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Building the Ballot – Pizza

February 22, 2012

Hitting the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 3.0 twice in one week is a bit treacherous. I don’t want anyone to get burnt out, and it takes away from other subjects I should be writing about. But I’ve had pizza on the mind.

Mostly, I wanted to share a lengthy comment I made to Albany Reddit. I’m enjoying the ability to participate in a community that isn’t so food centric, where you actually find people who go to Papa John’s and like it. Fortunately, you also find people who go to Papa John’s and don’t like it.

These are the people who could use our guidance.

Anyhow, this cry for help elicited a fairly comprehensive rundown of Capital District pizza. Without a doubt there are omissions. And despite how many pizzas I’ve eaten around the area, there are still several notable places that I’ve yet to experience. But what does it mean to be the best pizza in the region?

Let’s attempt to get to the answer.

Ultimately, a pizza is about how the crust, sauce and cheese all come together in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. But depending on who you talk to, not all of those parts are created equal.

I am not shy to say that I’m a crust man. It’s the crust first and foremost. Forget how good the sauce and cheese may be, if the crust isn’t great, the pizza will never be great.

Admittedly, that is subjective and we may have to agree to disagree. So let’s look at it more objectively.

The best pizzas are handmade by dedicated craftsmen who don’t cut corners. They employ quality ingredients and take pride in their work. Pizza screens are in a direct conflict with these statements, so if your pizza has hash marks on its bottom, it need not apply. Bubbles, both in the crust and the cheese are entirely consistent with high quality hand-crafted pizza, so delight in the fact if your pie contains these delicious deformities.

3. Mama Mia’s – Saratoga Springs
This joint was entirely off my radar until my pizza guru Renée put it on the All Over Albany 2011 Tournament of Pizza Saratoga Bracket. It was handily the single greatest pizza that I’ve tried from our great culinary Mecca to the north. They push that crust to its boundaries, and sometimes charred crosses the line to burned. And that’s why this is just number three. But it’s great stuff.

2. Pizza King – Schenectady
No surprise to have this on my list, as I’ve long hailed its greatness and supremacy for slices. After all, pizza is all that they do. No sandwiches, no pasta, no desserts. Just pizza. And it is amazing, especially after it’s reheated and crisped up to a perfectly thin, chewy and tender foundation for solid and flavorful toppings.

1. DeFazio’s – Troy
Despite this pizza diminishing exponentially in its cardboard sarcophagus, hands down this is the best pizza in the area. You just need to make sure to grab one of the few tables and eat your pie in the shop fresh from the oven. And if you are going to want more than one pie, put the orders in a few minutes apart, so the pizza doesn’t all come out at the same time. The quality of everything here is unimpeachable. It’s not New York thin crust, so let it not be said that I’m an ideologue.

So, those are my picks. And I’ve never been to Bacchus. Nor have I tried what they are putting out at the Capital City Gastropub, but I do understand that it bears little resemblance to the Pasquale’s pies it replaces.

However, this exercise is all about getting your top three picks, as we build the FUSSYlittleBALLOT 3.0 for its April arrival. It will be here before you know it. So, what do you think? Three best pizza places. Go.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. February 22, 2012 11:56 am

    1 – I Love NY of Madison (Albany)
    2 – Fiorello Importing/Luigi’s Deli (Western in Albany)
    3 – Lou Bea’s (Delaware in Albany)

    Crying for JG’s.

    • February 22, 2012 12:08 pm

      And why?

      • February 22, 2012 1:51 pm

        1 – I Love NY of Madison – because they are consistently delicious. Their crust is thin, the sauce is savory, the amount of cheese/sauce/toppings is always spot on. Plus they have a chicken bacon ranch pizza…although the one with just tomatoes, bacon and ranch is probably better. The folks who work here are always pleasant.

        2 – Fiorello Importing – is good because it’s just good. High quality ingredients and always a good blend of flavors. Plus the family who run the joint are the bee’s knees.

        3 – Lou Bea’s – the crust. Although I’d almost kick them out from closing their uptown location (on the same block as Fiorello’s). Bella Pranzo, the new pizza joint in their old building is borderline terrible. I know I’m starting a fight over something that took place over 5 years ago.

  2. -R. permalink
    February 22, 2012 12:26 pm

    I cannot dispute your number one choice: DeFazio’s is peerless in my estimation, and to my palate is the finest pie in the entire region. Beyond that, I tend to go for pie that is geographically proximate, since as we all know good pizza doesn’t travel well. Pasquale’s was my go-to place for all the years of its existence, and oh, how I still lament its loss. The Gastropub is nice enough, but why the hell would you go there for pizza when there are so many other delightful tidbits on offer? Since I live in Albany and work in Troy, the next closest, decent pie by my house is Spinners off of Whitehall Road (near Crestwood Deli) whose ownership is part of the Cafe Madison, Junior’s, and The Point pedigree. Quality is quite decent with good quality ingredients, and competent preparation and it’s a blissfully short drive. If I’m feeling a little bolder, sometimes I will venture out to Little Anthony’s on Central (under the I-90 bridge); they also make a very decent pizza. But again, if I’m truly in the mood, it’s DeFazio’s hands-down.

  3. February 22, 2012 1:03 pm

    Sorry, my one and only DeFazio’s experience (eaten at the restaurant) left so much to be desired I probably will never go back. Their white clam pizza was a joke. Lacking in clams, their pizza dough was more like bread than dough, and the garlic was missing on the whole.

    As for myself: Lucia’s in Rotterdam for the closest thing I can get around here to downstate Pizza. I also like Marino’s, who know how to do a sausage pizza. As for a third? Jury’s still out.

    • Beck permalink
      February 24, 2012 12:09 pm

      My husband and I went to DeFazio’s once, ordered, I think, a sausage pie, ate it in the restaurant, and were so underwhelmed. I’d heard so much about how great their pizza was, especially eaten in the restaurant. We both thought it was good, but not great, and not really worth going out of our way for.

      Both of us are from further south – he the city, I, Orange County – and the style of pizza here has taken getting used to. I wouldn’t say we have a consistent favorite. There’s a location of I Love NY near us that’s pretty good by the slice, but not so great for a whole pie. I also used to love Pasquale’s pizza, which, for me, was the closest to what I remembered as a great pizza from home.

  4. February 22, 2012 1:20 pm

    3. Mama Mia’s (just as good as you say)
    2/1. Pizza Mare in Guilderland/DeFazio’s. Pizza Mare is pretty good. And I’d rank DeFazio’s first, but this is another customer-service problem — they’re in a borderline area crime-wise, with no parking, and they’re not open on Sundays, meaning that whenever I want to go, they’re closed. So it’s a tie — I can’t give them the win when they’re that inconvenient, that hard to get.

    Also, for the love of gods, if I could just find good pizza in Clifton Park…. ugh. So frustrating to have dozens of places and no good pizza. :(

  5. February 22, 2012 2:56 pm

    I just came from Mama Mia’s to minutes ago.

    Mmmmmmmmmmmm

  6. February 22, 2012 8:43 pm

    I’ve had only very average pizzas at Mamma Mia’s and DeFazio’s. Happy to try again, but not to vote for them.’

    On the other hand, here is a vote for Village Pizza in Galway. The TOPPINGS are the thing here and the crust is merely a transport for them. Good quality and bounteous, a pie that will sustain you for many days.

  7. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    February 22, 2012 9:24 pm

    Mama Mia’s has not been dependable lately. Last week my slices were incredibly salty. And they are always a different size!

  8. February 23, 2012 11:00 am

    Making your own dough is not rocket science. A 50/50 mix of bread dough and hi-gluten seems to work the best for me. If you are hi-gluten afflicted, use all purpose flour or bread flour. Making a good sauce with quality canned tomatoes, olive oil and garlic isn’t either. Heat your oven to 500 for an hour. Top first with cheese(s) of choice bake for 5 minutes. Top with sauce and bake for another 5 minutes. Use heavy baking pans. You will never go out for pizza again.

  9. February 23, 2012 12:10 pm

    Mama Mia’s is inconsistent. I have and do recommend them to people, mostly for their other food. I love the Saratoga pie but the regular pies can either be great or make me embarrassed to have recommended them.

    I’m also not happy with how they heat the slices when you eat there. I had to ask the guy to put my slice back in the oven twice. The second time I told him I want to burn the skin off the roof of my mouth (I really do like pizza that hot) and he got all snippy with me.

    The best pizza in Saratoga has always been Caputo’s in Wilton in the plaza near Target, Home Depot and Staples. Caputo’s is most like NYC pizza. The dough is good, the crust is thin with just the right amount of char. The sauce is right, although a smidge too salty at times. When you go in there to have a slice it’s always heated to the proper temperature too.

  10. Jessica R permalink
    February 23, 2012 2:57 pm

    I live in Troy, so my choices are slanted that way, but I do believe these places put out some of the best pizza in the area.

    3. Bacchus – never been dissapointed by anything here. There garlic-shrimp pizza is superb. I would never think of getting a pie to take home though – but why would you when the atmosphere is so nice, and they have such a great beer list (Also, you must try the roasted garlic appetizer when you go!)

    2. I Love – 4th Street, Troy
    The original, and attempts to copy are prevalent (The one on Central near New Karner comes closest, I think). I know you love Pizza King, but I just can’t get as excited about them as I can about I Love. Maybe it is due to their prevalence in my RPI days.

    1. DeFazios – You said it, they are the best.

  11. February 24, 2012 11:53 am

    Oops, forgot to say to bake the risen dough without anything on it for 5 minutes first.

  12. February 24, 2012 3:13 pm

    I like D’Andrea’s pizza in Saratoga, mostly for the toppings.

  13. Josh K. permalink
    March 26, 2012 6:36 pm

    Was late on this but here goes anyway:

    3) The Orchard- again, I am all about nostalgia and this place whips it out. Their original French Bread style Buffalo Chicken pizza, cut into squares is absolutely addictive.
    2) De Fazio’s – creative, fresh, innovative toppings and the best thin slice around
    1) The Fountain – simply the best. A local pizza parlor in the most traditonal sense that goes way back. The pizza is also one of a kind with crispy garlic crust and mounds of perfectly baked cheese on top.

  14. Mike R. permalink
    March 29, 2012 12:20 pm

    3. Smitty’s – Typically I am a thin-crust-or-it’s-not-even-worth-it kind of person. But Smitty’s turns out a delicious pizza, uses all fresh ingredients, and provides the perfect end of a fall day after apple picking and donut eating at Indian Ladder. Sure, it might owe its place on my list partially to the atmosphere and the memories I have of eating there, but pizza is an atmosphere and memories kind of food for me, so here on the list it goes.

    2. Bacchus – Really good pizza, made in small pies, in a wood-fired oven.

    1. Sapienza – The best slice of pizza I’ve had in this area, without a doubt. The crust is always crispy enough that it cracks upon folding, the sauce and cheese applied in nice balance. It’s the no-frills kind of place that many pizza purists love (including myself, despite my picks for numbers 2 and 3 on this list), and they serve awesome pizza.

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