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True to Form

by B.A. Nilsson on February 11, 2010

Joe’s Pizza Place & Restaurant
  • Entrée price range:$5 (pepper sub) to $15 (veal sorrento)
  • Ambiance: diner

Photo by B.A. Nilsson

What makes your favorite pizza place so good? How far do you go (geographically, I mean) for pizza? Locally, I’ve got three places to choose among, one of which is run by Mike Geloso, who is a community mainstay. This means I need travel no more than five minutes to get a pie.

And, really, what’s the difference from pizza to pizza? Actually, it’s gotten fairly dramatic with the rise of supermarket and convenience store pizzas, those heat-lamp victims that serve only to make chain-restaurant pizza seem less unappealing. I’m not saying that you need to see the dough for your just-ordered pizza to take a flying-saucer spin in the air. But it doesn’t hurt. At least you want to know that the dough is fresh and the toppings aren’t canned or plastic.

The name Geloso pops up again in Schenectady, where you’ll discover that Joe’s Pizza Place is the epicenter of a food and realty industry. Not for nothing is Joe Geloso known as the Mayor of Hamburg Street. Along with the pizza restaurant that bears his name are many other real estate holdings, as well as a family that has dispersed throughout many of the area’s eateries.

It started here—on Hamburg Street, at least—40 years ago, as Geloso took the craft he learned from his father-in-law and spun it into a pizzeria that quickly became a community mainstay. And thus has accumulated a lot of history. You see it as soon as you park. It’s an unglamorous building, and the dining room can’t decide which decade it occupies. Steel I-beams thrust into the room, contrasting with the diner-like booths and tables. A banquet area sits beyond a bank of windows. The kitchen is visible through windows at an adjacent end of the room.

So I did, in fact, watch my pizza dough fly. When it emerged, the aroma of garlic preceded it by several feet. With broccoli florets peeping through melted mozzarella and romano, it was a more naked example of what the kitchen can do. The crust really seals the deal with a pie like this, and it was a winner in all departments. Including price: $12.50 for a six-cut, $14.50 for eight, on up to $21.50 for a 24-cut monster. Substitute fresh tomato slices for the broccoli and you have a pizza a la Stella. Or go for a Buffalo chicken topping for the same prices.

Naturally, there’s a create-your-own schedule. The eight-cut pricing begins at $10.65 for plain cheese, $11.95 for one item, $13.25 for two, and then a buck and a half for each thereafter. And you have a generous array to choose from, including exotica like eggplant, roasted peppers and pineapple.

With appetizer offerings like homemade garlic bread ($2.50 and $3.50), calamari ($6.25), Buffalo chicken wings (10 for $7.25), I can overlook silly things like chicken tenders ($7), mozzarella sticks ($6.25) and boneless Buffalo wings (10 oz. for $6—it’s cheating). But we paced ourselves, kind of, by starting with a small antipasto platter ($8.25)

I have no illusions about pizza joint antipasto. I won’t be getting complicated sausages or aromatic provolone. I’m going to get a bunch of lettuce topped with chopped deli meat and cheese and a few olives thrown in. This serving, therefore, was good of its kind. It did what I needed in the salad department and snuck in those extras. It went around the table a couple of times, disappearing just as the main dishes arrived.

Many sandwiches, Italian and otherwise, are featured, including meatball, sausage and pepper, chicken or eggplant parmigiana, turkey, ham—you get the picture. They’re priced from $5 to $8, most coming in at $7.25, all including fries and a pasta salad or coleslaw. And I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what the pasta dishes are, but be assured you can get your ziti, or cavatelli, or fettuccine, or whatever with meatballs, sausage—you’ll work it out. A plate of spaghetti and meatballs is $8.45, rising to $11.45 for cavatelli with broccoli, garlic and olive oil.

But my two confrères must have been swayed by the diner-ish look of the place. One of them ordered the fish fry. The other just had to have a burger ($8 each). These were about as straight-ahead as you’d imagine. The fish fry—a big piece of well-breaded whitefish—poked out the ends of the obligatory roll. The burger sported two patties on a Kaiser roll with lettuce and tomato atop the meat. Both plates also were fries-laden. All of it was cooked with a competent hand—really, any improvements probably would frighten the mainstream clientele. But both friends also regarded my pizza with some envy.

True to form, I didn’t share.