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The Best Pizza in Albany?

November 10, 2009

Last week the All Over Albany Tournament of Pizza came to an end.  And after four rounds of tasting eliminated 15 competing pizzerias in four cities (and outlying suburban areas), Pasquale’s stood atop the heap for the second year in a row.

The repercussions of this are still being felt across the region.

There will always be those who are unhappy that their favorite pizza joint did not reign supreme in the tournament. But in almost every single face-off the judges were unanimous in our decision about which pizza was the better of the two.  Our scores on the individual components may have differed, but the overall verdict was the same.

So, it is with a clear conscience that I can say that Pasquale’s is a seriously tasty pizza and it is among the best-tasting pizzas we ate throughout the competition.  It has won eight consecutive head-to-head challenges in the past two years, and that is no small feat.  The way the competition is structured is a brutal test of a pizzeria’s competence, but that is a whole separate issue.  Surely to some it is the best pizza in the Capital District.

However, I also know from the Tournament of Pizza that Pasquale’s decidedly is not the best white pizza in the area.  That clearly went to Nunzio’s, provided of course that none of the pizzerias that got booted in round one or round two could produce a better version.  But I think Nunzio’s is pretty safe at the top of that heap (out of the 16 pizzerias we judged).

Still, after all of the build up, and the overall high level of quality in the semi-finals, all of the judges were very much looking forward to the finals, and ultimately left a bit disappointed and under-whelmed.

Otis asked:
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…

Creative is a weighted word.  In the finals the pizzerias get to choose which pie they enter into the competition.  Whether or not they choose to get creative is up to them.  Last year, Pasquale’s won with its classically simple margarita pizza.  The loser, incidentally, offered up the phantasmagorical chicken tikka masala pizza.

I would agree that asking them to be creative could be disastrous.  But I think there is a difference between the freedom to choose and an expectation of creativity.  The question is what do they think will be most delicious.  And this is inherently an interesting window into the heart of the operation.

Especially for Pasquale’s now that we have data on them for two years.  While the bruschetta pizza may have been underwhelming, it represents a similar profile of flavors as what they submitted the year prior.

All the other pies for the competition are ordered anonymously.  Or at the very least, no mention of the tournament is given to the pizza joints when the order is placed.  In theory that should mean the judges receive pizzas that anyone else would receive.

For the finals, the pizzerias know these are the pizzas that will be judged.  So for these pizzas, we cannot guarantee that the average consumer will have the same experience.  There was evident care taken in the Pasquale’s tomato, basil and garlic topping, which may or may not be typical.  The Nunzio’s presentation of the pinwheel of nightshades may or may not be typical as well.

I think I was much more enamored with the eggplant, roasted pepper, and sun-dried tomato pizza than the other judges.  Still, I couldn’t declare it the winner.  The eggplant was fantastic.  I would have loved a whole pie of just their eggplant.  But the balance of toppings isn’t what sunk the pie.  It was the basics of the crust, sauce and cheese.  But mostly the crust.

And oddly this cannot be blamed on the distance the pizza had to travel, since their stunning white pizza also made the long haul down to Albany for judging.  I cannot claim to know the alchemy that goes on between dough and oven, but it just wasn’t there in this pie.  The sauce got a bit lost under the weight of all the toppings, and the cheese was so buried by the vegetables that it was melted but flabby.

While I may not have thought the bruschetta pizza was the best thing we had seen from Pasquale’s over the course of the tournament, it was clearly the tastier of the two options in front of me that night.  I may have mentioned this on the wrap-up video, but its construction reminded me of drinking a mint julep from a short straw.  One’s nose is thrust into the heaping mound of aromatics, which has a profound impact on the overall taste.

The Pasquale’s pizza really needed some salt.  All of those tomatoes really were much better after the judging was over, and we were able to sprinkle on a bit of coarse salt.  But it was their crust that saved the day.  And for those people who claim to not be impressed with Pasquale’s overall, I have to ask, what do you think of their crust?

For my money, Pasquale’s equals crust.  And the fact that their crust can hold up to the rigors of the Tournament of Pizza is frankly miraculous.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Greg permalink
    November 10, 2009 11:29 am

    Pizza King entered a chicken marsala pizza in last year’s final.

    I would like to try a chicken tikka masala pizza.

  2. November 10, 2009 1:29 pm

    I’ve always wanted to try the pizzas at Ali Baba (chicken tika masala, etc), but their prices have always scared me off.

  3. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 10, 2009 2:08 pm

    Albany Jane, I’ve never had the pizza at Ali Baba but I’ve had most of their other items. I was surprised re your comment re price, since AB is so cheap. Also, are you certain that they have a “tikka masala” pizza? Again, I’m just surprised, since that is Indian, and they are Turkish?! Daniel B, you HAVE been talking about Nunzio’s in Saratoga, right? If so, how could they be the best white pizza in Albany (couldn’t find an Albany Nunzio’s in phone book)? Confused.

    • November 10, 2009 10:16 pm

      Indeed I was talking about Nunzio’s in Saratoga. So it is a fair question as to how they can have the best white pizza in Albany.

      If you remember all the way back in August I wrote a post Small Market Envy in which I talked about the Nielsen DMAs. I have a long background in advertising, and it creates a worldview that is hard to shake. When I think about Albany, Nielsen shapes the geography more than petty things like arbitrary gerrymandered political boundaries.

      Here is a free map of the Albany DMA that I found on the interwebs. Now all we need to do is juice the Nielsen stats to get our DMA up into the top 50 and watch those national advertising dollars come rolling in. Sorry, for the little tangent. You have no idea, the power that is the dark side.

  4. phairhead permalink
    November 10, 2009 7:42 pm

    there was a write up in Metroland about Pasquale’s and they give it 2 thumbs up. They have a lasagne pizza that sounds intriguing.

    Marino’s got the shaft! #1 all the way!!!

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