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Friday, June 17, 2016

ChaCha's, Penfield

Chacha's Woodfired Bar & Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

The wood-fired pizza trend in the Rochester area continues. A recent entrant is ChaCha's WoodFired Bar & Grill in Penfield. It's in the former site of Angus House & Lounge, a steakhouse that folded in 2015.
My daughter and I had dinner at ChaCha's a few weeks ago. We sat in the bar area, the better to watch the pizzaiolo prepare our pies. On our weeknight visit, things were modestly busy, and it was a pleasant setting, with red- and orange-painted walls that I'd call lurid were it not for the star of the show, the blazing pizza oven.
According to their online menu, ChaCha's pizzas are "100% wood fired" - no gas "assistance" - and the "oven cooks at 720 degrees resulting in a crisp and always delicious pizza!" Based on this visit, I won't disagree.
A number of ChaCha's specialty pizzas sounded good, but I got my usual Margherita. My daughter, as is also usual, went the carnivorous route, with a "Meat Monster."
The crust on both pies was quite good: thin, charred underneath but not burned, and still pliable. It had a chewy texture, and a fresh-bread flavor, accented by toasty notes. The edge was shaped into a well-formed cornicione, which in the photo may make the pie look a little deeper than it was.
The cornicione was only a little darkened, suggesting that the floor of the oven was quite hot, but that the pizza had not been put too close to the flame in the back. Some wood-fired devotees might like the edge a bit more charred, but I preferred this to some pies I've had that are pale underneath, and then given a quick charring along the perimeter, just to give the pizza that wood-fired look.
On top, the tomato sauce, which contained small chunks of tomato, was not heavily seasoned, but had a bright flavor. The fresh mozzarella was thinly sliced but covered most of the pie. It was just melted, neither browned nor rubbery. A leaf of fresh basil had been applied to each of the eight slices, as soon as the pie came out of the oven, from the looks of it, as they were just barely wilted.
The careful arrangement of the toppings made for an eye-pleasing pie. Food's visual appeal can enhance our enjoyment of it, and this was an attractive, as well as a tasty, pie.
I don't typically go for meat-laden pizza, but in the interest of research I did of course have a slice of my daughter's pie. The Meat Monster is topped with red sauce, pepperoni, sausage, bacon, meatball, prosciutto, ham & mozzarella. That's a lot for a thin-crust pie, in particular, but while the toppings here were far from skimpy, they were not so abundant as to overwhelm the crust. Still, this was a knife-and-fork kind of pizza.
ChaCha's offers 15 specialty pizzas, including a clams casino pie that tempted me, and "ChaCha's Favorite," with red sauce, capicola, salami, caramelized onions, cherry peppers, and fresh mozzarella, all drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Sounds good. Or make your own, from a wide list of toppings.
Aside from pizza, ChaCha's offers an interesting selection of hot sandwiches, burgers, pasta, steak, chicken and seafood. Check out the menu for yourself, as there are too many intriguing dishes for me to list. On a return visit, I'd be seriously torn between trying a different pizza and trying a different entree altogether. Either way, I think I'd try the Boursin Cheese Fries:  "crispy french fried potatoes topped with a sauce made of boursin cheese, white wine & shallots topped with scallions drizzled with sriracha." There's a relatively modest but diverse wine and beer list.
With each announcement of a new wood-fired pizzeria opening around town, I fear that more and more restaurateurs are simply jumping on the bandwagon, but not always doing their homework or turning out a quality product. Not so here. These were well-prepared, flavorful pizzas.

ChaCha's Woodfired Bar & Grill, 2126 Five Mile Line Rd., Penfield


Tue. - Thu. 4:00 - 9:00, Fri. & Sat. 4:00 - 10:00, Sun. 4:00 - 9:00. Closed Mon.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Mooney's, LeRoy: Beef on Weck Pizza

Mooney's Bar and Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
LeRoy is about at the outer limit of what I would consider the Rochester area, pizzawise. And upon my recent discovery that there were no less than three pizzerias in LeRoy that I hadn't been to, I knew I had to go there.
I'll get to the other two, at some later date, but we'll start with Mooney's. It's in a building just north of the railroad tracks, which I'm informed by a very helpful person at the LeRoy Historical Society was once owned by a company known as LeRoy Transfer and Storage. Presumably the building was basically a privately-owned freight depot. (LeRoy was quite the railroad town back in the day, I guess, with three roads passing through town.)
Many times I like me a good old, plain cheese pizza, or a simple Margherita. But on occasion, I have a taste for the unusual. On this occasion, I couldn't resist trying Mooney's beef on weck pizza. The menu describes it as topped with "roast beef, kosher salt, caraway seeds, au jus sauce and mozzarella cheese topped with a horseradish sauce."
I've seen references to Buffalo-area pizzerias that offer beef on weck pizza, but Mooney's is the nearest I've seen around Rochester. Probably that reflects the fact that Mooney's other five locations are all in suburban Buffalo.
Mooney's pizza only comes in two sizes, "huge" and PFO (pizza for one). Since my daughter didn't want pizza, I got a PFO.
My dinner-plate size pie had a very thin crust. It was browned, crisp and crunchy, though it retained some pliability toward the center. The underside was moderately browned, and dry to the touch, with just a hint of oil. The top side was likewise well cooked, with cheese that was considerably browned.
It was a tasty pie, but I must confess, it didn't remind me much of beef on weck. The shredded beef was good, as was the red sauce, but if the caraway seeds and horseradish sauce were there, they seemed to get lost in the mix. I'm not saying I didn't like it, just that I don't think I would've identified this as a beef on weck pizza.
What it did bring to mind, though, was what in some places is considered typical "bar pizza." Around these parts, pizza that you get in bars is apt to be a little on the thick side, and often prepared using a premade shell for the crust. But as you can see here, in some areas, "bar pizza" denotes a pie that's described as "very thin-crusted," in order to "leave plenty of room in the eater's stomach for beer."
Mooney's pizza menu includes eleven toppings, and five specialty pies, besides the beef on weck pizza. They also do "Eppie rolls," described as "sausage, onions & sweet peppers with mozzarella and sauce rolled and baked to perfection." (I'm always mildly amused by that phrase, "to perfection." First, because "to perfection" is so vague that it really tells me nothing, and second, does that imply that other dishes are not done to perfection?)
Aside from pizza, Mooney's has an extensive menu, with all the usual suspects -- burgers, wings, sandwiches, seafood, etc. But a couple things deserve particular mention.
One is Mooney's macaroni and cheese. It seems to be something of a Mooney's specialty, as it figures prominently on the menu, in nine varieties, including Buffalo chicken, lobster, and Philly cheese steak.
My daughter got a taste of it by ordering a mac & cheese burger, which is simply a burger piled high with regular mac & cheese. I'm not sold on that particular concept -- I prefer my mac & cheese on the side -- but I tried a forkful or two, and they were quite good, with a creamy cheese sauce and al dente pasta.
But that's far from the most unusual burger on the menu. I don't see it on Mooney's online menu, but on our table menus, I spotted a Jell-O burger, which is made with strawberry Jell-O mixed into the ground beef. I believe this is only available at the Mooney's in LeRoy, which of course is the birthplace of Jell-O.
Our server informed me that while she had never tried it herself, the Jell-O burger does have its fans, with some patrons ordering it on a regular basis.While I can't say it sounds good, exactly, I promised myself that next time I visit Mooney's, I will order it. It sounds just weird enough to be interesting, but not completely repulsive, so it's something I really would like to try, just once.
And I do hope to pay Mooney's another visit at some point. It was a casual, pleasant spot, with a home-town-friendly kind of feel. When I do, I will be sure to let you know what I think of the Jell-O burger.

Mooney's Bar & Grill, 65 Lake St., LeRoy
(585) 768-4949
11 a.m. - 2 a.m. daily

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Book review: Rochester Haunts

I make no net income writing this blog, believe me (IRS, are you listening?). But I do get a perk or two, one of which is the occasional offer to review a book. As an avid reader, I find that hard to pass up, particularly if a book (1) sounds interesting and (2) has some relationship to this blog.
Rochester Haunts: A Ghost Hunter's Guide, from Schiffer Publishing, met both criteria. It's not pizza-related, but it has a Rochester connection, and it did intrigue me.
I'm no ghost hunter, or even ghost believer. (As I'm sure we'll hearing this summer, "I ain't afraid of no ghost!") But I do enjoy reading about local history, and allegedly haunted sites often involve historic sites and local landmarks. So this sounded interesting. And it was. It's a fun read, even if it doesn't quite have me believing in ghosts just yet.
According to the book blurb, author Dwayne Claud is "the director of Western New York Paranormal as well as a specialist in the field of Demonology." (I should probably mention here that Claud is not some kind of devil worshiper. He believes that God has called him to save people from demonic influences.)  Claud's website states that he grew up in Leicester, in Livingston County, so he's presumably got some familiarity with the Rochester area.
The book is divided into fifteen chapters, arranged thematically. For example, "'Rest' In Peace" covers local cemeteries, while "Praise the 'Spirit'" addresses local churches.
Many of the sites listed are no surprise, mostly because they're old, and because they've seen a lot of people come and go. In the case of cemeteries, I guess the people mostly come, don't go.
I don't start a lot of books by reading the index, but it makes a good starting point here. It covers the places and individuals mentioned in the book. Some I would have expected, like Mount Hope Cemetery and Frederick Douglass. Some I wouldn't necessarily have expected, but wasn't surprised to see, like the Main Street Armory, or what's left of the Rochester subway system. Some I'd never heard of at all, like the Stryker Road barn in Scottsville. Others were a complete surprise. The Greece Applebee's is haunted? Who knew?
Claud's approach varies from passing on rumors, of the "there are reports of ..." variety, to more detailed claims, many involving on-the-spot investigations by Western New York Paranormal.  He reaches few definitive conclusions, but it's fair to say he's not a skeptic.
Most readers of this book, though, are not going to be looking for somebody to punch holes in every ghost story that's ever come up around Rochester. And even as a skeptic myself, I liked reading about some local haunts, literally, that I will now see in a different light. Next time I visit the Reunion Inn on Culver Road, I may not attribute that sudden cold breeze to the air conditioner.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Book Review: The Essential Home-Ground Flour Book

Besides buying pizza on a regular basis, I occasionally bake it at home. Beyond that, I frequently bake in general. A week rarely goes by that I don't bake at least one loaf of bread.
Those breads often include some whole wheat flour that was ground in our home flour mill. I use home-milled flour on a regular basis. So I was happy to receive from publisher Robert Rose a review copy of The Essential Home-Ground Flour Book by Sue Becker.
Becker clearly believes in her subject. In the introduction, she describes whole grains as "a nearly perfect food." From there, she spends roughly the first half of the book ("All About Home-Ground Flours") covering a general description of the history and benefits of using home-ground flour, the basics of how to do so, as well as a rundown of the various grains that are available to the home baker. Becker offers particularly good advice on choosing and using a grain mill.
Part 2 covers recipes, which run the gamut from basic yeast-risen breads to quick breads, muffins, biscuits, cookies, and just about anything else made from flour. As is typical of books I've gotten from Robert Rose, the recipes are also complemented by two sections of full-page color photos.
The only thing I found wanting in the book was that it doesn't discuss how to create white flour at home. The author seems to assume that if you're grinding your own flour, you want to use whole-grain flour. That's probably true for most people, most of the time, but I'd like to try making my own white flour, which necessitates removing the bran. (I think it's a fairly simple process of sifting the flour, but I was hoping for some guidance.) The book's only suggestions are to use various combinations of whole-grain flours.
That aside, I'll be consulting this book when using my whole-wheat flour, and it may embolden me to try some other grains as well. (Kamut, anyone?) I'd recommend it for any home baker who wants to get into grinding and using home-ground flour, or who simply wants to incorporate more whole grains into his or her baked goods.

Macri's, Canandaigua

Macri's Deli & Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
I happened to be in Canandaigua on a recent Saturday, so, ever on the hunt for new pizza places, I stopped into Macri's Deli & Cafe.
Macri's opened in 2013, but I just recently learned that they offer pizza, and I figured it was worth a stop. And indeed it was.
Macri's sits at a corner of a strip mall, along the same general stretch as the Canandaigua Wegmans. The exterior shares the look of the other retail establishments nearby, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Might be good, might be just another uninteresting, feels-like-a-chain place.
Inside, I found a large, high-ceilinged space, with tables near the windows, and a long food counter. I headed straight for the pizza counter.
Macri's offers "pizza al taglio," which initially meant nothing to me. Turns out, the Italian phrase just means, literally, pizza by the slice, or more specifically, by the cut. But apparently it implies more than that. According to Wikipedia, pizza al taglio is a variety of Italian pizza baked in large rectangular trays, and generally sold in rectangular or square slices by weight. The concept, and style, began in Rome, but has spread throughout Italy.
On my visit, there were three varieties available. The veggie pizza included mushrooms, which ruled it out, for me. The pepperoni looked good, but I zeroed in on the Margherita.
Technically, I guess this wasn't true pizza al taglio, because all Margherita slices are four dollars each, regardless of weight, although they were cut to generally the same size. But I had no complaints.
And technically, this wasn't a classic Margherita, which I associate with thin-crust, Neapolitan pizza. But labels aside, it was good. Really good.
My corner slice was thick - about an inch, at its thickest point - with a bottom that was golden brown, with a dark brown ring along the edge. It was crisp, with a faint hint of oil, as one would expect from a pan-baked pizza, but not overly oily at all.
The crust had a bready aroma and a tight crumb. Not just a base for the toppings, it had the flavor of freshly-baked bread. The well-formed edge was crunchy on the surface.
On top, the generous layer of sauce was proportionate to the thick crust. It had a rich, tomatoey flavor, with a hint of salt.
The shakes of grated Parmesan, though a bit nontraditional for a Margherita, added some welcome contrast to the slices of fresh mozzarella. The latter were just melted, not quite melt-in-your-mouth liquidy, but not rubbery either. The bits of torn basil were wilted just enough to maximize their flavor, and added an extra layer of complexity overall.
According to their menu, Macri's offers eight varieties of pizza al taglio, though obviously they're not all available, all the time. They've also recently added "New York Style Thin Crust Pizza," but for now that's only available by the pie, not by the slice. They also do paninis, subs, soups, salads, and breakfast items, as well as a wide variety of sweets. Wine and beer are available too, and there's a full coffee bar.
I was, frankly, quite impressed by this pizza. So much so, that I really couldn't find fault with it. Nice balance, good flavor, and well made. I can't see any reason not to give it an A. I intend to go back, to try the New York pizza, and some of the other pizza al taglio. I suggest you do the same.

Macri's Deli & Cafe, 699 S. Main St., Canandaigua

(585) 905-0866

Mon. - Thu. 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Fri. 8 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Sat. 8 a.m. - 6 p.m.
Sun. closed