Two Top Pizzas: So Much to Love
Maybe you didn’t see the video. Steve Barnes took a small crew to the shops of the two finalists in the All Over Albany 2010 Tournament of Pizza. While he was there, Steve spoke with the proprietors, and each owner did a little show and tell about the pizza they were submitting to the finals.
Last year the finals were a bit underwhelming. This year that wasn’t the case. There was so much to love. And the video only served to heighten the anticipation. By this point, you’ve seen the numbers, so you know that Marino’s of Schenectady was crowned the Best Pizza in the Capital Region by AOA.
Honestly, I have a hard time believing it myself. Did you see the picture of DeFazio’s pie? It’s gorgeous. But I also saw a lot of unusual decisions being made all along the way in this year’s TOP. And more often than not, it was me that was making them.
Here is the last installment of my behind the scenes look at the judges’ table. Promise.
There were a few times when my heart skipped a beat when I was watching the DeFazio’s pie get made.
The first came with the kalamata olives. First, they were using kalamata olives. Second, their olives came with pits, and they were individually pitted before being placed on the pizza. This is a very small detail, but it’s displays a commitment to quality and taste that is huge and was not lost on me.
Allow me to back up several years. I was shopping for cheese and olives in Berkeley at a place called the Cheeseboard. It’s a good place. They are committed to tasting. No matter what you are getting, before they cut your piece, they give you a sliver to approve. Every time. All cheese stores should do this.
When it came to olives, I was going for convenience, so I asked for a half pound of pitted kalamatas. The cheesemonger returned with two olives for me to taste. One was pitted, and the other was whole. The difference in taste between the two was clear, and it was striking. The whole olive was far superior in taste and texture.
Still, I didn’t have the time to pit all those olives, so I got the pitted ones, and cursed that cheesemonger for showing me what I was missing by sacrificing taste for convenience.
DeFazio’s uses whole kalamatas, and pits them to order. Damn.
The second time my heart skipped a bit was with the grated cheese. I distinctly heard the proprietor say he used pecorino from Sardinia instead of Parmesan to season the pies. This is the cheese I was searching for at the beginning of summer. It may not officially be Fiore Sardo, but it sounds like it would at least be in the same family. Wow.
All of the toppings on the DeFazio pie were top-notch. They even brought back the sausage that earned them their spot in the semi-finals. The toppings were even well considered, as you may have heard and seen in the video. But they just didn’t come together.
In some ways it was as if the pie lacked seasoning. Every bite that had an olive was a taste explosion, with the saltiness of the fruit perking up the slice. But there was so much going on topping-wise that flavors got lost, and even the sausage wasn’t able to shine through.
I think it was this more than the switch to a whole-wheat crust that cost them the victory. Although switching the crust in the finals was a tactical error, akin to the one Pizza King made in 2008. These pizza parlors made it to the finals on the back of their classic fundamentals. This isn’t the place to mix it up with what is popular among your patrons.
Pizza King’s chicken marsala pizza is unique. So is DeFazio’s whole-wheat crust. It’s no wonder they are popular sellers. These places are among the few where you can get these versions of the form. And yes, they are tasty in their own way. But that does not make them the best.
Marino’s seemed to grasp this. Their pizza was a perfect combination of what got them to the finals in the first place. For two years in a row, Marino’s made it into the semi-finals on the strength of its well-crusted loose sausage pieces. Pair that with the best two parts of their vegetable pizza from the semi-finals, peppers and onions, and you have a solid contender.
The execution of this pie was brilliant. I have a very long food memory, and I cannot remember ever having peppers as juicy and succulent as those on this pizza. I know they are sautéed in olive oil before going on the pie, but I’d love to learn more about their technique. Like all of the pizzas from Marino’s I found the bottom crust to be a bit tough and toothsome.
Perhaps if you could eat giant mouthfuls of the DeFazio’s pie hot out of the oven, one would get a better balance of flavors. But the Tournament of Pizza is all about simulating real-world eating situations, and for better or for worse, most people get takeout.
All the same, I’m dying to get to DeFazio’s for an olive pie and to see if I can’t get my hands on some Sardinian pecorino. And one of these days I’ll bring the family to Marino’s for dinner, so we can do an honor to this excellent pizza maker and eat the pizzas the way they should be eaten, hot out of the oven.