Sometimes things live up to the hype.
The final of the 2014 Tournament of Pizza, sponsored by Keeler Mini, was this past weekend at Shmaltz Brewing Co. in Clifton Park. And, as would only be fitting for the Tournament of Pizza to end all Tournaments of Pizza, it featured a clash of local pizza titans: DeFazio's of Troy versus Marino's of Schenectady.
DeFazio's, so many times a finalist, finally broke through last year to take the title. Marino's won the title in 2010 by beating, yep, DeFazios's. The two shops have posted the two highest individual pizza scores this year. And they represent the two highest all-time shop averages in TOP history.
That all adds up to a lot of expectation. And they exceeded it.
More than 100 people joined us at Shmaltz Brewing thanks to The Capital Team at Realty USA, which bought up all the tickets for the final so we can give them away. People got to taste the four final pizzas, sample Shmaltz beer, and vote for their favorite pizza for the People's Choice Plate. And bonus: there were also cider donuts from Lakeside Farms in Ballston Lake.
There are more photos from the event above in large format -- click or scroll all the way up.
The challenge for the two pizzerias in the final: one type of veggie pizza and one type of meat pizza. They were free to interpret those categories however they liked.
Smoked mozzarella, mozzarella, red peppers, red onions, tomatoes, and basil, with pizza sauce.
Bolognese sauce with with sausage and basil.
Onions, green peppers, mushrooms.
Homemade sausage, homemade meatballs, pepperoni
The panel of judges was sequestered to its own room to score the pizzas in the categories of crust, sauce, toppings, overall taste. Their comments:
Judges raved about the crust on DeFazio's veggie pizza: "beautiful, nicely browned, tender," "pooftacular... charred, but still tender and soft," "delicious in every way," "the perfect DeFazio's crust." The sauce was described as "sweet, salty and perfect" and was applied lightly, which many judges appreciated (though one wanted more sauce). The toppings had "amazing flavors." The judges loved the smoked mozzarella, with many commenting that it added a sort of meaty, bacon-like flavor. And they said the other toppings provided a good contrast with the cheese -- one judge commented that they had a good "crunch" and another noted the red onion was a "nice pop of freshness" and another praised the basil for a "fresh pop."
Among the concluding comments on this pizza: "really excellent," "so bright and fresh," "[they] brought their A game with this pizza."
DeFazio's other offering couldn't measure up to the standard set by the veggie pie. The crust again won high praise -- "omg, this charred end crust." But the sauce and toppings couldn't quite follow up. One judge loved the Bolognese sauce -- "that's a tasty, bold move with the fruitiness of the wine and the complexity of the meat." The others also liked the sauce, but they commented they would have liked it in greater quantity. If there was one thing that held this pizza back for the judges, it was the sausage: many judges thought its flavor got lost among the other elements, and when it did register it often failed to light them up. All in all, though, a very solid pizza.
Marino's was facing some serious crust competition. And while the judges generally liked Marino's crust -- "good flavor," "nicely browned" -- some thought it to be a bit "mushy" in places and a little "tough" in others. Said one judge: "Great crust, but compared to DeFazio's, it's not there." The sauce was "well seasoned," but many judges wanted more of it. And Marino's did well with the often-difficult veggie toppings -- the peppers were "soft and mellowed" while the mushrooms had "deep flavor" that was "earthy." Concluded one judge of Marino's pie: "Classic combo executed superbly."
Again, the judges thought the crust was good, but not great. The sauce was "salty" with "good tomato flavor" and judges praised it for going well with the toppings. Speaking of which: "WHOA PEPPERONI! Spicy, delicious, YES," commented one judge. The homemade sausage was "fennel-y" and "delicious." And meatballs were "good, but not great." Concluded one judge: "For a meat pie, amazeballs." And another: "Big, bold meat lover flavors." And another: "So meaty and good. This is a meat pizza."
The judges spoke very highly of the pizzas in this year's final. Of the pizzas reviewed by the judges there wasn't a single letdown or dud. As one veteran judge noted: "This was the best final I remember. Wow."
People's Choice Plate scoreboard
This year's tournament included the first-ever People's Choice Plate, voted on by people who attended the final at Shmaltz. People were given judging sheets very similar to ones used by the judge's panel. And the pizzeria with the highest scoring pizza among the crowd judging wins the plate:
Congrats to Marino's for winning the People's Choice Plate for its sausage, meatball, and pepperoni pizza!
And on to the scores that would decide this year's overall champ...
Tournament of Pizza 2014 championship scoreboard
Out with a bang! DeFazio's takes the title again in an epic match! The Troy shop claims the championship on the strength of that veggie pizza, which set a new record for highest single-pizza score (and by four points.)
And though Marino's fell agonizingly short of reclaiming the title, huge respect to the Schenectady shop. It's turned out a series of high-quality pies over the years, and it delivered a very impressive performance this year.
Congrats to both shops, family-owned businesses that are making fantastic pizza!
Scoreboard has been corrected.
There are so many people to thank for helping making the 2014 Tournament of Pizza possible.
Thank you to Keeler Mini for being this year's tournament sponsor, and providing a space for the semifinal.
Thank you to Shmaltz Brewing Co. for hosting the first-ever public TOP final.
Thank you to The Capital Team at Realty USA for buying all the tickets to the final and letting us give them away -- they made a lot of people happy.
Thank you to Lakeside Farms for the cider donuts.
Thank you to the Honest Weight Food Co-op for providing the non-alcoholic drinks for the final event.
Thank you to everyone who came out to the event.
Thank you to all our friends who helped out with the final event, serving pizza and keeping things organized.
And huge thanks to this year's judges: Albany Jane, Joe Esposito, Daniel B, Jon in Albany, and Deanna Fox. The judges -- this year and in all the previous years -- have been a big part of making the tournament fun for us. We appreciate it.
The 2014 Tournament of Pizza is sponsored by Keeler Mini
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