4621 Maple Rd., Amherst NY 14226
Web: Zetti's Pizza & Pasta
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Amherst Italian NYC Pizza
"The crust varied from bite to bite between thin and crispy and slightly thicker and closer to Buffalo-style - not bad, but not like really good New York-style pizza in texture."
Though SUNY at Buffalo brings plenty of Eastern New Yorkers - read: Long Islanders - to its campuses every semester, it's fair to say that many Western New Yorkers aren't exactly wowed by all things Manhattan. A self-described "NY-style" business in Cheektowaga would be more likely to elicit shrugs than customers, but nearer the SUNY campuses, "NY-style" is more likely to evoke feelings of home or a favorite destination. That probably explains the popularity of Zetti's Pizza & Pasta, an "Authentic NY Style Restaurant" that now has locations on Main Street near UB's South Campus and Maple Road across from UB's North Campus; in the hour and a half we spent at the new Maple shop, we saw several groups of UB athletes, some obviously collegiate couples, and even some teachers passing through. The place mightn't be huge, and it doesn't offer real table service, but Zetti's certainly gives off the impression of being busy, compounded by a short line of less than happy-looking people - at one point including us - waiting for take-out.
Note up front that we're pizza fans, and as fairly frequent visitors to New York City, we're familiar with its "high" and "low" cuisine pizza restaurants: the "high cuisine" century-old coal-fired pizza restaurants such as Lombardi's, and everything from Mom & Pop-owned, take-out- and "slice" focused parlors to Sbarro chain locations constituting the low-end. At a place like Lombardi's, every pizza is made fresh to order, whereas at some of the other places, you're getting slices of reheated pizza made some time ago, selected from a bunch of options that have been sitting out in a display area. Zetti's offers both, but specializes in the latter: the first thing we noticed after walking in the door was a massive countertop that had perhaps 20 different pizzas to choose from. Full-sized specialty pizzas sell for $14 and up, with one-topping versions starting at $11; individual slices are sold for $3 before tax. Orders are placed at the counter while looking either at the pizzas or photocopied menus, and patrons get called by name to pick up their items, sometimes missing everything from their drinks to complementary Italian bread in the process. We missed both, but eventually got our bread.
Our meal started at a Zetti's table, and we didn't skimp on trying various options from the pizza menu: four different types of pizza plus a few other items for three people to share. Our first pick was Pepperoni and Sausage pizza, which unlike so many other places featured thin, long strips of cooked Italian Sausage alongside standard circles of pepperoni, both oily and crispy. Also ordered was the Chicken Parmesan pizza, featuring bite-size chunks of chicken embedded in mozzarella with light tomato sauce; a classic White pizza with mozzarella and tomato slices but no tomato sauce, and finally, a Spinach Bruschetta pizza, which was basically another White pizza with mozzarella underneath finely chopped spinach, tomatoes, garlic and basil.
The good news was that we would have picked from many other options at Zetti's, but the bad news was that all of the types we tried were consistently mediocre: while thoroughly cooked and reasonably appointed with the selected ingredients, the pieces were all forgettable in flavor, and uniformly lacking in color, vitality, or any other sign of freshness. To even attempt to compare these pizzas with we ones we've tried in famous New York locales would be pointless; for a visual sense of why we say that, consider the obvious freshness of Lombardi's margherita pizza, particularly its citterio pancetta, versus any of the Zetti's slices shown here, and you'll instantly understand what the pizza portion of our meal was like: something a step more engaging than Sbarro's, but not much better.
All of the slices had the same crust, which varied from bite to bite between thin and crispy and slightly thicker and closer to Buffalo-style - not bad, but not what we associate with really good New York-style pizza in texture. The Spinach Bruschetta was probably the most appealing of the pieces thanks to its fresh clumps of spinach, and while it was too greasy, the Pepperoni and Sausage pizza was also fine. That said, we actively disliked the Chicken Parmesan pizza, as everything from the chicken to the cheese and sauce was bland; we also found the tomato and mozzarella pizza to be merely average for the same reasons. Most of these slices were weak alternatives to similar options we've tried at Williamsville's Great Northern Pizza Company, but then, Zetti's slice prices are lower.
Though pizzas may be Zetti's focus, there are other reasons that some people might enjoy dining here. A Caesar Salad ($5.50), ordered with anchovies, arrived obviously fresh with a reasonable number of surprisingly nice curls of tasty fish on top, and a bowl of Pasta E Fagioli soup ($4.25) was also very good, a spiced, chicken broth base filled with noodles and beans. We were pleased enough by these non-pizza items to be interested in trying one more entree, a Veal Marsala ($13.95), before we left. It was ordered with angel hair pasta as a complimentary side, and includes some sliced, fresh Italian bread.
This turned out to be a big mistake. Even though Zetti's had calmed down by the time we ordered the Veal, we wound up waiting half an hour for it to appear. As we sat at our table, and eventually stood up to wait by the counter along with other seemingly less than pleased take-out patrons, we got to watch as staff came out from behind the counter to tell people that they'd run out of the various types of pastas they'd ordered - would they take penne instead? It seemed that the "& Pasta" part of the restaurant wasn't quite as well stocked as the Pizza side, and that the kitchen wasn't firing on all cylinders. Eventually, we tired of waiting, but one minute before we cancelled the veal, it arrived - transformed into a take-out order - without apologies for the delay. That's New York style, for you. Nevertheless, we rushed it home to give it a try.
It wasn't good at all. The pricey plate was almost entirely pasta with a couple of tiny pieces of lightly flavored veal on top, mixed with some mushrooms and a weak tomato and wine base. At some places, $14 would have purchased a dish of veal so significant and wonderfully flavored that we'd have struggled to finish it after all that pizza. Here, the meat wouldn't have been satisfying enough as an appetizer; it was neither great-tasting nor a good value for the money.
All in all, we wouldn't rush back to Zetti's Pizza & Pasta: in an area known for its superb pizzerias and certainly not lacking for pizza options on every other corner, it strikes us as forgettable in every way save one - namely, its ready-to-go slice selection. If you're in need of a $3 slice of decent pizza and have only 15 minutes to arrive, eat, and go, Zetti's is a fine enough pick; however, those looking for authentic traditional New York-style pizza or something really special would be better off looking elsewhere.