "wood-fired oven" from your fantasy list to your bucket list.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pie Time, Lake Ave.

I stopped recently at Pie Time, just off Lake Avenue in Charlotte. The site has been home to several pizzerias over the years.
I got there around lunchtime, and a pie was just coming out of the oven. It was a half-cheese, half-pepperoni pie, and I opted for a slice of the latter.
First impressions. Pizza tends to be at its most aromatic when it's freshly baked, and with this one I caught a whiff of garlic. Overall, not a bad looking slice, at first glance at least.
A check of the underside revealed a couple of things. It was unevenly browned,with some areas dark brown and some pale.
The crust was also uneven in terms of thickness, as shown in the bottom photo. One side of the slice, paper thin, the other rather thick, probably close to an inch. Even on the thick side, though, it did not seem to have risen much; it wasn't dense, in a heavy, leaden kind of way, but it wasn't bubbly either. The interior was what I would describe as cottony.
The edge was formed into a cornicione of uniform thickness. It was browned on top, pale underneath, with a crunchy exterior. There was a smidgen of oven soot along one part of the underside.
On top, the cheese was a little browned and congealed. It was chewy, but not very smooth or stretchy.
There wasn't much sauce to speak of. What there was had a thick consistency, with a generous amount of dried herbs (although I can't say whether the herbs were in the sauce to begin with or were sprinkled on after the sauce was applied).
The cup and char pepperoni slices were well crisped along the edge, tasty and not overly oily.
Pie Time pizzas come in 10-, 12- and 16-inch sizes, as well as sheets. They offer 16 toppings. A cheese slice will set you back $3, not bad for a slice this big.
They also do wings, calzones, stromboli, subs and wraps, fish fry, "plates," a few dinners (chicken parm, spaghetti and meatballs and the like), and the usual sides:  fries, onion rings, etc. Although Pie Time's website still shows them opening at 3 p.m., the menu I picked up has them open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. As I mentioned, I got there around noon and a lunchtime pie was in the oven.
Reading back over what I've written, I get the sense that this review makes this slice sound worse than it was. I started with my first impressions, and I'll close with my overall impression. It wasn't bad, but there were a lot of flaws. No one defect stood out or ruined this slice for me, but put all the little stuff together and you've got a slice that just wasn't too good. I have to give this a D.

Pie Time, 4410 Lake Ave.
434-4766 (phone) 434-5464 (fax)

Open daily 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Arthur Jaxon

I stopped the other day at Arthur Jaxon, a new, family-run place on West Ridge Road. It's in a small stand-alone building in West Ridge Plaza, a little west of Dewey Ave. It's pretty much a takeout place, for now at least.
The establishment's full name is Arthur Jaxon Slice & Scoop, which reflects its two main offerings:  pizza and ice cream. On this occasion, I only sampled the pizza.
They had plain cheese and pepperoni slices available; I opted for the former. For $2.50, it was a pretty hefty slice.
The crust was generally on the thin side, with a lightly browned bottom, crisscrossed by screen marks. The interior had a pleasant, fresh-bread aroma, flavor and texture, which was most noticeable in the thicker area near the outer edge. It wasn't as crisp as I would've liked -- a couple minutes' reheating would likely have helped on that score -- but it tasted good, and it wasn't soggy.
Balance is key with pizza, and the crust, sauce and cheese on this slice complemented each other well. The sauce had a bright, tomatoey flavor, with a salty edge. A moderate layer of processed mozzarella was well melted and creamy. It was good cheese, as the individual bits had melted into each other to form a smooth whole, rather than pulling apart and exuding oil, as the lower-quality stuff tends to do. Pockets of exposed sauce added some interest with each bite.
Arthur Jaxon offers pizza in 14", 18" and sheet sizes, with an impressive variety of options:  white or whole wheat crust; red, pink or white sauce; four cheeses; ten meat toppings; eleven veggie toppings; and eight specialty pizzas. They also do baked chicken fingers and boneless wings (five sauces), calzones, a few other baked sides, and the aforementioned ice cream. The ice cream comes from Perry's, which I love, as I've said before.
This was a good slice of pizza. If I have any issues with it, it would just be that I'd have liked the crust a little crisper. Next time I'd ask for my slice to get rewarmed to medium-well. All in all, though, a very nice slice, and well-made pizza. Arthur Jaxon is off to a good start on what I hope will be a long-running business.

Arthur Jaxon Slice & Scoop, 630 West Ridge Rd. (in West Ridge Plaza)

(585) 581-0222

Open daily 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Rohrbach, Railroad Street

Rohrbach Brewing Company is best known as the granddaddy of Rochester's craft brewers, dating back to its original location in the German House, but their food is not to be overlooked. Their brewpub on Buffalo Road offers a full menu highlighted by beer-friendly German specialties, and it's also one of the few places in the Rochester area where you can get a decent beef on weck.
This past spring, Rohrbach opened its new Railroad Street Beer Hall at its primary production facility near the Rochester Public Market. The food menu at the Beer Hall is different from (and for now, at least, considerably shorter than) the brewpub's menu, but it does offer one thing you won't find at the brewpub:  wood-fired pizza.
I recently joined a friend there for dinner, and we each got a pizza. Our choices were:  the Rohrbach Classic, with red sauce, a three-cheese blend, and pepperoni; Sausage & Pepper (red sauce, sausage, pepper, red onion, and shredded mozzarella); Caprese (basil pesto sauce, fresh mozzarella, and sliced tomato); Jalapeno Bacon (garlic-Parmesan sauce, sliced jalapeno, bacon, and shredded mozzarella); and that evening's special, which had an Asian-sounding theme involving Sriracha and oranges. It sounded like it might be good, but I was looking for something a little more traditional, so I ordered the Sausage & Pepper, while my companion got the Classic.
Our dinner-plate-size pizzas had a very thin crust.  Mine was a little puffier around the edge. The undersides were browned in spots, but not charred, and the surface was uniformly smooth, with little sign of any bubbling in the dough.
The dough didn't seem to have risen much, and the crust, while not bad, was not terribly interesting either. It was on the chewy side, not particularly crisp, nor breadlike. It also lacked the toasty, smoky notes that I look for in a wood-fired crust. Just a guess, but I suspect that the oven wasn't quite as hot as it could've been. The pies were considerably browner along the edge than underneath, which further suggests that the oven deck wasn't terribly hot.
On the plus side, my Sausage and Pepper pie had good flavor overall, with a slightly sweet red sauce accented by small chunks of mild Italian sausage and peperoncini slices. The mozzarella cheese was browned but still appropriately gooey.
I tried a slice of my companion's pie, and it was indeed a classic pepperoni pizza, with a uniform blanket of cheese and crisp, spicy cup & char pepperoni slices. I liked my pizza well enough, but I actually preferred the Classic, which was a basic but tasty "bar" pie.
The food menu at the Beer Hall comprises four pizzas, three salads, warm pretzels, and wood-fired cookies (which sounds intriguing), as well as nightly specials. Aside from their extensive lineup of craft beer, Rohrbach also offers house-brewed root beer and orange cream soda, and Pepsi products. The space is attractive, with high ceilings, brick walls, and long communal tables; think German bierstube, but with an industrial-chic look.
Getting back to the pizza, I found a lot to like about these, but I wasn't crazy about the crust. It served well enough as a base for the toppings, which were quite good, and in general I enjoyed the pizza. With a little work on that crust, these could be truly outstanding pizzas. These, I'll give a B, on the strength of their overall flavor.

Rohrbach Railroad Street Beer Hall

97 Railroad St, Rochester

(585) 546-8020

Wed. & Thu. 4 p.m. - 10 p.m.

Fri. 2 p.m. - 10 p.m.
Sat. 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Closed Sun. - Tue.

Brewery tours on Saturdays hourly from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The Alley, Rochester

While the number of local pizzerias seems to be holding fairly steady, pizza as a menu item is popping up all the time. One recent example is The Alley, a restaurant/bar/nightclub in Rochester's East End.
The Alley, which opened in December 2015, is . It's at 1 Ryan Alley, near the corner of East and Alexander. After I spotted an ad for The Alley trumpeting its pizza, I made a mental note to get there, which I did a few weeks ago with my daughter.
We went on a Wednesday, arriving around 6 p.m. That's kind of early in the week, and early in the evening, for the East End, so unsurprisingly, things were pretty quiet when we walked in. In fact, it was empty, save for one employee behind the bar. But he assured me that they were open, and yes, they were serving food, including pizza. So we got a table near the window.
After handing us our menus, he explained that they were unexpectedly shorthanded that night, so at the moment, he constituted the entire staff -- bartender, waiter, and chef. Since we were the only customers, I didn't mind; if nothing else, this would truly be personalized service.
Pizzas at The Alley come in three sizes:  personal, regular and large. I got a regular Margherita, and my daughter ordered a personal meat lovers.
While we waited for our pizzas to arrive, we shared an appetizer of arancini. At The Alley, these fried rice balls are filled with Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese, and served with a side of marinara sauce. They were crisp on the outside, moist inside, tasty and enjoyable. So far, so good.
Our pizzas arrived in due course, and as I usually do, I first checked the underside. It was quite pale. Not a good sign.
Further inspection confirmed that the crust was rather underdone. Not raw, but flabby and a little gummy. "Lifeless" might best describe it.
I could've sent it back to bake a while longer, but the cheese was already well browned, so that didn't seem like a viable option. And I could've just sent it back, period. But I didn't, partly because I was intending to review it, so I figured I'd stick with what I had, and partly because it passed my "good enough to eat" threshold.
The overall flavor wasn't bad. This was really more of a cheese pizza than a Margherita, but as such, it was decent. The sauce had a thin consistency, but the chunks of tomato provided some acidity, sweetness and moisture. The cheese was ample, albeit rather browned, as I mentioned. My pie had also been given a sprinkling of what I'm guessing was Parmesan (the powdery kind you get from a cheese shaker, not freshly grated). Alas, the basil was of the dry variety, and didn't add much flavor, which is why I say this was more of a simple cheese pizza than a true Margherita.
The crust on my daughter's meat lover's pie was relatively thick, which is one reason I generally don't order personal-size pizza. Because of its smaller diameter, the cornicione on a personal pizza takes up a greater proportion of the overall pie than it would on a larger pie. I enjoy a good cornicione, but I like the thinner crust in the center of the pie too, and you often don't get much of that with a small pizza. This isn't a universal rule, by any means, but I've often found it to be the case, and it was here.
The crust on my daughter's pie was also on the underdone side, but that seemed less noticeable with hers, perhaps because of its more abundant toppings, which were pretty good. The pepperoni was crisp along the edges, and the meatball and sausage bits were thick and chunky. In contrast to my pizza, the mozzarella on hers was not browned, but was well melted and stretchy.
A few minutes after bringing out our pizzas, the waiter came by to check on us. I am sometimes susceptible in that situation to the American practice of smiling, nodding, and saying that everything's fine, even when it isn't, and I might've fallen prey to that this time, except that he specifically asked about the crusts on our pizza. So we did let him know that they were underdone. He seemed to have suspected as much, and after apologizing, he told us that he was taking 15% off our bill.
We didn't finish either pizza at this sitting, but I did take the leftovers home. I was able to salvage them for lunch, reheating individual slices in a toaster oven, with a layer of foil on top to prevent the cheese from getting overdone. That at least crisped up the bottoms a bit.
Obviously, something went wrong here. I'm no expert, but it seems likely to me that these were baked in an oven that was too cool on the bottom, but hot up above. I'm guessing the oven hadn't been on for very long, and was not sufficiently preheated.
So no, this was not very good pizza. But having said that, I did appreciate our waiter's concern. In hindsight, it might have been better if he had told us at the start that they weren't quite prepared to do pizza, but maybe he honestly didn't realize. I think he tried to do the best he could, under the circumstances.
Frankly, I debated with myself and a couple of other people, whose opinions I value, about whether to post this review, or whether to go back a second time, or to contact the establishment. Ultimately, I decided just to post the review, as is. In the end, this blog remains a record of my pizza experiences. If I describe those experiences accurately and objectively--and I think I have--the reader can decide what to make of it.
So I end this post with that caveat. This is a review of two pizzas, and one visit. Maybe on a different occasion--a different day of the week, or a different time of day, or with more people on staff--the pizza would have proved much better. But this was not too good. I have no complaints about our service, but I think I need to give this pizza a D.

The Alley,1 Ryan Alley, Rochester
(585) 546-1010

Tue. - Sat. 4 p.m. til ?

Friday, August 5, 2016


We have a winner! Dave B., who sent me an email on July 29, is the winner of a $25 gift card from Empire Pizza. Dave, I'll need your mailing address, so please send that to me at and I'll see that your card gets out to you soon. Thank you to everyone who responded and to Ken at Empire Pizza for this donation.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Product Review: PaperChef Culinary Parchment Cooking Bags

As a regular home baker, I use parchment paper quite often. I have some reusable parchment sheets, and I try to keep a roll of the disposable kind on hand. I find it particularly useful for transferring to the oven pizza and bread, especially those made from high-hydration, wet doughs, which can be very sticky and difficult to handle.
I've also enjoyed restaurant dishes prepared "en papillote," i.e., cooked in parchment. The idea is to cook the food in its own juices, steaming the food without losing flavor. This method also does not generally require the addition of oil or butter.
Using regular parchment sheets, this is usually accomplished by employing two sheets, and crimping the edges to form a seal. I tried this once at home, with mixed results. As I recall, the pouch I'd created leaked, and I ended up with a pool of liquid on the underlying baking sheet. Since then, I've gone back to using parchment strictly for sliding bread and pizza into the oven.
But I was recently offered a free review sample of  PaperChef Culinary Parchment Cooking Bags. These are actual bags, made of parchment paper, designed for cooking en papillote.
I tried them for salmon and asparagus, which is something of a classic dish using this method. About ten minutes in the oven at 400 degrees, and the result was very good, with moist, flaky salmon and asparagus that was cooked through but still bright green and crunchy. And happily, no mess, no leakage. (As my wife told me, a little too late, I should've gotten a photo of the finished dish. My bad.)
I haven't tried it yet, but PaperChef recommends using these on the grill as well. The bags should not be exposed to a direct flame, so they suggest placing them on a metal tray or pan, and making sure the temperature does not exceed 425. But it seems like a natural for one of my all-time favorite foods, corn on the cob (especially because I've never been a big fan of roasted corn on the cob -- to me, that just dries it out and makes it too chewy). Not only will the bags allow your food to steam in its own juices, but you'll avoid having the food absorb or impart unwanted flavors from or to whatever else is on the grill at the same time.
On PaperChef's website, you'll find a useful video demonstrating the technique of en papillote cooking, as well as a bunch of recipes utilizing both their cooking bags and their other products, like regular tear-off parchment paper and parchment baking cups. I'll be trying some of those recipes soon, and I'm happy to have added one more arrow to my culinary sling.
PaperChef bags are available at online and brick-and-mortar retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada. Go to their "Where to Buy" page for more information.

Empire Pizza Update and $25 Giveaway

Empire Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
I recently had lunch with a longtime reader, Craig Ephraim, at Empire Pizza, which serves New York-style pizza from its shop on Empire Boulevard. Yesterday I published a guest post by Craig, which you can see here.
I got a couple of slices. From the eight pies available, I selected a meatball Parmesan slice and a white slice with spinach, tomato and ricotta. Both were very good.
The crusts were a shade thicker than some New York pizza I've had, but still within the general parameters of the style. The undersides were well darkened, to the point of charring on the white slice.
Texturally, these were right on the mark. The bottom surface was dry to the touch and crackly, but the interior was chewy. When folded, the slices cracked but did not break. The thin corniciones were bubbly and crisp.
Both slices were also quite tasty. I loved the meatball parm's combination of meatball chunks, cheese, red sauce, and the all-important garlic. The white slice was a close cousin to Margherita pizza, with spinach and ricotta standing in for basil and fresh mozzarella. Both slices had been given a generous sprinkling of dried oregano.
Two slices are generally more than adequate for me, at lunchtime, at least if I hope to get any work done that afternoon, but owner Ken Fournier was kind enough to bring over a slice of one of Empire's latest creations, a BLT pizza. It's topped with ranch sauce, bits of real bacon, sliced tomatoes, and freshly shredded lettuce. I've liked BLTs since childhood, and the flavor here pretty much nailed it. My only caveat would be that this would best be eaten soon after it's made, while the lettuce is still crunchy, as it was here. In other words, this might not make for great leftover pizza the next morning, by which time the lettuce will have wilted. So eat it up when you get it.
I won't bother to recite Empire's entire menu, since you can peruse it here, but I'll give you the quick rundown: NY style pies (12", 14" and 18"), Sicilian pizza in half and full sheets, 22 toppings, and 11 specialty pizzas. They also do baked wings, salads, calzones and garlic twists.
If you haven't been to Empire pizza lately, keep in mind that they moved across the street in 2015. They are now in Sunrise Plaza, which is on the east side of Empire Boulevard.
So about that giveaway. Ken also generously agreed to donate a $25 gift card to one lucky reader.  By now, you probably know the routine. Send an email to me at, by noon, next Friday, August 5. Be sure to put "Empire" in the subject line. I'll choose a winner at random that afternoon. My thanks again to Ken and Empire Pizza for this donation.

Empire Pizza, 1778 Empire Blvd. (Sunrise Plaza)

(585) 347-4050

Tue. - Thu. 11 - 8, Fri. 11 - 9, Sat. 11 - 8, Sun. noon - 8
(Closed Mondays)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Guest Post: New Haven Pizza

(Pizza Guy note: in a divergence from past practice, I have agreed to publish a guest post. Craig Ephraim has been a faithful follower of this blog, and its associated Facebook page, for many years. I knew from some of his previous comments and inquiries that he is not only knowledgeable on the subject of pizza, but a particular devotee of New Haven (Ct.) pizza, which is reputed to be among the best in the country. Sadly, I have not been there, but when Craig told me he'd recently taken a pilgrimage to New Haven, I readily agreed to publish his account here. The only alterations I have made are the addition of links to the pizzerias he references.)

Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting the Rochester Pizza Guy. As a subscriber and fan of his for years, we would occasionally discuss my love of New Haven (CT) pizza and my ongoing search to find similar pizza in the Rochester area. As we had lunch (pizza, of course!), he asked me more about what makes New Haven pizza different. He was kind enough to agree to let me put my thoughts down as a post in his blog.
I grew up in the New Haven, CT area, so I may be biased. But, it seems that many of the “Top Pizzerias in America” lists agree with me – New Haven pizza is the best in the country. There are a few characteristics of New Haven “apizza” (pronounced “abeets”) that set it apart. As a style of Neapolitan pizza, it starts with a thin crust. But, this pizza is traditionally cooked in brick ovens fired by COAL! You see, the most famous pizzerias in New Haven made their debut in the 1920s, as southern Italian families immigrated to the Wooster Square area of New Haven, aka: “Little Italy”. Coal was cheap and plentiful back then, and proved to be a successful way to make the ideal pizza pie, as it allowed the ovens to heat to very high temperatures of at least 650degF. The crusts come out firm, yet flexible, chewy, and charred (not burned!) on top and bottom. The dough is made such that bubbles form during the cooking process. While the cornicione has a modest crunch, the pizza requires folding to handle. Some believe that the coal may actually add some flavor to the crust, but I’m not sure I agree, as the coal is used below the surface of the oven, not inside the oven as with wood-fired pizza. Check out the pile of coal in Sally’s kitchen!
New Haven pizza is also a bit messy, topped by a fine layer of “mootz” (as mozzarella is pronounced here) only upon request! A “regular” pie has tomato sauce only! It also traditionally has a decent amount of oil. Be prepared to burn the roof of your mouth on that first bite! The topping options are also what we have discovered sets New Haven apart from other areas of the country. Whereas the typical Rochester pizza joint uses “precooked” bacon, usually cut into very small pieces, New Haven pizzerias start with UNCOOKED bacon in large 1-1.5in strips. Yup! Uncooked! If you love bacon (who doesn’t?!?) you will absolutely LOVE the way these pies come out of these hot ovens. The bacon cooks just enough to give a good feel in your mouth and between your teeth, and the bacon fat renders right onto the slice, making a bacon pie even a little bit sloppier! Get your napkins ready! Check out this bacon pie from Modern Apizza. My mouth is watering!

While bacon is our “go-to pie”, another classic New Haven pizza is the White Clam pizza. While most places start with canned clams, Pepe’s and Modern use fresh littleneck clams, and Pepe’s actually shucks their clams on-site! A traditional white pie with garlic, olive oil, and parmesan cheese, the addition of salty clam pieces make for a gastronomical party in your mouth. I *have* been able to find a couple places in the Rochester area that have a white clam pie, but not on this crust. The combination is award-winning. Don’t believe me? Google it. Check out this white clam from The Spot. Unfortunately, we were so anxious to eat it, that we took a couple bites before the picture was snapped!

These pictures were all taken in May, 2016, when my dad, brother, nephew and I had our second “Pizza Pilgrimage”. This one was in New Haven, our home turf. The first one was in Brooklyn, where, while we enjoyed pizzas at “famous” Brooklyn pizzerias like DiFara’s, Lucali’s, and Totonno’s, we all agreed that New Haven pizza is better than all of them. Again, biased? Maybe. But, check out where places rank in the “best of” lists:

Pepe’s Pizzeria Napoletana, established 1925. The original Pepe’s is now called “The Spot”, and is located right next door to the “new” Pepe’s. In fact, they share a parking lot.

Modern Apizza, established 1934. While Modern’s ovens were originally “coke-fueled”, they are now open flame, oil-fueled brick oven.

Sally’s Appiza, established 1938. Sally’s is known for a “no-frills experience”. Although the service has gotten better with new ownership, don’t be surprised if your waiter throws the pie down on the table and grumbles when your phone is in the way. And, don’t look at the floor or the “bathroom”. You’re there for the pizza.

There are others in the New Haven area that some people claim can be added to this list. We tried a couple of them again during this latest pilgrimage. But, they just don’t compare to this trio.

We all agree that Modern is the best. Sally’s is close (if you can ignore the service), and Pepe’s and The Spot are still better than any other pizza you will try.

Thanks to the Rochester Pizza Guy’s awesome reviews, I have tried out a BUNCH of places in the area that I was hoping would recreate the New Haven experience, or at least come close. While places like Pizza Stop, Fiamma, Tony D’s, and Joe’s Brooklyn (extra-large slices only) come close, they all fail to satisfy the craving for traditional New Haven style apizza I get every time I think of home.

Friday, July 22, 2016

La Paloma, Alden

La Paloma Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Always on the lookout for pizzerias I haven't been to, I stopped recently at La Paloma in Alden, which is about an hour west of Rochester. No, I didn't drive all that way just to go to La Paloma. I happened to be in the area, and I was hungry, so when I saw that magic word, "Pizzeria," well, ...
I got two pepperoni slices. They were average size, and what I'd call medium to thick. The undersides had a pancake-like appearance, but were reasonably crisp and not oily to the touch. The crust was OK, with a nice chew and a hint of fresh bread in the aroma. The cornicione was crunchy, with a toasty flavor.
The slices were topped with a fairly thick layer of mozzarella, which was nicely melted, if a bit congealed. It was applied in good proportion to the thick crust. The sauce, however, seemed to get a little lost between the crust and the cheese. To the extent that I could taste it, it seemed like a pretty basic, mildly flavored tomato sauce, a little sweet but not overly so. The pepperoni was fine, if unremarkable. A faint hint of oregano on my palate rounded things out.
La Paloma's menu includes pizza, pasta, subs, wings, and salads. No specialty pizzas, but they do offer 18 pizza toppings, and white or red sauce.
"Square" pizza seems to be something of a specialty at La Paloma. Their website says that they are "the only place in town to get 4 different size square pizza's [sic] if you like a thick crust square is the way to go."
I just stopped in for a couple of slices, so I chose from what was available, none of which was square. Even these were on the thick side, so presumably the square pizzas are quite thick indeed. But they do emphasize that they can make whatever kind of pizza you'd like. I quote again from their website:

Pizza made the old fashioned way, hand tossed using a recipe that has been handed down through the family for years. Do you like a thin New York City style crust or is a deep dish, thick crust pizza your preference? Is it cheese and pepperoni, or fresh veggies, white or traditional? Square or round, small, or large spicy cup and char pepperoni or traditional? No matter what your taste LaPaloma's will make it your way.

If I lived closer to Alden, I'd go back before long and try some of those other styles. But I don't, so I'll have to satisfy myself with these, which weren't bad at all. I'd characterize this as straightforward, basic WNY pizza, and there's nothing wrong with that. 

LaPaloma Pizzeria
13268 Broadway
Alden, NY 14004

Phone: 716-937-9151

Tue.- Fri: 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.
Saturday: 3:00 - 9:00
Sunday 1:00 - 8:00
Lunch Hour Specials Tue. - Fri.,11 am - 1:30 pm

Twitter @lapalomapizza
Instagram @lapalomapizza