TOP 2011: Round 1: Schenectady

TOP2011 RD1 Schenectady

The next stop in the the Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union -- is Schenectady.

The pizzerias in the opening round pool competition of cheese pizzas:

Returning champ: Marino's - Schenectady
Crowd pick: Pizza King - Schenectady
Renee's pick: Mario's - Niskayuna
Committee pick: 5th and 50 - Scotia

This is probably the toughest bracket in the tournament. There's the returning overall champ (Marino's), a former finalist (Pizza King), and a newcomer that won a different contest (5th and 50).

The judges -- plus our guest judge -- gathered at the lovely Anthology Studio in downtown Schenectady...

sunmark pizza banner

A quick note about how all this works: The four judges -- Albany Jane, Daniel B, Jerry, and our guest judge -- taste the pizza blind. That is, they don't know which pizza they're tasting during judging. They taste the competitors side by side. The scoring is on a 100 point scale -- each judge represents a quarter of those possible points.

Guest judge

Our guest judge for the Schenectady bracket is Leah the Nosher, who writes the food blog Noshing Confessions. (Leah also shows up on the AOA Soapbox now and then.) As is probably no surprise, Leah has strong opinions about pizza, and fit right in among the judges.

TOP2011 RD1 Schenectady judging

Round 1 pool

Mario's Pizza King Marino's 5th and 50
Crust 12 12 12 13
Sauce 16 11 16 14
Toppings 15 12 11 11
Overall taste 25 25 29 30
Totals 68 60 70 68

Post game:

Both Mario's and 5th and 50 put up solid 68s, a tie for second in the bracket. That means going to the tiebreaker, which is the aggregate "overall taste" score. And that gave the edge to 5th and 50, 30-25.

A solid debut for the Niskayuna restaurant. Judges praised Mario's "thicker than average" crust for its crispness. Its sauce was described as "tart" and "bright," and "a good foil" for the cheese, which one judge described as "multidimensional." There was a break among the judges, though -- one was not sold, unhappy that the end crust "had no lift" and calling the cheese "grainy." In the end, things just didn't break Mario's way. But they should proud of their first appearance in the tournament.

Pizza King
Can't say we saw the King finishing last in this bracket. Everyone has a bad day now and then -- maybe the King just was unlucky. The judges called the "big rim" crust "chewy." They praised the balance of sauce and crust, but weren't lit by the sauce itself. The cheese was described as being a bit dry. For what it's worth, the dissenting judge on Mario's gave PK its highest score.

No surprises here, as the returning champ turns in a respectable pizza. The judges described Marino's crust as "chewy" and maybe a touch less done than they'd like. The sauce had a "fresh" "good tomato flavor" and was "judiciously applied." The judges really loved Marino's cheese -- "perfect" said one, and another praised the sprinkling of herbs that delivered "nice punch and flavor."

5th and 50
Another solid debut by a newcomer. The judges liked 5th and 50's crust that was crisp on the edge, though one judge described it as a bit "gummy" near the middle. Its sauce was described as "aggressively herbed" with "an overabundance of oregano." One judge repeatedly used the word "salty" when rating the slice. And another judge though the pizza had too much cheese. But, overall, a competitive slice. And the tie broke in 5th and 50's favor.

Up next

So, Marino's moves on, and 5th and 50 catches a break. They'll face off in Round 2.

Tomorrow: the Tournament of Pizza heads to Troy.

TOP2011 RD1 Schenectady Anthology

Thank you, thank you

Many thanks to Anthology Studio, a beautiful floral design studio on State Street in downtown Schenectady. And thank you also to Leah the Nosher for guesting at the judge's table.

The 2011 Tournament of Pizza is sponsored by Sunmark Federal Credit Union.


Ever since living in the area, I have heard many people talk up the pizza in Schenectady as being superior to other regions of the Capital District, but I've never actually sampled any until this competition. As far as I am concerned, the numbers here indicate a real strength or at the very least consistency in the pizza in Schenectady between places. I mean, statistically, is there really a difference between 68, 68, and 70? I'm excited to see what the next round in Schenectady will look like...

As a newcomer to the Capital District, I find the pizza in this area is average at best. Very disappointing given the proximity to NYC. Nobody up here knows how to make a decent Pizza Margherita. There are no brick ovens anywhere. I wish we had some of the places on Anthony Avenue in the Bronx up here. Now that is real pizza.

After the comments questioning cheese pizzas in the previous post, I was actually wondering if a pizza margherita would be a better 1st round test... it much more complex but it would definitely show a shop's chops better.

Some people like thin crust, some people like thick, some like a lot of sauce, some like a little. Taste is very individual. Why would 4 judges, that I dont even know have say in what is the best tasting pizza and why would 4 people over rule the "crowd pick?"

Crowd Choice, the three permanent judges each have fairly popular local food blogs.

Take that as you will...

That said, since we can all pretty easily decide whose opinions we value, it would be nice to see the scores broken out by judge. Not sure why that isn't done unless it's a space issue.

And speaking of local food blogs, it would be pretty amazing to have Steve Barnes sit in as a judge.

also I apologize for my horrible mangling of the earlier comment, it should read "not much more complex..." I just love a good pizza margherita, I was drooling okay?

@crowd: A lot of this is difference in philosophy. If you're a "wisdom of the crowds" person in this context, then sure, you might not be a fan of the TOP approach. But to turn your point around a bit for the sake of discussion: why would we trust the opinions of a bunch of people we don't know who are voting for reasons we also don't know?

Also: crowd voting for this kind of stuff in the Capital Region often ends with results that are hard to believe -- example: the infamous "best sandwich" win for Subway in some of the local readers' polls.

That said, we respect that there are a lot of opinions out there, which is one of the reasons the crowd gets to select part of the tournament field.

@B: "it would be nice to see the scores broken out by judge"

As you suspected, we haven't done that mostly because it would result in a bunch of numbers being thrown on the page. We'll think about ways to publish that info -- and talk with the judges about making the change at this point in the tournament.

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