Tuesday, August 27, 2013

La Fortuna Makes the Taste Test List

Thanks to a reader of this blog, I was made aware of La Fortuna.  This company is a regular vendor at the Verona Farmers Market and also makes appearances at special events and parties.  I had some extra interest in an operation like this since my Uncle's friend Louie the Glove tried to make a go at selling Napoli-style, wood oven pizza out of a cart near campus a couple of years ago.  Unfortunately, Louie left town before I could try the product out, but it looks like I'll get my chance with an operation with a solid track record.

They have a nice tent set-up, with a screened order + prep area, a sliding window to pass out the assembled pizzas, and a brick oven on wheels that is firey and hot and ready to cook a pizza in 90 seconds.

They have a nice menu of choices, featuring unique and fresh ingredients.  All are classically Italian, and their cheese is mainly layered thin slices of provolone and parmesan.  The result is a thin, flavorful melted cheese with an aged quality.  It comes out of the oven sizzling and quickly settles as it cools.

In keeping with the tenets of this blog, I ordered the "Bavarian," which was billed as "The La Fortuna take on a classic pepperoni pizza."  It features Organic Tomato Sauce, Provolono & Parmesan cheeses, and Red wine salami.  The salami were cut thin and were of a modest size, for a salami.  It certainly is close enough in flavor and size to be considered pepperoni for comparison purposes.

The pizza was made, and it went into the oven for a short time.

I should say that the people on hand working at La Fortuna are terrific.  Skillful, friendly, engaging, and funny.  They interacted well with customers and kept a lively conversation going with everyone.  It was clear that they have customers who come to the Farmers Market specifically for their pizza, and people in line were eager to suggest their favorites to us.

The pizza came out sizzling with the cheese bubbling like lava.  It quickly subsided and was cut almost immediately.

The pizza was about the size of a paper plate.  It is a reasonable sized serving for one.  If you're hoping to share, I'd recommend getting as many pizzas as you have people and try out the other interesting combinations they sell.

Overall Impression:  This was a cool experience that really felt close to the community.  Everyone was happy, engaged, and truly proud of the food they were putting out.  Their signs suggest that they are focused on quality ingredients, and the end result supports that.  They make you want to come back.  Score: 5 out of 5.

Crust:  This was light and airy at the edge and thin in the middle.  They portion the toppings just right for what the crust can support.  It means that they understand how important the crust is, being the foundation of the pizza.  If there were more toppings, it would flop and sog.  Instead it holds up well.  It is a basic dough, with much of the flavor coming from the wood fire in the oven.  For my personal taste, there were a few too many large bubbles.  Yet, it worked.  The crust held up well in the center, and was easy to bite yet chewy at the edge.  Score: 7 out of 10.

Cheese:  The cheese was of high quality and thinly applied.  For the type of pizza it is, it works.  It had an aged and slightly pungent flavor that you'd expect from good cheeses.  It's hard to compare to others, though it's not my favorite.  I've always been a fan of buffalo mozzarella on this type of pizza, but I agree that La Fortuna made the best choice for the flavor combinations they are creating.  Score: 3 out of 5.

Sauce:  This was tomato sauce.  It had the slight tang that you would get in a freshly made sauce with a little sweetness from added ingredients.  It serviced the dish well, but was fairly thin.  Score: 3 out of 5.

Pepperoni:  This was nice, even though it was red wine salami and not pepperoni.  The super-hot oven gave the slices a nice crisp edge, yet it retained the chewiness you'd expect from salami.  As I noted before, the flavor profile is similar to pepperoni, so it can be fairly compared.  Score: 4 out of 5

Price/Value:  The pie was $7, but they were fresh ingredients made with pride. This is not the type of thing you can just get in any town.  Still, in comparison to some of the others . . . ahh . . . it's hard to say.  I believe that this is well priced.  Not a bargain, but not too expensive to put on your list once in a while.  Score: 3 out of 5.

Overall score for La Fortuna: 25 out of 35.  It's hard to compare La Fortuna with the other pizzas in this taste test because I'd put it in a completely different food group.  The blog is generally looking for that guilty pleasure, while the pies from La Fortuna make you feel glad you went there.  You feel good after eating them.

Scorecard so far
1.  Ian's on State = 26 points
2. (tie) Falbo Brothers = 25 points
    (tie) La Fortuna = 25 points
3.  Pizza di Roma = 17 points
4.  Rocky Rococo = 14 points

Friday, August 23, 2013

Pizza Time with Falbo Brothers

We're back on the Taste Test trail with a visit to Falbo Brothers on Park Street in Madison.  According to their website, they have 6 stores in Wisconsin, 4 in Iowa, and 1 in Colorado.

Like many pizza places, Falbo Bros offers lunchtime slices, so I grabbed a Pepperoni slice.  They had a tabletop display case with round shelves of various selections.  My slice had been prepared long before I arrived, so the pizza was not hot - not even close.  I won't mark them down very much for that as it was clearly made fresh and it's hard to predict how fast certain flavors and slices will go.

The piece itself was fairly thick, although I would not consider it deep dish.  The crust heel was built up at the edge, so this pizza is baked in a deep pan.  The resulting pie had a thin crust along the bottom.

Overall impression:  Despite it being on the cool side, I was impressed by the weight and appearance of the pizza.  Their restaurant on Park Street is more of a take-out counter, although there are 2 tables available if you choose to eat in.  Score: 2 out of 5.

Crust:  The crust was a cross between a traditional recipe and a Chicago-style crust.  What makes a crust "Chicago Style?"  Shortening, baby.  There was some sort of shortening or oil used in the crust, which adds weight and depth.  It wasn't quite like a pastry pie crust, but it had that kind of texture to it.  Score: 8 out of 10

Cheese:  Falbo Brothers piles it on - at least in the slice I got.  I was impressed that the cheese layer was slightly thicker than the crust beneath it.  Big bonus points for quantity.  It had cooled quite a bit, so it's hard to determine its quality when hot.  When only warm, however, it had nice flavor, a reasonable grease content, and served the pizza well.  Score: 4 out of 5

Sauce:  The sauce is salty with a tomato and oregano flavor.  I'm a fan of oregano on pizza.  It was a thin amount of sauce, which worked fine but was less than I would have chosen.  Still good.  Score: 3 out of 5.

Pepperoni:  Not special, but straight ahead pepperoni with good flavor.  Sliced thin.  If you looked up "pepperoni" in the dictionary, this is probably what they are talking about.  Score: 3 out of 5

Price/Value:  They charged me $2 for the piece.  Seriously.  It was a good price for a slice of this flavor and weight.  Score: 5 out of 5.

Overall score for Falbo Brothers: 25 out of a potential 35.  This is a worthy contender, and I was surprised.  I have happy memories of this largely because of the low price for what I got.  I'd do it again.

Scorecard so far
1.  Ian's on State = 26 points
2.  Falbo Brothers = 25 points
3.  Pizza di Roma = 17 points
4.  Rocky Rococo = 14 points

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Pizza Time #3 - Rocky Rococo's

So, have you ever looked at a fast food item and say "that doesn't look anything like the photo in the advertising?"  Well, I would say that Rocky Rococo consistently puts out fast food that looks as delicious as it's photographs.

The appearance is pleasing, as you anticipate the melty cheese and savory toppings piled upon a bountiful crust.  Yep, it looks good.
 But it's not quite as tasty as it looks, sad to say.

Rocky Rococo is a fast food pizza chain specializing in slices all day.  They do make whole pizzas, too, and are fun for a party.  Several locations have a modest, but nice, salad bar.  They also offer appetizers and a couple of pasta dishes (mainly spaghetti).  As far as quality pizza goes, it certainly compares to great pizza the same way a Whopper compares to a great hamburger.  Good for what it is, but would rarely win a contest.

Overall Impression:  I ordered a slice of Pepperoni, which took no wait whatsoever.  My food was on my tray before I paid!  This is a trade-off, because it means that my item was cooked and boxed up well before I arrived.  So, the temperature was moderate, not piping hot.  On the plus side, I was able to eat it right away.  The restaurant had ample seating, but it was basic fast-food booths and tables.  Nothing special.  It was "fine."  Score:  2 out of 5

Crust:  The crust is the main event, always.  But Rocky's takes this to the extreme.  If my pizza weighed 10 ounces, it meant that there was 9 ounces of dough.  This is a very bready pizza.  It's not bad in and of itself.  It has a slightly sweet flavor to the dough, similar to a good yeast roll.  But it was heavy and dense.  When you look at the pizza, you see a thick slice of deep dish.  But, being from Chicago, the "deep dish" part of deep dish for me is usually cheese and toppings.  Not bread.  Score: 3 out of 10.

Sauce:  The sauce has a mild sweetness flavored with oregano and garlic.  Not my favorite, but good if you like you sauce on the sweeter side.  Score: 2 out of 5

Cheese:  Barely there.  Stringy cheese, but not much of it.  Enough to look ample when you look at it.  Until you bite it and you see that it's mostly crust in the cross section.  The cheese is deceptive.  (Note:  I have had Rocky's plenty of times at multiple locations, so I know their typical product.  This was their typical product.) Results improve when you get more toppings on a Rockys pizza.  The toppings help the overall product, and cheese is not a "main" ingredient . . . just another of the toppings.  Score: 1 out of 5

Pepperoni:  Decent pepperoni with a little zest.  They describe it as "spicy pepperoni," although I wouldn't characterize it that way.  Still, it had good flavor and a bit of a crisp edge to it, which I like.  Score: 3 out of 5.

Price/Value:  This isn't bad, priced at $3.25 for a slice.  It's a heavy slice, and you certainly get full on Rocky's pizza.  But that's mainly because of the heavy crust.  I would recommend ordering a whole pizza be made up, for freshness sake.  If you order extra cheese, you'll probably be happy.  If you need people to get good and full, you won't go wrong.  Score: 3 out of 5.

One other "experience" note.  They serve it with a fork and knife, which you'll need if the pizza is super hot.  Since it wasn't, I was able to use my preferred method: hands.  But taking a bite straight from the pie can give your face that "greasy" feeling after each bite.  Take plenty of napkins.

Overall, it is what it is.  Which is not a bad thing, just be aware of what you're getting into!  Their overall score is 14 out of 35.

Overall Pizza Standings
1.  Ian's on State - 26 points
2.  Pizza Di Roma - 17 points
3.  Rocky Rococo's - 14 points