At Franco's Pizza, Square Surprises Come in White Boxes

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Franco's Pizza
1924 Eggert Rd., Amherst NY 14226
Web: Franco's Pizza
Phone: 716.835.7100
Rating:    [learn more]
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"Franco's extra hot wings are definitely good, and approach a higher level of praise. They're spicy - not crazy spicy, but enough to get noticed - and the sauce is more than just heat."

Of the dozen or so foods that just taste different - and better - in Western New York, pizza is probably the one that varies the most. No matter which pizzeria you choose around here, unless you're specifically hunting for New York, Chicago, or California-style pizzas, you're going to get something with a crust that's thinner than Chicago's but thicker than the traditional New York or California, a nice but not soppy layer of tomato sauce, and a complete cover of mozzarella cheese before the toppings start; after that, the specifics vary. At Franco's Pizza, a small local take-out chain with four restaurants covering Amherst, Buffalo, Kenmore, and Tonawanda, the pizzas stand out at first because they're square or something close, and then because they're good - a legitimately nice balance of toppings and core ingredients. Other items are similarly good, and reasonable values for their respective prices.

While we wouldn't call any of Franco's offerings stunning or best of breed relative to individual local favorites, we felt that our expectations were almost always surpassed by at least a little whenever we opened a box or wrapper. Take, for instance, something humble: Garlic Bread with Mozzarella Cheese ($2.29), ordered as a "Mini" and received in the form of a half-loaf, split down the center with a thick layer of browned cheese covering each side. Less obvious visually but wonderfully strong nonetheless was the garlic, nestled below the cheese such that every tugged-off piece had a nice balance of slightly soft cheese, moist bread, and salty garlic flavor. It was a delicious, inexpensive little add-on - just the sort of item we love.

The pizza ($15.09, as assembled) was similarly good. Loaded into a medium-sized pizza box that amusingly notes that Franco's doesn't cut any corners, it emerged as a rounded-off 12" square that the store bills as bigger than a typical circular pizza at no extra charge. We went with our recent standard array of test toppings - pepperoni, ham, banana peppers and onions - to see how fresh, generous, and visually appealing they'd be. The answer: above average in every category, which by Buffalo standards is saying something, but not amazing. Franco's square pizza wasn't as loaded with items as, say, something from Amherst Pizza & Ale House, as beautiful as a pizza from Luigi's, or as balanced and fresh as Bocce's, but apart from the thin and sparse onions, each of the toppings tasted good, adding enough distinct flavor to the pizza to be individually worthwhile. The slightly sweet, lightly tart sauce and a nicely browned, ever so slightly crispy crust were both quite nice until a half-hour had passed, at which point they started to taste a little soggy; the remaining pieces still tasted good when reheated the next day.

We're chicken wing snobs, so it's rare that we find supposedly hot wings to be good, let alone great. That said, Franco's extra hot wings ($7.59/10) are definitely good, and approach a higher level of praise. They're spicy - not crazy spicy, but enough to get noticed - and though they're not the richest in depth of flavor we've tested, the sauce is more than just heat, with a taste you can enjoy even when the tingling's gone away. Both of us really liked them, though we weren't as impressed by their texture - a little soft on the sides - or their meatiness, which was strictly middle-of-pack by wing size standards. Still, they tasted quite good, and we'd order them again.

Though it's hardly a surprise given the standard "pizza, wings, and subs" focus of most local pizza parlors, Franco's also offers a large collection of subs - all the standards - and we were pleased by the Steak Hoagie ($5.89), a soft loaf that was bursting at the seams with thin-sliced and chopped steak, chunky peppers, soft mushrooms, onion slivers, and melted cheese. While it wasn't memorable in flavor, the sheer bulk of the 6" sub was impressive by comparison with what we've seen from sub shop biggies such as Quiznos, Subway, and Dibella's, and it could have been almost an entire meal in and of itself. A little toasting for the bun or another something special would have made it more of a standout. Franco's also offers soft tacos, burritos, and wraps that we haven't sampled.

The only real disappointment of note was an order of Onion Rings ($2.79), which were off in pretty much every category save size as far as we were concerned: they were close to cold, tasted oily, and were relatively few in number, with slightly sweet onion cores and plain battered exteriors. Tossed into a box unceremoniously with a packet of Hunt's ketchup, the rings tasted like they'd been finished before all the other items and had just sat around too long. Based on their flavor, we wouldn't bother with them again.

But to the extent that we liked everything else, we'd certainly be inclined to pay Franco's another visit in the future - assuming we're in the neighborhood. The present locations serve the North Buffalo and the towns of Amherst, Kenmore, and Tonawanda well, but expansion into Williamsville, Clarence, and Cheektowaga would be great. We could easily imagine this chain having even more success with a bigger local footprint.

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