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Friday, February 26, 2016

Letchworth Pines

After driving by it countless times, I finally stopped into Letchworth Pines recently. It's just south of Letchworth State Park, where I hike now and then. From the sign out in front, I've known for a long time that they serve pizza, but I've just never had a good opportunity to stop in. By the time I'm done with a hike, I generally want to get home and take a shower.
This past Valentine's Day, though, I was returning home with my wife and daughter from visiting my mom, who lives in the Southern Tier. And it was about lunchtime, so this gave me the opportunity I was looking for.
Letchworth Pines is a bar/restaurant/bowling alley, the kind of place you find in places like Portageville, which, at least to an outsider, seems like more of a dot on the map than an actual community.
But clearly there is a community around here, as evidenced by the number of vehicles in the parking lot when we pulled in at about 1 p.m. Obviously there was some truth, at least that day, to Letchworth Pines' slogan on their website, that it's "the place to go ... when you're going out!"
On entering, I found a large room with a long bar along the far wall, a pool table to the right, and a raised dining area to our left. Off in the distance came the sounds of the bowling alley, which is separate from but adjoins the bar.
There were a few patrons at the bar, and a group of people in matching t-shirts shooting pool. The place had a countryish feel, with wood paneling (pine, I presume) throughout. Several large flat-screen TVs behind the bar were showing college basketball. We seated ourselves at a booth near the front window.
As you can see here, Letchworth Pines' pizza menu is not terribly extensive, but they do offer pizza in several sizes, and there are several "gourmet" pies available. I kept it simple, going with a small pizza with pepperoni and banana peppers. My wife and daughter opted for non-pizza items.
My small pizza (which could easily have been denominated a "medium") was medium thick, with a lightly browned underside. The crust was firm on the surface, with a soft interior, pliable, with a light "chew," but not floppy.
The toppings were basic but OK, with an adequate layer of nicely melted mozzarella, and a scattering of thin, slightly crisp pepperoni. The tomato sauce was generic but serviceable. My only complaint in the toppings department was that the banana pepper slices were a little skimpy and dried out. Not really worth the extra buck-twenty-five.
In all, our meal was pretty good, basic bar food. My wife's wings were meaty and crisp (a little too crisp for her taste, but I like them that way), and my daughter's "double meat" burger, with two patties, was appropriately charred, with just a little surface grease. The skin-on french fries were not  exactly crisp, but they weren't limp, and they had a reasonably good potato flavor.
Bottom line, this was decent pizza, nothing special, but OK. I don't know where the dough came from but it seemed to have been stretched, if not made, in house. Call it average, overall. The place itself was nice enough, an obvious gathering spot for local individuals, groups and families. And though we didn't avail ourselves of it this time, you've gotta love the bowling alley. I'll save it for my next visit.

Letchworth Pines, 6985 Fillmore Rd. (Rt. 19A, just south of Rt. 436), Portageville, NY 14536
(585) 468-2166
Sun.-Wed. noon - 10 p.m., Thu.-Sat. noon - 2 a.m.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Uno Pizzeria & Grill, Henrietta

Uno Chicago Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
I don't often go to chain pizzerias, and I don't make it a point to review them. It's not simple prejudice; I just figure, reviewing a chain pizzeria is like reviewing McDonald's. Unless you just arrived from Mars, you already know what it's like, and there are scores if not hundreds of sites where you can get other people's reviews.
At the same time, this blog is a record of my pizza-eating experiences in the Rochester area. And I recently had occasion to dine on pizza at Uno Pizzeria & Grill in Henrietta, so I figured, why not do a review?
I was with a group of friends, and we shared two pizzas, as well as some sides. We got a "Numero Uno," topped with sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and chunky tomato sauce, and mozzarella and Romano cheese. We also got a "Farmers Market" pie, with caramelized onions, spinach, sun-dried and plum tomatoes, eggplant, pesto, feta, mozzarella and Romano.
I thought about pushing for one of Uno's flatbread pizzas, but decided against it. I may go back and try it sometime, but this time around I wanted to stick with what their signature style.
As always, the starting point for me is the crust. There wasn't much difference between the two, so I'll describe it in the singular. The crust was more crunchy than chewy. It clearly had been made with some shortening--in other words, fat--but it was not oily or greasy. It was reminiscent of a pot-pie crust, only thicker and a little airier.
Which is not to say that I didn't like it. I don't want to get into the debate about whether deep-dish pizza is really pizza, or a casserole, but this crust had a nice light crunch, and made a good base for the toppings.
I can't claim to judge how good these were as Chicago deep-dish pizza, given my limited experience with the style. I'm not even sure that Chicagoans prefer it over Chicago thin-crust pizza. I think a lot of Chicagoans defend it, as a matter of honor, but also look at it as a style that's largely what tourists get, while the natives are enjoying thin-crust pizza.
All that aside, I liked this. As thick as it was, the crust wasn't dense, and it had a good mouthfeel:  a little crunchy, but not brittle or crumbly.
The toppings were good as well. I have an aversion to both mushrooms and eggplant (it's a texture thing), but I was willing to overlook that in deference to my compadres. I just tried to pick the slices without so much of either.
Both pies had a thick layer of well-melted cheese, and the other toppings were evenly balanced. The spinach leaves on the Farmers Market pie were wilted but not burned, and the sliced tomatoes were softened but not overly dried. And both pies had an appealing mix of flavors.
So both pies were pretty good. Despite my disdain for chain restaurants, that doesn't surprise me. I presume that Uno hasn't been as successful as it has without having done its research. They know what people like and what they don't, and they know how to replicate what people like, in multiple locations, with consistency.
I was a little surprised to learn that Uno's dough is made in house, as opposed to being shipped in from a central location. Of course it's made according to a recipe dictated by the corporation, but it was interesting to know that they don't simply get a truckload of dough every morning. The dough is made on site, and refrigerated overnight.
For what it does, Uno does a good job. I don't see it as a threat to local pizzerias, because deep-dish pizza will never take hold here as a dominant style, plus Uno simply has a different business model: it's primarily a casual chain restaurant, not a pizzeria.They've got the formula down, and they follow it well.
A grade? I think a B is appropriate here. This wasn't exceptionally good pizza, but it was enjoyable, and Uno is worth going to, if you're in the mood for this style. So a B it is.

Uno Pizzeria & Grill, 1000 Hylan Drive (across from Marketplace Mall)
Henrietta, NY 14467

fax: 585-272-8719

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Pizza Stop: an Old Favorite, and Something New

The Pizza Stop Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Through a combination of circumstances, I recently went for over a week with no pizza. But after literally dreaming about pizza several times over that time, I knew it was time for a pizza fix.
And I knew it was time to get back to The Pizza Stop, one of my go-to places for great pizza. I've mostly been going to new places lately, which has meant neglecting some old favorites. But I can only stay away from them for so long.
When I walked in the door, I wasn't sure what to get, aside from a plain cheese slice. When I'm craving pizza, a plain cheese slice is still what I want.
But I was hungry enough for a second slice. I was initially inclined to get a Sicilian slice, but on the spur of the moment I got a slice of a more recent creation, a sweet-chili chicken and bacon slice.
I went back and forth between them, but started first on the latter. Both slices displayed the crust that puts The Pizza Stop among my top tier of local pizzerias. Thin, crackly yet pliable, with some interior chewiness, and with some charring underneath, but no burnt areas. If the room had been quieter, or if my hearing were better, I probably could've heard the crust cracking as I folded it. It's a classic New York slice, which to me is as good as it gets.
The chicken slice was generously laden with toppings, but not enough to overwhelm the crust, which still passed the "fold test." The drizzled-on sauce had a complex flavor, with sweet, smoky and spicy-hot notes. It well complemented the chunks of chicken and the crisp bacon bits.
Obviously, this is not for minimalist, pizza purists. But one thing to like about The Pizza Stop is that in addition to their classic pies, they're always trying out new combinations. Owner Jim Staffieri told me that coming up with ideas for new toppings and combinations is pretty much an ad lib process; "ideas just come." From there, it's a matter of gauging customer response.
As I mentioned, I went back and forth between these slices, but I saved the bulk of my bites for the cheese slice. To me, a plain cheese slice is the ultimate NY style pizza.
I will confess to having squeezed a bit of hot sauce between the cheese and the cornicione. I did the same, with sriracha, on the chicken slice. Pizza purists may take issue with that, but it's the eater's prerogative to doctor the slice any way you'd like, and I enjoy the extra kick that a squirt of hot sauce adds to the otherwise naked crust. That's why you see that red ring on the cheese slice.
Which was as good as ever. There's not much I can say about it that I haven't said before. When I'm eating a Pizza Stop slice, I could well be sitting somewhere in NYC. Crackly crust, well melted cheese, and just the right amount of tomatoey sauce to balance it all out.
If you haven't been there in a while, don't forget that The Pizza Stop has moved just up the street into bigger quarters. There's plenty of seating, they've also added a well-chosen selection of draft beer, and they've extended their hours of operation. In short, there's no reason not to go there, soon.

The Pizza Stop
131 State Street
Rochester, New York 14614

(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.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Perfect Pizza Baking Surface, Found.

As I suspect is true of more than a few of my readers, I not only love to eat pizza, I love to bake it at home. And an ongoing quest among home pizza bakers is to find the ultimate cooking surface, on which to bake your pizza, so as to come as close as possible to what you would get from a professional oven.
For some time now, I've been using unglazed quarry tiles. I liked them a lot, and in fact I've recommended them here before. But -- I'll spare you the details -- I recently had to use them to elevate my new water heater off my basement floor. So it was time for a new solution.
If I could have, I simply would've replaced those tiles; they worked very well. But the place where I'd bought them no longer sold them, and I could find no easy source for new ones. It appeared that I could order a box of 50 from a big-box store for about $50, which would essentially give me a lifetime supply, but I thought, there has to be a better way.
One of the latest materials to come into vogue for a home-oven baking surface is steel. It conducts and retains heat well, it doesn't absorb moisture, it won't crack, and is supposed to produce tremendous results.
It's easy enough to find these online. But the cost can run to well over $100, before shipping. You can find cheaper ones, but they're typically thin. I've seen one online that's only $30, but if I read the description correctly, it's one-tenth of an inch thick. You may as well use an aluminum cookie sheet.
At some point, and it may have prompted by something I read during my research, it occurred to me that it should be possible to get a steel plate custom-made, for a lot less than what those "baking" plates are going for.
After a little more research, I discovered SMC Metal.  It's a locally owned and operated company at the corner of Mt. Read Boulevard and Buffalo Road. You can read about what they do here, but in short, they're metal fabricators.
I called and asked if they could cut me a half-inch-thick, 15 by 15 inch piece of steel. Yes, they could. How much? Thirty-five, plus tax.
I went over, watched them cut it, and 20 minutes later walked out with my steel. It came to $37.80.
During the cutting process, which involves a band-type blade, a water-based solution is washed over the steel, to keep it from overheating. So when I got it home, I washed it down thoroughly with soap and water, then put it in a hot oven for an hour. I figure, steel is not going to absorb chemicals, the way that clay or stone might, so after a good thorough washing I felt pretty confident that it was clean and free of harmful chemicals.
Then it was time to test it out. I went with a pissaladiere, which is kind of a southern French take on pizza. My version was not entirely authentic (for one thing, I didn't use anchovies), but the point is, the crust was fantastic. I heated the oven to the max (550), for an hour, with the steel on the middle rack, and in under eight minutes (it might've been less, I don't recall) the underside was crisp and charred. The crust had risen nicely, and this was a quick, throw-together dough, that I had made in just a few hours.
I haven't baked on it since then, but I have noticed how well the steel retains heat. The other night my wife baked something in the oven, with the steel in there (though she didn't bake it directly on the steel) and two hours later the steel was still too hot to touch. That tells me that this is perfect for baking multiple pizzas. In the past, I've had issues with successive pizza bottoms coming out more and more pale, as the tiles and oven cooled, but I don't see that happening with this. This thing stays HOT. Part of that, I assume, is from the half-inch thickness.
One thing I was a little concerned with was whether SMC would consider such a small job almost more trouble than it's worth. I assume most of their work is more on an industrial scale. But they assured me that no, they didn't mind it at all. They do plenty of small jobs. And when I explained what I wanted this for, one of the employees turned out to be a home baker, who was planning to make a pizza-stuffed bread for his Super Bowl party. He wasn't at all surprised by why I wanted this.  So I think they'd be happy to have the business, if you want to order something similar.
My only other advice would be to measure your oven so you get the dimensions right. I tried to allow at least an inch around all sides of this plate, to allow the air in the oven to circulate well. And be aware that it is heavy. I imagine a smaller thickness would work fine, but again, I think a thicker plate will retain heat better, so I wanted to go big. And the way I look at it, I'll never need to replace this baby. I'm set.

SMC Metal, 95 Mt. Read Blvd. (at Buffalo Rd.)

(585) 328-7550

Mon. - Fri. 7:30 - 4:30

Monday, February 1, 2016

Back to Fiamma

As regular readers of this blog will surely know, Fiamma on Buffalo Road has been one of my favorites since my first visit there in October 2012. So it didn't take any arm-twisting to get me to accept an invitation for my wife and me to join two friends there for dinner on New Year's Eve.
After being seated, we shared some appetizers, a Caprese salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella, and a plate of mussels in a spicy tomato sauce. They were very good, but I did not want to overdo it on the antipasti, or the complimentary bread, because I was saving room for the pizza.
Fiamma is not just a pizzeria; it's a full-service restaurant, and they offer several pasta, meat and fish dishes. I don't doubt that those are very good, but I simply can't bring myself not to order pizza when I'm there.
I was leaning toward the Montanara pizza, which is topped with sliced potatoes, among other things, but instead - maybe it was the festive holiday mood - I decided to try the stella, which is unique among Fiamma's pizzas. The crust is formed into an eight-pronged star, and each prong is wrapped around a nugget of smoked buffalo mozzarella. The whole pie is topped with mozzarella, olives, sausage, arugula and cherry tomatoes.
The pizza was so pretty, I hated to cut into it. But after taking the leftovers home, I realized that the individual slices made for very nice Christmas-tree-shaped pizza.
The toppings provided contrasting flavors, which varied from one bite to the next: a bit of saltiness from the olives, some sweetness from the tomatoes, and the underlying bitterness of the arugula. But there was no sauce, so what I mostly got was the smoky-charred-bready-chewy crust. And it's that slow-risen, fast-baked crust that I love most about Fiamma's pizza.
My stella gave me more than enough to keep me busy, so I didn't sample my companions' pies. But my wife got a Napoletana, topped with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, basil, pecorino Romano, and extra virgin olive oil. One friend got a Carminuccio, with double tomato sauce, spicy pancetta, basil, Parmigiano & a blend of Gran Cru cheese. Her husband ordered a Capricciosa, with tomato sauce, parma cotto ham, mushrooms, olives, mozzarella, basil, and olive oil. Each pie displayed the leopard-spotted underside that is Fiamma's signature, and everybody was happy with their pizza.
I'm not a huge dessert guy, but I do love tiramisu, so I couldn't resist that. It was moist, light and appropriately sweet.
At this point, my notes become rather sparse, probably reflecting the effects of a full stomach and carb overload. But my wife and one friend each got the same dessert, which I believe was the semifreddo, chocolate mousse topped with gelato. The fourth member of our party ordered a frozen, fruity dessert. For the life of me I can't think of what it was called but it was stuffed into a tiny, split squash or pumpkin.
Owner Giuseppe Pacciulo was quite busy (they were short-handed that night, due to an employee's illness), but I did manage to chat with him before we left around 10:00. He informed me that a second Fiamma's location, in Rochester, remains in the works, but the date remains TBA. I will pass on any information I get, as soon as I get it.
Someday, I will order something other than pizza off Fiamma's "primi" and "secondi" menu. The baccala al forno sounds especially intriguing. But next time I go, I'm getting that Montanara pizza. I'll do another post, when I've done so.

Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road


Mon-Sat - 11:45am-2:00pm

Mon - Thurs 4:30pm-9pm
Fri - Sat 4:30pm-10pm
Sun 4:00pm-8pm