There are pizzas I remember,
all my life, though some have changed.
Some had peppers, some had cheddar.
Some had prawn, and some romaine.
All these pizzas had their flavors,
The cheese and the sauce, I still can recall
Some were thin crust, some were deep dish.
In my life, I ate them all.
Pizza is personal. We imprint on the pizzas of our youth, so in advancing years we might follow the scent of cupping pepperoni back to its source, like salmon finding their way back to spawning streams.
Here are 10 pizzas of Western New York that left their mark on me, and drew me back for more. They will not be your favorites, but perhaps you can enjoy their beauty on some level, and even adopt one as your own. I wouldn’t push. Some spheres are too delicate to intrude upon, and besides, every scoff at these gems of the hearth means more for me.
Bocce Club Pizza, 4174 Bailey Ave., Amherst. 833-1344. Well-done pepperoni.
My childhood ideal of pizza, so much mozzarella that the pizza crust itself could not contain it, creating salty lava flows to be picked off by whoever got to hold the pizza on their lap on the way home. Thick-cut pepperoni with occasional mammoth slabs from the end of the stick. Enough bread to use as a pillow for the inevitable post-gorging nap.
Our relationship was cemented by exhilarating Saturdays when I could tag along on the drive to Bailey Avenue. When I was old enough, I joined the line of people waiting their turn for takeout under the radiator powered by oven exhaust, grabbing the proffered plates and napkins tight lest they blow across the parking lot.
Despite experiencing inconsistencies there in recent years, Bocce’s remains heartland dining of the first order.
[See a photo gallery of Andrew Galarneau's top 10 pizzas here]
Leonardi’s Pizzeria, 614 Grover Cleveland Highway, Amherst. 835-8700. White pizza.
As an adult, I coincidentally bought a house quite near Bocce’s, but even closer was Leonardi’s, which I gambled on after driving by a million times. The pepperoni never thrilled me, but the white pizza was beguiling in its own way. Made without a foundation layer of tomato sauce, it’s satisfying in a different way, and reheats much better, since it’s less wet. The dough gets an application of creamy sauce, redolent of Romano cheese and garlic, before getting a shredded mozzarella quilt laced with thin-sliced onion and tomato.
Bob & John’s La Hacienda, 1545 Hertel Ave., 836-5411. Blue pizza.
A favorite part of the childhood pizza-and-wing combo nights was dunking the crusts of the pizza into whatever blue cheese dressing remained in the plastic cup. This would continue until the blue cheese dressing was gone. When you’re competing against four other kids for leftovers, this was always too soon.
Which is all preface to the fact that, as an adult, when my teeth first sank into a slice of blue pizza at Bob & John’s, my eyes lit up, my taste buds groaned, and a tiny slice of stored-up childhood resentment disappeared in a wisp of greasy smoke. Other customers apparently add toppings to reach their blue nirvana, but not me. I’m already there.
Brick Oven Bistro, 910 Abbott Road, 844-8496. Beef on weck pizza.
Crossover pizzas are so often a sour disappointment, a clown-shoes mess of incompatible ingredients huddled together in a culinary shotgun wedding because some pizza slinger thought marketing was more important than cooking. Not this one.
The beef on weck version of the Brick Oven Bistro’s pizza lineup made me realize it’s been too long since I had a good beef on weck. The roast beef was tender, the Swiss cheese added depth, the crust was crunchy-chewy and adequately bronzed, and the horseradish aioli was applied with restraint under a dusting of chives.
Ristorante Lombardo, 1198 Hertel Ave., 873-4291. “Uovo in purgatorio.”
One of the best Italian restaurants in Buffalo sells takeout pizza at $9 a shot. These are thinly stretched, dainty-crusted gems suitable for one or two, not Buffalo-style pizzas-by-the-pound with enough carbs for the whole village. What they lack in heft they provide in flavor, especially the “Eggs in purgatory.” This pie is powered with an arrabbiata sauce with chunks of housemade cured pancetta, banana peppers and chunky onions. Then it’s topped with a couple of Oles’ farms eggs, and a handful of pecorino Romano and Parmigiano cheese, no mozzarella. It’s a spicy, porky polka with oozy egg on a crackerlike crust.
Wegmans, Alberta Drive and other locations. Bacon pizza.
I’ll admit it: I eat more Wegmans pizza than any other kind. The bread is decent, crisped and caramelized enough in their oven to satisfy. The bacon ($12) is the default because it is the most reliable kid satisfier, and because I like bacon. But there’s no shame in the plain cheese, either, a 20-inch pizza for $10.
That’s survival pizza. Every family needs a survival pizza.
Elm Street Bakery, 72 Elm St., East Aurora. 652-4720. Brussels sprouts and pancetta.
The most delicious pizza I know of in Western New York. Two-day fermented dough gives the crust flavor and crackle. Garlic cream is the base, topped with milky housemade ricotta, porky nuggets of house-cured pancetta and shredded Brussels sprouts that caramelize in the intense 750-degree heat of the wood-burning oven. Shards of oil-packed Calabrian chiles cut through the richness. A bit of char brings a sense of urgency to each bite. The drawback is you must eat it at its source. Ten minutes out of the oven and it’s not quite as gorgeous, a faded beauty. Starting last week, it’s available at noon, Tuesday through Saturday.
Pizza Amore, 2024 Grand Island Blvd., Grand Island. 775-5975. Prosciutto with arugula.
Known more for its mobile wood-fired pizza trailer, Pizza Amore serves up blistery-crusted pies that bridge the gap between wood-fired pizza ideals and Buffalo-standard topping payloads. It’s worth taking the bridge to Grand Island for a shot at the prosciutto and arugula. It’s a tomato-sauced pie that gets rather more mozzarella and prosciutto than your cardiologist would recommend. Then after it’s bubbly brown it gets handfuls of arugula, and a drizzle of 18-year-old balsamic vinegar. Technically, that’s a salad.
DG Bread, 840 19th St., rear, Niagara Falls. 282-2606. Trusello-style square.
The first time I heard of Trusello pizza, it was a subject of persistent low-level mourning among hungry Niagara Falls residents of my acquaintance. The fact that its slices were rustic Sicilian style, rectangular, no mozzarella, dressed only with tomato, oil, spices and grated pecorino Romano cheese, was only part of their charm. In 2013, when Gail Zacher opened her bakery in the former Trusello’s building, using the same pans, I got it. Zacher doesn’t call it Trusello’s, but everybody else does. It’s hearty, unpretentious and delicious, true Niagara Falls soul food.
Trattoria Aroma, three locations, Buffalo, Williamsville, East Amherst. Quattro stagioni pizza.
I didn’t realize Trattoria Aroma’s pizza had gotten its hooks into me until I was almost done with my second slice. Even though I had more food on the table, and more dishes yet to come, I was intent on eating the crust, a crunchy-chewy rim burnished bronze with darker spots. Why do I want to eat the crust? Maybe it was better flour, or maybe its bakers have more talented hands, but it starts with the dough. Add the quattro stagioni toppings – artichoke hearts that actually taste like artichokes instead of a can, fruity, better-than-average olives, meaty mushrooms, Parma prosciutto and mozzarella and a free-range egg – and enjoy the ride.
“In My Life” parody by Bruce Andriatch. Send your restaurant recommendations to email@example.com