Tuesday, September 30, 2014

TOP Round 1 - Mario's vs. Marino's

The All Over Albany Tournament Of Pizza moves on to the next battle. My pizza insanity has driven me to document each slice I eat as a judge in the Tournament. If you would like a chance at judging some pizza, ticketsare available for the finals. You’ll get the same pizza as the judges, some beer samples and a brewery tour. One thing I’ve learned on past pizza quests is that tasting things back-to-back or side-by-side can seriously impact your perception of what you are eating. If you are around on October the 11th, come join me at Schmaltz Brewing to eat pizza and crown this year’s Tournament champ.

As a little reminder, here’s how the rounds were scored. Each judge had 25 points to award (or not award) a pizza. Crust, sauce and toppings were given up to 5 points each and then Overall Taste was allowed up to 10 points. After each round, I wrote up my thoughts on the evening within a day so that they would still be fresh in my mind. Here’s how I thought the second tournament match-up went.

Mario’s in Niskayuna
For consistency’s sake, I began with the sausage pizza. The crust has a little bit of browning and there were screen marks on the bottom of the slice. The crust was a little tough and dense, kind of bready. The sauce was decent but nothing special. The cheese was a little tough and rubbery. The kind of cheese that when you bite it, it all comes off the slice. The sausage was seasoned all the way through, but the flavor was just so-so. The pizza looked a lot better than it tasted.

Sausage Pie
Crust:3, Sauce:3, Toppings:3, Overall Taste:4  for a total of 13 points.

Moving onto Mario’s white broccoli pie. The first thing you notice looking at the pizza is how wet and runny the ricotta was, but it had an OK flavor. The crust was browned but looked oily - and it was. This crust was also cooked on a screen and a little bready. The rim was dusted with something. I took a taste of the dusting and that was a mistake; it tasted like a ton of granulated garlic. After the scores were in, another judge made a comment that was right on the money. His slice had an everything bagel taste with what he thought was some onion mixed in with the garlic. I didn’t catch any onion flavor on my slice, but a garlic bagel is a great description. The broccoli was cut into bite size pieces and tasted like frozen broccoli.

Broccoli Pie
Crust:2, Sauce:3, Toppings:2, Overall Taste:4 for a total of 11 points.

Marino’s in Schenectady
I had driven by a few times but never stopped at Marino’s. When you walk in, it has the feel of a nice family restaurant. Nicer than a hole in the wall with a very friendly feel to it. Sticking to the same order as last week, I began with a slice of the sausage pizza. The crust was nicely browned, no noticeable char on my slice (a few darker spots on the rim) and they don’t use pizza screens. I thought the sauce was nice and light. There was a good distribution of sausage clumps all over the pizza and it had the standard sweet Italian sausage flavor, but that flavor wasn’t very strong. On the way out, I asked if the made the sausage there and they do. The cheese had a nice flavor and a good amount of salt. All in all, I thought it was a good pizza.

Sausage Pie
Crust:4, Sauce:3, Toppings:4, Overall Taste:7 for a total of 18 points.

Next up was the white broccoli pizza. The crust was lightly browned with some delicious random bubbles on the rim and once again, no screen. I found nothing to complain about with the crust. There was a heavy garlic aroma coming off the pizza and small ricotta dots were spread out all across the pizza. The broccoli tasted like fresh, not frozen and cut into bite size pieces. A tiny bit of garlic got burned in the oven and I had one bite with the strong taste of burnt, bitter garlic. Other than that one bite, I thought this pizza was pretty much as good as a white broccoli pizza gets.

Broccoli Pie
Crust:5, Sauce:3, Toppings:4, Overall Taste:8 for a total of 20 points.

In my opinion, the pizza we sampled at Marino’s was better than Mario’s and the scores showed that with Marino’s having a sizable lead on my scorecard (38 to 24). Looking at the total scores from all the judges for Marino’s I gave the sausage pie 18 out of its 74 points (24%) and the broccoli pie 20 out its 84 points (24%). At Mario’s I gave the sausage pie 13 of its 49 points (27%) and the broccoli pie 11 of its 46 points (24%). In a completely unscientific way, it would appear that the judges and I are in near perfect agreement with this match-up.

Round 1: Schenectady Wrap Up
If you told me that I’d taste 4 pizzas and like a white broccoli pie the best, I’d think you were dreaming. So I’m surprised to see a white broccoli pie with the most points I awarded to a pizza after two match-ups of pizzerias that have already proven themselves in the tournament. But I wasn’t alone. One thing that was mentioned as we left Marino’s was that all of the judges ranked the Marino’s broccoli pie higher than their sausage pie. Several years ago, I went to Mario’s for dinner. They offer a pizza on a long cutting board. Going on what’s left of my memory, that pizza (while more of a Sicilian style) was better than their round pizza. As for Marino’s, I’m going to bring the family there for dinner sometime. Seemed like a nice, family friendly neighborhood joint. The world needs more of those.

Monday, September 29, 2014

TOP Round 1 - Momma Mia's vs. 5th and 50

I think about pizza all the time. Making pizza, eating pizza, flours, hydration percentages, handling the dough, dough fermentation, heat, brands of tomatoes, brands and types of cheese (I’ve found the way you grate the cheese makes a difference), topping combinations…all the time. So when I was invited to participate as a judge in the All Over Albany 2014 Tournament Of Pizza, I was willing to quit my job to attend. I’d get to try pizza from a bunch of places I’d never gotten around to trying, plus I’d be spending time with people that were also into hyper-overanalyzing pizza - it’s my personal heaven. And as luck would have it, most of the judging takes place in the evening and I am still employed.

First off, this judging gig is harder than I thought it was going to be. Attaching a number value to specific elements of pizza was difficult. Say half the crust is soggy but the other half is good - what do you do? Since I tend to be my own worst critic when it comes to my pizza making, I may have been a little harsh on some of the pizza in the tournament. The objective was to judge each slice for what it was, not what I hoped or wanted it to be. Regardless of whether or not I like a poofy crust, was this a good poofy crust? And second, after each match up in Round 1 of the Tournament, I got to spend the next 24 to 48 hours second guessing myself.

Here’s how the rounds were scored. Each judge had 25 points to award (or not award) a pizza. Crust, sauce and toppings were given up to 5 points each and then Overall Taste was allowed up to 10 points. I like having the Overall Taste category because sometimes a pizza is actually better than the sum of its parts.

After each round, I wrote up my thoughts on the evening within a day so that they would still be fresh in my mind. I thought I would share each of these write ups covering every pizza we ate in the tournament as the tournament unfolds over at All Over Albany. I tried snapping a few pictures but the lighting wasn’t cooperating on the first night so I gave up. Photos of all the pizzas are at the All Over Albany site along with the final results from each round.

Mama Mia’s in Saratoga
Once seated in the restaurant, we ordered two pizzas (a large sausage and a large white pizza with broccoli) with a round of waters. The first pie to the table was the sausage pizza. I liked the crust. I was actually a little surprised how much I liked the crust. They didn’t use a screen (I’m morally opposed to pizza screens), it had little bit of char to it and good flavor. There wasn’t much sauce on the pizza. Which is fine. There’s a thin line between over saucing and under-saucing a pizza. A taste of the just the sauce lacked fresh tomato flavor but it didn’t detract from the overall pizza - one of those sum is larger than the parts things. The cheese on the pizza was OK, nothing noteworthy. The seasoning in the sausage wasn’t evenly mixed. Most of the slice I had seemed unseasoned, no real flavor to it. As I ate more of the slice, the seasoning became much more pronounced and better. I’m not sure where the sausage came from, but it looked almost like chipped meat as opposed to having been run through a grinder. The crust carried the slice and makes me think with a different topping, this could be one of the better pizzas in the area.

Sausage Pizza
Crust:4, Sauce:2, Toppings:2, Overall Taste:6 for a total of 14 points.

There was a little bit of a mix up with the white broccoli pizza. The pizza maker forgot the broccoli. Our waitress asked if we wanted the pizza anyway or if we wanted to wait for one with broccoli. Seeing as this was to be compared with other pizzas that had broccoli, we waited. However, instead of making a new pizza that had broccoli, they steamed/and or nuked what tasted like frozen broccoli and spread it out on top of the original pizza. If you look at the picture at the All Over Albany site, that broccoli wasn’t cooked on the pizza. This crust was nothing like the sausage pie. Although it looked like some if it might have been. The slice I got was incredibly soggy. The bottom of the crust was very pale. There was none of the crispness and char that was on the sausage pie. There is no sauce, so the sauce ranking in this round is based on the seasoned oil and ricotta cheese. Both were fine. The seasoning in the oil looked a little clumped together but it was passable. The broccoli was completely unseasoned and with no time in the oven it tasted like thawed, frozen broccoli.

Broccoli Pizza
Crust:2, Sauce:2, Toppings:1, Overall Taste:4 for a total of 9 points.

5th and 50 in Scotia
As a fan of the Tournament of Pizza, I had heard of 5th and 50 when they won the whole tournament. I had wanted to go, maybe grab a pie on the way to my in-laws, but it never happened. We got there around 8:00 and put in the same order - large sausage and a white pizza with broccoli. One thing to note, customers can’t see the pizza ovens and I’m always a little distrustful of a pizza place that doesn’t showcase their pizza making. Sometimes in a full service restaurant that also serves pizza, the oven can be in the back. But think of your favorite pizza place. Can you openly see the pizza ovens? I bet you can.

We ate the Sausage pie first. It was disappointing. The crust was clearly baked on a screen. Maybe they slid it off and finished cooking it on the deck as it had some color. The crust from the middle of the slice to the triangle tip of the slice was completely soggy. There was no picking this slice up, I ate half the slice with my fingers. Here’s the weirdest thing about the crust: I don’t know if they were using a mechanical dough press or two pieces of dough, but the rim of the crust pulled off in the same way a cinnamon roll pulls apart. It didn’t look like one piece of dough. The tomato sauce was very watery and probably to blame for the condition of the crust. Nothing really notable about the cheese. The sausage was dispersed in large clumps and seasoned throughout, but whatever the seasoning was it wasn’t very good. In my mind, this was not a good offering from a past tournament champion and a shop that had a banner showcasing a Pizza Wars event victory.

Sausage Pizza
Crust:2, Sauce:1, Toppings:2, Overall Taste:4 for a total of 9 points.

The crust on the sauce-less white broccoli pizza was much crisper. You could pick up the slice. Still cooked on a screen and still had that weird rim. There was no ricotta, just oil, cheese, broccoli and some seasonings. It was pretty greasy and I think the main seasoning was garlic powder, maybe granulated garlic. This broccoli also tasted like it was frozen, but it was minced up and distributed over the pizza.

Broccoli Pizza
Crust:2, Sauce:1, Toppings:2, Overall Taste:3 for a total of 8 points.

I’m a nerd, so bear with me. I flat out didn’t like the pizza we sampled at 5th and 50. So while Mama Mia’s stumbled a little bit against a former tournament champ, they still won the matchup 23 to 17 on my score card. However, the other judges didn’t agree with me and 5th and 50 advanced to the semi finals.

We don’t really discuss scores so I have no idea how anyone else scored the pizzas. Four score sheets were used. In looking at the points awarded to Mama Mia’s, I gave the sausage pie 14 out of its 64 points (22%) and the broccoli pie 9 out its 34 points (26%) - both about a quarter of the awarded points. Not the same at 5th and 50.  At 5th and 50 I gave the sausage pie 9 of its 53 points (17%) and the broccoli pie 8 of its 55 points (15%). Not exactly scientific way to see if opinions line up, but interesting…to me anyway.

Round 1: Saratoga Wrap Up
I learned that this judging stuff isn’t that easy and my numbers may have been a little harsh. It was my first time evaluating pizza with a set number scale and I had to leave room for the possibility of better pizza. I left the night with the goal of being consistent throughout the tournament and that might make me a low scoring judge. I also learned how difficult consistency in a restaurant is to control. I don’t know what happened at Mama Mia’s, but I’m certain we didn’t get their best effort on the broccoli pie. Under a different set of circumstances (server, pizza maker, day), I bet Mama Mia's broccoli score would have been higher. And at 5th and 50, there looked to be three fairly young people working. Maybe their pizza is better with more experience in the kitchen. Looks like I’ll get to see if they can improve in the next round.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A new toy

I saw a post on the pizza forum that the Black Stone Oven was on sale for $300 and available at Lowes. We were in Lowes for a few other things so I gave the oven the once over while we were there. Two days later I went back and bought. After I put it all together, I was giggling with excitement because I had this in my garage.

I fought getting the stickers off of the shelves but opted against dealing with the one around the thermometer. I figured some use would get that off without scratching it up. Not that it was together, I set about making some modifications I had read about online. The easiest was putting some stainless steel washers under the bottom stone to make an air gap. The bottom can get hotter than the top. Important safety tip: do not use zinc plated washers. When zinc plating gets hot it can put off a toxic gas. Splurge the extra buck for stainless steel.

I also rewired the power cable to the rotisserie motor (the bottom plate spins). With a counter clockwise rotation, you can see the pizza just before it goes through the hottest part of the oven so you can decide to pull the pizza a little easier. To rewire the motor, you just cut the wire, strip the plastic coating and attach the red to black, black to red and cover it all up. Right now it is just covered with electrical tape, but I plan to solder it and cover the wires in shrink wrap to make it look prettier.

Finally, I added a "Chau-flector." It's a little metal shield named for it's inventor on the pizza forum. People have used sheet metal, the end of a spatula or parts of a grater to make the Chau-flector. I went with a little flipper I found in a restaurant supply store.

I broke the handle off and flattened it a little bit. I tried to just bend it, but needed to use a hammer to convince it to bend. You can kind of see it hanging down from the upper stone. It's dark in the oven and the phone flash didn't really get a good shot. So the smaller piece of steel originally near the wood handle is tucked under the upper oven plate, and the longer part of the spatula reflect head back down onto the spinning pizza.

On Saturday, I made 8 dough balls using the Progessive flour I got from Restaurant Depot. Normally, I only make 4, but I wanted to play with my new toy. The plan was to go to Fall Ball softball games all morning, then make pizza all afternoon. But that got cancelled for a birthday party so I got the dough into the fridge and hoped it would still be good on Monday.

On Monday, the workday couldn't end fast enough. I got home and starting putting the toppings together and set up a working table in the garage - a piece of plywood on two saw horses covered with a Halloween tablecloth. I didn't hav enough space for the dough balls on the table, so I commandeered the kids' wagon. Pizza Emergency.

I fired up the oven and let it go until the bottom plate was reading in the mid 700s with my el-cheapo temp gun. You can see the burner is directly above that knob on the front of the oven.

Here we go, the first pizza launch, captured for posterity by my daughter Allison.

You can see the quick oven spring on the rim of the pizza.

About 2 minutes later, here was a lovely sausage and mushroom pie.

I cranked out five more fairly quickly with varying degrees of success.  I need to work on managing the heat and keeping the bottom stone a little cooler. One thing I'm going to do next time around is dial down the heat in between bakes. I did that at the end and I think it helped. I'm also going to adjust the position of my Chau-flector a little. You can kind of see the deflector while this pizza cooks. You can also see that front sticker being abused by the heat of the oven.

After six successful pizza launches onto an 800 degree pizza stone that is rotating counter clockwise, I hesitated while launching the 7th pizza. Here's my undercooked accidental calzone.

But we ended on a high note. This cherry tomato/black olive for the kids was pretty good.

Now I need to focus on oven management and dough. My dough balls were sized for 13.5 inch pizzas. I'm going to scale that down to 13 inches. I also have a list of doughs I want to try out. Definitely a work in progress. I still want a wood fired oven and this will be a good stepping stone.

This is going to be fun...and fattening.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Randomness from the week

Some random things since the last post...
1. Last week the kids found out who there teachers were going to be this year. A few days later, the kids received a letter from the principal asking them to wear school colors on the first day of school for a big assembly. I wouldn't have thought it was a big deal seeing as they had worn school colors to a number of spirit days and other events each year of school...

But never on the first day. They had outfits picked out for the first day. Plans were made before being rudely interrupted. It's been a few days. They are still upset and stressing over the search for new clothes that meet certain set of first day outfit requirements and contain school colors.

2. I set off a little firestorm redirecting the kids' first day outfit anger at me. Allison came up with the idea of making some Italian ice. Unfortunately, there was no time to make Italian ice before the kids went to visit my in-laws for a few days. So on my way out, I told Allison I would have everything at the house when she got back and then asked if she wanted to keep scraping a pan like the recipe called for, or use the ice cream machine. She said she wanted to use the ice cream machine and I headed off to work.

Apparently, the kids didn't remember we had an ice cream maker. They were both there the last time the ice cream maker got used but that was a few years ago. It's one of those appliances that gets used twice a decade. On the ride to my in-laws, my wife was peppered with questions:

Dad said we have and ice cream machine.
Where is the ice cream machine?
What color is it?
Did you know we had one?
What does it look like?
Did you get it before we were born?
You've had an ice cream machine and never told us about it?
Why didn't you tell us you had an ice cream machine?

This isn't going to end well for me. I know that their imaginations have lead them to believe there is a full sized soft serve ice cream machine hidden in the basement when in reality, it is a small little Cuisinart thing the size of a toaster. I've already cleaned out the little freezer insert. I should go put it in the freezer immediately.

4. The bottom rubber thing (I believe that is the technical term) on the bottom of the side door to our garage was falling off. I took the door off the hinges to get a better look. Instead of being able to just replace the unattached bottom rubber thing, I found a lot of dry rot. Turns out the bottom rubber thing was supposed to be attached to wood that had disappeared. Not wanting to have to replace the whole door and deal with realigning hinges, I dug out all the dry rot and replaced it with two types of epoxy, some paint stirrers used as filler and a new bottom rubber thing. In the end, I think it cost about $25. Hopefully this particular "fix" will last a few years.

5. I spend a lot of time thinking about pizza. Probably too much time. Between vacation and a few other things, I haven't spent much time on the pizza forum. I went from being right on top of things to 26 pages of forum threads behind. I was surprised to have found a knock-down, no holds barred argument over leavening agents suitable for a classic New York Style pizza. I was actually taken aback by the fight having never seen anything that mean spirited on the forum. The main participants were two guys that I have never met, but I have come to respect and admire both of them. I was relieved to see it had kind of ended and one of the guys related it to brothers fighting. But still, I've got a shit-ton of catching up to do.

6. More pizza. All of of backyard plans seem to stall out because of pure indecision. We've gone around in circles several times. Doesn't look like the wood fired oven is going to happen in 2014. There's still a good chance we will make progress on the yard and maybe get the foundation set, but I don't want to race winter with a masonry project. I want to be able to take my time. Get it right.

On the other hand, I hate our oven for making pizza. It just doesn't get hot enough. So as a temporary band-aid, I bought a Black Stone pizza oven at Lowes. There's been a lot of beautiful pizza coming out of them on the forum. Hopefully I'll be able to make some too once I get it assembled.

7. Still more pizza. Back when I made the Firedome, I had to trim an inch or two off a peel so it would fit through my makeshift oven door. I've grown tired of only being able to make really small pizza and I'd like to learn how to form larger dough balls. During lunch today, I set off to Bed Bath and Beyond to check out their peels. Have I mentioned I take pizza too seriously?

The only pizza peel they had there was basically a pizza peel shaped cutting board for $35. C'mon.

The peel is made with wood fibers and some kind of resin. It's also dishwasher safe. Not sure why you would want that, but maybe someone out there does. I don't know if you can read the "heat resistant" section out in the second picture. This $35 cutting board is "heat resistant"  all the way up to 350 degrees F. I can even get my crappy oven up to 500 degrees. I see this $35 piece of saw dust and glue melting all over someone's pizza stone or steel. I should be able to take a deep breath and move on, but instead I took pictures and then was pissed for the rest of the day. It's not healthy. I'll see if I can get to a restaurant supply store tomorrow.  I bet I can get a better peel for less than half the cost.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Vacation, all I ever wanted.

If ever there was a good week to be kind of unplugged from reality, last week was it. As luck would have it, we were on the road. In a rented minivan. Because of a fender bender. My wife got hit driving through a parking lot. Just in time for our road trip. Not a big deal, just a pain in the ass. The vacation began with dropping off a car at a collision center and bringing home the rental. We loaded that bad boy to the roof and headed south. Day one, we drove to Maryland and stayed in a hotel. Day two, we continued driving south to North Carolina. Now we knew we were heading through Goldsboro, NC and pretty close to the legendary BBQ joint named Wilbur's. Wilbur's has the best pulled pork I've ever had. We used to stop in when my brother and sister in law used to live in Raleigh. I haven't been there in 11 years. The GPS said we were going to be about 20 miles away. After sitting in a lot of traffic, it was going to take too long to stop in so we skipped it. Until, we came around a corner and it looked very familiar. and then there it was.

After swerving across a lane of traffic, we parked and went in. We had eaten lunch already so I picked up some pulled pork to go. A pound of damn good pulled pork, 4 buns, 2 dozen hush puppies, and a container of slaw...I got change from $11. From Wilbur's, we had about 2 more hours on the road. We checked into the condo and this was the view we were going to have to deal with for a week.

Rough, right? We were down there with another family and we had a great time. A lot of swimming in the ocean. There was a sand bar on this beach so you could be 40 feet out into the water and it was still only 6 feet deep. The waves would gently pick you up and put you back down. The weather was perfect all week and there was only one day that the waves were a little choppy. And this happened too. In front are my kids, my friend Joe and his kids. That little fin in the back is one of several dolphins that swam by.

We saw sea turtles at a rescue center.

And this happened every day at 4:00. Nothing like some beach side grown up quiet time juice.

Margaritas are just better with sand between your toes. I had never heard of this, but apparently sharks go through a lot of teeth. These teeth fall out and then fossilize in the salt water. Once you know what too look for, you can find a lot of teeth.  Some are still pretty sharp and others have grooves. My friend Joe is a shark tooth hunter savant.


We also popped into an old peanut plantation. It was an interesting tour. The family that owned it was pro-union during the Civil War but had about 50 slaves. Here's an old peanut picker. Kind of looks like a Rube Goldberg contraption.

The plantation had a blacksmith shop too. Check out this huge bellow.


One last look at the beach before heading north.

We spent the night in Newark, Delaware. In the morning, we headed to Citi Field for a Mets game.

I'm not a huge baseball fan, but if I'm picking a team, it's the Mets. And while they might be in a new stadium, not much has changed. It was a close game with the Mets down 1-0 for most of it. They rallied in the bottom of the 8th to tie it up. They bring in their closer while blasting Journey's Don't Stop Believin' - possibly the worst song to pump up the crowd. They cut the song off just before the "Some will win, some will lose, some are born to sing the blues" line. Here we go. First pitch...home run. Then they get the next 3 batters out. The Mets go down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 9th with the last batter being called out on a check swing. What more could you want from a Mets game?

It was a good time. I'd do it again. How's next week looking?

Monday, July 28, 2014

I'll have what he's having

Last week, I was on the road for work and spent a night in Syracuse. Harry, my road trip partner in crime, asked Alicia at the hotel check in desk, "Where is the best pizza in the area? Not necessary nearby. Anywhere in greater Syracuse. Where's the best?" She directed us to Nick's Tomato Pies and off we went.

Unfortunately, Nick's Tomato Pies must be running some kind of summer hours because they were closed when we got there. Nick's is in the Armory Square section of Syracuse and there are quite a few dining options. I had heard someone else at the hotel talk about Pastabilities and after looking around a little bit, we decided to give it a shot. While sitting at the bar waiting for a table, Harry noticed a sign that said "Guy Ate Here." So after we were seated we talked about it with our waitress. Turns out, there was and episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives filmed here. Which is a little confusing because having looked around the place, it clearly isn't any of those things.

After looking the menu over, we decided to try what Guy had. First up, their Spicy Hot Tomato Oil. As soon as you order, you are brought a basket of house made bread and a plate that is thinly covered with tomato sauce. If you want bread and a big bowl of tomato sauce, that's $5. You can also buy this sauce in jars at the restaurant, online and I think they said Wegman's too. Guy gave the sauce and bread combination the Triple D rating, "That's Craaazzzy." The bread was good, warmed up would have been better but it was good. And the sauce is tasty too. Got a little sweet, a lot of fresh tomato flavor, a good amount of oil and a slow after burn of heat that isn't overwhelming, just nice. It's a good sauce but I think you could make something similar at home. When eating it, I thought they had used a chili oil, but after watching the video they used a chili paste. It kind of looks like the Secret Dipping Sauce (SDS) that was going around on Serious Eats awhile back. 

Next up was the Duck Bacon Pizza. Here's the description:

Pasta's Duck Bacon Flatbread Pizza $15
house-cured smoked duck bacon, Humboldt Fog aged goat cheese, mozzarella, tart cherries, shallots,
pomegranate drizzle, cracked black pepper, on our bakery fresh pizza dough

Alas, no pictures. I tried to take one of this pizza and the flash went off like lightening in the middle of the restaurant. Then I tried to take some without the flash and it was too dark. But here's the photo-less pizza story. After we had each had a slice, our waitress stopped by to ask how we liked the pizza. We said it was good and I think she was a little offended. We were clearly supposed to have had our minds blown. To give credit where credit is due, the flavor combination of the toppings is absolutely inspired. The duck bacon (house cured and smoked duck breast) is something I will try to recreate in my kitchen someday. Who am I kidding, I'm going to try and copy the whole pizza some day. But when I copy it, I will only copy the toppings because that crust doesn't deserve to be in the same restaurant those those toppings. And if you watch the video you'll see why. At about 1:50 in the clip, they start to top a pre-made flat bread that goes into the oven for 12 minutes and then under a salamander to crisp up the top. Guy said, "The crust on this flat bread is righteous." While his looked better than ours, the crust was tough to chew and the bottom tasted like uncooked flour. I think their pizza dough is their bread from the first course pressed into an oval. It is better as bread. Guy goes on to say (of the toppings), "Funkalicious," "One of the best duck dishes I've ever had," and "You jackpot-ted on that one, girl." He's pretty much right. The duck pieces are fantastic and the flavors on top of that tough, hard to chew not-pizza bread are pretty spectacular. Sorry about that last dig on the crust.

Moving on to the main dish: Wicked Chicken Riggies. I'm not sure why Syracuse sometimes seems to try and steal from Utica. Sure, my affection for Utica is unhealthy, but this almost seems like sibling rivalry. In the video, it is described as "an Upstate New York dish" but if Wikipedia can be trusted, the first line of the Chicken Riggies entry reads: "Chicken riggies or Utica riggies is an Italian-American pasta dish native to the Utica-Rome area of New York State. It is a pasta-based dish usually consisting of chicken, rigatoni and hot or sweet peppers in a spicy cream and tomato sauce, although many variations exist."

Anyhow, when Pastabilites says "Wicked," they aren't kidding. While those who are into spicy foods will enjoy this level of heat, I think it is more than the average person wants in an entree. It seemed a little to much for Harry, and he isn't a spice wimp. This version also had more cream than most versions I have had and all the spice was in the sauce - no chunks of pepper. While watching the sauce get prepared, Guy said it looked like "spicy tomato al Fredo" and that's a pretty good description of the sauce. After tasting it, Guy made a few guttural noises and then the cook said "Winner! Winner! Wicked Chicken Dinner!" and robbed of us of whatever bizarre combination of words Guy was about to share with us.

So we had what Guy had. Some of what he said was right on, other things he said were just hype. If I ever returned to Pastabilities, I might give the pizza another chance but I'd go with a different entree. There are better Riggies out there. I'd start looking about 60 miles due east.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Running out of time

When the Hoffman's first announced that they were going to retire and were looking for someone to buy their amusement park, I thought for sure some local, incredibly wealthy benefactor with millions to spare would buy them out and continue to run the park as a long term land investment. This benefactor has millions to spare. As long as the park could support itself and break even, why not?


It didn't happen. And while that didn't happen the lot next door began to get developed. Not sure who planned that, but I have no idea why it is so close to Route 9. Seriously, you should have pushed it back a bit. Looks like there will be a Bellini's (never been), Jimmy John's (never been or heard of), Burger 21 (also never been or heard of), and a Dunkin Donuts which in my mind is incredibly silly since you are already in a car and have either just foolishly driven past Bella Napoli or have about a quarter mile more to drive to enjoy a Bella Napoli doughnut.



During this same period of time when no benevolent multimillionaires stepped up to the plate (this is Albany after all, we know you're out there), I came up with a pipe dream that was just outside the realm of possiblity. I would win MegaMillions and take matters into my own hands. When Liz Bishop arrived to interview me and asked, "What are you going to do with the  money?!?!" I would calmly answer:

"I'm going to buy Hoffman's Playland."

I wouldn't renew Subway's lease and I'd replace it with a small wood fired pizza place. You probably could have guessed that. But for the most part, I think I would try to freeze it in time.


We've got a lot more Hoffman's pictures but they reside on a different computer that currently isn't hooked up. My absolute favorite picture is of a friend's kid while she was making an angry face on kiddy boat ride. It is priceless and I look forward to showing it to her future husband in the receiving line at the wedding. Alas, time is running out on Hoffman's Playland. I don't have that many more chances to win the lottery and buy the place.

But there's still some hope. I have tickets for tonight and tomorrow's drawings. And should you win Powerball this month, consider buying Hoffman's. I'll help you run the pizza joint.