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More Than Just Pizza

October 26, 2009

There is nothing like sitting down to four different pizzas from four different pizzerias on a regular and ongoing basis to give one a deeper understanding of the form.  As one of the judges from this year’s All Over Albany Tournament of Pizza, I have been lucky enough to have this opportunity.  But that conversation will need to wait until the tournament is over.

Last week, there was an interesting face-off in the Albany bracket.  The long-established and crowd favorite pub-style pizza from the Fountain went head to head with relative newcomer and last year’s TOP defending champ, Pasquale’s.  The kicker is that these two pizzerias are in the same strip of New Scotland Avenue, just about a block away from each other.

Thankfully, the judging was blind.  So while the judges knew we were tasting pizzas from Albany, we did not know for certain the gravitas of this showdown.  Pasquale’s won handily.  I cannot speak for the other judges, but you can see the results here.

The point is that despite Pasquale’s having better pizza, people prefer The Fountain.  And those people include my wife, Mrs. Fussy.

Sometimes it’s about more than just pizza.

Mrs. Fussy and I have been going to The Fountain for a couple of years.  It is another classic example of the Albany red-sauce Italian tavern.  Just recently I noticed they took the classic red and white checkered tablecloths off the tables, which gave it a less retro look.  But this place is burnished with the memories of decades.

And it’s a warm and inviting place.  It’s dark, yes.  But the atmosphere is friendly.  There always seem to be people at the tables and the small bar.  You can order pitchers of beer and relax with some pizza or wings in a family-friendly environment.

Mrs. Fussy finds it to be such a comfortable place that I have a difficult time convincing her to try some of the restaurants of the area that are rumored to be exceptional.

Plus while she prefers the pizza at Pasquale’s I have a difficult time getting her there, too.

There is no doubt that the pizza at Pasquale’s is the best in its neighborhood.  But I have never seen more than a few tables of people there, which doesn’t help enliven what is already a relatively stiff environment.  Especially for a pizza joint that sells its very tasty product by the slice.

A slice from Pasquale’s comes on a real plate.  Not a paper plate, or a simple sheet of waxed paper.  A real freaking plate!  It’s bizarre.  I suppose it’s more eco friendly, but I do not think that is the impetus behind the decision.

I always get the feeling that Pasquale’s has conflated being a high quality pizzeria with being a high quality restaurant.  It might explain the candles on the tables.  But it also probably explains their focus on quality ingredients, the amazing freshness of their sauce, and their exacting standards when it comes to the thinness of the crust.

Sadly, I will only get Mrs. Fussy there when we have to grab something quick to feed the family.  For that, Pasquale’s is the hands down winner.  But really, that should be the role of a pizza parlor.  And that’s what Pasquale’s is, although it would be nice if they could loosen up a bit.

Warmth is the purview of taverns.  Some have better food than others.  Most in this area serve pizza.  Yes, The Fountain lost in round one, but pub pizza really shines when it’s covered with toppings.  It’s less about being good pizza, and more about being a topping delivery vehicle loaded with soothing cheese.  Plus, it gives you something to do with your mouth between sips of beer.

Personally, the last couple of times we went to The Fountain the pizza was not what it used to be, and Mrs. Fussy is going to have a difficult time getting me back there in the future.

But luckily one thing Albany is rich in is taverns.  If one is slipping, there are plenty of others to choose from.  Great pizza, on the other hand, is a much rarer commodity.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. phairhead permalink
    October 26, 2009 12:48 pm

    being a sch’dy gal (and i hope you don’t hold that against me!) i say we have some really fantastic pies over here. but pasquale’s sounds too good to pass up

  2. Kerosena permalink
    October 26, 2009 5:48 pm

    It’s true, I have to admit it. Pasquale’s makes a better pizza. It’s fresher and more delicate. In the past year, I’ve had it once. I’ve had The Fountain’s pizza probably 8 times, including at 11:00pm on our first night (of five) without power last December.

    Here’s why: Pasquale’s confuses me. I can’t figure out what they’re trying to do. There never seems to be any customers. I always feel a little uncomfortable being the only table in a restaurant. I don’t feel welcome there. I paid $20.00 for a delicious, thin crust cheese pie.

    I understand The Fountain. I can wear a sweatshirt to eat dinner there. Everyone always seems to be enjoying themselves. I feel welcome even when I’m a refugee from my own (powerless) house. Sometimes a band with members looong past the age of retirement plays there. I pay $12.00 and some change for a large white broccoli or one topping pie.

    Yes, Pasquale’s makes a better pizza. The Fountain makes good pizza (IMO) and is cheaper, more fun, and has a true neighborhood feel.

  3. October 28, 2009 6:53 am

    My family agrees with your wife. The Fountain. Consistently always good pizza!

    • October 29, 2009 11:24 pm

      I wish I had cleared this up earlier. My wife does NOT think the pizza at the Fountain is consistantly good. The last time we were there she agreed it was substandard. Mrs. Fussy also agrees the pizza at Pasquale’s is better. It is just that she prefers going to the Fountain for its warm convivial atmosphere.

      She likes the place better… not their food. It is an important distinction.

  4. NY Deli Man permalink
    October 29, 2009 5:21 pm

    If anyone is in Queens, stop by this place. It is my first stop over the Whitstone bridge whenever I’m in Queens/Brooklyn or Long Island. I have been eating their pizza since Nixon was president (Maybe even LBJ!).

    The closest pizza I’ve found around here is Sapienza. It is in downtown Albany, by the TU Centre. I need to check out Pasquale.

  5. Ellen Whitby permalink
    October 29, 2009 11:05 pm

    We went to Pasquales tonight (based on the results) and we were actually disappointed. The place was lovely, the server very friendly. The atmosphere was nice. My son even commented on the soft music playing that wasn’t disturbing our conversation like that loud music you hear sometimes. When I told the server they would have to update the stickers on the back of the business cards that say “2008 winner”, she got very excited. Because of all the excitement, it took way more time for them to make our pizza than it should have. The woman in the kitchen (the owner, I believe) was distracted. When the server came to tell us it would take a few more minutes, she also told us that she had to call her friend to check the results of the most recent round. And to thank the friend for informing her, she would get a free pizza. I thought I had told her about the results.

    We waited about 40 minutes (we were the only ones there) and when the pizza arrived, it was very hot – fresh from the oven, as it should have been. The cheese was very stretchy. The crust was soggy and lacking in flavor (though the edge was quite crunchy). The sauce was flavorful, but not impressively so.

    Our experience was really quite mediocre, which is sad because this is the number 1 pizza, as judged by our esteemed Mr. Fussy.

    That’s okay, Mr. Fussy. I appreciate your opinion even if I don’t agree with it. It makes the conversation more interesting.

    I’ll think I’ll check out Sapienza next time.

  6. Holly permalink
    October 31, 2009 10:43 pm

    The only thing that Pasquale’s and The Fountain have in common is that they happen to be on the same street. You cannot compare either they’re food or they’re atmosphere. First of all The Fountain is a bar! And they serve bar food along with PRE-MADE pizza. Pasquale’s is a Italian style resturant that just happens to serve the best pizza in town.(the stats don’t lie)

    While there may not be many people dinning in, the sevice at the counter has always been friendly and comforting whenever I have come in to pick up an order. I have been going to Pasquale’s since it opened over 5 years ago and it has always been a trattoria, serving simple Italian dishes and pizza by the slice, but NEVER just pizza because it is not a “pizza parlor” with paper plates or bar with beer and darts.

    If you want fast food go to Burger King. If you want beer and wings go to a bar. But if you want to take your family, girlfriend, or neighbor out for a nice quite meal, go to Pasquale’s.

    I guess my point is that in my 54 years of life I’ve eaten out more than a hand full of times and after living in the capital district for over 10 years I can always count on Pasquale’s for a hot delicious meal.

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