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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Aş Evi, East Ridge Road

Thanks to a recent piece by Chris Lindstrom in City, I recently became aware of Aş Evi, a Turkish restaurant and takeout place on East Ridge Road in Irondequoit.
I was interested, not only because the food sounded good, but because I'd had some experience with Turkish food, having done a post in November 2011 about Istanbul Market on Norton Street.
In particular, at Istanbul Market I tried a Turkish dish, lahmacun, that is, as I described it then, a cousin of pizza. It consists of an oven-baked flatbread topped with a mixture of ground meat and spices.
Aş Evi offers traditional pizza, and that's what I had in mind when I went there the other day. But on arriving, I reconsidered. I'd like to try their pizza, but I figured, start with what they know best, and lahmacun is close enough to pizza to warrant a blog post. So that's what I got.
At Aş Evi, you can get one piece of lahmacun for $3.49, or three for $9.99. I opted for the latter.
Each lahmacun starts off with a small round of dough, which is quickly stretched into about a nine-inch disk. It's then topped with a mixture of ground beef and chopped garden vegetables, before going into a pizza oven for a few minutes.
After emerging from the oven, my three lahmacuns were folded and placed in my to-go box, with chopped tomatoes and white onions, iceberg lettuce, and a couple of lemon wedges. Apparently those are commonly put on the lahumacun, but I treated them as a side, the better to experience the lahmacun itself. And the experience was a good one.
The lahmacun base is a flatbread that's somewhere between a crepe and a tortilla; not as sweet as the former, more breadlike than the latter. The bread emerges from the oven spottily browned, with an aroma reminiscent of a freshly made pancake. It's chewier, more glutenous than a crepe, but a little puffier than a tortilla; somewhat reminiscent of Indian naan, but more pliable and not quite as charred.
I suppose you could eat it with a knife and fork, but it seems meant for rolling up. Not folding, like New York pizza, but rolling. The toppings don't spill out, and you get a full hit of flavor with every bite. It's an almost perfect hand food.
And that topping. It's meaty, spicy and complex, stretching beyond the limit of my admittedly modest ability to identify individual flavors. Cumin, garlic, peppers, ... a hint of cinnamon, or coriander?  Trying to pick out individual flavors became like trying to listen for each individual instrument in a symphony. Stop, and just enjoy the whole, which is what I did.
Now as I said earlier, Aş Evi does sell traditional pizza. So while I was waiting for my lahmacun, I asked proprietor Selami Tulum if he uses the same dough for pizza that he uses for lahmacun. No, he does not. And he told me that he doesn't sell a lot of pizza, which doesn't surprise me. Not because I think the pizza is likely to be bad, but because, well, why would you go to a place that does great Turkish food, and order pizza? So I have no idea what the pizza is like.
But I still want to try it. I'm guessing it is good. And I want to try Aş Evi's pides, which are described as a thick dough crust stuffed with various optional ingredients, including cheese, meats, and vegetables.
In short, I want to go back. Soon. I'll do another post when I do so, but in the meantime, I urge you to get to Aş Evi. I can't yet vouch for anything but the lahmacun, but if you like pizza (and you're not a vegetarian), you need to try this.

Aş Evi, 315 E. Ridge Rd., Rochester 14621

Tue. - Sun., 10 a.m. - 11 p.m. (but call to confirm)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Goodman Hots & Pizzeria

Way back when, there was a place called Al's Green Pizzeria, on North Goodman Street in Rochester. It was connected, literally, physically, to Al's Green Tavern next door.
I used to think it was Al Green's Tavern, but no, it was Al's Green Tavern. I'd love to uncover the history behind it, but as far as I know, it was so called because the building was painted green. And apparently it went back a long way, as evidenced by some photos I've found.
I stopped into Al's Green Tavern many years ago, maybe around 2000, give or take a few. I remember it being about as divey as a dive bar can get. Not a modern, pretend dive, with hipsters drinking cheap cans of PBR. I mean a true dive, the kind of place where old drunks go to drink themselves into oblivion and to rot out what remains of their livers, and where it looks like midnight even at noon.
At the time, which must have been long after the bar's heyday, there was also a vague sense of menace. It felt like one of those saloons you see in Western movies, the kind of place where John Wayne or Clint Eastwood couldn't finish one drink before trouble erupted, which usually ended up with somebody lying on the floor with a bullet in him.
Now maybe some of my memory of that visit has become a bit colored over time. But apparently I wasn't totally off base in feeling that way. Let me explain.
Eventually, one of the owners of Al's was charged with crimes, and ended up pleading guilty. According to this story, the bar itself was the site of some related illegal activity. In short, it wasn't a place you wanted to be.
And it wasn't a place I wanted to go back to. That said, it was sad to imagine the bar's descent from what I imagine it used to be, in the days when one of its biggest attractions was "Those Original Baked Virginia Ham Sandwiches."
At any rate, this all occurred well before I started this blog. I don't recall if I got any pizza -- I may have -- but if I did, I didn't keep a record of it. My general impression, as I recall it, was of an old-time, once-thriving neighborhood Italian restaurant, pizzeria and bar, that was dying a slow death amid a changing neighborhood, like an island submerging under a rising sea.
Probably due to those criminal charges, the bar closed. I believe that Al's Green Pizzeria hung on for a while. I think it may have moved or morphed once or twice, but now it's gone, for good.
But every now and then, I've checked on the former site of Al's, because I know that where there once was a pizzeria, a new one will often open up. Some places just seem meant to house a pizzeria.
A few months ago, I discovered that the former site of Al's Green Pizzeria is now home to Goodman Hots & Pizzeria.
I stopped in for a slice a few weeks ago, but none were available. On a more recent visit, they had cheese and pepperoni slices available. I got a pepperoni slice. It was, well, about what I expected, which was not much. It was like basic convenience store pizza, the kind of pizza you see in those warmers on the counter.
Thin crust, a little browned underneath, slightly oily to the touch. The cornicione was well formed but dry. Nothing particularly wrong with the crust, but nothing very good about it either.
The cheese was not skimpy, but it was well browned, and consequently a little dried out. The pepperoni was OK, but unremarkable, and a little skimpy.
The sauce was evenly applied, and again, OK but ordinary. It was a slightly sweet tomato sauce, and did balance out the other components.
And that's about it. Not the worst pizza I've had, by any means, but nothing special. And a far cry, I imagine, from what one might've gotten at Al's Green Pizzeria back in the day.
Or maybe that's just misplaced nostalgia. Who knows? Maybe Al's pizza never was that good to begin with. Inflation aside, if it was worth keeping a five-cent token for a drink, maybe the pizza was little more than a cheap stomach filler. And maybe, in that sense, Goodman Hots has reached full circle.
I debated whether to give this pizza a grade. I know this is a depressed neighborhood, where few people are going to spend much on food, so I wasn't expecting world-class pizza. And the pizza was no worse than a lot of what you'll find nearby, or in similar neighborhoods. And I don't want to hurt the guy's business.
But I also doubt that a lot of potential patrons of Goodman Hots are reading, or care about this blog, so I don't think a bad grade is going to hurt this business one bit. My honest evaluation is that this pizza, considered against Rochester-area pizza in general, rates a D.

Goodman Hots & Pizzeria, 1160 N. Goodman St., Rochester

Friday, April 8, 2016

Big Jay's, Thurston Road

Thanks to a reader, I became aware of a recently opened pizzeria on Thurston Road in Rochester, Big Jay's. It occupies a small storefront in a building that houses a few other small businesses.
On my way home from work recently I stopped in for a couple of slices. Since I wasn't going to eat them immediately, I didn't have them rewarmed.
Perhaps I should have. The slices weren't bad, but they were underdone. The bottom, which was crisscrossed by screen marks, was pretty pale, with just some light browning. The crust was thin, with a thicker cornicione about an inch wide. The underside was firm but not crisp, with a trace of oil near the tips of the slices, i.e., near the center of the pie.
On top,  the mozzarella was melted but a bit coagulated, meaning that it tended to pull apart, rather than melt together.
Sauce often takes a back seat to the crust and cheese, but not so here. The sauce had a medium-thick consistency, and was generously applied. I found it a little more sweet than I'd like, but that may just come down to a matter of personal taste.
Getting back to the crust, this was one of those crusts that made me think of how much better it could've been. The crust was not too interesting, until I worked my way to the edge. The cornicione had a fresh, bready aroma, and a chewy texture, with air holes spread uniformly throughout.
I wish that the rest of the crust had been as good. It seemed underdone, not like raw dough, but more like dough that had been baked at a relatively low temperature. Flabby and uninteresting.
I saved one slice, and reheated it the next day in a toaster oven, at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes. That resulted in a browner underside, but the crust also got more brittle. The cheese melted nicely, though, and the thin slices of pepperoni got a little crisp along the edges.
Big Jay's offers pizza in four sizes (S, M, L, and sheet), with ten toppings. Interestingly, you can order beef or pork pepperoni (perhaps to cater to customers' religious concerns?). They do seven "deluxe" pizzas, including Philly steak, seafood, and Buffalo chicken.
Aside from pizza, you can get hot and cold subs, including steak subs. Calzones, wings (six sauces) finger foods and sweets round out the menu. 
This wasn't bad, nor was it great. Frankly, it was a little below average. But it was the kind of pizza that makes me think, it's got potential. And I think Big Jay's is worth a revisit. I could see this pizza being considerably better with a few tweaks; maybe a longer, cold rise time, a hotter oven, better cheese, or some other adjustments. But it's worth checking out.

Big Jay's Pizzeria, 340 Thurston Road

Mon. - Sat. 11 am - 11:30 pm, Sun. noon - 9:30

Curbside delivery, $15 minimum, delivery charge based on area

Friday, April 1, 2016

Schiano's, Alexander Street

I heard an ad on the radio recently for a new pizzeria, Schiano's, on Alexander Street, which occupies the former site of the Alexander Street Pontillo's, just north of East Avenue.
First chance I got, I went over at lunchtime for a slice. The slices were quite large, so I just got one, a pepperoni slice. (The only other option at the time was plain cheese.)
The pie had recently come out of the oven, but I asked for it to be rewarmed. I've found that in general, that's a good thing to do.
The crust was thin, just a little browned underneath, but crackly. I usually consider surface crackling a good thing, but in this case the crust tended to separate horizontally into two layers, which is not such a good thing. I like a nice mix of chewiness and crunchiness, but the crust should also be a unified whole.
The cornicione was narrow, not too thick, but bubbly, and had a breadlike flavor and aroma. Overall, the slice was marked by an aroma of garlic and tomatoes, reminiscent of a slow-cooked spaghetti sauce. The sauce was mildly flavored, not particularly sweet or salty, and I mostly noticed the garlic in the aroma, rather than on my tastebuds.
The cheese was quite melted, almost semi-liquid. I'm sure the reheating had something to do with that. I liked it, but it was a little gloppy. I'm sure John Kasich would've used a fork on this one.
Schiano's pizza comes in three sizes (14" medium, 16" large and sheet) with 15 available toppings and . They offer five specialty pizzas, including the "Schiano Special," described as "our take on an old fashion Margherita pizza." I'm curious to know what their "take" is on a Margherita. They also do stromboli, salads, "plates," "hero's" [sic], wings, and several appetizers, including "Geo's meatball ina cup," which apparently is just what it sounds like, a huge meatball in a cup, with marinara sauce and cheese.
My slice was $4, which is a little steep for around here, although admittedly it was quite a large slice (a plain cheese slice is $3.50). So I guess I can't complain too much about the price. I think they also do a lot of bar business, and I'm sure that many bar patrons around there aren't too particular about spending an extra buck or two on a slice of pizza.
But in general, I was pleased with this slice. There was the one issue with the crust, but I'd rather have too crackly than too soggy. Otherwise, it was pretty nice overall, and I'd say that Schiano's is a welcome addition to the local pizza scene.

Schiano's Pizzeria
315 Alexander St.
Rochester, NY 14604