Saturday, October 6, 2018

Pizza on the road

This summer, we spent a few days down in Wildwood, New Jersey. It was a fun trip. Since we were basically driving right past PizzaTown USA, we stopped on the way down for some slices, deep fried calzones and zeppoles. And while we were in Wildwood, there are two well know boarwalk style pizza places that I had to try: Macks and Sam's.

This trip happened way back in August and I didn't post about it because I found both places very disappointing. I felt that Mack's was nothing special. I had to go twice to because I had such high expectations and the first visit was just so-so. The second visit was a little better but nothing I would go out of my way to get. Sam's, well Sam's was just bad. I tried slices and a whole pie from Sam's. They were pretty much the same. And the crust was an exercise in way too much bench flour. Look at this. I wouldn't serve that to anyone, let alone take money for it. As I stood at the counter watching, this was how all the pizza looked. This is the same photo, just cropped to zoom in to show the uncooked flour.

Needless to say I was discouraged by the mediocrity of two well known pizza places and kind of fell back into the habit only eating my own pizza, which doesn't really expand one's horizon. A series of work trips came up and I found myself alone driving around Batavia, NY. While driving I began to notice the pizza places. It seemed like there were more than the local population could support. I think my first count was 8, not counting Pizza Hut and Dominos.

The idea of an All Batavia Pizza Tour felt good. Something to do during the off hours while alone in a town I'll probably be visiting monthly for a while. A mission. Eat Batavia's pizza. I had already had one place down when the idea came to me. Ken's Charcoal Pit serves wood fired pizza Thursday through Saturday and as luck would have it, I was there on a Thursday evening.

Ken's is an odd place. I had been there once on a Tuesday and tried some of their barbecue.It was OK. I also had a salad and was introduced to a new salad dressing. Riviera dressing. It was kind of like taking French dressing, mixing with an Italian dressing and serving it slightly warmed. Unique. Which is why I was surprised when I returned on a Thursday to try the pizza and the salad bar was open, all the dressings were packets of Ken's. I've never seen that at a salad bar outside of a grocery store. That's weird, right? There was also a special being offered that included a "lightly flowered" dough.

I asked my server what she recommended because a few of the topping combinations sounded good. She recommended the Buffalo chicken with pepperoni added. I was a little reluctant because Buffalo sauce makes everything taste like Buffalo sauce which isn't necessarily a bad thing but I did want to taste the crust. Figuring I could start with the rim of the pizza and go from there, I went with her recommendation, and truth be told it is a topping combination I have stolen and made at home.

The pizza was alright. Crust was decent. I think you get a better flavor throwing a little Gorgonzola on pre-bake than using a squirt bottle of blue cheese dress post-bake, but you can't fault them for my personal preferences. It was a decent pizza. If it was local, we might go on the occasional Friday night.

On the next trip, I thought I'd make a quick stop in town for some slices for lunch and then head out to my work site. After a quick review of locations that wouldn't be out of the way and were open, I headed to Ficarella's Pizza. Website says it has been in business for 31 years.

When I walked in, two women were talking behind the counter. I was the only customer there. I saw the spinning enclosed rack of slice pizzas. The pizza did not look good. Had there been a polite way to turn around and leave, I probably would have done it. I briefly considered doing it impolitely but figured...SCIENCE! I ordered a plan cheese and a pepperoni. I was asked if I wanted sweet or regular sauce on the pepperoni. I went with regular. Maybe I'm missing something with the sweet sauce. There was no reheat. The slices were taken out of their spinning glass case and slid into a bag, one on top of the other. 

I was charged $6 for these two slices. I ate about two thirds of the cheese slice and two bites of the pepperoni. They were bad. really bad. Had the pepperoni been cup and char I might have thought there were doing some kind of Buffalo style pizza (it's actually a thing - kind of bready, tons of cheese, pepperoni that cups and doesn't lay flat like these. I've had it once or twice and it isn't for me).

Well, this was one of those pizza experiences that makes me mad for days. It was that bad. Several months ago, I was invited to tasting of local convenience store pizza (again, for SCIENCE!). I'd put Ficarella's on par with convenience store pizza. You can do better with a 12 cut from Price Chopper.

After Ficarella's, my pizza binge was put on hold. The stomach was willing but the mind couldn't handle the disappointment. I thought I would do better because my expectations were low, but seeing what passes as pizza can be depressing. It's like seeing a plate of bagels and cream cheese on the other side of the conference room only to get closer and realize the bagels are from Dunkin' Donuts. Disappointing. I ended up getting Pad Thai at a places near the hotel for dinner instead of trying more pizza that night.It wasn't anything special either, but I had no absurd emotional attachment to the dish.

Alas, my Batavia adventure will continue sometime later this month. I'm recharged and think I can knock two or three of these places off the the to-do list. Still to try in no particular order are

Jerry Arena's Pizzeria
Big Paulie's
Mark's Pizza
Batavia's Original
Main Street Pizza
and I think one other that I drove by but can find on a map right now.


  1. Last month I was in my hometown (Greenwood Lake, NY) for a concert at the beach. When it was over, we stopped at a pizza joint in town that now occupies what had been a white linen tablecloth where my brother and other friends had once worked. We arrived as they were basically shutting the place down for the night and were told that we were welcome to order wings and/or pizza, but the rest of the menu was unavailable that late at night. We got a large cheese and medium order of wings. Simple stuff. Well, the pizza was so damn good that I haven't had pizza since. The crust audibly crunched when I folded my slice in half to stuff it in my mouth. A small pool of grease accumulated on the paper plate as it dripped from the sauce and the cheese stretched between my teeth and the slice in my hand. It was the perfect marriage of crust, sauce and cheese. As for the wings - I don't really eat wings. Generally, the grease, flacid skin and unbalanced heat/flavor make not eating wings easy. These wings, though? they were crispy, evenly coated with sauce and a delightful level of heat. I ate three, maybe four and would have eaten more if I didn't house two slices of pizza. I need to go home more often.

    1. A good slice is something special and it really is all about balance between the cheese, sauce, and crust. Sounds like a fun night.

  2. We go to Wildwood yearly. The only place I've found that's decent is Poppi's Brick Oven on New Jersey Ave. The boardwalk pizza is all overrated.

    But, we've found a place to go for pizza on the ride down. Arturo's Osteria in Maplewood. It's become a must stop for us. They're putting out fantastic pies.

    1. That does look good. There's a lot of good pizza to be found in Jersey. Nowhere near Wildwood, but I recently heard about a place called Rosie's in Point Pleasant Beach. But the leader on my "I really want to go try" list is Beebe's in Long Island City down in Queens. Someday... I'm off to Batavia again tomorrow. Going to try to get to at least 2 more places.