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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

Friday, July 15, 2016

Fiamma: Montanara Pizza

Fiamma Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Even at pizzerias with long lists of specialty pies, you don't often see potato pizza among them. When you do, it's apt to be of the "stuffed potato" variety, loaded with cheddar cheese, bacon, sour cream and whatnot. To me that's overkill, and I generally avoid that kind of pizza. I don't even like my potatoes that way.
But there is an Italian tradition of adding potatoes to pizza. And Fiamma, one of my favorite pizzerias, offers its version, which I tried recently.

During a recent lunch visit with two friends, I ordered Fiamma's Montanara pizza. I'd seen it on the menu and been wanting to try it for some time. The Montanara is topped with smoked mozzarella, sliced potato, crumbled sausage and porcini mushrooms. 
(As an aside, I should mention that I've seen the term "montanara" applied to pizza with a fried crust, typically topped with a tomato-based sauce. This was neither.)
Now I would not ordinarily order a pizza with mushrooms. There aren't many pizza toppings I shy away from, but mushrooms are one of them. I just don't like mushrooms, mostly because of their texture.
But another principle I tend to follow is that at certain restaurants, I trust the chef. I don't think chefs should refuse reasonable customer requests to alter a dish slightly, but after all the fine pizza I've had at Fiamma, I figure, either get it as described, or don't get it at all. That's
particularly true if I'm going to review it on the blog. So I ordered the Montanara, mushrooms and all.
As usual, I'll start with the crust. There's not much I can say beyond what I've said before about Fiamma's consistently good crust. Puffy cornicione, black blisters along the edge and underneath, supple and flavorful. I think I'd be quite happy to make a meal of an unadorned Fiamma's crust. To me, it's what a wood-fired pizza crust should be.
Which makes for a convenient segue to the toppings. I know that some customers have complained from time to time that they find Fiamma's pizza soggy, or soupy, or words to that effect. I've written about that before, and I'm not going to get back into it here, except to say that Neapolitan-style pizza is simply different from basic American pizza. I mention it because the toppings on Fiamma's Montanara are not as wet as some of their other pizzas, so the crust is comparatively drier and firmer.
It's also a more subtly flavored pie than some of the others on the menu. No hot peppers, or sharp cheese, or salty anchovies. Instead, you get a harmonious blend of savory sausage and mushrooms and almost buttery-tasting, thinly sliced al dente potatoes. They're complemented by bits of rosemary and other herbs, and a touch of olive oil, against a backdrop of smoked mozzarella, which I like very much. All told, this pizza is far from bland or uninteresting, but it does use a relatively restrained combination of ingredients that invites slow eating (something I'm not always good at) and which rewards the diner's attention.
Oh, and the mushrooms? I have to admit, they worked well here. Not that I'm going to start ordering mushrooms on my pizza on a regular basis, but their flavor blended nicely with that of the other toppings, and these didn't have the rubbery texture that I find so objectionable.
As much as I remain a fan of Fiamma's red pizzas, one of the things I enjoy about going there is working my way through the pizza menu. Each variety has something different to offer, and this was another good example. Its very dissimilarity from the other pies on the menu is why the Montanara offers its own unique rewards, which are well worth seeking.

Fiamma, 1308 Buffalo Road


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

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

Friday, July 8, 2016

Joe's Brooklyn Report and Giveaway: Two Chances to Win!

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

I stopped last week for lunch at Joe's Brooklyn Pizza in Henrietta, one of my local favorites. One slice is often enough for me at lunchtime, but when I'm faced with Joe's array, it's tough to go with just one slice.
So I got two: a thin "Taste of the Old Neighborhood" slice, and a thick Grandma's slice. They made for an interesting pair. Both use the same basic toppings, with the addition of mozzarella on the thick Sicilian slice. Here's the rundown:
Old Neighborhood: tomato sauce, extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, shallots, fresh basil, and grated Pecorino Romano. Again, the Grandma's is the same, but adds aged, a/k/a processed, mozzarella.
Tough to pick a winner here. As for the TOTON slice, I find myself liking this kind of pizza, which harks back to a style that was prevalent in the early 20th century, before Americans starting blanketing all their pizza with mozzarella. Obviously if you like a lot of cheese on your pizza, or if you don't much care for red sauce, this is not for you, but to me, it's hard to beat the combination of tomato sauce, basil and garlic. Eating this is like enjoying a slice of bread that's been dipped into a pot of homemade spaghetti sauce, simmering on the stove. Delicious.
I'm sure I'd enjoy both these styles, on either a thick or thin crust, but I think going with thin for the Old Neighborhood slice and thick for the Grandma's was a good move. Sicilian pizza seems to call for a little something extra to balance out the thick crust, and the mozzarella/sauce combination does that well.
I guess I was enjoying these so much I forgot to get a photo of the undersides, but if you've been to Joe's or read any of my prior posts about Joe's, it should come as no surprise that both crusts were terrific. The thin slice was crackly, crisp yet chewy, the Sicilian breadlike, with just enough crunch underneath. (I did think to take a side view of the Grandma's slice, as you can see.)

Now about that giveaway. Proprietor Joe Staffieri has graciously offered to provide not one, but two $25 gift cards for me to give away to two lucky readers. To enter, send me an email at, with "Joe's" in the title line. The deadline to enter is next Friday, July 15, at noon. I will select two winners at random. One entry per person, please.

Joe's Brooklyn Pizza

1100 Jefferson Rd., Henrietta NY 14623

585-424-JOES (5637)

6720 Pittsford Palmyra Rd., Fairport NY 14450


Mon - Wed 11 AM - 9 PM
Thurs - Sat 11 AM - 10 PM
Sunday noon - 8 PM

Friday, July 1, 2016

John and Mary's, Batavia

A few weeks ago I was in the Batavia area, so I stopped in to John and Mary's for a slice. I've seen the name before, but knew little of the history or the details of this place, which has several Buffalo-area locations.
The Batavia location apparently opened in 2014, but according to one site, John and Mary's traces its origins back to a hot dog stand opened in 1952 by John and Mary Guida. I don't see any connection to the Rochester-area Guida's pizzeria chain, and my pepperoni slice was dissimilar from the pizza I've had from Guida's.
This slice, which I had rewarmed in the oven, was on the thick side. From the appearance of the underside, which was a spotty mix of golden-brown and paler areas, it looked to have been baked in a pan. It was faintly oily to the touch, which also suggests the use of a pan.
The bottom surface wasn't overly oily (although it did leave a sizable oil mark in the box, so maybe the box had absorbed some of the oil), but it was more crunchy than crisp. When dough is baked directly on a hot oven deck or pizza stone, it tends to get crackly crisp. On an oiled pan, it tends to develop more of a crunch, especially where the dough is in directly contact with the pan.
On top, the mozzarella cheese was nicely melted. It was generously added, in good balance with the thick crust. I liked its smooth, stringy-stretchy texture, though it didn't add much flavor. A bit of Provolone or Romano would've been a welcome addition.
The sauce wasn't skimpy, but it was a relatively minor player. Some of it had been absorbed into the top of the crust. What remained seemed to be a pretty straightforward, slightly sweet tomato sauce, but honestly I couldn't much taste it. The wide slices of pepperoni were good and crisp, and added a nice flavor punch.
Turning to the menu (available on their Facebook page), John and Mary's ten specialty pizzas incorporate toppings that aren't among the nine a la carte toppings. The Hawaiian pizza, for example, includes ham, but ham is not listed among the extra toppings that you can request on a basic cheese pizza. I'm not sure how they would handle it if you asked. Hopefully it wouldn't turn out like the diner scene in the Jack Nicholson classic Five Easy Pieces.
Aside from pizza, J&M does wings, burgers, salads, tacos and fried seafood. They also offer "subs" and "hoagies." The main distinction appears to be that "subs" include lettuce, tomato, cheese and dressing, while "hoagies" do not, although they may include other items. So for instance a steak sub comes with lettuce, tomato, etc., while a steak hoagie comes with cheese, fried onions and sweet peppers. (Just read the menu.) There are daily specials, and they deliver all day, every day.
My pizza slice was reasonably good. The crust was OK, although I confess I tend to prefer the crackly, toasty, slightly charred variety over the golden brown, pan-baked type. But plenty of places do it like this, so presumably many people like it this way.
That aside, the cheese was good, the pepperoni was crisp and flavorful, and the components were well balanced. It was a solid, if unspectacular, example of WNY pizza. I'd give it a C.

John & Mary's Restaurant, 3711 W. Main St. Rd., Batavia
(585) 343-2101
Sat. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.