I watched Fiamma co-owner Giuseppe Paciullo slide his pizza-laden peel into a wood-burning oven aglow with flame, turned around to jot something down, then, less than a minute later, heard shocked noises coming from photographer Matt DeTurck: "It's done!?"
Forty-five seconds. That's how long co-owner Robby Brockler says it takes for Fiamma's Neapolitan pizza oven, running solely on wood at around 1,000 degrees, to bake a pie, the toppings perfectly done and the crust blistered, crisp-tender, and oh-so-slightly charred. Much like the 19th-century Italian immigrants themselves, this 6,000-pound behemoth traveled from Italy to America by boat before making its way west... or at least to Rochester's west side, where it was carefully loaded into the old General Hoock's space on Buffalo Road and now sits hungrily above a doomed pile of wood.
So after that kind of commitment, it should come as no surprise that pizza is the jewel of Fiamma's menu. All created with a dough made in-house, the selections range from the gloriously simple Napoletana ($9), adorned with tomato sauce, garlic, oregano, basil, pecorino, and extra-virgin olive oil; to the autumnal Positano ($14), with butternut squash puree, smoked mozzarella, basil, and spicy pancetta; to the riotous flavors, textures, and temperatures of the yummy San Daniele ($16), which boasts mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, baby arugula, prosciutto, shaved parmigiano-reggiano, and a balsamic cream.
"It's food that you would eat if you were in Italy," says Brockler, Fiamma's Old World authenticity distinguishing it from many of the Italian-American eateries affectionately known as red-sauce joints. The menu also features an oblong, pita-like sandwich called panuozzi, a Campania specialty made from pizza dough that's quickly puffed then stuffed with, say, porchetta, mozzarella, arugula, and marinated artichoke hearts, as in the Romano ($11). There are, of course, hot and cold antipasti options as well as pasta and meat entrées, like orecchiette with sautéed cauliflower, salty guanciale, velvety besciamella, and toasted panko ($14), and pan-seared pork chops in a Peroni beer sauce with spicy cherry peppers and gorgonzola ($16). The rotating dessert selection includes fat lemons imported from Italy's Amalfi Coast that have been hollowed out and filled with sorbetto.
The gorgeous, red-tiled oven (except for some strategically placed white tiles that read "Fiamma") is the eye-catching heart of the open kitchen, which anchors a cozy space full of charmingly mismatched chairs and tables plus a 10-seat bar. (Wine-and-beer license pending; meanwhile, bring your own.)
Open for just more than a month, Fiamma has benefitted from stellar word-of-mouth, so much so that Brockler and Paciullo are already entertaining the notion of expansion. For now, though, just one place to sample what Fiamma brings to la tavola. Says Brockler, "It's a good place to start."
Fiamma is located at 1308 Buffalo Road. Lunch served Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., dinner served Monday-Saturday 4:30-10 p.m. Food prices range from $8 to $22. For more information, call 270-4683 or visit fiammarochester.com.
The challenge to the chefs taking part in the upcoming Finger Lakes Restaurant Week, October 22-29, is to come up with 100 percent locally sourced menus for both lunch and dinner, priced (not including tax and tip) between $15 and $50 per person. Rising to the task are eateries as popular and varied as Naples' Brown Hound Bistro, Dano's Heuriger in Hector, The Cellar in Corning, and Ovid's The Copper Oven. Before you go, make sure to visit restaurantweekfingerlakes.com for everything you need to know about such things as menus, suppliers, accommodations, and making reservations.
Cheese Masters is a locally based new-concept kiosk that recently debuted at Eastview Mall, offering freshly made and customizable grilled-cheese sandwiches along with the necessary accoutrements, a fancy way of saying potato chips and tomato soup. Two additional locations are planned for early 2013; call 300-5236 or visit cheesemasters.net for more information.
As part of its open-house weekend, the Rochester Folk Art Guild in Middlesex is throwing an Apple Fest on Sunday, October 14, 1-5 p.m. Activities include cider pressing, orchard tours, and craft demos, plus apple-centric games and food. Check out rfag.org for further details.
Those of you who live for this particular season, which finds pumpkin incorporated into just about everything possible, may already be tailgating in advance of October 11's Gaga For Gourds, also known as The Old Toad's Pumpkin Beer Festival, beginning at 6 p.m. In addition to the chance to quaff a selection of the country's best pumpkin brews, there will be grub specials, apple bobbing, and a pumpkin-carving competition. Pop over to theoldtoad.com or call 232-2626 for more information and contest guidelines.
If you're trying to keep gluten- and dairy-free, seek out a new cookbook entitled "Food That Grows" ($29.95 at amazon.com), co-authored by Tanda Cook, ND, and Penfield High School alum Sarah Marshall, ND, and described on its cover as "a practical guide to healthy living with whole food recipes." Besides delectably creative ideas for meals, "Food That Grows" is chock full of info on topics like cooking with kids, stocking your pantry, and the relationship between what you eat and how you feel. Visit foodthatgrows.com for a preview.
Chow Hound is a food and restaurant news column. Do you have a tip? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org