Friday, July 12, 2019

Pizza in Buffalo

I was on the road this week, so , yeah, pizza. In case anyone thought this tweet was a joke...it wasn't.


I have been following an anonymous pizza writer called SexySlices. SexySlices has been on a mission to eat a lot of Buffalo Style pizza. It’s got nothing to do with wings. It is a large, doughy pizza covered with tomato sauce (possibly sweet), a shit-ton of cheese and usually some cup and char pepperoni. This is the type of pepperoni that cups as it cooks and the rim gets a little dark. You can get it with a stick of Margherita pepperoni if you slice it about nickel thickness. Some time ago, Serious Eats did a nice write up on why some pepperoni cups and others don’t. There are fans of both cupping pepperoni and pepperoni that lays flat but the cupping style seems to be having its 15 minutes of fame as it has also become popular down in the city.

As much as I really want to love Buffalo Style pizza,  I don’t. I kind of wish I did. This style of pizza is about excess and I prefer a more balanced approach. Everything about Buffalo Style is big. However I think it is the perfect slice for the drunken Bills Mafia fan just after he tries to jump through a flaming table a tailgate party. I’m not that creative, it's a thing.



A week or two ago, SexySlices had a big pizza event with pizzas supplied by 8 of his favorites. The people voted and Macy’s Pizza won. I figured if I was going to give Buffalo style another shot, it might as well be from the winner.

We got to Macy’s and they had a large 1 topping Tuesday Special. There you go, a large pepperoni pie was the order.  The Sexy Slices Trophy was on display.


A guy came in just after us and ordered a large double pepperoni pie. I think there was a little confusion because I’m pretty sure we got the double pepperoni pie and this guy ended up thinking Macy’s double pepperoni is weak. My first thought when handed the box was, “Holy shit this is heavy!” I would have liked to get an official weight on the pie. I’m guessing around 4 pounds. Here’s the pie.




It’s heavy, sit in your gut pizza. It’s greasy, messy to eat and the sauce was definitely sweet.


I’m sorry to say that if this is the best example of Buffalo Style, I’m out. On the plus side, it was a little better cold. Still not good but better. The pizza certainly wasn’t offensive and didn’t make me angry for a few days (it has happened) so this was kind of an early dinner with a friend on Tuesday night and then I ate the leftovers late at night probably more because it was there and I eat like an idiot on the road than I actually wanted the pizza.

In the morning I got right to work (certainly no need for breakfast) and then had about an hour to kill before a meeting. During the summer, Paula’s has a doughnut filled with cannoli cream. It would have been foolish not to try it, right? So I tried it.




To put it in local perspective, think powdered jelly doughnut from Bella Napoli but lose the jelly and add so-so cannoli filling. It was novelty and an experience, but Paula’s offers better doughnuts. When dinner rolled around, there was really only one place I wanted to go. Jay’s Artisan. I first met Jay on pizzamaking.com and then met him on his food truck during a Buffalo visit (made my first wood fired pizza on that truck). Jay has a restaurant now and if you like pizza - especially Neapolitan pizza – and are in the area you should definitely stop by and check the place out.

First up, a Margherita.




There is no place to hide flaws in a Margherita pizza. It is just dough, tomato, basil and cheese with a drizzle of olive oil. Jay adds a littl salt and a little parm. It is delicious here. I’d argue lighter and more delicate than the Margherita at Song e Napule and that is probably a bake time thing. Jay is cooking 60 second pizzas and Song e Napule were more in the 2 minute range. Don’t get me wrong, both are really good.

Jay has also been making a Detroit-ish style pizza. For a while it was just Wednesday and Saturday (this Wednesday night visit was not an accident) but now you can get those every day. Only 40 of them though. We (same poor soul that ate the Macy’s pie with me the night before) went for Red Top which was a pepperoni pizza – garlic, cheese blend, cup n char pepperoni, Sicilian oregano, organic tomato sauce and parm.



A good Detroit style pizza is everything that Little Caesar’s wants to be but isn’t. These were definitely different than the Detroit style pies I had and Emmy Squared and Norma’s. Both of their crust had more of a fermented flavor. This was light and airy with what seemed like less oil. It was really good. Since we were there…we got a ‘nduja pie too.


Garlic, basil, freash mozzarella, fontal, red onion Berkshire ‘nduja, chili honey and parm.  Also really good. Little spice, little sweet, delicious crust. Had a great time talking dough, the pizza forum, pizza places with Jay. Also got to meet FlourCityMark who was there grabbing a Margherita. Pizza people are the greatest. Just before we headed out, Jay told us he had put in a Banana Pepper + Onion square pie for us (garlic, cheese blend, red onion, banana peppers with poblano cream sauce and parm post bake. This one had to be cut into 6 pieces instead of the usual 4 because I was just about done. 


Another good pie. If I had to pick the best, I’d go with the Margherita. When I venture into Neapolitan style, someday fairly soon it will happen, I hope I can eventually make one as good as this.

Well, Thursday came and it was time to head back. Leftover cold banana pepper pizza for breakfast. Ate a little chocolate during the ride back from Buffalo. And now that I have returned to Albany, it is time to go back to non idiot style eating. I promise nothing, especially since I am making some dough myself tomorrow morning.

Friday, June 21, 2019

I cut the cord

Well, one of the cords. For a little over three years we have had a FIOS bundle at the house – basic TV with a DVR, digital phone and internet. There were a handful of things that I could do to lower the monthly bill. Buying my own router would knock $12 bucks off the bill and the savings would cover the cost of the router in a little over a year. I started with renting the router so that is was their problem if something went wrong. Nothing ever did. Swapping the router out for one I bought always seemed like a hassle and lately by the time 9, 10 o’clock rolls around I pretty much don’t want to do anything

A little over a month ago, I got a notice that my FIOS plan was no longer available, I was being switched to another plan and the price was going up from the already probably too much $145 to the way too much $210. Yeah…no.

So I called. They would be able to get the $210 down to $160. This was just the motivation I needed to take on the hassle. Time to investigate other options. I had heard about OOMA as a phone alternative from a friend who had it for years. It is basically owning your own digital phone. I picked one up at Best Buy for about $70. For $40 more, I ported my current phone number and had it switched from Verizon to OOMA. The monthly fee is supposed to be about $5 an it is just taxes and fees. I ordered the same router I have off Amazon ($175) because by my count I had already paid for it two and a half times. When the new router came in, it was easy to swap out. Unclick one wire, reclick it in the same spot on the new router. Easy peasy.

I signed up for HULU with all the bells and whistles but no pay channels like HBO. That’s about $65 a month. I dropped the rest of my FIOS plan except the internet which will come to $55 a month. Turns out my Smart TV isn’t very smart and cannot handle newer versions of HULU. Judging by what I saw online, Samsung has pissed off a lot of people with their not very smart TVs. Not sure last years models would get new updates. I went back to Best Buy and bought a Roku stick for about $60. With that installed, everything on the TV works.

In the end, I spent about $350 on gear. Everything hasn’t shaken out yet but I expect my total monthly cost to be in the $125 range, $35 a month ($420/year) less than sticking with the best FIOS could offer me.

It’s early yet, but I think I like this set up better. The phone also has an option to block calls. Once you call with your “SPAM Telemarketer” caller ID, you are promptly moved to the shit list and blocked. There seems to be a noticeable decrease in the amount of phantom calls we had been getting. Hopefully it all works out. If not, I’ll just have to cancel everything and then I’ll probably end up reading something that isn’t the pizza forum.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

NYC Work Trip

For the past few years, I have been on my own when I travel for work. Definitely some pros to that. On my own schedule, pick where I stay, no planning dinners or times to meet, and I often ate a stupid amount a pizza. There have been a few changes with the job and this week's work trip was a bunch of guys heading to New York City.

In general, I'm not that into New York City. I really like eating there. I'm not that into theater (I prefer high school productions to professional ones). Museums are OK but I don't typically go out of my way for them except for well know museums on a vacation, I'm not that familiar with the city, but I can say with certainty that the stores around Herald Square are basically Crossgates Mall with better architecture. 

There is only so much food I can stuff in my face on these trips. And this time, I was going to have to be cooperative with at least 2 other people. I had plotted out an insane pizza tour on the off chance I could blow everyone off and head out on my own (John's of Bleeker, Keste, Song e Napule, Scarrs, Motorino - how much fun would that have been?). That wasn't meant to be but the two guys I ate dinner with were OK heading out to 1 or maybe more depending on the timing of what a 3rd fellow traveler was up to. If I had to pick just one off of that list, I really wanted to try Song e Napule. It has been getting continuously good reviews on the Pizza Forum. The other two didn't really care and so we were off to Song e Napule. It is fairly close to Washington Square Park. I think this is where Harry met Sally.


The place is tiny. Maybe 20 seats.




As a group, we got 3 small pizzas. I went with the mushroom/prosciutto, there was a sausage/broccoli rabe and a Margherita. And here's where traveling in a group paid off. I was splitting my pizza with the sausage/broccoli rabe pizza. And the guy who had the Margherita saw the saw sausage/brocolli rabe pizza, thought it looked interesting and we swapped slices so I got to try all 3 pizzas which definitely would not have happened if I was on my own and heading to 3 or 4 more places...pros and cons...
 




The crust was delicate and light. I didn't taste any sourdough so I think they use cake yeast. Topping were also very good. The tomato sauce was outstanding. It really shined on the Margherita pizza. And while I am definitely not a Neapolitan pizza connoisseur, this was the 2nd best Neapolitan pizza I've had to date (Jay's Artisan is still the reigning champ). The bakes I times were both right around 2:15 which is long for Neapolitan. Technically, too long. But I think the longer bake time is needed to balance the top and bottom heat in the oven. My guess is that cooking hotter and faster in that even would move the bottom of the pizza past soft with a little char to burnt. The non pizza portion of the menu looks delicious too. I think it is a matter of time until word gets out about this place and they are running lines. They seemed to have a decent to-go business running while we were there too. Which is good for their business but tragic for the pizza. 

I'd be curious to see how Keste and Motorino compared but as a group, we headed off to meet another colleague at a bar closer to the hotel. Not a place I would have picked, but the drink prices were OK and the people watching was interesting. Got back to the hotel a little after 10. Had to meet up again at 7 AM. My options were go to bed or walk a little ways to NY Pizzeria Suprema....

 

You can find Suprema right next to Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Looking at the slices in the case, I went with an upside down square and a plain cheese. I got the reheat on the upside down and was going to have to wait a minute for a fresh cheese pie to come out of the oven. I found a table off to the side and started in on the upside slice. Good crunch. The sauce was a little sweet but it worked with the slice. It was pretty good, not blow my mind amazing like my first Pizza Town USA visit, but definitely good.




The cheese slice, well it was also good. I thought it was a little over sauced. Everything slid around and when I did the classic slice fold, sauce kind of went everywhere. Still, an OK slice and a little bit of a confidence builder - I like my cheese slice more. In looking at the picture again, it is definitely over sauced.



While I was in a short line placing my first order, a few people seemed to be ordering the mushroom slice so I go back in line to try that one.



Also good. The mushrooms were either sauteed or roasted with some garlic and seasonings before going on the pizza. I think the topped pizzas might be the way to go at Suprema. They look good and seemed to have better sauce control. In the "it's a small world" file, Sylvia from DelSo was there earlier in the day. She enjoyed her slices and sent a picture. Both of the these slices had limited amounts of red sauce and I think that might be the key here.

(Sylvia's photo downloaded from The Twitter)

The next day after the meetings were done, we took the subway back to the Penn Station area. We went to a place whose name I can't remember. It was pretty standard mostly burger place. To get there we walked past an Upside Pizzeria, a 2Bros (curious about both but I don't expect much from their pizza) and a Grays Papaya. Pretty sure there was a Shake Shake nearby too. But I wasn't on my own this time. Calorie-wise, it might have been for the best.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Last Batavia Pizza Stop


Once again, I returned to Batavia and I wanted to use the opportunity to finish my quest to eat all the non-chain pizza Batavia has to offer. Technically I'm just coming close but I’m still going to call it. The signage in front of Mark Pizzeria has changed. It looks like it is now called 151 Pizza. From a quick drive by, nothing inside the store looks like it has changed so I think I’m close enough to saying I tried everywhere. I’ll be back in the area at least once more so maybe I’ll try it, but if they are still cooking on a conveyor belt, I’ll probably skip it.

The last place to visit was Big Pauly’s Pizza. First thing I noticed was big deck ovens which is a step in the right direction from the conveyor belts in my opinion. Remember those air pop popcorn makers that basically blow dry popcorn? It’s not the way to make great popcorn and I’d argue it isn’t the way to make a great pizza. I ordered a medium (listed as an 8 cut) half cup and char pepperoni and then watched my order get made. I must be getting old because the guy making the pizza looked really young. He and the other woman behind the counter were very welcoming. If you are going to leave your shop in the hands of two young people on a Wednesday night, they would be a good choice. Not the cleanest kitchen, looks like it has fallen victim to a lot of fryers running all the time but the place smelled good.



Onto the pizza. The dough ball was stored in a plastic bag. Nothing wrong with that (I do it too) I just don’t see it in many professional shops. There was no edge stretching. The dough was first pressed down on a floured stainless steel counter. It was a press and then pull hands apart technique. There was a lot of bench flour and just a final little bit of knuckle stretching before the skin went on the peel. The rim of the pizza was then kind of pressed/formed. Once the dough was on the peel a lot of sauce went on and was spread to the edges. Then there was a light dusting of grated cheese and followed by a pinch of dried herbs. Cheese and then half the pepperoni went on the sauced skin and into the oven it went.

Being a nerd, I started a timer. About 8 minutes in, the pizza got checked, a bubble got popped, a little bit of a spin and then the oven door was closed again. Total bake time was 11 minutes, 20 seconds. With that kind of time I'd guess the oven temperature was below 500F.  The pizza cost $11.89. At least I think that’s what it cost. It was just under $12, I forgot to note the final price.

Whole Pizza 

 Popped Bubble

 Crumb, I think a combination of the pressing and low oven temperature limited the oven spring.

Undercarriage. Not very dark for an over 11 minute bake. That oven couldn't be very hot.

The verdict: I thought the crust was pretty flavorless, the crumb was very tight from all the pressing.  An edge stretch would really have helped the rim. There was too much sauce and cheese so the toppings slid. I’d guess the diameter of the pizza was 14 inches and I think the dough ball was a little too big for that size. Western, NY seems to like a doughy crust so this might be more of a regional preference. Sauce had a sweetness too which is also a Western, NY thing. The pepperoni had a little zip to it. In the end, better than a chain pizza but not anything special. Very friendly, welcoming place though.

So now onto my official Batavia, NY Pizza Power Rankings

Best
1. Batavia’s Original – my personal preference would be to get the less doughy NY Style instead of the thicker Batavia Style.

2. Ken’s Charcoal Pit – pizza cooked in an outdoor oven that is only available on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. 

Better than a chain, but kind of similar to a chain
3. Big Pauly’s - I think the deck oven and cup and char pepperoni push this shop to the top of this portion of the list.

4. Jerry Arena’s - Kind of like a homemade chain pizza.

5. Mark’s Pizza (no longer there) – Smaller than a national chain, but a pretty similar style of pizza.

Order something other than pizza
6. Main Street House of Pizza - while I didn't enjoy the pizza here, it looked like other dishes might be good. Pretty big menu.

7. Ficarella's -Try the wings, maybe? If I think too long about it, I still get mad at the pizza I had here.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Compliments

Compliments are cheap but they are sometimes more of a polite thing than a heart felt thing. "Good job" is not the same as a detailed, specific or enthusiastic compliment. Anyhow, I got a good one last night and it is still giving me a little smile.

Typically when I fire up the oven, I deliver pizzas to the neighbors across the street. One family gets a cheese, the other gets a half pepperoni (Dad likes pepperoni, kids like cheese). It's good practice. Two more pizzas I get to make but don't have to eat. I blew off work yesterday with the plan for the day to make pizza in the oven. The weather was supposed to be decent and the temperature was supposed to get to 40. Perfect. Toppings are easy when the outside temperature is basically refrigerator temp. The dough is easier to mange too. And in a rare occurrence, I was actually happy with the quality of the pizza I was pulling out of the oven. Figures, because I didn't take any pictures of the finished pizzas.

Last time at the cheese family, I was invited in and was talking with the parents while the daughter ate a slice of pizza. She interrupted the conversation to say in a serious, matter of fact way, "You make really good pizza, Mr. Jon." It was a very sweet compliment that still makes me smile.

Yesterday's pizza delivery was almost stealthy. It had to have been very quiet. They have two dogs and I didn't see or hear either of them.When I got to the door, I could see the mom on the phone right there. Instead of ringing the bell, I just tapped on the glass. She saw me (and the pizza box), opened the door smiled/thanked me. We exchanged "Happy Friday" greetings and I left. As I was walking down the driveway I could hear their daughter excitedly screaming, "Mr. Jon brought pizza! Mr. Jon brought pizza!" That was nice. I said she's a sweet kid, right? Then I got a few more steps down the driveway and the front door re-opened. A face I had never seen before appeared, a guest I suppose, shouted, "You're the best neighbor ever!!!"

I waved back and that compliment definitely made me smile. Then I walked back to the oven and made a half pepperoni for my other neighbor.

UPDATE to the original post: I wrote this in the morning and figured I'd read it again later. Wasn't sure I was going to post it at all. Feels a little too much yay me. After writing it, I took the dog for a walk and saw my neighbor. I had actually met the unknown face about a year ago. It was Grandma. Our dogs were born around the same time and played as puppies. She had heard the stories about a guy that just shows up with a pizza at random times and was very excited that she got to try it.

I also posted that I spent most of my Friday focused on pizza and got this funny reply from Chef Ric Orlando.

 

Friday, January 18, 2019

An Ode to Cheap Kielbasa


I wonder if the Pizza Cognition Theory (basically: the first pizza a child eats and appreciates becomes what “pizza” is for that child) applies to other foods. The wondering started when I bought a package of the kielbasa we used to have at family cookouts and birthday parties when I was a kid. I’ve had many kinds of kielbasa. Different brands (White Eagle and Bilinski are some local ones) to fancier in house butcher made “artisan” styles. I’ve made and smoked homemade kielbasa. But for me, the one I really like is the mass-produced Hillshire Farm Polska Kielbasa. Not any other of the Hillshire Farm styles, especially not the turkey. Just Polska Kielbasa.

At some point in the past year I started buying it again. I usually grill the same way my father used to grill it at my birthday party. The kielbasa is cut into 2 inch pieces and then each piece is split in half.


The cut side is grilled first. It was dark and a little smokey, not the best time for a flash picture.


Once that side has some color and grill marks, each piece is flipped to get a little color on the casing side. That’s it.


If you were at my 4th birthday party, pieces of this kielbasa would be served with a tooth pick sticking out of each piece on a paper plate that was wrapped in aluminum foil. In the center of the plate would have been a mound of Gulden’s spicy brown mustard for optional dipping. At home I usually use a Dijon mustard for just about everything but I recently picked up some Gulden’s to go with the occasional Polska Kielbasa. 

On paper, I shouldn’t really like this guilty pleasure but it's probably a good thing that I have to share this basically oversized hot dog with the rest of the family. I’m pretty sure I could eat the whole thing.