Over the last month, we’ve eaten a lot of pizza. We started with some excellent “Buffalo-style” slices at Lovejoy and followed that up with outstanding wood fire pizza at Queen Margherita Pizza in Toronto. In between those visits, we revisited two of our favorite pizza destinations back home; Pi Craft and Rocco’s Wood Fire Oven.
We planned our visit to Pi Craft almost completely based on a recent facebook update where they unveiled their brand new pizza oven. On our first visit in 2013, the fast casual pizzeria had a conveyor belt oven that cooked the pizza quickly and evenly. It didn’t provide the wonderful char you’d find in traditional wood fire pizzerias, but it did a serviceable job. Since then, they’ve built a new revolving stone oven that reaches upwards of 800 degrees or more. They’ve kept the model of a ‘pizzeria meets Chipotle’ with a line of toppings that the customer can add/subtract to their individual pie. You can still order pre-customized pies but if you’re looking for complete topping freedom, Pi Craft has no rival. The pizzas are available in smaller sizes (called PI ~$7) but a single diner could easily eat an entire 12″ pizza ($9+).
On our visit we ordered a traditional Margherita pizza and a custom pizza with Pesto, Sausage and Onions. We did notice that the crust definitely had a better char and crispiness with the new oven, but still was missing the lovely doughy chew on the inside. Our only other minor complaint was the dough had too much corn meal on the bottom that created an unfortunate graininess. The toppings were great, the fresh mozzarella melted nicely and the tomato sauce was sweet but not too sweet. The pesto and sausage pizza stole the show, the flavor combination was excellent and the balsamic drizzle (recommended by the staff) was a great call. If you are looking for a cheap pizza on the fly, Pi Craft is a nice option. When we revisited, we were reminded how much this place operates and appears like a national chain. The entire operation, from start to finish, is very impressive. While the pizza might not be equal to some of the best wood-fire we’ve had outside of WNY, it’s still quite good and very affordable.
A couple days later we visited Rocco’s Wood Fire Oven in Amherst, the most ambitious (in terms of size) wood-fire pizzeria in WNY. We visited in 2011 and again in 2013 and were happy with our meals on both visits. The restaurant is very popular, on our visit the back bar was packed with local couples from the ‘burbs. We gambled and appeared without a reservation but only had to wait about 15 minutes at the bar to get a seat. The equipment that Rocco’s has is impressive and there’s a group of employee’s solely focused on making pizzas, keeping the fire in the ovens going strong and meticulously watching the pies cook.
The end result is a very good pizza that competes with Elm Street Bakery for the best in the area (although ESB is still our #1), but still falls short of the excellent versions we’ve had in cities like Toronto or New York City. The housemade burrata is also very good and a must order when available.
Compared to Pi Craft, the crust had the ideal crispy/chewy texture that seems to be so difficult for other pizzerias to create. The sauce was definitely on the sweeter side and topped with a generous amount of fresh mozzarella. Compared to Pi Craft, Rocco’s pizza is about $10 more expensive ($21) and the dining experience (Rocco’s offers full service with alcohol) isn’t quite the same. Overall, both have a place in our personal pizza rotation and are both worth checking out when you want something different than a traditional Buffalo-style pie.