TOP 2009: Judges and scoring

pizza judging

Judges at work.

Two ingredients are needed for the Tournament of Pizza: pizzas and judges.

Here's the lineup of pizza places in this year's Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union.

The panel of judges, which has been expanded this year, is after the jump.

Also: a little bit about the tournament's new scoring system.

sunmark pizza banner

The Judges

Renee pizza picRenée McAllister

Renée is the founder of Almost Foodies, a group of "awesome people making great food and sharing it with each other." Of her pizza preferences, Renée says:

for me, it's all about balance. i love a very simple and saucy thin cheese slice with a crispy crust. many pizzerias add too much cheese and not enough sauce. i am always asking for extra sauce on the side. when i make pizza at home, it's a totally different experience. i go for a thick whole wheat crust with tons of sauce and cheese, with roasted broccoli and onions.

Albany Jane illustrationAlbany Jane
The mysterious Albany Jane blogs about local food finds at Albany Eats!. AJ on pizza:

I can associate lots of great memories with pizza, even if the pizzas have been less than great. I can't think of a time when having pizza was ever a non-happy occasion.

Nora and Joe EspositoJoe Esposito
Joe and his wife Nora are local foodies who live in Troy. Joe says he's a "slice guy":

There's nothing better then stopping at our favorite pizzeria for quick slice. Nora likes a sweet sauce and "just enough" grease. I like a slice reheated so it's crispy and will hold up when loaded with toppings.

Daniel BDaniel B
Daniel is the proprietor of the Fussy Little Blog, where he's trying to "get more people to care about really good food." He's also a frequent reviewer on Yelp.

The Scoring

Last year's tournament was a simple "pick your favorite" vote by the judges. That worked, but there were a lot of matchups where a pizza would advance on a 2-1 vote -- and there wasn't really a way to tell how big the margin of victory was. It also made it hard to compare match-ups or pizzas across the tournament.

So this year we've switched to a points system. Judges score pizzas in four categories (maximum points):

Crust (5)
Sauce (5)
Toppings (5)
Overall taste (10)

(Here's a sample score sheet)

The maximum score a pizza could receive from a judge is 25 points -- and the maximum overall score is 100 (4 judges x 25 possible points). The first tie breaker is overall taste score alone. The second tie breaker is a coin flip.

One thing that hasn't changed about the scoring: the tastings are blind. Slices are presented to the judges as "Pizza A" and "Pizza B."

Our thanks to the judges, who really take their tasting duties seriously. The TOP involves a lot of time (and eating). We appreciate it.

Results start on Monday.


Everyone ready for Daniel B. to tell us how much our pizza sucks compared to San Francisco/Austin/everywhere?

How were these people picked? I mean it's pizza, anyone can eat some and tell you it's crap or it's great.

/Needs more science


First, people are whining about the pizzas selected, and now people are whining about the judges?


Stop whining and start enjoying the process. This is supposed to be FUN, right?????

What makes one qualified to tell you what tastes good?? You don't need executive chefs or world-traveled celebrities...

I haven't been to many, but I like fountain.

@ Fred - I second that and raise you a slice.

Umm, there's a brushed-metal $20 L.L. Bean loser-badge in your photo. Probably an oversight.

Friendly reminder that if (1) more than two judges arrived in a battered-but-trusty Volvo, Saab or Subaru, or (2) more than one judge owns a pointy, Dr. Seuss-inspired knit winter cap with dangly look-at-me tresses ("I love it!"), I'm afraid the results are invalidated by rule and you'll have to start over.


I'll admit, I worry about too much pretentiousness with these judges. They'd be great judging restaurants or something else, but I'm not sure "foodie" credibility goes well with judging pizza.

@Jay: you are right, it is very important to worry about credibility when judging a Tournament of Pizza. You wouldn't want to miss all the science.

Did you people have bets out on this or something? I haven't heard this much griping about tournament picks since Selection Sunday in March.

This thing is supposed to be fun, for nuts sake.

A lot of these judges look... skinny.
I don't trust skinny judges.

Although, when someone asks "What makes one qualified to tell you what tastes good??" and then fesses up to "I haven't been to many [of the listed pizza places]", I think they answer their own question and give the rest of us our recommended daily dose of irony.

havent posted in awhile, but I cant believe readers are giving AOA crap about the judges they picked. are you jealous or what?


Why judge anything at all then?

Why judge pizza or cocktails or any food that a restaurant puts out there?!?

We obviously have a point of view, therefor we cant judge anything as being better than somebody elses.

Why judge? Well . . . because we, as a pizza eating public, have come to certain conclusions that inform our decisions as to what makes a good pizza. I imagine the judges will elucidate their reasons for liking the pizzas they like.

I didn't get my thoughts on pizza to the editors in time, but I wanted to share them with anyone who cares. It seems like a few of you might.

Short form isn't exactly my strength anyhow. So here is a link to perhaps a bit of an over-earnest philosophy of pizza. It includes another link to my focused and lengthy thoughts on NY style pizza specifically.

Hope it helps.

And no, I am not going to tell you how pizza here sucks compared to elsewhere. Mostly because It is difficult to find exceptional pizza anywhere.

We can get more into it later, if you like.

I'm pretty sure it's impossible for a tournament like this to provide useful information to the pizza-eating public.

It's all carry-out, not eat-in-or delivery, but the tournament name doesn't say so. If I'm a pizza maker, I'm asking to be judged on only this: You came in, you ordered, I gave you the pizza, and you liked it or didn't. Delivery? Sure thing, but you understand it'll be imperfect, right? Oh, you plan to drive away and eat it an hour from now? You're on your own, bub. Not my problem if it sucks by then.

Here's a better idea ( The Burger of the Month Club.

It's a movable tournament, not time-bound, no brackets, no head-to-head. The club evaluates new prospects and re-evaluates past prospects on a never-ending continuum. They do it as a group, in person, with a steady, narrow evaluation focus.

This is good, because it produces good information. Who's new and good? Who was once good, but maybe has slipped? And, over time, Who rarely disappoints?

As conducted now, the AOA tournament only generates a bunch of (predictable, and not wrong-headed) parochial heat and little info I can use. Worse, it produces misinformation. I'm rarely in Schenectady, but if I were, I might want to know where me and my peeps could get some pizza we'd like, local style. The current tournament in fact might steer me wrong, because it's about extreme carry-out -- which almost nobody in the real world actually does.

Listen-up, AOA. You want a roving band of judges with passion and a fun but consistent reporting system, not a tournament.


@Save Pine Hills: The first three judges were judges last year. They did a great job, so we brought them back. We were looking for a fourth judge and Daniel seemed like a good fit -- he cares a great deal about food and he's not afraid to share to his opinions.

While I understand your comment about Daniel and San Francisco/Austin, I would ask that you give the guy a chance. The results aren't even out, yet. And if you run into Daniel around town -- you should have a conversation with him. He's a smart, thoughtful guy. And nice.

@Jay: These people love pizza. Really. I'd say it borders on obsessive (in a good way).

@Lou: You make some good points. We'll keep them in mind for other food-related comparisons.

Really people? Really? Science? Qualifications? Pretentiousness? This is not the Nobel Pizza Prize contest. There is no lifetime supply of pepperoni awarded. No trophies or plaques.

I forget that talking about pizza on the Internet is srs bzns.

The Internet is a big place. There's room for more than one Albany pizza rating. Of course, a multi-round, judged, taste-off is a little more interesting than "I haven't been to many, but I like fountain." Good luck with that, it's a little too content-heavy for our Twitterfied new media, but you might have a shot. I also like the suggestion of what AOA wants. Right, because they don't know what they want to put on their own blog, that's precious. Lou, you have a lot to say about this, organize a pizza of the month club, nobody is stopping you.

Me, I'll be in the corner grumbling something about "DeFazio's" or somesuch.

"Although, when someone asks "What makes one qualified to tell you what tastes good??" and then fesses up to "I haven't been to many [of the listed pizza places]", I think they answer their own question and give the rest of us our recommended daily dose of irony.
... said Sandor on Oct 17, 2009 at 2:18 PM | link"

Hey Sandor, are you sadistic or retarded?

I didn't comment on any of the pizzerias, I commented on the process of picking judges. I don't live in Albany, I am just passing through. I'm usually not good at reading people so I did not realize that the commenters here see themselves as up in the running of possible judges addendum. It is not my intention to rank any of your pizzerias, though if you want to check my credibility, you can follow the link on my initials.

keep checking for your dose of irony and don't be so quick to judge.

Nope, I don't believe Mr. Sandor is any of the above. Mostly, he's just funny and full of awesome.

OK, it's time for everyone to take a deep breath.

The whole point of this tournament is to have some fun. That will be a lot easier if everyone just relaxes a bit.

So, we're closing this thread. We're looking forward to a lot of good-natured disagreement and discussion as the tournament gets started.

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