First Look: Rocco's Wood Fired Pizza Opens
The newest restaurant from the people behind Oliver’s, 800 Maple, and Siena, Rocco’s Wood Fired Pizza is nestled between a Valu Home Center and a salon in a simple shopping plaza on the Clarence side of Transit Road (between Greiner and Roll). Housed in a former Buffalo Wild Wings location, and retaining much of its former layout, Rocco’s is simpler than its brethren. There’s no fine dining pretense here—the menu centers around pizza, wings, and a handful of sandwiches.
The décor is comfortable and not too fancy. There are no tablecloths and the napkins are paper, but the tastefully decorated room is segregated into three distinct areas. The front has regular tables, the middle area has three long, tall tables with family-style seating, and the bar has a lounge area in the back. There are TVs all over the place broadcasting news, sports, and music.
We checked it out twice within a week of its opening day on July 1st. There’s no dessert menu yet, and the kitchen is busy perfecting its regular menu, so there was only one pasta special on our second visit.
Because Western New York has a dearth of wood-fired pizza places, I was quite hopeful about the pies.
An independent organization called the Verace Pizza Napoletana has an American branch which will, for a fee and after inspection, certify your pies as authentic Neapolitan pizza. In order to pass the inspection, pizzas must be baked in a wood-fired dome oven operating at about 900ºF. The VPN requires applicants to use only fresh and proper ingredients, namely ingredients such as Type 00 pizza flour, San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, sea salt, and fresh mozzarella made from either cow’s or buffalo milk. The way in which the dough is kneaded is even regulated, and the resulting pizzas require only about 90 seconds to bake.
The end product is approximately 11 inches in circumference, with a raised edge “cornicione” crust (Spree readers can find an extended pizza glossary here), and a thin center that should be soft and easily foldable.The authentic Neapolitan pie has a char around the edges and isn’t in any way greasy or oily. Unfortunately, although there are plenty of excellent pizzas in our region, no one is serving an authentic VPN-style Neapolitan experience.
I was hopeful that Rocco’s, which touts its wood-fired ovens right in its name, might rise to the VPN occasion. We tried four different types of pizzas, and they were quite good. The “traditional” featured fior-di-latte fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, and basil. The crust was a brown color around the edges, with occasional charring. It hadn’t risen a great deal and was somewhat greasy, a common issue with all the pizzas we tried on both visits. The ingredients were quite excellent, though the sauce bears mentioning because it was quite generously applied and was surprisingly full of big chunks of tomato. The margherita was traditional in style and delicious. It reminded me of the best pizzas at established places like Aroma and Romeo & Juliet’s; the crust was nicely baked, but still is was just a little too greasy. A make-your-own white pizza with pepperoni was also quite good. A sausage and broccoli rabe pizza, which was also sauceless, ended up being a favorite.
The house salad has a nice, creamy dressing but is otherwise simple. On the other hand, a meatball appetizer was quite excellent, served with a very fresh and tasty tomato sauce, and little dollops of very fresh, very good, very smooth ricotta cheese.
While Rocco’s will do traditional Buffalo wings, the menu also features wings baked in the wood-fired ovens and lightly seasoned with lemon, olive oil, herbs, and garlic. While the garlic didn’t really pop, the marinade was mild and gave the chicken a nicely enhanced flavor. Because of the oven’s heat, the wings obtain a wonderful, tasty char all around. For kids especially, they’re a healthier and better tasting alternative to chicken fingers.
If you think about the restaurants on Transit Road in Erie County north of Sheridan, there’s not much that’s both good and not a chain. Rocco’s therefore, despite its growing pains (big room, manageable menu, huge amounts of staff), is a welcome addition with simple, well-prepared food using good ingredients and offering an upscale experience that also happens to welcome families with kids.
The hunt, however, for the traditional Neapolitan pie in Western New York continues.
Rocco’s Wood-Fired Pizza
5433 Transit Rd, Williamsville. 247-5272