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Pizza Parade

October 25, 2010

The 2010 Tournament of Pizza is over.  Schenectady triumphed over Troy.  Marino’s Flying Pizza of Schenectady was declared the winner leaving DeFazio’s standing proudly in the number two spot.  But by now, this is old news.  You’ve been there, read that, and seen the judges’ wrap-up video.  What else could I possibly have to say on the subject?

Well, the answer is plenty.

As a judge in the tournament, I really try very hard to hold my tongue on all things pizza related until the event is over, lest anything I say have a hand in corrupting the integrity of the competition. So now that it is over, I thought it might be interesting to give you one judge’s behind-the-scenes perspective on the full four rounds.  The good, the bad and the ugly.

Saratoga Round One
2010 was not off to an auspicious beginning with the Saratoga bracket.  The only bright spot was Nunzio’s, last year’s bracket winner.  Everything else was a disappointment.  Pope’s made its first appearance in the tournament, and while I have been to their shop in Saratoga Springs and enjoyed their pizza, the pie that we judged bore no resemblance to what I ate in the restaurant.  I have no idea what happened there.

Cusato’s versus Antipasto’s was the bad versus the inedible.  Vegetarians have so few options in this region that they flock to Antipasto’s and probably order some of this pizza. Nobody deserves to eat food like this, not even vegetarians.  So Cusato’s snuck by into round two.  I’ll deal with them there.

Saratoga Round Two
Nunzio’s handily trounced Cusato’s.  It was a battle of the good versus the disgusting. Little is less appealing than bad sausage, and Cusato’s had bad sausage in spades. In fact it had two kinds of bad sausage.  Ground sausage that was a sandy texture and tasted only of black pepper and industrial-looking sausage pellets that had more herbal flavors but were grey and spongy.

Here’s the thing.  People like Cusato’s.  The readers of All Over Albany voted them into the bracket.  It would seem unlikely any of these voters ever ordered the sausage pizza.  Wow, was it bad.

Schenectady Round One
Things started to turn around in Schenectady.  Of note, ultimate tournament champion Marino’s was bested in the crust category by its first-round competitor Fireside, which held up respectably against last year’s bracket champion.

Personally, Pizza King is a favorite of mine.  I really enjoy their flavorful thin crust with its crispy bottom and good chew. It’s even better by the slice in the shop on Jay Street.  They are also a former TOP finalist, and handily beat Johnny C’s, which didn’t impress with its crust or cheese.

Schenectady Round Two
This was a very difficult contest for me.  Marino’s and Pizza King have different styles of pizza.  One is a thicker, more generous pie and the other is thinner and more reserved.  And the sausage was different too.  One had big crusty chunks of fennel-spiked meat, the other was spicy and thinly sliced from a link.

Ultimately I sided with Pizza King with its thinner spicier pie.  It was difficult because I generally prefer loose sausage to sliced links, and the Marino’s sausage was so well-crusted and delicious.  However, I loved the heat from the sausage, as it really woke up the palate in contrast to the comforting layer of cheese.

But by the time I had come to my conclusion the other judges had already made up their minds.  No amount of my chatter could convince them they had named the wrong pie the winner.  The shortcomings of the Marino’s slice would continue to haunt it through the rest of the competition, mainly its tough bottom crust.  Granted, this crust gives the pie a certain structural integrity, but I found it mildly off-putting.

Troy Round One
Again I found myself a dissenting voice among the judges, whom by the way I admire and respect.  Taste is just funny that way.  In the match-up between DeFazio’s and Giuseppe’s, I was the lone vote for Giuseppe’s.  I think DeFazio’s makes a great pie.  I love their toppings.  But despite obvious improvements to the portability of their crust, it wasn’t working for me.

Here was my problem.  The DeFazio’s slices were delicious as I was eating them.  But the lingering flavor of the slice was all crust.  Everything else disappeared.  It was very strange.

Troy’s I Love easily beat Pop’s, which is a new shop that was apparently very organized in getting their fans out to vote, but they were also clearly out of their league.  Everyone thinks they make the best pizza, but they don’t.

Troy Round Two
The I Love versus DeFazio’s challenge was epic.  Again, like in Schenectady, the pies were totally different.  Ground sausage versus sliced sausage.  And again, despite a preference for ground, my favorite pie was the I Love with its sliced sausage.

Not that the DeFazio’s pie wasn’t delicious, it totally was.  The combination of hot and sweet sausage was brilliant.  It’s just that the pie got tripped up on the problem with its crust.  Despite the fact that nothing on the I Love slice individually trumped anything on the DeFazio’s slice, the entire thing came together and was truly better than the sum of its parts.  It was an impressive feat.

This contest actually split the judges in half.  Two of us went for I Love and the other two went to DeFazio’s.  However those of us in the I Love camp only preferred our favorite pie by a narrow margin, while the ladies went gaga over DeFazio’s, leaving I Love on the sidelines.

Albany Round One
I think the pizza at Paesan’s has great flavor, and have gotten some very tasty slices from the shop over the past three years.  I was really looking forward to seeing how they did in the tournament setting. They went up against The Fountain, which came in with a significantly better pie than the year prior.  For its style of pub pizza, the Fountain slice was very good.  But it couldn’t quite stand up to superior sauce and cheese of Paesan’s.

Pasquale’s is among my favorite slices in the region, but they really had a bad run this year.  In fact, the slice I had in the first round versus Lou-Bea’s was so undercooked I voted against it.  If it were up to me, the two-time TOP champion Pasquale’s would have been eliminated right there in round one.

But the other judges received much better slices of the Pasquale’s pie and much worse slices of the Lou-Bea’s pie.

Albany Round Two
Looking back I think it could have been possible for Paesan’s to triumph over Pasquale’s.  Neither shop was on its A-game for this round.  The Pasquale’s pie was completely overwhelmed by the generous and well-seasoned chunks of sausage.  Paesan’s crust mysteriously seemed to have doubled in thickness since the prior round, and the sausage distribution was abysmal.  My judging slice barely had enough meat to evaluate it on its own and as part of the overall slice.

Ultimately when it came down to it, a pie that is unbalanced in the direction of tasty sausage wins over a pie that is unbalanced in the direction of mysteriously thick crust.

Tomorrow, for that one person who isn’t completely sick of my talking about pizza, I will elaborate on my thoughts on the semis and finals, both of which led me to decisions that in some ways I still find surprising.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Phairhead permalink
    October 25, 2010 11:26 am

    Wowie, as a life long Sch’dy resident, I am bowled over by Yr enthusiasm for Pizza King! I’ve never had their pie, looks like I’m long overdue

  2. October 25, 2010 1:40 pm

    How difficult was it to identify which pizzas were from which shops, round to round? Clearly, picking out the Pasquale’s pie wasn’t difficult (cornmeal crust). But what about the other shops? Could you easily identify which pizza was from which shop despite the ‘blind taste test’? If so, how hard was it to be objective in the judging and not play favorites?

  3. October 25, 2010 5:37 pm

    I am going to have to venture out into the provinces and try some pizza in Troy and Schenectady.

    I thought the pizza contest was actually pretty cool, I learned about a lot of area pizza joints I would have missed.


  4. October 25, 2010 8:57 pm

    i’m not sick of talking about pizza!

    that defazio’s sausage pie really was brilliant. well said. i wish paesan’s was better this year. i like their ontario street pizza better, but they didn’t do so well in the first year.

    the sauces really made the most impact on me this year. they were all i could focus on with each slice. well, except for that cusato’s sausage. why was it two different colors? ugh.

    @ac, i was able to identify most of the slices and did my best to be objective. it was really difficult, and i don’t feel like i played favorites.

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