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Extreme Carryout

November 17, 2009

People get fired up about pizza.  And I can’t blame them.  It’s a passion point for me as well.

As a judge in this year’s All Over Albany Tournament of Pizza, I had the rare opportunity to eat several different pizzas in a sitting.  And just like in wine tasting, sampling a few items side by side really highlights the differences between them, and more clearly shows their strengths as well as their faults.

Every form of analysis is going to have its pros and its cons.  I do really like the tournament style, especially the progression of rounds, each with a greater challenge.  However, we have also seen the capriciousness of the brackets (had Pasquale’s gone up against Nunzio’s in the semifinals, they certainly would have been bested).

So I think one has to be clear about the conclusions that can be drawn from winning a tournament.

But there was one commenter from the AOA boards who was vehemently opposed to the tournament on its face.  Lou Quillio said that as it’s currently structured, the contest is about, “extreme carry-out.”

And he’s really not wrong. But in an area with so many independent pizzerias it’s really amazing that people still order from the big national chains.  Yet just in the past year we have seen a Papa John’s and a Little Caesar’s move into the region.  The bottom line is that people order carryout pizza.  A lot of people do.  Possibly most people do, at some time or another, even if they know better.

Surely the best pizza is eaten hot out of the oven.  And when I went to DeFazio’s in Troy and had an amazing pie, even the second slice (consumed mere moments after the first) didn’t hold a candle to the first bites of their pizza.

The pies at Pasquale’s and Nunzio’s are built to last.  How they are able to do this is really amazing to me.  And as we saw in the finals Nunzio’s isn’t able to pull it off all the time.  But Pasquale’s has won eight face-offs in a row.

Yes, Mr. Quillio is right that pizza starts degrading the moment it comes out of the oven.  But over the course of the tournament, I came to realize that some pizzas degrade faster than others.

For a lack of a better word, I will call them focaccia-style pizzas.

Because they are not really focaccia.  That would imply a bit more heft and height.  But the pizzas do have a bit more of a rich, oily, bready crust that is not unlike focaccia.  Regrettably, they make terrible take-out pies.  Still, these represent some of the best-loved pizzas in the region.  The Fountain, The Purple Pub, and D’Andrea are the three that come most readily to mind from this year’s tournament.

Saratoga Springs was the first city evaluated in this year’s TOP.  And the pie from D’Andrea was so disappointing that I felt like I had to grab a hot fresh slice direct from the source after the judging.

This was both a wonderful decision and a terrible mistake.

It was wonderful because with the hot slice I came to understand it better.  The oilier crust pizzas just get leaden and soggy when they are not piping hot.  When they are warmed, the crusts become crispy and light.  But in this case, even a hot fresh slice still would not have won the day.  And that was a relief.

What was not a relief was driving home after that one last slice.  My body was not accustomed to eating more than four slices of pizza in a sitting.

This style of pizza may have performed better in a pizza tour, where each pie was eaten at a table fresh from the oven.  However, a pizza tour does not let you taste the cheese from one pizzeria in one bite and a second pizzeria on the next.  Sometimes these differences are subtle, yet meaningful, and would be lost in a tour setting.

But now I am curious to learn more about this style of pizza and its prevalence in the region.  Perhaps it’s pub style.  And from my limited experience, it seems best suited for toppings, rather than the simple elegance of a cheese pizza.  Because while overall, the Pasquale’s sausage pizza was the best, the Fountain’s sausage pie (which never was officially judged) was mighty tasty – and significantly better than the plain cheese pie.

Looks like I have some more eating to do.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    November 17, 2009 9:45 am

    I don’t like D’Andrea’s because the crust is so sweet–the very reason others love it! You should check out Marino’s in Saratoga for a truly unique pizza, unlike pizza anywhere else.

  2. December 8, 2009 9:07 am

    No, not vehemently opposed. That would be silly.

    The tournament approach probably works well for AOA because (1) it’s about pizza and (2) it’s serial. Gives folks a reason to follow along (that is, visit repeatedly) and maybe in the process establish an AOA habit. Pretty smart on Greg’s part.

    I just think it would be more valuable and interesting to have the same group of reviewers hit one place at a time, say monthly, on premises. Good photo (and video) opportunities in that, plus you get the product as intended. We’d also get to know the personalities over time, which is fun. And eventually you circle back for repeat visits (“We thought it was time to check-in on [pizzeria] again, because [something’s changed, it’s about time, etc.].”)

    Would make for a pretty interesting archive. And it’s still serial, just not urgently so.


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