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Rolled Your Way Into the Semis

October 20, 2011

Wasn’t there just a pizza post on Tuesday? And another one the week before? Am I seriously going to write another one today?

Maybe you’ve been closely following All Over Albany’s Tournament of Pizza. Or maybe you haven’t. This year it feels a bit more fast and furious than in years past. I’m finding that it’s hard for me to keep up, and I’m judging the darn thing. At this point, I’ve officially eaten twenty-eight slices from sixteen different pizza shops (in this year’s competition), to try and help you determine from where you should order your next pie.

You think you’re sick of pizza? It feels like I’ve been eating the stuff almost non-stop for the past few weeks. Amazingly my weight has remained remarkably stable, but it’s probably time to get my lipids checked soon.

Anyway, the results of the semi-finals were just posted yesterday. And I thought that was worthy of a little bit of behind the scenes analysis.

I had some very high hopes for the four pizzas, and was thrilled that AOA decided to go the sausage, peppers and onions route for the semis. After all, this was the killer combo that clenched it for Marino’s last year. Sure Marino’s was knocked out by 5th and 50 in the pepperoni round this year, but could any of these challengers eclipse last year’s tournament winning pie?

In this judge’s opinion, the answer is no. That Marino’s pie was spectacular.

This isn’t to say the four semi-finalists didn’t make great versions of this pizza. Three of them did. I have no idea what happened that night in the kitchen of Mama Mia in Saratoga.

I loved this shop in the first two rounds, and was blessing Renée’s name for nominating this awesome establishment. But in this third round, something went wrong. Even if the sausage hadn’t tasted like cat food, the bottom crust was burnt. Not toasted, not charred. Burnt. It was black and carbonized. Not just in a few blistery spots, but on wide swaths of the bottom crust. It was bitter and it was ashen.

This was a pizza that went beyond not being good. It was aggressively bad.

All the same, on the strength of their first two pies, I’m totally going to visit this restaurant on my next visit to Saratoga. I may even make a special trip just to come here, because the cheese pizza was just that good.

What was really interesting about this round was that the two winners were immediately apparent. Sometimes it’s difficult to ferret out a winner. Each slice has different strengths and weaknesses. In one round I actually found myself making a little pro/con grid on my score sheet to help me come to a conclusion.

DeFazio’s and 5th and 50 were the two best pies. Hands down. It wasn’t even close, although DerryX preferred the Marisa’s pie (I’m still flummoxed by this).

You know what that means. The finals are going to be a repeat of last year’s Troy vs. Schenectady battle. I’ve long loved our two flanking cities. They both have so much character and heart that it hurts. And not surprisingly, they both have some killer pizza.

DeFazio’s has been in this spot and walked away empty-handed in the past. Do they have the experience to bring a tournament winning pie to the finals? Or will newcomer 5th and 50, which brought the highest scoring pie in the semis, snatch the crown on their first visit to the dance?

I will tell you that AOA had a special surprise for DerryX and Albany Jane after this round of judging, and that was a Buffalo Chicken pizza from DeFazio’s. It was fantastic. The blue cheese crumbles on the top totally made the pie. The folks at DeFazio’s have proven time and time again that they do great work.

I’m really excited about the upcoming final showdown.

And believe it or not, I’m not totally sick of pizza. I’m even looking forward to seeing Marisa’s and Mama Mia come back in next year’s Tournament of Pizza. There was some talk about reevaluating the toppings for round two and the semis in 2012. And that could be a real game changer.

I know Albany Jane is pulling for Buffalo chicken pizza. And after the bonus pie from DeFazio’s I don’t blame her. That was some tasty stuff.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2011 11:35 am

    I actually wrote out two posts explaining how I judged that round, but couldn’t figure out a way to make it seem like the tone wasn’t slamming AOA for picking Sausage Peppers + Onion for the semi-finals; so they’re in the trash bin. I want to state up front that it’s their tournament, and that I was honored to be a part of it, and that I respect their decision to choose this pizza. (I already gave them enough of a guilt trip personally for it :P )

    It was a bit difficult to get to speak during that round of judging, so we didn’t really get a chance to deliberate the way we did for the other rounds.

    The way I judged this round was probably completely different from the way you, Albany Jane, and that other lady did. I didn’t include my assessment of the peppers + onions as part of the toppings rating. Rather, I divided the toppings five points into 3 for the sausage, 1 for the peppers/onions, and 1 for the cheese. Yes, 2 points were awarded to each pie by default. That allowed me to focus on giving a proper rating to the sausage, the topping which would provide the most variability between pies. [We really already judged cheese twice by that point, anyway]

    From the start, only Marisa’s gave us real (and also clearly homemade — albeit probably not in house) sausage on the pizza. Difazio’s had a very nicely seasoned crumbled pork topping (that also had a much appreciated spicy bite and also appeared homemade). I believe these two sausages rated equally for me. You gotta understand that as a guy whose father has been making Italian sausage for 40+ years and with other family in the pizza business, I’m pretty picky when it comes to sausage.

    I felt that the peppers and onions would be best judged as part of the overall taste (10 points), because raw peppers and onions are strongly flavored stuff. I mean, they are commonly the flavor base of countless dishes, like soups, stews, roasted meats. I considered the peppers/onions a flavor element more so than topping. Overall, my interpretation was that this was supposed to simulate the sausage and peppers experience; why else would you order this combination of toppings? [Cost analysis at any pizzeria would logically dictate that once you get past specifying one topping, the economy of buying a pizza falls apart, unless you get a special creation] I realize that throwing raw peppers and onions on top of a bed of cheese poorly simulates this experience, but the one that most closely matched it was Marisa’s, because it was the only one that had real sausage.

    Difazio’s crust that night was a bit too high, gummy, and underseasoned for me, but I’m pretty sure that ranked next after Marisa’s. I guess 5th and 50’s pizza was solid, but, from the fact that I can’t even remember what it tasted like, was pretty forgettable. The only thing I think we agreed on this round was Mama Mia. Yikes!

    So in the end, I think the two pizzas that made it to the finals deserved to make it there on their own merits, and that choosing this set of toppings helped to bring the judging down to a level where we were splitting hairs between three mediocre (you say “great”) pizzas. This was also a case where the mindset of the judges factored into it. I think we all look for something different when we judge something, but just from the conversations that were going on that night, I was clearly not on the same page as everyone else when it came to what we were tasting.

    One great thing that came from that round: learning that Difazio’s uses Fiore di Sardegna cheese on its pizza. It’s something I never expected, let alone in this area.

  2. Andrew Mangini permalink
    October 20, 2011 11:36 am

    If you do go to Mama Mia’s, their eggplant parm pizza is fantastic. One of my favorites in the region. Eggplant is cooked perfectly and it is topped with dollops of delicious ricotta cheese.


  1. derryX Dines: Marisa’s Pizza Bianca Mediterraneo «

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