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White Pizza

November 6, 2009

Part of me acknowledges that white pizza is an oxymoron.  I’m a purist at heart.  And pizza is crust, tomato sauce and cheese.  Ideally it is in the New York style.  And preferably served a slice at a time on waxed paper sheets.

That’s not to say that variations cannot be tasty.  They certainly can.  And I try to appreciate different styles of pizza on their own terms.  Sometimes it takes a while to really appreciate a pizza that is in a new style.

However, that was not the case when I was first introduced to white pizza.  I enjoyed it from bite one.  Granted, it was a long time ago, but I remember it well.  My Nana S. took me to one of her favorite pizza places on Long Island, and their specialty was a spinach pizza.  I was skeptical.  But little did I know that the spinach would be spiked with garlic and blended into a rich creamy ricotta that took the place of sauce.

This post is a bit late, because just last night the winner of the All Over Albany 2009 Tournament of Pizza was announced.  But last week was the semi-final round, where the top pizza parlor from each city competed in a white pizza challenge.  And it was very interesting to see so many different interpretations of this type of pie.

As a side note, the semi-finals were a real treat to judge, because all of the mediocre pizza had been culled from the brackets.  I know all of the pizzerias were nominated by All Over Albany readers and are beloved by many, but there were some real stinkers.  Although to be fair, the conditions of the competition can be brutal on certain styles of pizza (more on that later).

Nunzio’s from Saratoga Springs nailed the white pizza.  There was plenty of seasoning in the form of both garlic and herbs.  The ricotta was well integrated into the pie, and provided plenty of needed creaminess.  The vegetables were well cooked.  And the toppings were in balance with each other and the thickness of the crust.  This was a great pie.  And it was by far the best white pizza of the bunch.

Marino’s of Schenectady took more of a different stance, and reminded me more of the first white pizza I had in Long Island.  It was a heavier pie with a greater load of ricotta than the others.  The ricotta was almost like the sauce of this pie.  I loved the heartiness of the pizza, but it was lacking flavor.  It felt like it just needed some salt and it would break out of its doldrums.

Pasquale’s of Albany was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Marino’s.  They were very stingy with the ricotta.  On bites with plenty of the creamy cheese, the pizza was a lot better.  But those were few and far between.  What they did not skimp on was the garlic.  And that too was to their detriment, because the garlic overwhelmed everything else on the pie.  It was a double whammy since the garlic had a raw quality to it that wasn’t very pleasant.  Likely it was just undercooked.

As far as I Love of Troy goes, vegetables are not what they do best.  And that’s fine.  They are what they are.  And when you walk in the door of this place, you would correctly suspect that a vegetable pizza might come up short.  But I Love that crust.

What is interesting about this format of competition is that so much comes down to the luck of the brackets.  Nunzio’s would have beat out any competitor in this round.  It just so happened they went up against the weakest pie – I Love.

That made the decision between Pasquale’s and Marino’s that much more difficult.  In my mind they were both flawed pies.  But ultimately I went with Pasquale’s in choosing the one with flavor (if overly and unpleasantly garlicky) to the one that was lacking in flavor (but with superior texture).

But if the brackets were different and Nunzio’s went up against Pasquale’s in the semi-finals, Pasquale’s would have been eliminated.  That means Nunzio’s would have gone up against Marino’s in the finals.  And given how the finals went, Marino’s would have had a real shot at the title.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are no losers from this round.  All four of these places are great, and if you haven’t been to one of them, you should go.  Now.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 6, 2009 10:18 am

    Good to know. I’ve had Nunzio’s regular pizza and thought it was really awful; I’ll have to try the white.

  2. November 6, 2009 1:15 pm

    We’re of a similar mind over the white pie*. It can be done extraordinarily well, but it is its own creature. I’d rather see the tourney focused on the classic slices all the way through. Having these variations looks more at the question of who is the most versatile pizzeria, not who makes the best overall pie. When my Mega Millions numbers are drawn this weekend, I’ll sponsor next year’s contest as a round robin with multiple tracks.

    * A broccoli ricotta slice is not something I would normally order. It’s a bit of a “chicken breast” of a style… tasty but inoffensive at best, bland at worst. I don’t believe there would be enough entries to fill the tourney, but I’d prefer to see a New Haven-style clam pie as next year’s white category.

  3. Jonathan permalink
    November 6, 2009 1:57 pm

    Found this very interesting. I really thought Marinos was going to win everything. Glad to hear they did come so close. Whenever I order a white for take out, they always ask if I want fresh garlic. Maybee that did’nt happen for the competition. For a white pizza, I always prefer fresh tomato and ricotta, you get the right amount of sweetness and acidity that way. I always found broccoli a bit bitter, for a pizza. Anyways thanks for the good work.

  4. phairhead permalink
    November 6, 2009 5:02 pm

    white pie can be good. Cappiello’s in Schenectady does a great broccholi pizza. and speaking of Sch’dy. my heart was little sad in my heart that Marino’s lost in the tournament o’ pizza this year. there’s always next year :(

  5. November 7, 2009 9:45 pm

    White pizza whatever, how about some commentary on how the two finalists cratered in the final round? Is it the kiss of death to tell a pizzeria to “be creative”? Now that the competition is over perhaps you can talk freely about this…

  6. November 8, 2009 5:27 pm

    White pizzas were my absolute favorite pizzas growing up. They still hold a special space in my heart. But I agree with Sandor – broccoli + ricotta is a pretty safe zone, and I’d love to try more adventurous white pizzas. Hmm, I bet there are some really crafty pizza-making folks that could think of such stuff.

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