In his indispensable book "American Pie," author and baking educator Peter Reinhart embarks upon a hunt for the perfect pizza. Even he acknowledges that a flawlessly prepared pie often can't compare to one that is simply, thoroughly satisfying. Because pizza really doesn't have to be perfect; it can evoke a savory memory, lure friends over for dinner, or merely soak up the booze sloshing around your stomach as you stand over the sink and wolf down a cold slice at 3 a.m. Whatever the circumstance, there's always a chance that any slice could be the finest pizza you've ever had.
But pizza, as you know, is an extremely personal thing; what rises another guy's dough might not appeal to you. Thin crust or thick?Red sauce or white? And the toppings -- go minimalist or opt for the works? Fortunately, Rochester is brimming with enough pizzerias to satisfy even the fussiest pizzaphile. And while there are a few delicious higher-end places that use buzzy terms like "brick oven" and "wood-fired," I'm focusing on the neighborhood take-out joints, the ones where the grease pooled in the little pepperoni cups is a symbol of love.
This list is neither comprehensive nor scientific; I asked around, ate around, and here is what I came up with. If you have a favorite neighborhood pizza joint we didn't cover, tell us about it.
The name may suggest otherwise, but the pie is not an afterthought at Acme Bar and Pizza (495 Monroe Ave, 271-2263), a fairly typical saloon that also serves up an excellent pizza. The toppings are pretty standard, and the New York-style slice folds in half beautifully, allowing you to easily balance both your pint and your snack. Acme serves from lunch until 2 a.m., though take-out is available in case your toddler can't find her fake ID.
If you like your pizzerias established, visit Amico's Pizza (859 E. Ridge Road, 544-8380, amicopizza.com), which is nearing its 50th year in existence. The family-run business sells exactly what you would expect, namely pizza and wings, with a few fried sides. Interesting choices include an eggplant-parm pizza as well as a bianco with tomatoes and fresh basil. But purists should dig the No. 1: homemade sauce covered with ground Pecorino Romano.
The term "Rochester institution" gets bandied about a little too often, but it almost definitely applies to Bay-Goodman Pizza (620 N Winton Road, 288-0730, originalbaygoodman.com), which has risen from the proverbial ashes of its original outpost and multiplied. (The second spot is near the House of Guitars on Titus Avenue.) This is quintessential Rochester pizza, with a classic sauce and a crust somewhere between New York thin and Sicilian thick. Chances are your Rochester0born parents adored this place.
Brandani's Pizzeria (2595 W. Henrietta Road, 272-7180, brandanispizza.com) has also been kicking around for a while, and in its current location since the mid-80's. It serves up specialty pizzas like Philly cheesesteak and Buffalo wing, and caters to the commitmentphobes among us by offering those by the slice to boot. Oh, and you better bring your sweet tooth; along with pizza fritta, Brandani's makes its Italian ices and gelati in-house.
Fans of Chicago-style pizza ought to seek out Chester Cab Pizza (707 Park Ave, 244-8211, chestercab.com), which goes beyond the mere deep-dish to include a top crust that will seal in any of the 25 topping choices that might tickle your fancy. The extensive menu also includes salads, subs, four styles of wings, as well as "Poor Man's Pizza," a hearth-baked thin-crust pie for those who just don't have that much, um, dough.
So What if they're long removed from their namesake Upper Monroe neighborhood? Cobbs Hill Pizza & Pasta (630 Park Ave, 672-3266, cobbshillitalianbistro.com) still does great pizza and all kinds of sandwiches, from wraps to subs to panini. Not in the mood for a pie? Get yourself some rigatoni and homemade sauce; it might be better than your grandmas, but you can never, ever tell her that.
Dragonfly Pizza Factory (725 Park Ave, 563-6333, dragonflytavern.com) does way more than just pies (in case you need to feed any heathens), but it's the pizza that gets most of the attention. Whole-wheat crust is available for a little extra, and the specialty pies are inspired. Try the Greek pizza with feta and kalamata olives, or embrace carbohydrates with the mac-n-cheese pizza. May as well top it with bacon...
I still remember this one particular pie I had from Little Venice Pizza (742 South Ave, 473-6710, littlevenicepizza.net) back in the late 80's; it was white garlic, with broccoli and sausage, and I had never tasted such awesome pizza before. Little Venice is still at it, now in a larger space down the street from its original location, and though it offers other items like a fish fry and the ubiquitous Rochester-style "plate," it's still all about memorable pizza.
Martusciello's Bakery (2280 Lyell Ave, 247-0510, martusciellos.com) is pretty renowned around here for its fantastic bread, so it should come as no surprise that it does pizza as well. Order a pie to go or walk in and try to choose from the tempting display of personal pizzas. Or personal cannoli, personal baklava. Want a preview? The website offers a mouthwatering virtual tour.
Those who require a gluten-free pie probably already have Nick's Deli and Pizza (1098 Chili-Coldwater Road, 247-6270, nicksdeliandpizza.com) on their radar; Nick's even sells packages of unadorned gluten-free pizza shells to take home. But of course Nick's does a conventional white-flour pizza, like the quattrostagioni: separate quadrants of artichoke, olive, prosciutto, and sausage.
Although it also makes a thinner crust, Nino's Pizzeria (1330 Culver Road, 482-2264, ninospizzeriarochester.com), is justly famed for its thick-crusted focaccia pizza, which it has been turning out since 1973. No weirdo toppings here; just fresh, traditional offerings that many devotees of the Sicilian style swear is the area's best.
In my unofficial poll, however, the victor was clear: Pizza Stop (123 State St., 546-7252) is consistently held up as the finest New York-style pizza in Rochester. Toppings are customary (mmm... cherry peppers!) and properly hot ovens give the crust a tasty char, which you can also see when you fold the hot slice in half to cram into your mouth. Keep in mind that Pizza Stop locks its doors at 5:30 p.m. (7 p.m. on Fridays) and closes for the weekend, so plan ahead!
Local pizza chains
Chain establishments often get an unfair rap. People are so busy accusing them of corporate whoredom that they ignore one obvious fact: businesses expand because they're doing something right. But you can still feel good about buying local with a few of our hometown pizza chains.
Pontillo's Pizzeria (pontillospizza.com) has been around for more than 60 years; now with 23 locations, its pie is what a lot of Rochesterians grew up on. (Around these parts the kids teethe on pizza bones, a/k/a leftover crust.)
The Fantauzzo family has operated Salvatore's Old-Fashioned Pizzeria (salvatores.com) since 1978, and its 21 locations famously "deliver everything... but babies!"
Marvin Mozzeroni's (whatareyouhungryfor.com) was known as Starvin' Marvin's until a couple years ago; now with five stores, its newest one is nestled at the primo corner of Park and Oxford.
Once a hidden gem, Guida's Pizzeria (guidaspizzeria.com) has expanded to five locations over the last 16 years, becoming a yummy force to be reckoned with.