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.

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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 | 8 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 | 5 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

Doc’s Pizzeria & Fish Fry, Camillus

Doc's Pizzeria & Fish Fry, CamillusThis restaurant can be easy to overlook. In fact, even when I was looking for it I missed it at first. Doc’s Pizzeria & Fish Fry occupies a little sliver of storefront in Elm Hill Towne Center, on the corner of Hinsdale Rd. and Milton Ave. in Camillus. The menu notes that they’ve been “serving the finest food since 1989,” which makes it about 22 years. There is no seating, this is only a take-out and delivery operation ($10 minimum for delivery). A few other notes from the menu: “Camillus’ original chargrilled wings,” and: “Our dough is hand crafted and made fresh every day right in our own kitchen,” and: “Brick oven pizza.”

Doc's Pizzeria & Fish Fry, CamillusI ordered a large pizza (16″) with mushrooms, peppers, onions, and half olives.  At Doc’s, the pizza starts its baking time on a pan, and then about halfway through the pan is removed and the pizza finishes on the brick.  On my sample there was a small amount of fried dough texture and taste. The edge was crisp, but chewy in a pan pizza sort of way (as opposed to a chewy, crusty, bready crust baked completely on the stone). Nothing really stood out in the taste of the crust, it was essentially what I would call a “utility” crust. Notice also the “Syracuse Style” cross cut.

The Pizza Geek prizes pizza sauce that actually tastes like tomatoes. In this case, I felt the sauce was a bit overcooked, which generally precludes any fresh tomato taste. There was a moderate spice level, moderate acidity, and a low amount of sweetness. Cheese was generally good, with little oil separation.

Doc's Pizzeria & Fish Fry, CamillusWe really ran in to trouble with the toppings. Mushrooms were canned and rubbery, and the peppers were from a jar. Worse yet, the peppers hadn’t been rinsed well and they infected the entire pizza with strong vinegar flavor. My wife has very sensitive taste buds and said she couldn’t eat any more of it because of the vinegar. I’m guessing it may be a long time before I can get her to allow peppers on our pizza again.

Overall, this pizza was disappointing. I was expecting much more based on Urbanspoon reviews, but I have run in to that disparity before. My conclusion at this point: some people, for whatever reason, prefer this kind of pizza. If they are taking it home to kids, and this is all they’ve known, they probably won’t complain. I think that even without the vinegary peppers, the taste of this pizza still falls short of what the Pizza Geek is looking for. I’m in a generous mood today, so I’ll ignore the terrible peppers and give it a Pizza Geek rating of 3 out of 5 slices (2.5 with the peppers).

Summary – Pros: good cheese. Cons: strong vinegar taste, overcooked sauce.

What do YOU think? Have you tried pizza from Doc’s Pizzeria & Fish Fry? Please leave a comment and let us know how it was.

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

Overall:

Doc's Pizzeria And Fish Fry on Urbanspoon

Posted in 13031 - Camillus, by the slice, delivery, slices rating: 3.0, thin crust | 2 Comments

Johnny Mac’s Pizzeria & Deli, Lakeland

Johnny Mac's Pizza & Deli, LakelandFor this review, our group from the office drove west to Lakeland, and Johnny Mac’s Pizzeria & Deli (1-1/4 miles west of the fairgrounds; I could not find a web site). Yes, there is a Johnny Mac, and either he or his wife are usually present – just not when we visited. The dining area is relatively small, and NOT air conditioned. Delivery is available, and the restaurant is open 7 days a week. We pushed a couple of tables together to accomodate our group of 6; each of us grabbed a bottled drink out of the cooler, ordered and paid at the counter, and sat down to await the pizza and wings.

Johnny Mac's Pizza & Deli, LakelandThe first pizza to arrive was a large with pepperoni, sausage, peppers, mushrooms and onions (if you order “The Works,” you also get olives, but we passed on those.) A couple of minutes later, our half pepperoni, half cheese arrived, but it had pepperoni on all of it. When we pointed this out to the server (who I believe was also the pizzaiolo), he said, “Oh, that’s right!”, apologized, quickly made another, and told us to keep the mistake at no charge. Normally I don’t think any of us would have mentioned it, but we wanted a few cheese slices to evaluate the basic taste of the pizza without toppings. At any rate, we really appreciated the generosity and graciousness of Johnny Mac’s in the way they handled the mistake.

Johnny Mac's Pizza & Deli, LakelandThese large pies are listed on the menu as 16″ (an extra large 18″ and Sicilian (thick) crust pizzas are also available), and as sometimes happens, ours grew a little larger, and measured about 17″ each. It’s funny, our group has started getting used to the routine: there is fast and sometimes loud conversation while we wait for the pizza, then when it arrives there is a quick grab for the slices, followed by a sudden hush as everyone takes a bite. Swallow, and then start commenting. The first thing I tend to notice is the crust, and this one was a treat. It was a perfect NY thin style crust, baked on the stone, about 1/4″ thick with a 1/2″ or so rim. It was well-browned on both the bottom and top, with a good rise and excellent interior structure. Inside it was soft, but it crackled just the right amount when bitten into. Taste was well-developed, a good balance of slightly salty and slightly sweet notes.

Johnny Mac's Pizza & Deli, LakelandSauce was nearly perfect. It was bright red and slightly acidic, with good fresh tomato flavor. The spice load was mild to moderate, with spice flakes visible. Cheese was above average for the most part, although as you can see in the photo, it turned orange and oily on the half cheese, half pepperoni pie. This is pretty common with thin pizza, because the sauce boils up through the cheese and causes oil to separate. Additional toppings usually slow down the heating, and the cheese tends to be much closer to its original color.

With the exception of rubbery canned mushrooms, the toppings were very good and generally plentiful. I would have liked more pepperoni on the half pepperoni pizza; you will have to look at the picture and decide for yourself if the amount was adequate.

Johnny Mac's Pizza & Deli, LakelandOverall, this pizza produced a pretty solid “wow” factor for most of our group. When it comes right down to it, that is what matters. How much “wow,” or taste bud pleasure do you get from eating it? I asked for ratings from everyone in the group. One person said it was oily and needed more sauce: 3.5. The next gave a huge thumbs up and said, “4.5 to 5 – I’ll call it 4.5.” Another 4.5 and a 4.0 completed the ratings. Personally, I felt the “wow” factor was close to 4.5, but the canned rubbery mushrooms knocked it back just a little bit. Also, a few days after our group visited, I picked up a pizza to take home, and for some reason it didn’t impress me or my wife the way it did when the office group visited. If I recall correctly, the sauce was not very plentiful (dry, even), which was also mentioned by one in the group. Taking all of these things into consideration, the Pizza Geek gives Johnny Mac’s Pizzeria and Deli a rating of 4 out of 5 slices – generally recommended, with room for improvement.

Summary – Pros: excellent crust & sauce. Cons: canned mushrooms, could use more pepperoni.

What do YOU think? Have you tried pizza from Johnny Mac’s? Did we get the review right?  Please leave a comment.

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

Overall:

Johnny Mac's Pizzeria & Deli on Urbanspoon

Posted in 13209 - Solvay/Lakeland, by the slice, delivery, eat in, slices rating: 4.0, thin crust | 6 Comments

Siciliano’s Gourmet Pizza & Eatery, Syracuse (Eastwood)

Siciliano's Gourmet Pizza & Eatery, Syracuse (Eastwood)

Um, what number do I call?

Determining the “personality” of a pizza restaurant can be both intruiging and frustrating. Siciliano’s Gourmet Pizza and Eatery, on James Street in Eastwood, has puzzled me for some time. I first noticed it about 18 months ago, and was interested to find out what their vision of “gourmet” pizza was. The bright neon sign promised “Pizza by the slice,” but over the next several months I could not manage to get any. Numerous times the door was locked (even though the posted hours indicated it should be open), and I recall more than one instance when it was open but no slices were available. The attendant behind the counter could not explain why the neon “slice” sign was still on (lately it has been off).

Another time I stopped to ask about slices, and again they were not available. I asked for a menu, started looking it over, and the counter person said, “Oh wait, that is the hotel menu.” I wasn’t ready to buy a whole pie that day anyway, so I delayed again. Also during the past 18 months, the restaurant interior was remodeled. I would have to say it still isn’t very inviting (just few plain tables and chairs), and I’ve never seen anyone eating there. For that matter, I’ve seldom seen a customer at the counter. Their delivery car is often seen around Eastwood, so I’ll guess that delivery must be their primary modus operandi.

Siciliano's Gourmet Pizza & Eatery, Syracuse (Eastwood)Finally, on a recent Saturday, I stopped in to pick up a fresh pizza. I noted a young skateboarder using a computer at one of the tables, and a person behind the counter was also using a computer. A third person emerged from the back to take my order. Looking at the menu, I didn’t see anything that qualified as a “gourmet” pizza, just the usual selection of meat lovers, deluxe, chicken wing, etc. I spotted a special for two medium pizzas, two toppings, $5.95 each. He said, “You have to add a dollar.” I didn’t understand at first, but finally figured out that the printed menu was out of date and I had to add a dollar to the price for each pizza! Alrighty then. I ordered one with just cheese, and the other with tomato, mushroom, peppers and onions. “It will be ready in 15 minutes, if you’d like to wait outside we’ll come get you.”

Around 10 minutes later, the person who took my order left to make a delivery. After 17 minutes, nobody had come out to get me, so I went in. After standing at the counter for a moment, the skateboarder on the computer said loudly, “Yo, pizza!” and the person behind the counter jumped up from the computer to get my pizza out of the oven. I’ve pondered, but will never know how long the pizza would have baked otherwise.

Siciliano's Gourmet Pizza & Eatery, Syracuse (Eastwood)Upon opening the boxes at home, I was startled to find a big hole in the cheese pizza. I’m guessing a thin spot in the crust allowed sauce to leak through, causing it to stick to the oven bottom. A great deal of coarse semolina flour dusted the bottom of the crust, which was generally 1/4″ thick with a crispy layer on the bottom. At the edge, a “poofy” 1″ thick rim. Diameter was 13″ to 14″. The taste of the crust was unremarkable, neither really good or really bad.

The sauce was reasonably good, dominated by salty and acidic notes, with mild tomato taste and a moderate spice load. Cheese was a little sparse, tasted mild and wasn’t oily, but on the cheese pizza it was very orange from the sauce boiling up through it. Toppings were generally ordinary, with the tomatoes being the best part. Peppers and onions were in very short supply and hard to find. Rubbery canned mushrooms were abundant.

Siciliano's Gourmet Pizza & Eatery, Syracuse (Eastwood)Overall, this pizza was generally average. Aside from the hole in the crust, there was nothing particularly bad about it. On the other hand, nothing that made your tastebuds sit up and take notice, nothing that would make you want to return, nothing that would make you recommend it to a friend. And of all the places I’ve reviewed, Siciliano’s has just about the least grasp of customer service and “curb appeal” that I can recall. The Pizza Geek rates Siciliano’s Gourmet Pizza & Eatery 2.5 out of 5 slices.

Summary – Pros: generally acceptable sauce. Cons: clueless customer service.

What do YOU think? Have you tried pizza from Siciliano’s? Please leave a comment.

Crust: **
Sauce: ***
Cheese: ***
Toppings: **
Service: no stars
Overall:

Siciliano's on Urbanspoon

Posted in 13206 - Syracuse (Eastwood), delivery, eat in, slices rating: 2.5, thin crust | 7 Comments