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Monday, April 16, 2018

Chuck E. Cheese's (yes, really)

A reader recently asked if I'd tried Chuck E. Cheese's new pizza menu. I will confess that I hadn't been keeping up with CEC's latest developments. Shame on me.

But I did recall seeing a story that they are trying to do more to attract an older crowd, or at least make the whole experience more tolerable for parents.

So I was intrigued enough to go, with my wife and teenage daughter, last Sunday to the CEC on Hylan Drive in Henrietta.

After passing through security, we went up to the counter. We opted for the #1 (Large) deal, which, for 35 bucks, gets you one large pizza, four soft drinks (there were only three of us, but it was still cheaper that way, I think, than a la carte) and 30 minutes of unlimited games. I ordered a "Thin & Crispy" pepperoni pizza. I noticed it's not available in a medium size, which leads me to believe the crusts are pre-made. But that hardly came as a shock.

I guess this qualifies as "fast casual," since we took a number and the food was delivered to our table. It took longer than I expected, 20 minutes, maybe, but when it arrived, well, the pizza wasn't bad  I'm not saying it was all that great, but it wasn't bad.

Now I should mention here that I was quite hungry. It was about 1 p.m. and I hadn't eaten since the night before. And my expectations were low.  But I tried to take an objective view of the pizza, and I didn't have much cause for complaint.

The underside was a little crisp, with some screen marks. Not crackly, but firm, with a chewy interior. The cheese was browned and somewhere between chewy and gooey. Pepperoni was average, sauce a bit sweet.

My biggest complaint was the saltiness. I'm something of a salt fiend, but this was too much for me, at least in some areas. I (and my daughter backed me up on this) got the impression that they dusted the whole thing with garlic salt at some point, with some spots getting way too much. Not so much as to make it inedible, but please leave the garlic powder and salt to me. Still, I have to admit, not bad in general.

As to non-pizza stuff: I noticed they do carry beer and wine, although I'm not sure if imbibing would make it more or less easy to deal with a bunch of screaming kids. I stuck with Diet Pepsi (they had caffeine-free, which I appreciated). The salad bar comprised fairly standard stuff, but looked pretty good, as salad bars go. The sneeze screen was too high to block kids' expectorants, but I doubt kids will be using it much anyway.

Once we finished our pizza, we moved on to the games. Our card's clock starting running with our first game, so we had 30 minutes to get in as much as we could.

I can recall going to a CEC a long time ago when a main attraction was the animatronic band that would come out and "play" music every so many minutes. This location had some vastly scaled down version of that way in the back, a nod to their past, I guess, but most of the entertainment space was taken up by games.

Many of those were clearly aimed at little kids. I was disappointed that they didn't have an air hockey table except for one that was so small, I would've felt embarrassed to be seen using it, unless I were purposely losing to a toddler at the other end. I did have some fun on the basketball free-throw game, but most of the games were aimed at the kiddie set.

I've wondered before why some of these arcades aren't regulated as gambling parlors, because with each game you get tickets, which are redeemable for cash. After this, I think I figured out why. After getting our fill of  skill-based games, we ended up on a game where you just hit a button and it spits out tickets. Kind of like a slot machine.  We walked  away with a boatload of tickets, which got us one small bag of cotton candy, for which we had to pay an extra 20 cents.  So that's why it's not like a casino. No matter what, or how well you do, you'll never walk away with more than you came in with, monetarily.

So was it worth it?  I guess. The three of us got a reasonably good pizza, some soft drinks, and 30 minutes of games, for 35 bucks. I won't be back soon, but honestly, the pizza was OK. Maybe that's damning with faint praise, but that's about it. It was better than I expected. I'll leave it at that.

Chuck E. Cheese's
1000 Hylan Drive (Jay Scutti Plaza)
Sun. - Thu. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri. 11 - 10, Sat. 10 - 10
(585) 292-6380

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Roncone's reconceived

I recently ran across a news story about Roncone's, the long-time Italian restaurant on Lyell Avenue, saying that after a change of ownership, they now serve pizza. I was particularly intrigued by this as Roncone's building still displays a sign for the old Veltre's bakery, which I posted about back in 2011. Veltre's made pizza, which in the early days they would sell at local bars, probably including Roncone's.

So a few weeks ago, when my wife and I had a chance for a "date night," we headed to Roncone's for dinner. On this Friday evening at around 7:30, it was quite busy and we were told that without reservations, we were looking at maybe a 40-minute wait. That's a bit beyond my usual tolerance for waiting time, but there was ample room at the bar, so I asked if we could eat there, which was no problem.
Pizza is such a recent addition to the menu that it wasn't yet on the printed menu.There is a separate pizza station, with sliced pies out, and the pizza ovens in back. The pizza menu is printed on a chalkboard above.
My wife an I shared a medium cheese pie, and some garlic knots. The pie had a thin-to-medium crust, with a well-formed, crisp but not brittle cornicione. The crust had an enjoyably bready flavor and a chewy but not tough texture. The underside was charred here and there, with some corn meal visible, some of it a little burnt or sooty. Individual slices passed the "fold test" - no drooping when held in one hand, folded.
The toppings were simple of course, but good. Sauce had a touch of tomatoey sweetness, and the slightly browned mozzarella was nice and stretchy but not gooey. My wife declared it the best pizza she'd ever had at a restaurant, which might sound like damning by faint praise, but I know what she meant. Restaurant pizza often disappoints. This did not.
A week or two later, I returned for lunch with a couple friends. This time I got a pepperoni slice and a tomato pie slice.
Before the Utican purists jump on me, I guess this was not a traditional tomato pie, in the sense that it had sausage and peppers, in addition to the usual bread crumbs and grated cheese, plus some shredded basil. If that makes it not a tomato pie, then let's just call it pan pizza, or Sicilian, or square pizza. By any name, it was good, with a crunchy underside and an open crumb. The toppings had soaked in on top a bit, but the crust was not soggy.
The pepperoni slice was marked by the same bready, crisp crust as my prior cheese pie, with meaty slices of pepperoni.
So two successful pizza visits, but I should give a nod to Roncone's other options. As before, they still have a wide variety of Italian-American foods to offer. You can see their menu on their website, as well as more information about the head chef, Jimmy, and their background. I'll also post some additional photos on my Facebook page.
On my dinner visit, I met and chatted very briefly with the pizzaiolo, Franco. With a name like Franco he had me half-sold on their pizza already.

Roncone's, 232 Lyell Ave., Rochester
(585) 458-3090

Tue. & Wed., 11 a.m. - 4 p.m., Thu. 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., Fri. & Sat. 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.