A New Way to Rate

As the Pizza Geek returns to active duty, it’s time for an update to the rating system.  The 1-to-5 ratings mean different things to different people.  This is particularly evident when eating with a group.  Even if everyone generally describes the pizza in similar terms, the number ratings they come up with vary a LOT.

So let’s make a break from the past.  From now on, let’s give letter grades a try, with more specific definitions of their meanings:

  • A+   Absolutely perfect, heavenly, awe-inspiring OMG pizza.  The stuff of dreams.  Not a single flaw, no room for improvement.  You would drive many hours for it – and often.  No amount of superlatives could properly describe how WONDERFUL it is.  Pizza chefs from other restaurants travel here in disguise, trying to figure out how they do it.  Perfect pizza is theoretically impossible to achieve due to differing personal preferences, but we keep hoping, dreaming, searching…
  • A   Excellent pizza.  It provides a high level of pizza happiness.  You could recommend this pizza to anyone without reservation.  Just one small step below perfect, because a true afficionado may be able to nit-pick a minor flaw here or there.  Well-worth driving far out of your way, even if you have a pretty good local shop.
  • B   Reasonably good pizza.  Most people would be generally satisfied with it, even though it may have some obvious defects that even non-aficionados can identify.  You know you can find better pizza, but this will be do when you’re in a hurry.
  • C   Disappointing pizza.  You take a few bites and sort of grimace, because it’s obvious they’re taking  shortcuts and don’t really care about quality.  It may have one or more good features, but the bad aspects outweigh the good.  If you’re really hungry you’ll finish it, although you’re not happy about it.
  • D   Lousy pizza.  Nothing about it is as it should be.  Technically edible, but why bother.  It may LOOK like pizza, yet it doesn’t really taste anything like it.  Provides ZERO pizza satisfaction.
  • F   Total FAIL.  The very worst of the worst.  No self-respecting person could possibly eat this travesty.  Wait, was that pizza, or was I eating the box?  Theoretically impossible for a pizza shop to exist very long serving this, because so few people are gullible enough to buy it.

I think that A+ and F ratings will be extremely unlikely, so that means future ratings will be A, B, C or D.

What do you think?  Will those four grading levels be enough?  The first of my new ratings will be published in a few days.

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Best Pizza Nationwide

It’s risky business, trying to pick the best pizza nationwide.  Still, it makes for interesting reading.  If you’re not hungry yet, you WILL be…

The 33 Best Pizza Shops in America

 

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Time To Get Back To Work!

I’m embarrassed that it has been THREE YEARS since I last posted a pizza review!  As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, various family responsibilities and career changes have made it impossible to keep up the previous pace of reviews.

But now I’m ready to get back to (pizza) work!  Some things will be different this time:

  • More emphasis on QUALITY reviews, rather than the QUANTITY of reviews.  I think I had gotten into the trap of trying to do too much, too fast.
  • PICKIER reviews.  I think many pizza places were given scores that are too generous.  Now that I have a broad base of local pizza experiences to draw upon for reference, I’ll be a tougher critic.  Some of my early reviews were too generous because I’d had so much bad pizza, and was easily impressed by contrast.  The high scores of many pizza shops will fall when I re-visit them.
  • If I’m going to give a really bad review, or a really good review, I’ll make multiple visits to make sure I get it right.
  • I will work my way back through the old ones and try to note which ones have closed, moved, changed, etc.

Thanks for reading my reviews!  Remember to subscribe so that you’ll be alerted each time there is a new review.

Let’s get to work!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Where is the Pizza Geek?

Work and home life have both been very busy and challenging for the past year.  On top of that, my wife has gone on a gluten-free diet.  That will really cramp your pizza style!

Still, I’m getting the itch to return to active pizza reviewing.  Maybe a little less volume, and a little better quality.  Maybe fewer slices, and more whole, fresh pies.

I’m astonished by how many place I’ve reviewed have closed or changed ownership.  I’ll start editing the old reviews to reflect that.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

BB’s Pizza, Auburn

BB's Pizza, AuburnBB’s Pizza is rather new, opened in 2010 on Auburn’s west side (250 Genesee Street). It would be nice to say that I found this place by accident when I was in Auburn on business, but the truth is that I had some help. A friend of mine from Auburn has been bragging on BB’s Pizza for a while now; his family enjoys some every Friday night. It was interesting to note that BB’s is located in the same building as another pizza restaurant, and across the street from yet another! There are two, very small tables inside, and one outside. However, I would hesitate to say that you could eat in. Parking is easy right on Genesee Street, and delivery is available. Closed Sunday.

BB's Pizza, AuburnThe menu lists a generally typical selection of pizzeria food, but one thing really caught my eye: garbage pizza! It is described as “everything you can imagine on a pizza.” BB’s Facebook page has a post which mentions that the garbage pizza weighs in at 6 to 8 pounds! Someday I hope to give it a try, but I have a feeling that I’ll want to edit the toppings a little, since some things just do not belong on pizza (such as anchovies, broccoli, pineapple). Another interesting comment from the Facebook page: No freezer, no microwave, everything is fresh.

BB's Pizza, AuburnA good selection of pizza slices was available when we stopped in at the tail end of lunch today (yes, this review is being posted on the same day), and I chose two slices: pepperoni, and onion-pepper-mushroom. After a brief re-heat, we headed outside to enjoy our slices. This pizza fits squarely in the category of thin, Neapolitan, NY Style, or whatever you’d like to call it. It was about 3/16″ thin, increasing to about 3/4″ at the rim, baked directly on the oven stone. There was a pleasant crispiness in every bite, with just the right amount of chewiness. The crust interior did not have quite the complexity of structure that I have seen on the very best crusts, but the flavor did not suffer from it.

BB's Pizza, AuburnThis sauce had a good deal of personality. First of all, there was enough that you could actually taste it! It was bright red, generally smooth texture, moderately spiced with visible flakes, and had a mix of sweet, acidic and salty notes. Actual tomato flavor was a little subdued. If I could change one thing about it, I would drop the salt level just a tad. Cheese was Grande, which is usually pretty good, but tends to have some oil separation under certain cooking conditions. As you’ll notice in the photo, the pepperoni slice was much more orange and oily, whereas the veggie slice had cheese that was still white and not oily. The amount of cheese was in good balance with the other ingredients.

Thinking back to the Facebook comment about “no freezer, no microwave, everything fresh,” I was happy to notice the toppings were indeed fresh and tasty. I’m sorry that I didn’t have a slice with sausage, because it would be interesting to see what was used. Sometimes I would prefer a little more toppings than what this slice had. All things considered, though, I think it was about right.

Overall, this pizza has a lot to recommend it, and virtually nothing to criticize. Every bite produced a high amount of “wow!” factor, with a great confluence of tastes. Everything was in balance, and every bite had just the right amount of crispy crunch. You will eat every last bite! My only complaint is with the sauce – the salt level was a little higher than I prefer, and it could benefit from a little chunkiness and more fresh tomato taste. But keep my gripes in perspective, because I still highly recommend it, and give it a Pizza Geek rating of a very solid 4.5 out of 5 slices. If I have the opportunity to return and try a fresh pie, I have a feeling we’d be looking at a 4.75.

Summary – Pros: exceptional taste. Cons: eat-in really not practical.

What do YOU think? How does BB’s compare to other Auburn pizzerias? Please leave a comment and let us know.

Crust: *****
Sauce: ****
Cheese: *****
Toppings: *****

Overall:

BB’s Pizza, 250 Genesee Street, Auburn – 315-704-0227

Posted in 13021 - Auburn, by the slice, delivery, slices rating: 4.5, thin crust | 10 Comments

Domino’s Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)

Domino's Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)Have I gone too far? Have I lost my mind? The guys at the office think so. To quote “J,” when he came to my office and saw the Domino’s boxes: “Are you serious? Is this a f-ing joke?” To say that my choice of Domino’s Pizza for lunch that day was unpopular would be quite an understatement. I was informed that I’m now on “pizza probation.” So why did I do it?

I don’t eat much pizza from the national chains. But now and then, something catches my eye and curiosity gets the better of me. This time, it was Domino’s “Artisan Pizza.” If you watch any amount of football, you’ve probably seen it in the commercials: “Hand-stretched, artisan-style crusts and perfectly balanced combinations of select quality ingredients.” There are three varieties: Spinach & Feta (no thanks!), Domino's Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)Tuscan Salami & Roasted Veggie (maybe), and Italian Sausage & Pepper Trio (sounds good – picture at right). From Domino’s web site, a more detailed description: “Parmesan-asiago cheese and sliced Italian sausage complemented by a trio of roasted red, green and banana peppers, on an artisan-style crust, topped with a dash of oregano.”

What is an artisan crust? Dictionary.com defines “artisan” as: “a person or company that makes a high-quality, distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand and using traditional methods.” I guess this pizza qualifies as artisan on ONE of those counts – it is made by a company. Also, it might qualify as being a “small quantity.” To keep the price point down ($7.99 each), they keep the size small: 13″ x 9″, barely enough for two people. Ours was sliced into 8 pieces.

Domino's Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)It was a very thin crust, about 1/8″ to 3/16″, spiked, and baked on a pan. Unlike their regular round crusts, the Artisan does not have the oil-salt-garlic-spice topping added to the rim. I’m not exaggerating when I say this, but the crust was roughly equivalent to a bargain frozen pizza crust. The word “cardboard” truly came to mind.  And to be clear, DRY cardboard. There was no chewiness, no complex flavor, just a dry biscuit or cracker-like taste and small crumb texture. It is just about the worst crust I’ve ever had. Sauce was pretty sparse, but I picked up on a lot of saltiness, and a very institutional, acidic canned flavor with no fresh tomato taste. Cheese was average. On a relatively good note, the toppings were basically OK. I took a look at the reviews posted on Domino’s web site, and I can’t imagine that they were tasting the same thing I was. Domino's Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)If people really consider this to be a good or excellent pizza, then it just proves my point that a lot of people are used to sub-par pizza and just don’t know any better. We didn’t even finish it.

By the way, in addition to the Artisan product, we also tried a couple of the 14″ round (large) pizzas (on special for $7.99 each, Monday through Friday). One was their regular crust (at right), the other was Brooklyn style (below right). I ordered one of each so I could see what the difference was. The simple answer: same dough, but Brooklyn is thinner at the rim. I really didn’t see any difference in thickness elsewhere. These are baked on a perforated pan, so they aren’t spiked like the Artisan. A great deal of coarse semolina flour coated the bottom, which helps it crisp, and keeps it from sticking. Domino's Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)As I mentioned earlier, the round pizzas have the rim coated with an oil-salt-garlic-spice topping (picture at left). It makes the “pizza bones” a little more palatable, but if you eat them all, you will be looking for something to drink in a little while.

The sauce salty and acidic, with little fresh tomato taste, and a highly processed personality. Cheese was only average, with the browned “dots” that are characteristic of conveyor ovens. The toppings were fresh (no rubber mushrooms), and of generally good quality.

Domino's Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)Overall, these pizzas were quite disappointing. I knew it wouldn’t measure up to properly prepared pizza from a traditional pizza shop, but I really did expect it to be better than this. As the office guys tormented me for choosing Domino’s, I said, “It’s RESEARCH, guys, RESEARCH!” “J” said, “BS!” “D” quickly responded, “That’s what it tastes like!” Wow, tough crowd! It really is a shame, because Domino’s tries so hard. They have a fantastic web site for online ordering, and the largest array of crust, sauce and toppings choices anywhere. The pizza tracker is also pretty cool. That’s where it ends, though. This pizza has the rare distinction of being too bad to finish. Domino's Pizza, Syracuse (Eastwood)I asked the office gang for their ratings. One said, “It was better than Luigi’s, so 2.5.” Another said, “It was as bad as Luigi’s, so 2.0.” I concur with the latter, so Domino’s Pizza gets a Pizza Geek rating of 2 out of 5 slices. This rating is for the whole package of three pizzas we sampled; the Artisan alone would rate about 1.5. Not recommended except in the most extreme of pizza emergencies – such as when you’ve run out of frozen pizza.

Summary – Pros: excellent web site. Cons: cardboard crust, highly salty sauce, institutional taste.

What do YOU think? Have you tried “Artisan” pizza from Domino’s? How was it? Please leave a comment.

Crust: **
Sauce: **
Cheese: ***
Toppings: ****

Overall:

Domino's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Posted in 13206 - Syracuse (Eastwood), delivery, slices rating: 2.0, thin crust | 9 Comments

Cam’s Pizzeria, Syracuse (SouthEast)

Cam's Pizzeria, Syracuse (SouthEast)I’ve been planning to visit Cam’s Pizzeria in Camillus for a while, and finally the day came. I needed the address, so I looked it up online, and to my surprise, found that it is a regional chain of 12 restaurants. Locations range from Penn Yan to Watertown, and Spencerport to Syracuse. Before I realized this was a chain, I had thought the name “Cam’s” was short for Camillus. Anyway, I noticed a location near Le Moyne College on Salt Springs Road, and thought I’d try that instead since it was much closer to the office.  Although it is a stone’s throw from DeWitt, and is listed on the web site as DeWitt, it is within the Syracuse city limits.

Cam's Pizzeria, Syracuse (SouthEast)This is a rather new building, which has a large, casual seating area, a Dunkin’ Donuts, a Barnes & Noble mini-bookstore, an ATM, and outdoor seating. Its location adjacent to Le Moyne College (and the fact that they accept Dolphy cards) ensures that a good amount of students will be mixing with the “townies” such as me. If you’re trying to find it from Salt Springs Road, you’ll need to look carefully because the parking and entrances are on the back side of the building. Delivery is available, and you can even order online.

Cam's Pizzeria, Syracuse (SouthEast)Most of the pizza on display was thin NY Style, but thick Sicilian is also available. My thin slices (cheese $2.29, and sausage/mushroom $2.99) appeared to be 1/8th of a 20″ pie, baked on the stone. This was one of the thinner crusts I’ve run across, about 3/16″. It was rather floppy and foldable, yet crisp on the bottom, with a crisp and chewy rim. Inside, I found it to be well-risen with excellent structure. Crust taste was rather subdued, especially given the “punch” I got from the sauce and cheese.

Cam's Pizzeria, Syracuse (SouthEast)By “punch,” I’m referring to the salty, somewhat acidic flavors that dominated. Sauce was very sparse and soaked into the crust and cheese (pretty typical for a very thin crust), so I couldn’t discern whether the saltiness came from the sauce or the cheese, or both. Some spice flakes were visible, and the spice load was mild to moderate. There was a slight sweetness, but no fresh tomato taste. Cheese was bit oily due to the sauce boiling up through it – again, pretty common with thin pizza. Toppings were good quality, although a bit sparse on some of the pizzas available for slices.

Cam's Pizzeria, Syracuse (SouthEast)The big challenge that is faced by any chain is quality control. If you make the pizza consistent from location to location, it is very difficult to avoid introducing some amount of “institutional” characteristic, and there is a slight amount of that here. You also have the realities of staffing, where most of your employees are new to pizza making, and they don’t make a career of it. In spite of these challenges, Cam’s delivers a pretty decent product for a chain. The balance of crust, sauce and cheese was very good for a very thin pizza. I would have liked a bit more toppings, though. I think I’ll bring the office gang here soon for a taste of fresh thin and thick pizzas. For now, based on these slices, I’ll give a score that might be higher than what my nitpicks would suggest.  This was a generally pleasant pizza, so I’ll give Cam’s a Pizza Geek score of 4 out of 5 slices.

Summary – Pros: good crust/sauce/cheese balance; relaxing and comfortable seating. Cons: slight “institutional” taste.

What do YOU think? Have you tried pizza from and of the Cam’s locations? Please leave a comment and tell us what you think!

Crust: ****
Sauce: ***
Cheese: ****
Toppings: ****

Overall:

Cam’s Pizzeria, 1135 Salt Springs Road, Syracuse – (315) 449-2267

Posted in 13224 - Syracuse (SouthEast), by the slice, delivery, eat in, slices rating: 4.0, thin crust | 5 Comments