TOP 2009: The Final

TOP 2009 finals

The much-anticipated matchup

Here we are, at the end of the long road that is the 2009 Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union. And today's final features a long awaited matchup:

Nunzio's vs. Pasquale's

Nunzio's -- the champion of the Saratoga bracket -- charged into the final round with a 75 in its broccoli-ricotta showdown with Troy's I Love NY. That's the second-highest score in the entire tournament. Who had the best score? Yep, that's right: Pasquale's, last year's champ, whose sausage pizza in Round 2 score an 80. The New Scotland Ave shop narrowly knocked off Schenectady's Marino's 58-54 in the semifinals.

So, this is it. In this final matchup the pizzerias get to choose which pizza they'd like to send into competition. And, as one judge commented, the choices by Nunzio's and Pasquale's were "ballsy."

We wouldn't have it any other way. Let's eat.

sunmark pizza banner

(There's a new scoring system this year.)

Nunzio's vs. Pasquale's

Nunzio's chose to enter its "eggplant special" -- a pie with roasted red peppers, eggplant and sun-dried tomatoes:

TOP 2009 nunzios eggplant

Last year, Pasquale's entered its margarita pizza, which wowed the judges with delicious simplicity. This year, the defending champ took a risk and entered its "bruschetta" pizza, which piled fresh tomatoes, basil and garlic on a crust brushed with olive oil:

TOP 2009 pasquales bruschetta

Nunzio's Pasquale's
Crust 8 16
Sauce 6 8
Toppings 12 13
Overall taste 16 28
Totals 42 65

Post game

This matchup threw the judges for a bit of loop. They said they were expecting Nunzio's and Pasquale's to bring the heat, something right down the middle of the plate -- and, instead, they got two curve balls.

Pasquale's cornmeal crust continued to rack up the points. The judges praised it for being "crunchy" and "nicely chewy," but they lamented that the toppings had made it somewhat soggy in places. Though as once judge marveled: "amazingly holds up to the avalanche of tomatoes." Nunzio's crust, which was a bit "flat" and "gummy," left the judges wanting.

Neither shop scored well in the sauce category. Pasquale's basically didn't have sauce (its crusted was coated in oil and garlic). And the judges said Nunzio's sauce got lost underneath the red peppers and eggplant.

The judges weren't sure about the toppings, either. They praised Nunzio's for its "well-cooked" eggplant that was "not bitter at all." But the eggplant's flavor wasn't very assertive and the judges said it got lost amid the peppers and sun-dried tomatoes. The judges generally liked Pasquale's mix of raw tomatoes, garlic, basil and oil -- but they said the "avalanche" of toppings was "a mess" and a few commented that pizza probably had too much garlic. That said, one judge called the mound a "tour de force of flavor."

And that brings us to overall taste, which sealed the deal for Pasquale's. The eggplant, pepper, tomato combination just didn't light up the judges. They called the overall taste "rich," but ultimately a little "flat." And whatever the structural problems of Pasquale's pie, it did not lack for flavor. One judge called its flavors "bright and fun" -- though another said it was all "a bit too much."

Give a lot of credit to Nunzio's. The Saratoga shop posted two of the tournament's three highest scores. It has a lot to be proud of.

In the end, though, Pasquale's was too much. It takes the title for the second straight year. That's a remarkable feat when you consider it's now won eight consecutive head-to-head matchups. That's no fluke -- Pasquale's makes quality pizza. Congratulations to the champ.


Many thanks to Renée, Albany Jane, Joe and Daniel B for judging this year's competition. We really appreciate their time, appetites and discerning palates. We'll have a special post-game video discussion with the judges about this year's tournament on Friday.

Thanks also Jess for her help, Mare for providing us space to taste in Saratoga, and the Tournament of Pizza's sponsors -- Sunmark Federal Credit Union.


Congrat's Pasquales! I am in 100% agreement with the judges here. Best pizza in 158 miles!

This is by far one of my favorite things you guys have done at AOA - maybe next round is burritos/tacos? Seems there's been a big growth of that kinda thing lately with Chipotle and Moe's etc.

Plus as a bonus we can all laugh at Bomber's together.

Hooray Pasquales!

I guess now isn't the time to tell everyone here that I walked past Pasquales after it was closed and they still had the pizzas that didn't sell under the heat lamps as if they were going to sell them the next day. That's just... ew.

I've been to Pasquale's a number of times. It's never been especially impressive to me, personally. I honestly wonder if the pizzas they prepare for the competitions are typical of the food they serve on a daily basis.

Yes! Pasquales for the win! Good choice on bringing out the big guns with the bruschetta pizza, it's a personal fav!! I'm serious, someone should make up a certificate or something so Pasquales can hang it up in the store. They had a beat-up print out of last years results on the counter for months.

Moes? Chipotle? A burrito competition should be specific to the region so start with Bro's Tacos, Burrito Joe's, and Bomber's.

Man, could you guys at AOA whore yourselves out anymore with the Sunmark sponsorship? You guys are total sellouts for having bills and needing to make some money-- especially when your buying all this pizza. I'm never coming back to this site ever again, there's nothing but original content, photos lifted from flickr, entries from Craigslist, and zombies.

Pasquales is amazing (and not just the pizza), nay sayers just like to say nay. Congratulations Pasquales!

@Ellie: to try to give them the benefit of a doubt; perhaps they just did a quick clean up and intended to do the rest in the morning. I know from experience that after a long day next to pizza ovens you just kinda want to get out of there. It is never wise to leave food out overnight though- it can attract pests.

Ellie - There is no way possible that a pizza could be left overnight under a heat lamp and be even remotely edible the next day. Whatever the reason for what you saw I can assure they were not sold.

Whichever Judge(s) said there was too much garlic should be disqualified. There is never such a thing as too much garlic.

Also didn't I Love NY (Troy) change their name to I Love Troy?

I vote for a Burrito-off!!!!!!

@Summer, I know the feeling of wanting to get out of the kitchen. I used to help do an Oktoberfest yearly and one can only withstand so much heat. (And bacon grease burns.) Still, how much effort is it to dump pizza into a garbage bag? Or take it home for family and friends.

Also, heat lamps use a lot of electricity. And there's the pest factor. All of that kinda just created an "ew" sensation walking by.

I'm a huge fan of the TOP, but I'm disappointed in the final contestants' choice of pies. Seems like it would have made a lot more sense to judge apples to apples instead of apples to oranges, as the saying goes. All that aside, I'm looking forward to venturing outside my pizza comfort zone and trying some new pizzerias!

>>I've been to Pasquale's a number of times. It's never been especially impressive to me, personally. I honestly wonder if the pizzas they prepare for the competitions are typical of the food they serve on a daily basis. - Jay

I have the same suspicion. I've been a number of times - each time HOPING and expecting to get great pizza based on the results of last year's competition. Each time I've been disappointed and wondered loudly to myself, "How/why did this place win?" :-\ The first couple times I stopped in for slices, they tasted old/crappy, so I thought maybe there'd be a huge difference if I ordered one and ran over to pick it up and eat it fresh. Still nothing special. Yikes. :-\

I agree with Jay and Kim...I think Pasquale's is incredibly overrated. Every time I have gone there the slice selection always looks like they have been sitting out for hours. When I have ordered fresh pies I have been completely unimpressed. How this particular type of 'pizza' won is beyond me. I don't care what anybody says, that is not pizza.

I plan to go a bit more into detail on the subject later this week.

It's funny because in some ways I think Pasquale's is actually underrated, given that it lives within the trading zone of the Fountain. I have the impression that most people, if they are in that neighborhood, will go to the Fountain instead of Pasquale's.

That said, I think in this year's TOP Pasquale's really squeaked by in the Semis and the Finals. Their cheese handily won Round 1, and their loose sausage pizza in Round 2 was delicious. Although I have heard reports that shaved sausage has been seen on pizzas at Pasquale's afterwards.

Ordering slices is always a tricky gambit. I'm a slice person myself. But they always function under the banner of "let the buyer beware." It's why they are on display. If you don't like the look of one slice, order another one that looks better.

My beef with Pasquale's is that you really need to insist they reheat the slices in the oven. Last time I didn't, and I immediately regretted the oversight.

However, when they are on, they are on. And personally, I am ok with a lack of consistency if the end result is occasional flashes of brilliance. But that is another topic entirely.

Yeahhhhhhh, living a block away from Pasquale's is glorious.

I have been enjoying Pasquale's pizza slices for lunch and dinner a couple of times a week for over two years - consistently delicious! Also love Pasquale's meatball subs, salads, soups, entrees, garlic knots and whole pizza pies - fantastic food, clean restaurant and the conscientious cook/owner takes pride in her cooking and facility. Great for eat in or take out. So glad that Albany has this gem!

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