WATERTOWN Few foods are more satisfying than pizza. The combination of crust, cheese, sauce and topping is ideally greater than the sum of its humble parts.
Some pizzas are better than others, but nearly all are at least decent. For those who dont want to read on, Ill let you know now that all the pizzas sampled here are at least decent, because theyre all pizza.
For the sake of ease, only slice joints will be reviewed, so whole-pie restaurants, like Fairground Inn and Arts Jug, are not a part of this review.
I believe a sausage slice is one of the better ways to evaluate a pizzeria. High-quality sausage is a meaty and properly spiced thing of beauty. Poor- quality sausage more closely resembles rabbit pellets than pork not something we want to find on our pizza.
But overall, a sausage slice gives an accurate glimpse of the attention paid to the quality of all the ingredients, so for those who do not eat sausage, I promise this review will still be relevant.
Well start with the two regional chains in Watertown.
Cams Pizzeria has 16 locations from Rochester to Syracuse. Both Cams and Syracuse-based Original Italian Pizza with six of its seven New York locations in the Syracuse area and two down in Boca Raton, Fla., for some reason sling out oversized slices of thin-crust pizza.
OIPs slice is just a tad bigger, but these are both substantial slices. OIP whole pizzas come in 16-inch large and 12-inch medium sizes. At Cams, that 16 inches would be a medium, while a large is a whopping 20 inches in diameter.
But bigger is not always better. There was a generous portion of sausage crumbles topping the Cams slice ($2.80 with tax), but they were a bit chewy and didnt have a ton of flavor. The pieces were the biggest out of any of the pizzerias tested, but that left the lacking texture fully exposed.
Structurally, the slice held together better than I expected, considering the size of the slice that easily hung off my plate. There are few things worse than soggy pizza that falls apart immediately upon picking it up, hot cheese slipping off onto the plate most likely paper below.
With that potential tragedy out of my mind, Ill move on to note that the cheese was your standard low-moisture shredded mozzarella applied in a pretty generous amount. The sauce was standard without too much to make it stand out. Like sausage, the tomato sauce often can go wrong, whether it be sickly sweet or packed with so many dried herbs that the pizza loses every ounce of fresh flavor it might have had.
Much of the same can be said for the OIP slice ($2.54 with tax). Both were big, but this slice was even a tad bigger than the Cams slice. Getting your moneys worth from either place will not be a concern.
The sausage, however, was better, with a stronger flavor and meatier texture. With smaller crumbles, it was more evenly distributed over the slice, allowing for a bit of sausage in each bite.
The menu here advertises that the pizza is baked in a brick oven, which is supposed to add a bit of smoky flavor reminiscent of the char-grilled wings the chain is known for. I couldnt pick up much of that flavor, and an undercarriage shot of the crust did not reveal any charring. While I do like a bit of that crisp in my crust, it was plenty sturdy and did not flop around like a fish out of water. See the aforementioned tragedy for more information on why this is a bad thing.
Im not sure if it was the sausage or the cheese, but this slice was the greasiest of the bunch. There are people in the world who blot the grease from their pizza until the napkin is nearly translucent. I am firmly not in that camp, but there is no way around the fact that your hands will get greasy.
Thats all well and good if youre eating in or taking it back home, but if youre like many of us and eat in the car, or while walking, or anywhere napkins are not easily accessible, you might not have a good time.
That being said, the crust could have had a bit more chew, but was otherwise solid. As with the Cams slice, the sauce and cheese were complementary to the rest of the slice without standing out too much.
I made the trip just beyond Watertown to Brownville for a slice from Nonna Dina pizzeria. The same family owns New York Pizzeria in Gouverneur, but its definitely not a chain.
The slice ($2.42 with tax) is definitely smaller than the other two, meaning that it is your typical slice size, rather than the gargantuan slices served elsewhere.
The first bite told the story, though. The restaurants website advertises that they use homemade dough and homemade sauce, and both were standouts.
People who blot their pizza are probably the same people who do not eat the outer crust. Im not saying these are bad people, but they are worth keeping an eye on.
But the crust at Nonna Dina should be able to convert even the most diehard crust discarder. Too often, the outer crust is dry and crackerlike, or overly doughy and chewy. This was neither, a happy medium with enough crunch to keep it satisfying but enough chew to feel substantial. It passed the stability test as well, optimal for one-handed eating.
Unlike the other two, the Nonna Dina sauce really stood out. A well-made sauce is often overlooked, but not here. It was the freshest-tasting of the bunch, and even paired with quality sausage and cheese, had a flavor profile of its own.
The sausage comes from Gianelli, the North Syracuse company well-known for its pork products. A small touch, but the flavor was the most pronounced of the bunch, packed with fennel seed and spices. Like the OIP slice, the sausage was finely crumbled, the way I like it.
As someone who detests sliced sausage on pizza, all three fulfilled in this regard.
The cheese was standard but put on with a heavier hand, as the pizza appeared whiter on top than the orange color synonymous with a thinner layer.
But these restaurants are only three of many pizzerias in the area. As a journalist of integrity, I will be providing more extensive coverage soon.
Until then, I leave you with two solid slices and one exceptional slice.
Eaters Digest reviews and blog entries can be viewed at http://wdt.me/eatersdigest. Have a tip or suggestion? Email Jake Pucci at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @EatersDigestNNY.
Eaters Digest ratings:
114 E. Main St.
3 ½ spoons
With its combination of top-quality sausage and superior crust, Nonna Dina serves up a seriously good slice.
222 N. Massey St.
2 ½ spoons
An unspectacular but solid slice. Wins points for its size, but a bit greasy.
25 Public Square
Similar to the OIP slice, but the sausage was not quite as good.