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The Triumph and Tragedy of Mama Mia

September 30, 2014

Did you happen to catch the first installment of the 2014 Tournament of Pizza at All Over Albany yesterday? It. Has. Begun.

Officially, that is. Unofficially, it’s been going on for quite a while. The judges have been sneaking out with the AOA editors and forming a roving hoard of pizza eating fiends. It’s been so much fun, and Jon in Albany has been an amazing addition to the judging panel.

Yesterday, he wrote up a great story about his first official outing as a pizza judge. You should read it. His very presence at the table makes me a more mindful judge. And man, is he ever tough. That said, we don’t always agree, but we can still respectfully debate the merits of each other’s position. I love that.

Here was my takeaway from the outing. Mama Mia’s can make a delicious crust, which means they should be able to make a great pizza. The dough had deep flavor, it was well seasoned, the crust was cooked on the oven floor, some slices had great color, and there were crisp crust bubbles to boot. This should be the shop that made the semifinals. But it’s not.

Mostly because they did something unconscionable.

Mistakes happen. They do. The big question is, what do you do when a mistake has been identified? How do you make it right?

This is a huge topic in the Capital Region restaurant scene because restaurant owners and managers will tell you tales of tables wanting their entire meal comped because of some minor imperfection. On the flip side, eaters have similar horror stories of being charged full price for food they’ve had to send back time and time again, without ever getting an appetizing version of the dish they ordered.

Really, it’s no wonder that chains do so well in this part of the country. But I digress.

The order at Mama Mia’s was for a white pizza with broccoli and ricotta. Everything was going fine until the waitress informed the editors that there had been a problem with the pizza. It apparently went into the oven without the broccoli. Then we were presented with just two choices:

1. We could just eat the pizza they made without the broccoli.

2. They could throw some broccoli on top, but it probably would be undercooked since the pizza had already started cooking.

Now, had it been me, and were we not under tournament conditions, I would have pushed for a third option. That would be to remake the pizza, and to bring us the pizza that we ordered. But within the confines of the tournament, we have to defer to how the pizza shop decides to make its pizzas. Still, I struggle to wrap my head around the restaurant’s decision to serve our table one of two sub-par pizzas after their error.

Without telling the waitress what to do, the editor informed her that we did indeed want broccoli on the pizza. What nobody mentioned was that we had to have the broccoli, since we would be comparing this pie to another one just down the road.

I think the kitchen staff thought it was a stroke of genius to cook the broccoli separately from the pizza (seemingly in a pot of unsalted water) and combine the two components into one finished product in the end.

No. That was a terrible idea.

The broccoli was wet and bland. That delicious crust Mama Mia’s makes was ruined from the moisture. The pie that could have been simply failed to materialize. But in the Tournament of Pizza you can only judge the slice that’s in front of you.

Mama Mia’s sunk themselves as a result of cutting corners, and as a result a lesser pizza moves on into the semis. That said, there is a long history of competitors moving forward in the TOP (and even sometimes winning the entire contest) based on the bad decisions of their competitors.

I’m looking forward to getting back to Mama Mia’s, because more than anything else, I like a pizza place that produces good dough and knows how to use it. But after this lasts experience, two things are clear:

1. I’m never going to get their sausage, because I find it entirely unappealing
2. I will get a white pie with some dry toppings to accentuate that lovely crust

To be awarded the best pizza in the region, you should be able to deliver two excellent pies to one table. While the first pizza had some strong points, the second suffered from a distinct lack of care. And in the end, that fared worse than two fair to middling pies from down the road.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 30, 2014 11:02 am

    Just as a small point of clarification: As I recall, the choice we were given by the server was to take the pizza as it was (no broccoli), or to wait for a pizza with broccoli. I don’t think it was clear at the time how exactly the broccoli would be added.

    • September 30, 2014 11:28 am

      Our recollections vary a bit. I agree that it may not have been 100% clear exactly how the forgotten broccoli would be added, but it seemed evident (at least to me) that the kitchen had no intention of remaking the pie from scratch.

      It felt to me that the waitress was trying to hard sell us on taking the pie that was made in error.

      Regardless, in the end, whatever choices were made in the back of the house were made by the restaurant staff. And there is no argument that the pie we received was tragic.

      There have been other instances reported on Yelp of Mama Mia’s cutting corners. Sometimes even I don’t want to believe the cranks on the site, but this direct experience gives that criticism more validity.

  2. September 30, 2014 2:15 pm

    My question is how can they not know who you are? And why not just make a new pizza?

  3. DEN permalink
    September 30, 2014 3:59 pm

    Odd. Anything other than making a new pizza seems like the wrong solution. And that snafu became the takeaway point of every article I read on the judging, despite some of the favorable things that were written about the other pizza.

  4. September 30, 2014 4:37 pm

    Fascinating. To daviddoughan’s point, they may not have known you were TOP judges, but they could certainly see a bunch of obsessive nerds micro-inspecting the pizza and taking pictures of it which doesn’t happen very often in Mama Mia. How the broccoli pizza got the way it was can be debated endlessly apparently, but not up for debate is that it arrived that way. As you say, a terrible decision.

    I wouldn’t go back if I were you, Fussy, because you have a fairly distinctive appearance. Maybe I will go with you and facilitate your rapid departure if need be.

  5. christine permalink
    September 30, 2014 4:50 pm

    I was a regular Mama Mia’s customer but after just one incident, I have not been in there in years.

    On my last visit we ordered two entrees and one pizza. It was summer and it was hot and their air conditioning wasn’t working. They would bring a soft drink and the ice melted in a minute. And, our order was taking a very long time. In. the. heat. I asked the waitress why and she dismissed me and then the manager approached us and became indignant when we asked why we had been waiting over an hour for our food.

    I was told that when a table orders both a pizza and an entree it takes longer. Not sure why and it wasn’t explained. No apologies, no discount, no free dessert- nothing. So, I told the manager I would not be back and I haven’t been.

  6. October 1, 2014 11:24 am

    I’m still pretty flabbergasted that a pizza place can get an order for broccoli and ricotta pizza and leave off the broccoli. This alone suggests a kitchen in extraordinary disarray. Then the “solution” to throw *wet* broccoli onto the top of a pizza suggests that these people know little to nothing about making pizza. Perhaps someone with no experience was filling in for the real pizzamaker. Going back may resolve the mystery.

  7. Lilly permalink
    October 1, 2014 3:45 pm

    A question, as I know the rules have changed for this year as opposed to the other years. In previous years, the pizzas were all bought to a neutral place, so I imagine the people making the pizzas had no idea that they were making pizzas for the tournament. And now this year in the first round, you are having the pizzas in the restaurants themselves. Do they KNOW that you are judging for the tournament, or are you just five or six people coming in for some pizza?

    I would hope that this mistake that was made by Mama Mia’s was partly because they had no idea who you were and that the pizzas were for a tournament. If they did know it was for the tournament, and still served you a lousy pizza, then they deserve to lose.

    By the way… see ya at the final! Got my tickets!

  8. DEN permalink
    October 1, 2014 8:18 pm

    I hope the TOP judges are not deliberately revealed during the actual judging. Part of the beauty of the competition for the reader was that it was a fairly objective look at what an average joe could expect if they ordered a pizza from one of the shops in the competition. That is all but lost when the shop maker knows he is being reviewed and gives a special effort that a regular customer won’t get to enjoy.

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