I don’t know about you but this week’s dreary grey skies and drizzle were enough to get me to curl up on my couch under a blanket with my two cats and binge watch some HBO (and a little FoodNetwork for good measure). So that’s what I did on Sunday. Every so often, I need a recharge, a time to be sedentary, in both body and mind, and let go of the day to day thoughts. Typically, cooking and baking are therapeutic activities for me- the creativity and, sometimes, precision, allow my mind to focus on the task at hand only, and all other thoughts drift away. This week, though, my fiancé was out of town and I just didn’t make time to go to the store, nor did I want to frankly. That’s when the order-in wheels started to turn. We don’t order in very much at our house; it’s become more of a treat for us on certain nights and we get pretty excited about it when we decide to indulge.
This week I had a hankering for pizza. And not just any pizza but a crusty wood-fired pie with fresh mozzarella and homemade vodka sauce, sprinkled with crispy prosciutto, green peas and sliced mushrooms. I’m talking about Gennaro’s Pizza Alla Vodka, a genius marriage of the creamy, traditional penne pasta dish and a pizza crust (minus the penne); my fiancé is more of a traditionalist and prefers the classic Margherita or the Meat Lovers (neither of which I would say no too), so this was an opportunity for pampering via pizza for just me.
Gennaros is conveniently (and dangerously for me) located about a stone’s throw from my house in the Fresh Market Plaza, right next door to Kru Coffee. The setting is casual and nostalgic of a typical neighborhood pizza place with seat yourself tables set up throughout and all ordering done at the counter, which sits in their pride-inducing huge Italian brick oven. The place is warm and welcoming, thanks to owners Wayne and Kathy Cherry, local Saratogians who left their other jobs to pursue Wayne’s dream of owning a successful pizza place. Wayne has years of experience working in a kitchen but learned his real trade at Goodfella’s Pizza School of New York in Staten Island. Armed with that background, an appreciation for authentic, made from scratch food and fresh ingredients, Gennaros was born.
Who’s Gennaro though? Oh, Gennaro Lombardi, he’s just the guy known for bringing the first pizza to New York City back in 1905. We owe him, big.
One thing that immediately sets Gennaros apart is their wood-fired brick oven, from Italy, which is specifically made to stay at temperatures of 750-800 degrees, ensuring the proper and even cooking of each pie. From the brick oven come the traditional old-world pies, made with fresh sliced (not shredded- crucial detail) mozzarella, house-made marinara and made-from-scratch dough.
Let’s start at the bottom, the dough or crust is crunchy on the bottom with a light dust of cornmeal and soft on top, allowing for a perfect fold, and gets immense flavor from the char of the wood-oven. The marinara is chunky and thick enough to hold on to the crust, it’s flavor fresh and present. The mozzarella. Who doesn’t love fresh mozzarella?? The cheese melts but still retains its chewiness, and has that wonderful mild taste that pairs so well with a little salt, tomatoes, basil and pretty much anything else. It’s done well and it’s done right at Gennaros and that’s something to be proud of; not all pizza joints are created equal and this place is a shining star in the Saratoga scene.
I did mention one of their speciality pies, Pizza Alla Vodka, earlier and I should mention that there many noteworthy others to choose from including Pizza Bianca (white with prosciutto di parma), Clam Pie Oreganata, Smoking Gennaros (with smoked mozz and roasted red pepper cream sauce) and several others. Not to mention the appetizers, made to order soups-- including the craveworthy pasta fagioli--, signature subs and pasta dinners. When I ask what they’re known for, Wayne makes a point of letting me know that he created the menu with a nod to speciality items and everything is made in house and fresh, nothing frozen, that includes the sauces and even the dressings. In addition, he sources some of his ingredients (and his desserts) from the motherland, NYC and Staten Island. Wayne and Kathy are proud of what they’ve created, the food they serve and the friendly atmosphere that they provide and you can tell. Gennaro’s mantra is to “serve good food and be nice to people”- an idea that is similar to their traditional, old-world pizza style in its simplicity and authentic quality but is often overlooked in our busy world.
I remember the first time we walked down to Gennaro’s when we moved into our house, Kathy asked us our names and shook our hands, welcoming us to the neighborhood. It was a genuine gesture and coupled with damn good pizza, we knew we found our spot.