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TOP2013 RD1 Saratoga pizza closeups

TOP2013: Round 1: Saratoga

TOP2013 RD1 Saratoga

The opening round of the 2013 Tournament of Pizza -- sponsored by The College of Saint Rose -- starts in Saratoga. (As is tradition.)

The new-to-the-tournament pizzerias in this Round 1 pool competition of sausage pizzas:

LaBella - Halfmoon
Pizza Works - Saratoga
Publik House - Ballston Spa
Pizza Nook - Malta

The judges gathered at the Case Center on the campus of Skidmore College...

Saint Rose Tournament of Pizza ad 2013 in post

A quick note about how all this works:
The judges taste the pizzas blind. That is, they don't know which pizza they're tasting during judging. They taste the competitors side by side. Each judge assesses the pizzas by crust (5 points possible per judge), sauce (5 points), toppings (5 points), and overall taste (10 points). Each judge represents either 1/4 or 1/5 of the possible points, depending on the number of judges present. However many judges, all scores will be according to a 100-point scale.

How this year's brackets were selected.

If you'd like to get a closer look at the pizzas, there are large-format closeups above -- scroll all the way up.

TOP2013 RD1 Saratoga judging

Round 1 pool

Post game

A close finish
This was a close one, with Pizza Works just squeezing past LaBella by 2 points to advance. One point here or there and it could have gone the other way.

Pizza Works
The Saratoga location of the local chain posted a solid first round score, and more importantly, a score good enough to advance. Pizza Works got the edge with its sliced sausage, which the judges praised as being "tasty" with a "little spicy kick." Something PW could maybe do a bit better, in the judges' mind: cook the crust a bit more.

This Halfmoon shop came so very close to advancing. In fact, it scored ahead of Pizza Works on two of the judges' cards. It really was just a matter a point here or there. A few of the judges praised LaBella's crust for being "nice and crispy and thin," though one noted it was maybe a touch hard on the end. Its sausage went over well enough, though the judges might have wanted to taste a little more spice. What could have been the (so very small) margin: LaBella's cheese got tagged as just a bit "rubbery." Still, it was a strong first showing in the TOP for LaBella. Definitely a shop to keep an eye on.

Publik House
The judges described Publik House's thick crust as "spongy" and "poofy," with a generous application of sauce and cheese. Its sausage didn't really register with the judges, though, with one remarking that it tasted fatty, but otherwise lacked strong flavor.

Pizza Nook
Publik House's neighbor just down Route 9, Pizza Nook's offering just didn't strike the right notes with the judges. Areas where it could improve, in the judges' minds: a more-done crust with more color, and brighter sauce. A few of the judges did like its cheese and sausage ("fatty but spiced well").

Up next

So, Pizza Works narrowly advances. It will face Mama Mia's -- occupying the returning bracket champ slot -- in Round 2.

Tomorrow: the Tournament of Pizza heads to Schenectady.

Thank you, thank you

Skidmore College Case Center

Many thanks to Skidmore College -- and Bob Carlton, especially -- for once again hosting the TOP at the Case Center.

The 2013 Tournament of Pizza is sponsored by The College of Saint Rose.


I don't mean to sound like a snob here but looking at these images of these pizzas reminds me of a blurb that Anthony Mangieri used to have on his menus at Una Pizza Napoletana when it was located in the East Village:

"Pizza—a word known all over the world, from New York City to Los Angeles, from Paris to Tokyo. It is a word used to describe many products; deep-dish, cracker thin, stuffed crust, etc. However, the meaning of the word "pizza" has been misunderstood and misrepresented over the years. Pizza only means one thing. It is Neapolitan—the word, the definition, the product. The word is a slang Neapolitan pronunciation of the word "pita." The history of pizza possibly can be traced back to the very beginnings of man and fire. Certainly, the pizza eaten today in the backstreets of Napoli is linked directly to the flat bread baked in Pompeii 2,000 years ago. This said, all the square, round, thick, stuffed and over-topped pieces of dough may be to your liking, but don't call it pizza."

The closest thing we have is Capriccio in Saratoga's, which is great by the way.

Interesting.. from the pictures, I would have said Publik House has the better crust... but Pizza Works would totally have my vote for that sausage...

I've had Pizza Works and while inconsistent, it can be pretty good by Capital Region standards. One issue I have with many shops around here is shown in the picture of their pie - why is there no cheese on 2/3 of the slices? I don't need a huge, thick pile of cheese, but why doesn't the cheese extend out to where the sauce starts instead of just being in the center portion of the pie (more like the Pizza Nook pie)?

@Parma Ham - Sorry, but that battle was lost long ago. Pizza equals NYC-style slices. End of story.

Everything else requires a modifier - Sicilian, Chicago-style/Deep dish, Wood-oven baked, Artisan, etc.

Judging by the pictures, I wonder if there's a flaw in the methodology. The LaBella pizza looks ... well, cold. It's not glistening at all as if the oils have already congealed. The other pizzas look like they're still hot or warm.

If the judging took place at Skidmore, did you order the pizzas and take them or have them delivered all the way to Skidmore? Wouldn't that put LaBella at a disadvantage to Pizza Works? Couldn't that explain the rubbery cheese a little and have made the difference in the scoring?

@MikeM: The pizzas are all ordered at the same time and picked up at roughly the same time, so they're all more or less the same "age."

That said, you do touch on one of the complicating factors of the TOP: the pizzas aren't eaten straight out of the oven. (They're typically eaten about 30 minutes after being picked up from the pizzeria.) Over the years we've found that some pizzas hold up just fine to that, others less so. In a perfect world, this wouldn't be the case. But to get all the pizzas tasted side by side -- and blind -- it's the best we've been able to work out.

I think this issue also highlights another aspect of the tournament: the role of luck/chance/circumstance/variability in this format. I don't think you can take any one matchup in the tournament and use it as definitive evidence that one shop's pizza is better than another's if they had similar scores. It's more fair to say that, in this one instance, the judges preferred one over the other. I think if there's a clear trend that emerges, it does so after a pizza shop repeatedly demonstrates that it can turn out pizzas the judges like (and even then people with different pizza preferences will disagree). A track record doesn't necessarily guarantee success, though -- we've seen shops that have made multiple well-scoring pizzas turn out a "dud." Sometimes I suspect that we get the 1-in-10 or 1-in-20 not-quite-right pizza, and it's not necessarily representative of the shop's ongoing body of work. It's just a tough break. And in this way I think the TOP is a bit like the NCAA basketball tournament. Sure, Duke will probably beat Lehigh 9 times out of 10 -- but sometimes that 10th time is in the tournament.

@Greg: Thanks for the clarification. Your whole explanation makes sense. I've always enjoyed the TOP but I've always taken it with a grain of salt anyway. Even if you managed to perfect an airtight, fair system, there's still no accounting for taste.

The judges do seem quite credible, though and I appreciate that.

@Jay - "Pizza equals NYC-style slices. End of story."

What does that even mean?

In other words, we have allowed "pizza" to mean a completely different food made with severely inferior products and cooking methods and that's that.

Enjoy your "pizza". I haven't ordered one around here in years.

Why not limit this to just actual saratoga springs pizzas? There are far too many places that are being left out. Just do caputos, marinos, pizza works and pizza time.

Though we always go to the Burnt Hills location, I've been a fan of pizza works for years. It's nice to see them win the first round.

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