Round 1 Finally Over!!

Guys, we did it!  We finished the tournament and found the best pizza!  Wait, what’s that?  We didn’t get there yet?  But this has been going on for like 2 months, right?  Oh…well, let’s just consider this an extension of your pizza pleasure.  While the tourney isn’t over yet, we are out of the first round and moving on to the Sweet 16, which is pretty darn exciting.  Through the geographical challenges and scheduling nightmares (and general leadenness on my behalf) we finally got through it.  The Sweet 16 will be underway this week, but before we ride the pizza rails again, let’s get to the results of the remaining 1st round match-ups.

1 Fiori’s vs 8 Osso’s 

This match-up features a regional fave attempting to take down a giant of the Pittsburgh pizza scene.  Osso’s is a beloved Washington tradition, however, it can still be polarizing.  This pizza is a tray style pizza where the options are basically pepperoni or cheese.  Much like Beto’s, which we will discuss below, there is a cold cheese element to this pizza.  In the interest of full disclosure, my family hails from the Washington area, so I have a bit of a history with this pizza.  To avoid familial pressures, I rode solo to Osso’s and ordered a couple cuts of pep.  While it was enjoyable, I feel like it was the worst two slices I have had at Osso’s.  It was of lower quality than I’m used to getting there.  First of all, the crust was too thin.  In general, this is a thinner crust, but it is very crispy, so it’s not a bad thing.  This experience, however, was not the same.  It was like a cracker almost, which is subpar for Osso’s.  Overall, I was disappointed.  I mean, I’ll still be going to Osso’s when I’m hanging with the family.

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Being that Fiori’s is such a beast and Osso’s choked more than Alexander Ovechkin in the playoffs, it’s no surprise that all three categories went to Fiori’s.  We will get more into the marvelousness that is Fiori’s in the next round.

Winner: 1 Fiori’s

4 Beto’s vs 5 A’pizza Badamo

Warning:  the below will probably infuriate some of you.  A 4/5 match-up is expected to be close, but this one may be a little more divisive than others.  Let’s start with A’pizza Badamo. There isn’t anything weird or divisive about this pizza in particular, it’s just really good.  I grabbed a single pepperoni slice at this place and freaking loved it.  The crust was crispy, yet soft and chewy.   Cheese, pep, and sauce are all top notch.  Honestly, it reminded me a little bit of a Spak Bros slice, and that ain’t a bad thing.

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A’pizza Badamo is climbing up my list of favorite pizza places in the city.

Now, moving on to the dissenting opinions that surround Beto’s.  Beto’s on Banksville Blvd is a local favorite and is well known for putting the toppings on the pizza after it comes out of the oven.  Some find this charming and unique and others can’t stand the cold cheese sensation that is Beto’s.  I actually really like this place.  I dig on the cold cheese. It’s uniquely appealing, albeit a sloppy disaster, which is a description that would also apply to me as a person.  My sister and her Berenstainial Bear clan accompanied me on this trip.  That crowd was evenly split on this one and I think 43% of the cheese ended up on the floor.  I’ve taken an informal poll of my friends who also have tried this place and it ranged from ratings of “gross” to “crazemazing”.

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Beto’s:  Cheese colder than the hearts of all your former lovers.

Here’s the breakdown:  Appearance goes to A’pizza Badamo.  It’s prettier and Beto’s is barely holding it together.  Components would be a lot closer if Beto’s wasn’t such a mess to eat.  That doesn’t discourage me from eating it like the monster that I am, however, not everyone likes to eat like a blood thirsty chupacabra.  Overall flavor was quite close, however, the edge goes to A’Pizza Badamo.  Get your pitchforks and flaming torches ready…Beto’s has been eliminated.  Even though it’s out of the tourney, I will continue to to take cold cheese showers at Beto’s.

Winner: 5 A’pizza Badamo 

3 Slice on Broadway vs 6 Cucina Bella

Sticking to the South Hills, the next match-up features a tourney favorite versus a new place for me on my pizza quest.  While I’ve never previously eaten at Cucina Bella, I have read some great stuff about this place.  Though the location is a little bit out of the way and not on a main drag in Bridgeville, it is definitely worth the trip.  The dining room is pretty cool, but the pizza is even better.

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Cucina Bella is worth the trip out of the city.

I stuck with the pepperoni standard here and it did not disappoint.  The pizza here walks the line between fancy woodfired place and old school pizzeria.  While it’s slightly greasy, in no way does that detract from great overall flavor.

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I did notice that there is a Wifi network that is close-by to Cucina Bella named “Sex Dungeon”.  I like to think that the owner of this wifi network goes to Cucina Bella after a hard day of sex dungeoning and unwinds with a glass of wine and a pizza or two, depending on the kinda day they had.  Regardless of the nearby networks, Cucina Bella has a top tier pizza.  The problem is that they ran into a buzzsaw named Slice on Broadway.  Appearance was a tough call, but Slice takes this category as it wasn’t as grease-filled.  Components and Overall Flavor were also tough calls, but Slice on Broadway is just fantastic.  I’ll tell you all about that in the next round.

Winner: 3 Slice on Broadway

4 Frank’s vs 5 Police Station

After my first attempt to hit these Ambridge linchpins failed, my lethargy set in as I didn’t really want to make that long drive again.  Fortunately, I made the trip back and it was well worth it.  I was lucky enough to have legendary yinzer Ellie Bonozi join me on my journey into Beaver County.   First, we stopped at Police Station pizza, which isn’t really the name of the place.  It’s actual name is Pizza House, but the locals affectionately call it Police Station Pizza due to the proximity to the police station next door.  This place was a bit of controlled chaos.  When you walk in, there is just a counter and a bunch of people waiting around.  You head to the counter order your slices, then they call you back up and ask what you want on them, then later they call you back up to charge you for the pizza, and yet again you are called up to acquire the actual pizza.  It’s an interesting scenario and I’ve had multiple people tell me that the prices aren’t even always the same.  We were lucky enough to be granted an extra third slice on the house, though I suspect this wasn’t because of my Pizza Madness stature and rather because my friend is a cute girl and I don’t think they see that a lot in Ambridge.  This was my first experience eating at either of these Beaver County gems and to start, Police Station did not disappoint.  The pizza is a tray style ala Beto’s or Osso’s, however, it’s actually better.  The crust is a bit thicker, leaning toward a Sicilian style.  While it was all so simple, it worked very well together and I didn’t expect to like it so much.

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Police Station (top right), Frank’s (bottom left), dive bar (bottom right)

To cleanse the pallet we had a couple drinks at a local dive bar where we actually witnessed the cliche of a person falling off of a bar stool.  After only a couple drinks, though, I knew that we had to leave because I’ve never been in Ambridge that long and I have a feeling that you physically can’t leave if you stay there for more than a few hours.

Again, I’ve never eaten Frank’s pizza, but I’ve heard a lot about it.  This place has a lot of charm.  It’s a small counter joint with one of the best pizza signs in all of the land.  This place seemed to have 4 generations working there when we arrived and even had Italian news (in actual Italian) on the TV.  Grandma was making pizzas and her daughter who seemed to be running the show looks exactly like a younger Marisa Tomei.  Charm aside, the pizza is very good.  It’s a traditional round pizza, but they put the cheese and pep on first and then ladle the sauce on top.  I loved it.  Especially the thick cut pepperonis.

This was a tough decision to make.  Frank’s takes Appearance hands down.  Components goes to Police Station since they had a better sauce.  Overall Flavor and the win go to Police Station, though only by a thread.  While Police Station will be advancing, I will now be getting two pizzas every time I head to Ambridge.

Winner: 5 Police Station

3 Driftwood Oven vs 6 Mario’s

Driftwood Oven is in the tourney to replace Pasquarelli’s, but if I can be honest, it should’ve been in the tourney in the first place.  I neglected to put it in due to some illogical thinking on my part.  I was thinking since they didn’t actually have a brick and mortar location that they technically wouldn’t qualify, however, after genuinely using my brain I realized that was just stupid.  I joined a crew of friends to indulge in some Driftwood pizza when they were at Roundabout Brewery.  We were lucky enough to snag the last two pizzas, which I say to you as a cautionary tale.  Make sure you don’t wait around when seeking out Driftwood.  They will sell out of pizza if you’re not careful and then you’ll be left to hang out at whatever venue they are located for the day without pizza.  And yeah, they go to cool places all of the time, but you do not want to miss your opportunity at some Driftwood Oven pizza.

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Driftwood Oven literally stopped the rain and brought out The Sun.

While sampling some great Roundabout beers, we all concluded that Driftwood Oven has phenomenal pizza.  They manage to give you awesome woodfired pizza without all of the pretense.  Chewy, yet crispy crust and quality toppings for sure, even though the pepperonis are not the revered Stanley Cup variety.  The fact is, it doesn’t matter because the sum of the parts is an awesome pizza.

Driftwood’s opponent is the last of the distant suburban competitors.  The chore of having to drive all the way out to places like Beaver, PA for this endeavor is of my own doing, and while I whine about it persistently, places like Mario’s Woodfired Pizza make these trips totally worth it.

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The first thing you may notice about Mario’s is the price.  Expensive?  Not even close.  I got a small pepperoni pizza for less than 6 bucks, which is a refreshing change of pace to this tourney.  I often bash Beaver County since my loyalties side with Allegheny, Butler, and Washington Counties, however, if you want inexpensive yet quality pizza, the land of the Beave is where it’s at.  As you would expect from the name, Mario’s has a woodfired style of pizza and it doesn’t dissatisfy.  Good ronis, cheese, and the basil that adorned the pizza was also quite nice.

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Appearance is a bit of a toss up with both having stunning looks.  Components and Overall Flavor side with Driftwood as the crust, cheese, and sauce were superior on the mobile pizza oven’s exhibit.  If you happen to find yourself in the depths of Beaver County, make your way to Mario’s, otherwise, find out where Driftwood Oven will be set up and head there for a superior pizza.

Winner: 3 Driftwood Oven

2 Vincent’s vs 7 Italian Village

I’ve been excited to visit Vincent’s pizza park for quite some time now, but today we’re gonna focus it’s first round adversary Italian Village.  The first time I had this pizza was when my sister took me there way back in the early 2000’s.  I distinctly remember her telling me this was her favorite pizza place in the city, though, I don’t think she recalls this at all.  The Maggie to my Jake Gyllenhall wouldn’t be alone though in this sentiment, as my friend’s wife and secret bestie (let’s call her Jane Lane from Daria) proclaims this as her favorite pizza in Pittsburgh.

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Ol’ Jane is actually from New York so her pizza opinion holds some weight.  While I’ve liked Italian Village, I’ve always classified this as mall pizza.  It’s been sometime since I’ve tried it though and figured I’d give it a go in the tourney.  Italian Village has multiple locations, but I hit up the little shotgun spot on Forbes in Squirrel Hill.  I ate a single pep slice and I must admit it is a very good slice.  It is a lot like a New York style slice which is a good thing, but it’s just not enough.

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Italian Village (pronounced ‘eye-talian’ if you are over 50 years old or have a deep yinzer accent)

As much as I like the pizza at Italian Village it couldn’t stand up to Vincent’s Pizza Park.  All three categories went to Vincent’s and I’ll reveal more about their pizza in the Sweet 16.  I’ll continue to eat Italian Village if I’m at the mall, but if I’m in Squirrel Hill, I’ll probably opt for Mineo’s.

Winner: 2 Vincent’s

4 Dinette vs 5 Pizza Taglio

I’m calling this battle The Heat on Highland due to their virtual across the street locations in the East End.  I’ve not eaten at either of these places before though they both have a good bit of hype.  I fifth-wheeled it on this one with my sister (aka Beyonce, aka Maggie Gyllenhall, aka The Gift of the Magi), my brother in-law (aka The Dutch Dream, aka The Wolf of Wood Street, aka the Rivers Cuomo of finance), and their friends who we will call Jeffrey and Maude Lebowski.  We first hit up Dinette, which is, at first glance, a cool space.  After our meal and service, this place ended up seeming a bit cold, but that’s not important, because all that matters is the pizza.  I grabbed a pepperoni pie, of course, and the others tried a variety.  I would have to say my pepperoni was the least appetizing of the group, although it was really good.  The other varieties all looked and tasted better according the panel.

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Dinette.  Not featured are the $1 Straubs littering the table.

After sampling the products and indulging in some $1 Straub beers (yes, 1 American Dollar), we headed across the street to Pizza Taglio.  We had some fantastic espresso and split a Margherita.  I thought the fact that everyone was a little bit full from Dinette would be problematic, however, this pizza was so good it didn’t even matter.  All sensation of being too full to eat quickly dissipated with the first bite.  My first emotion was anger that I had waited so long to come here.  I once passed on this place on a date because there was a wait for a table.  What a fool I was.  In a different timeline I waited for the table and then probably married that girl because I was then truly happy after eating amazing pizza.

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I wasn’t alone in my assessment of the offerings at Pizza Taglio as the crew all echoed my praise.  After eating I was fortunate enough to talk to the owner, Tony and found out that his family owns another Pizza Madness competitor La Tavola.  I had no idea.  What’s even cooler is that Tony has a shot at facing off against his Dad in the Elite Eight.  I mean I’m actually the one writing this, but this happenstance would seem contrived if I had made it happen on purpose.  Despite all of us thoroughly enjoying Dinette, it seemed so stodgy after our visit to Pizza Taglio.  We even joked that we wanted to retch the Dinette from our stomachs so we could eat more Taglio.  I was this close to going back to Dinette, slapping a piece of leftover Pizza Taglio on the glass window, and yelling “how do you like them apples?”, but I’m sure they wouldn’t have cared.

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I seriously can’t wait to eat at Pizza Taglio again, and I encourage you to eat at both Dinette and Pizza Taglio to make up your own mind.

Winner: 5 Pizza Taglio

So that is it for the first round.  The Sweet 16 match-ups will start this week, so keep an eye out on Instagram for updates.

 

UPSET ALERT!!!!

We’re back in action with more results and reviews, albeit, at a slower pace than anticipated.  The road to pizza heaven is not devoid of obstacles.  First, we have to replace a competitor in the tourney.  Despite all of the great things I’ve read about Pasquarelli’s on ye olde internet, it appears that they may no longer be in operation.  I don’t really know for sure, but they won’t answer the phone, so they done got bounced.  This leaves an open spot that needs to be filled.  I’m going to replace ol’ Pasqi’s with Driftwood Oven.  This is a mobile pizza oven and it’s pretty darn good.  They’ll be in my neighborhood on Sunday at Roundabout Brewery, so that’s when they’ll have their game.

Not all of the impediments can be blamed on external influences.  Did you know that you should check to see if the restaurant that you are visiting is going to be open at the time you intend to visit?  I found this out the hard way when I went to Ambridge too early in the afternoon for the Frank’s/Police Station battle.  I couldn’t bear hanging out in Ambridge for hours without pizza, so I just took off.  Don’t worry I’ll go back.  Also, did you know some places are closed on Sunday and Monday?  How dare they want to spend time with their families and friends?!  Don’t they know I have a pointless endeavor to complete?  Sarcasm notwithstanding, let’s get the results and the first upset of the tourney.

2 Colangelo’s vs 7 Enrico Biscotti

On the first day of the round of 64 in the NCAA tourney, I hit the strip district for this matchup with a pair of brothers (Jeff and Beau Bridges) and my neighbor friend (Wilson…wait, that would make me Tim Taylor…nevermind, let’s go with Kramer).  The first stop was Colangelo’s which I had never visited, despite the fact that I’ve walked past it hundreds of times being that it is next to Pittsburgh Popcorn Company.  We all grabbed a slice of pepperoni and ate outside.  This pizza is the freakin’ shit.  It’s square and slightly thick, but not quite like a Sicilian slice.  It has a crispy outside while simultaneously having a pillowy inside.

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Enrico Biscotti (top left), Colangelo’s (bottom right).  Fake Fact:  Leslie Neilsen ate pizza everyday on the set of The Naked Gun, but only under duress from OJ Simpson’s threats. 

We then walked the 210 feet to Enrico Biscotti and grabbed a table in the café.  The café at Enrico Biscotti is pretty cool, although, there were some over zealous St. Patrick’s Day people wooing more than a douchebag at a Pirate game.  We split a pepperoni pie and all parties came to an overwhelming agreement.

 

Appearance goes to Enrico Biscotti.  It’s a pretty pizza. I wouldn’t kick it out of bed, but Components and Overall Flavor went to Colangelo’s.  The crust on the Colangelo’s slice was fantastic.  I liken it to a stereotypical dream guy.  You know, crispy on the exterior (rugged), but still soft on the inside (sensitive).  I feel like I’m gilding the lily, here, but I honestly can’t wait to eat this pizza again.  That being said, Enrico knows his way around a pizza.  For sure, give it a try.

Winner: Colangelo’s 

 

4 Piccolo Forno vs 5 The Pizza Company

After my pointless trip to Ambridge for the aforementioned Frank’s/Police Station match-up that didn’t happen, I headed back to my hood and snagged some pizza from Piccolo Forno and The Pizza Company.  I went stag to Piccolo and grabbed a pepperoni, then headed up the hill for a pep slice from Pizza Company.  I hadn’t been to Piccolo for a while, so I couldn’t really remember what their pizza was all about, but I did remember that I liked it.  This pizza has a super thin crust which is okay, but I kinda feel like it was too thin (something of which I will never be accused).  The pepperoni on the Piccolo pie is the good kind.  Like crispy little Stanley Cup tops full of roni grease.  Super delicious.

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The Stanley Cup pepperoni’s of Piccolo Forno.

Pizza Co is one of my neighborhood favorites.  The crust is really good and they also have the Stanley Cup pepperonis.  This was a tough choice to make.  I would give Appearance to Piccolo Forno. The whole atmosphere at Piccolo is great.  It’s a excellent place to grab dinner. Pizza Company may lack the aesthetics of Piccolo, but this is more of a utilitarian slice.  Components went to Pizza Co for sure.  Solid crust, great cheese, and sauce.  Overall Flavor was a close call, but Pizza Co edged out Piccolo for the upset.  Keep reading, though, because this isn’t the headline related upset.

Winner: The Pizza Company

1 Mineo’s vs 8 Jioio’s

Next up in the bracket is a 1/8 match-up between one of my all-time faves and distant spot that apparently is worth the drive.  I met with a hockey playing buddy (aka the Zdeno Chara of men’s league) in Squirrel Hill and we grabbed a slice at Mineo’s.  1091372I haven’t had Mineo’s in a long time.  Spoiler Alert:  I still love this pizza.  I’ve heard many argue that there is too much cheese on a Mineo’s pizza, but that was not my experience, at least this time around.  There was definitely more cheese than some other pizzas, but not in an overwhelming way.

Zdeno and I then made the long trek to Greensburg so I could finally try the famous Jioio’s.  Fortunately, Zdeno’s company made the long trip seem much shorter.  I was aware that Jioio’s had a sweet sauce, but good lord, I had no idea.  The sauce was crazy sweet, like a nice old lady that won’t let you say no to food that she is so kindly offering.  Zed is a big fan of the sweet sauce, but I am not.  I did kind of like the crispy thin crust, though.  Don’t get me wrong, the pizza is good, it’s just not my preferred style.

This match-up was a bit of a blowout for me.  All three categories go in favor of Mineo’s.  I won’t be rushing back to Jioio’s, but if you like a sweet sauce or you live in the east suburbs, you should head to Jioio’s so you can come to your own conclusions.

Winner: Mineo’s

3 Spirit/Slice Island vs 6 Giovanni’s

This is another game featuring two places that I’ve had on more than one occasion.  Previous judges T-Boz, Chilli, and Left Eye joined me at Giovanni’s in Dormont (they also have a location downtown).  I’ve previously been critical of Giovanni’s despite the fact that they have won best pizza in Pittsburgh in recent years.  Not that I didn’t like it, just that the sauce was a little too sweet.  “Jesus Christ, we get it, you don’t like a sweet sauce!”  Sorry, fake person.  I’ll try to lay off the sweet sauce putdowns for a while.  Precursory assessments filed away, this pizza was much better than I remembered.  The sauce was sweet (hold on…), but not too sweet, at all.  In fact, this pizza was pretty amazing and TLC agreed.

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Giovanni’s roni slice. 

I then rolled solo to Slice Island.  Slice Island is located inside Spirit which is a bit of a giphyhipster haven, but not in a bad way.  In order to stay as profesh as possible on this trip to Spirit, I avoided the tradition of shotgunning a baby Bud at the bar and went right to Slice Island.  Just as I remembered, this pizza is as good as Han Solo is cool.  Square cut, great components, superb overall flavor.

I’ll give Appearance to Giovanni’s, although by a slim margin.  The Components and Overall Flavor categories were a bit tougher to call.  After contemplating on my way home, I decided to give the edge to Spirit/Slice Island.

Winner: Spirit/Slice Island

3 Aiello’s vs 6 La Tavola

Have you figured it out yet?  This is the big upset that was teased in the headline.  I’ve heard many people declare Aiello’s to be just as good, if not better than Mineo’s.  I was hoping to have a Mineo’s Aiello’s showdown in the Elite Eight, but it just ain’t gonna happen.  I had never tried Aiello’s because anytime I was on that particular block of Murray Avenue for pizza, I was heading to Mineo’s.  That being said, I was super pumped

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Much like Hightower, my friend has had to remove the front seat of his car so he can sit in the back and operate the vehicle. 

to finally try Aiello’s.  A tall friend of mine (the Hightower to my Mahoney) went with me to Squirrel Hill to give Aiello’s it’s time in the sun.  Despite my eagerness to give Aiello’s a whirl, I still had to repress my lust for Mineo’s since we were merely 128 feet away.  We each grabbed a slice of pepperoni and ate there.  I will give the following caveat to this upset:  Aiello’s is in the middle of some construction, therefore, that may have played into the following results. Both of us, were quite disappointed with what we expected to be a great piece of pizza.  Nothing was spectacular about our experience and all categories went in favor of La Tavola.

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Even the pepperoni’s on the Aiello’s slice looked surprised at the outcome. 

The slice at Aiello’s wasn’t what we expected, but again, the construction and the fact that we just ordered slices instead of a whole pie could be the reason why we were crestfallen after our visit.  I know it seems like I am just straight up bashing Aiello’s, but I feel like this was just a bad performance, much like Duke vs UNLV in 1990.  I will certainly go back to Aiello’s to give it another chance and you should not write them off as bad pizza.  They can’t be bad for all the hype.  This could have all been a fluke.  Also, I know I didn’t really review La Tavola, but I’ll get into that in the next round.

Seriously, though, you should still try Aiello’s.

Winner: La Tavola 

Okay, enough of the winners and losers.  Check out the updated bracket below and keep your eyes peeled on social media for more updates!

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More Results. More Schedule.

Things are heating up in the pizza bracket and are about to catch fire this weekend.  We (me) got off to a slow start, but we’re going to hit the next gear over the next 4 days.  The actual NCAA basketball tournament kicks off today and to fully immerse myself in the madness I’ll be abstaining from my day job until Monday.  There will be 48 college basketball games over the next 4 days, which means that we need to turn up the pizza power, as well.  In solidarity with the NCAA, I will be eating 48 different slices of pizza in the next 4 days!  Just kidding, that’s impossible.  Even for me, and I dream of a Michael Hutchence-esque demise, except with pizza asphyxiation.

So to ratchet up the madness and to make up for the slow start, the below match-ups will be decided this weekend, with the results being reported on Sunday night.

  • 3 Aiello’s vs 6 La Tavola
  • 2 Colangelo’s vs 7 Enrico Biscotti
  • 4 Frank’s vs 5 Police Station
  • 1 Mineo’s vs 8 Jioio’s
  • 3 Pasquarelli’s vs 6 Mario’s
  • 3 Slice on Broadway vs 6 Cucina Bella
  • 4 Piccolo Forno vs 5 Pizza Company
  • 2 Vincent’s vs 7 Italian Village

In one week, the NCAA tourney will be into the sweet 16 and so will the Pittsburgh Pizza Madness Tourney (or at least we’ll be close).  Now, on to the results

2 Mercurio’s vs 7 Graziano’s

Keeping it in the East End, this match-up features one of my go-to pizzas versus one that I have yet to try, but has a great reputation.  Joined by two of my friends (let’s call them Tango and Cash) I headed to Mercurio’s first, before heading back to my immediate neighborhood to grab some Graziano’s.

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Fun Fact:  This movie was filmed during Stallone’s “looking smart in glasses era” circa 1989.

Mercurio’s is on Walnut in Shadyside and in addition to pizza they have some great gelato, from what I’ve heard.  I don’t mean this in a negative connotation, but Mercurio’s is the fancy type of wood-fired pizza place that has specific pizzas on the menu and not the kind of place where you can build your own pie.  Fancy may not be the most appropriate word, because the space itself is very casual and comfortable.  Regardless of the setting, we had to select a pizza that would be the most comparable to cheese or pepperoni so we could compare to Graziano’s as evenly as possible.  Being that Tango, Cash, and myself are of the carnivorous kind, we opted for the Diavolo which has spicy salami.  Yeah, I know that isn’t pepperoni, but it’s close enough, so lay off!

After we split the Diavolo, we stopped at Graziano’s to grab a small with pep.  Graziano’s is of the less fancy variety of pizza shops, which I find to be endearing.  This has always been a popular spot for me to grab a six pack and slice or two.  I love a place where I can get a six pack of craft beer, or just a 40 oz Hurricane depending on how I’m feeling that particular evening.

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Graziano’s (top) vs Mercurio’s (bottom)

After considering the criteria, the victor was not immediately clear.  Appearance went to Mercurio’s.  Graziano’s definitely appeared appetizing, but Mercurio’s was just pretty.  It’s like comparing Maggie Gyllenhaal to Katie Holmes. Both are attractive, but one is just prettier than the other (I’ll let you be the judge of who is the prettier one).  Narrow, superficial comparisons aside, the components criteria was a lot harder to figure out.  Both had amazing crust, and while Mercurio’s had the great wood-fired style of crust that is simultaneously both chewy and crunchy at the same time, it was Graziano’s that had the better crust.  The cheese/sauce/toppings, however, went to Mercurio’s, although, not by a landslide. Finally, the overall flavor category went to Mercurio’s after some deliberating.  Tango and Cash agreed that while Graziano’s was fantastic, the sauce and grease were a little heavy and Mercurio’s was a bit lighter and fresher.  Basically, Graziano’s is the pizza you should get if you wanna indulge and “be bad”.  Another close match-up, but Mercurio’s takes this one…barely.

Winner:  Mercurio’s

2 Il Pizzaiolo vs 7 Upper Crust

My familia had my back for this game.  I was joined at Il Pizzaiolo by two of my sisters, let’s call them Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams.  Also joining us were Kelly’s kids, Huey, Dewey, and Louise.  The ducklings shared a Margherita, while my siblings and I ate a Margherita DOC.  Kelly also ordered a Stracciatella, which I did not try.  Kelly and Louise didn’t join the rest of us for our second leg of the game, but both were impressed with Il Pizzaiolo.

Huey, Dewey, Michelle and I made the trek to Washpa for Upper Crust, where we met my mother (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), my aunt (Billie Jean King), and my third sister (Beyoncé).  Completely off topic, but, do you think we could convince the real Billie Jean King to open a retail denim outlet called Billie Jean King’s Jean Kingdom?  Okay, so the kids, BJK, and I opted for the Margherita (for consistency), while Madre and two-thirds of Destiny’s Child sampled the Pancetta & Gorgonzola and Formaggio.

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Il Pizzaiolo (top) vs Upper Crust (bottom). I don’t think I need to differentiate BJK from Destiny’s Child.

Appearance was about as close to a toss-up as you can get.  Both looked fantastic and tasted as good as they appeared, but Il Pizzaiolo took this category by a thin margin.  The components category was tough as well.  I preferred the sauce and toppings at Il Pizzaiolo, but Upper Crust being so aptly named, had the better, crispier crust.  Considering all items Huey, Dewey, and I feel that Il Pizzaiolo had the better overall flavor, while Michelle Williams feels it’s too close to call.  Il Pizzaiolo will advance, but if you live anywhere near Washpa you should put Upper Crust in your heavy rotation.

Winner: Il Pizzaiolo

Check Instagram over the weekend and look for the next post Sunday night!

2 Games In…

I should probably mention that in preparation for this endeavor, I gave up pizza for 1 year.  You read that right.  12 months…no pizza.  Well, almost.  I gave up pizza for a year akin to the way a lot of Christians follow The Bible.  I stretched the rules (pepperoni rolls) of no pizza and straight up broke them on 2 occasions (I’m weak).  Regardless, this tournament is my triumphant return to pizza, at least symbolically.  Let us wait no further for the results of the first 2 games!

1 Mandy’s vs 8 Monte Cello’s

You might see the 1 vs 8 seed and think that this was a blowout, however, you’d be sorrily mistaken.  This match-up was much closer than even I expected.  I should first tell you that I have a history with Monte Cello’s.  I  was once a pizza maker for this local chain and I always loved it, particularly when I was the pizza architect.  Despite my lurid history with Cello’s, it’s been around 4 years since I’ve indulged in their pizza and I kinda got some flak for including them in the tourney, at all (hence the 8 seed).

I’ve not eaten at Mandy’s and they got the 1 seed based on reputation and a few awards for best pizza from various sources (all of which don’t matter because I am now the authority).  I met my friend and his 2 kids (let’s call them T-Boz, Chilli, and Left Eye) at Mandy’s and we got down on some pepperoni pizza.  This is good pizza and the crew also thought it was, at the very least, crazysexycool.

I had my slice of pizza and then hit the road to Monte Cello’s.  I shared a mini pepperoni pizza with another friend (let’s call him Michael McDonald). This is a friend that previously didn’t have great things to say about Monte Cello’s, but this pizza may have changed his mind.

This was more of a buzzer beater situation than I expected.  Both pizzas were about equal in crust, cheese, and pepperoni.  The crusts were each crisp, yet soft. Flavorful, but definitely not stealing the show.  The cheese on each was quite similar, and the pepperoni’s were also about the same.  The shot that beat the clock was the sauce.  Both sauces were great, but Mandy’s edged out Cello’s.  The sauce was slightly sweet but not overbearing, all while being a somewhat herbaceous.  The sauce put the Overall Flavor category in favor of Mandy’s, who will move on to the next round.  Also, bonus points to Mandy’s for having this strange picture of Dr. Oz on the wall (you can tell those two women behind him know that he is full of shit).

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That being said, you should eat at Monte Cello’s. It’s really good.

Winner: Mandy’s

1 Spak Bros vs 8 Caliente

For the second game of the tournament, I kept things close to my neighborhood and hit up two spots that are within walking distance to my home.  This match-up was a little more unbalanced.  Both Spak and Caliente are in my Rolodex of usual pizza places, although I must admit that I usually only call on Caliente for late night delivery.

Upon entering Spak Bros you’ll notice an absence of glitz and glamour, but I don’t think that is a bad thing.  There’s a cool sit down 80’s style arcade game, loud hardcore music is playing, and the wall decorations even include autographed photos of Andrew W.K. and late professional wrestler Chris Benoit.  Regardless of the atmosphere, which may or may not make you feel like you aren’t cool enough to be there, the pizza is legit.  This game was the blowout you would expect from the 1 vs 8 match-up with all three categories going to Spak.

Don’t sleep on Caliente, though.  The pizza is good, the wings are good, and if you opt for dining in, they have a good selection of craft beer.  Definitely worth a visit, even if it sounds like they serve Mexican food.

Winner: Spak Bros

*Slight schedule change:  Saturday’s games have been postponed to next week because I am terrible at remembering the plans that I make.  

Stay tuned for the results of the rest of this week’s match-ups!

 

Selection Sunday

pittsburgh-pizza-madness-official-bracket

Well, here it is.  After a long week of consideration, poring over the data, and general procrastination, the final field is set (albeit much later than I originally wanted). The official pizza bracket has been released. The photo above may be difficult to read, but you can click the link above to download the PDF.  Please download the bracket and fill it out as you go dancing with me through the competition.

Determining the final 7 pizza shops to make the tourney was tough.  Though, I feel confident that the right decisions were made.  Joining the 25 previously mentioned entrants into the tourney are Jioio’s, Italian Village, Osso’s, Upper Crust, Cucina Bella, Mario’s, and Enrico Biscotti.  I had to pull the trigger on those located in the distant suburbs.  The buzz was too hot for me to ignore.  Therefore, Jioio’s, Osso’s, Upper Crust, and Mario’s will have their shot, but you best believe that I will complain onerously.

After the final 32 were selected, the next step was deciding the regions and seeding.  I elected to separate the field into 4 regions based on geographic location.  For the most part, the regions make sense.  Obviously, most places are centrally located within the city limits, but some stretches had to be made.  Next, I had to establish the seeding for each region from 1 to 8.  This process was about a scientific as a creationist’s educational beliefs.  I simply ranked them based on popularity.  Regardless of seed, the best pizza places will advance to the final four based on the already discussed judging criteria (Appearance, Components, Overall Flavor).

With all of the preliminary work completed, it is now time to get down to the eating.  I will release a game schedule each week.  The first round of games should be completed by next weekend if everything goes the way it should.  Below is this week’s schedule:

  • Wednesday, March 8th:  1 Mandy’s vs. 8 Monte Cello’s
  • Thursday, March 9th:  1 Spak Bros vs. 8 Caliente
  • Friday, March 10th:  3 Aiello’s vs. 6 La Tavola
  • Saturday, March 11th:  3 Pasquarelli’s vs. 6 Mario’s  AND  1 Mineo’s vs. 8 Jioio’s
  • Sunday, March 12th:  2 Mercurio’s vs. 7 Graziano’s

If you notice, on the weekend (sometimes) I will be doing at least 2 games (lunch and dinner).  This will also probably happen on the first 2 full days of the NCAA tournament (Thursday 3/16 and Friday 3/17).  I suggest you eat at each of these places so you can form an opinion and then tell me why I’m wrong (or right, I guess).

Please let me know if you wish to join me as an official judge for any of these games.  

Now, if you would excuse me, I am going to take a bunch of laxatives to clear room for way too much pizza.

 

Bracketology

Well, despite it feeling as if we’ve traveled into the near future here in Pittsburgh, with the 70 degree weather, it’s still only the end of February and the individual conference tournaments that will filter into the NCAA March Madness brackets are about to get started over the next week. If you listen closely you can hear Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas greasing each other up in anticipation.  We can take the Doppler effect of Dicky V’s approaching “Yeah Baby!”‘s as a sign that it’s time for us to get serious about who is going to make it into the Pizza Madness bracket.  Today, we will prognosticate who may make it into the dance.

Who Is Definitely In?

These places are the heavily favored powerhouses that have, basically, already punched their ticket to the dance.  These are the Duke, UNC, Kansas, and Kentuckys of the Pittsburgh pizza game and already have their places set at the table.  Overused cliches notwithstading, here are the pizzas that will, no doubt, be eaten and judged by me (and hopefully you) in the coming month:

Pizza Shop Location
Mineo’s Squirrel Hill

2128 Murray Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Aiello’s Squirrel Hill

2112 Murray Ave # 1, Pittsburgh, PA 15217

Spak Brothers Garfield

5107 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Fiori’s Brookline

103 Capital Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15226

Pizza Taglio East Liberty

126 S Highland Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

Mercurio’s Shadyside

5523 Walnut St, Pittsburgh, PA 15232

Caliente Bloomfield

4624 Liberty Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Mandy’s West View

512 Perry Hwy, Pittsburgh, PA 15229

Graziano’s Lawrenceville

4109 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Slice on Broadway Beechview

2128 Broadway Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15216

Slice Island/Spirit Lawrenceville

242 51st St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201

Pizza Company Lawrenceville

4065 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

Beto’s Beechview

1473 Banksville Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15216

Piccolo Forno Lawrenceville

3801 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201

Il Pizzaiolo Mt. Lebanon

703 Washington Rd, Mt Lebanon, PA 15228

Dinette East Liberty

5996 Centre Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15206

La Tavola Mt. Washington

1 Boggs Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15211

Pasquarelli’s McKee’s Rocks

824 Chartiers Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15220

Giovanni’s Downtown

123 6th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Monte Cello’s Ross Twp.

2198 Babcock Blvd, Pittsburgh, PA 15209

A’Pizza Badamo Mt. Lebanon

656 Washington Rd, Pittsburgh, PA 15228

Pizza House (Police Station Pizza) Ambridge

1007 Merchant St, Ambridge, PA 15003

Frank’s Ambridge

618 Duss Ave Ambridge, PA 15003

Vincent’s Forest Hills

998 Ardmore Blvd., Pittsburgh, PA 15221

Colangelo’s Strip District

207 21st St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222

I’ve been to some of these places and those would be my favorites like Mineo’s, Fiori’s, Spak, Slice Island, Beto’s, Cello’s, Graziano’s, and Pizza Co.  It doesn’t take Alan Turing to notice the pattern here.  A lot of my favorite places are in close proximity to my neighborhood.  I’m aware of the bias, but that’s what this tournament is all about!  I’m gonna try ’em all so I can definitively enthrone the top dog.  I can’t wait to dig into some of these long standing favorites that I’ve yet to consume.  I’ve never had a Vinny Pie.  I’ve never tried Police Station Pizza.  For fuck’s sake, I’ve never eaten Slice on Broadway!  Therefore, it is my duty to do so in the name of this competition.

On The Bubble

While the aforementioned 25 might be the favorites, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a Cinderella story with those who are currently on the bubble.  There are some fantastic pizzas in the list below, but some of them are bubblicious just because of their proximity to Pittsburgh.  Should I really consider Greensburg, Washington, and Beaver as “Pittsburgh” pizza places?  I’m honestly not sure.  So this is my final plea to convince me to include any of these places below.

Pizza Shop Location
Bella Notte Strip District                                1914 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Fazio’s Lawrenceville                              4028 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15224
Sciulli’s Oakland                                       3404 Fifth Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Proper Brick Oven Downtown                                  139 7th St, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Michael’s Southside                                                 2612 Sarah St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Mario’s Beaver                                             594 3rd St, Beaver, PA 15009
Osso’s Washington                                         90 Henderson Ave, Washington, PA 15301
Italian Village Squirrel Hill                                          5886 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Napoli Squirrel Hill                                          2006 Murray Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217
Cucina Bella Bridgeville                                         1200 Pennsylvania Ave, Bridgeville, PA 15017
Erico Biscotti Strip District                                       2022 Penn Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Sola Southside                                       1417 E Carson St, Pittsburgh, PA 15203
Mamma Lucia Wexford                                      11978 Perry Hwy,  Wexford, PA 15090
Casa Del Sole Aspinwall                                       222 1st St, Aspinwall, PA 15215
Jioio’s Greensburg                                       939 Carbon Rd, Greensburg, PA 15601
Little E’s Greensburg                                       807 Highland Ave, Greensburg, PA 15601
The Upper Crust Washington                                        201 S. Main St, Washington, PA 15301

I know from personal experience that Osso’s and Upper Crust in Washpa and Mario’s in Beaver have genuinely great pizza.  I’ve read and heard a lot about Jioio’s and Little E’s in Greensburg, as well and I’d love to try them.  Not sure if they are close enough to be considered.

Also on the bubble are places like Italian Village and Sola which have solid slices, but since they are chains, do they count?  I think they might.  They are, indeed, native to Pittsburgh.  I might even be at the risk of losing some friendships if I don’t give Italian Village a shot at the title.

I’m willing to bet one of these places will end up in the Final Four.  Help me solidify the final lineup by commenting on Facebook or Instagram to let me know which seven of these should round out the all holy pizza bracket.  I’ll take the responses and finalize the list within the week so we can set the schedule and get down to the business of actually eating pizza.

This is your first real chance to become part of this thing.  Stir the pot, start some controversy, and have your say!

Who’s Out?

Not everyone can don pizza sneakers and go dancing at this party.  Some places have to remain on the outside.  These are the places that will, for sure, not fight for the prize.

Not from Pittsburgh – You’ve probably figured this out by now and it may hurt to actually read this, but Sir Pizza will not be included. “Booo!”  “Hiss!”  “I hope you get cancer!”  I get it.  All of you (including one snake apparently) love Sir Pizza.  Look, I do too. Those little chopped up pepperoni’s mean more to me than certain family members.  I’d join the military to protect them.  Hyperbole aside, Sir Pizza just isn’t from Pittsburgh.  It’s a chain that originated outside of western PA in Lafeyette, Indiana.  I can’t do it.  For the same reason I can’t include Jet’s Pizza on Banksville.  Jet’s started in Detroit and is also great pizza.  Think of Little Caesar’s, but only it tastes good.  Finally, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza is out.  Again, not from the Burgh.  I recommend that you eat at these places and they are definitely honorable mentions, but due to technicalities, they are out.

The Four Horesmen o the Pizzapocalypse – The harbingers of doom that are Pizza Hut, Domino’s, Papa John’s, and Little Caesar’s will never be considered the best of anything.  Hold on, I take that back.  Pizza Hut is always a contender for fastest way to get diarrhea.  It’s right up there with drinking stagnant water.  “But, Jake I kinda like these places some times!”  So?  I also kinda like eating Burger King, but we’re not gonna give them an actual crown.  We’ve all eaten these pizzas for one reason or another. For some reason people love to get these pizzas in mass quantities for parties.  I don’t know why.  Maybe there is some sort of bargain situation, but we should all have more self respect.  Your local pizza shop will always have better pizza.  And, look, if I hurt your feelings, I’m sorry.  I just need you to understand that liking any of these is more of a guilty pleasure than anything, but you can’t call your guilty pleasure the best.  I mean you wouldn’t say Smooth by Santana featuring Rob Thomas is the best song of all time (even though you secretly love it), would you?  Oh.  You would?  Well, this is more awkward that that Peyton Manning/Papa John kiss at the Super Bowl last year.

Alright, we’re getting close to crunch time (not to be confused with what I call eating cereal).  Only a couple more steps until we are finally eating!

PS – If you enjoy witty humor that is at the very least tangentially related to food, please check out Dinner Is Served 1972.  Far better writing and very funny. Do it!

 

How does this work?

By now, I’ll assume you’ve read the first post giving you a general idea of the objective of this project.  I’ve had this idea in my head for over 7 years and now that it is actually happening, we have to make sure it’s done right.  So, we need to figure out who has the best pizza and we know its going to be done tournament style, but we have to lay the foundation of how this will work.  We need to know who is going to be entered into the tournament, we need to know how the pizza will be judged, and we need to know how the match-ups will be determined.

Who’s In?

Since this will be the most important tournament you’ve witnessed since Bloodsport, it is crucial to get the players right.  In college basketball, the teams that make it to the big dance are revealed on Selection Sunday.  Those decisions are made based on the rankings, conference winners, and overall season performance.  We’ll have our own Selection Sunday, but we don’t exactly have rankings, conference winners, and overall season performance for pizza shops. Unless someone tells me that there has been a pizza fight club happening in the city, and if that’s the case, this whole thing can be scrapped since I will be disappearing into the pizza underground.

So who’s gonna make it into the big pizza dance?  Hold on, to clarify, by big pizza dance, I mean the tournament, not this video that a seemingly very nice family made.  Anyway,  I have my ideas of who should be in and have compiled a list of possible competitors that was derived through research, personal experience, and testimonials from friends and family.  However, despite the opinion of my mother, I am not perfect (though I AM a precious baby angel).  I may have missed a place that you think has to make it, and I leave that up to you to let me know.  Based on the comments I’ve read on sites that have declared the best pizza places in the Pittsburgh, people are extremely opinionated about where they think the top pizza resides. You’d be surprised at how many exclamation points people will use if they feel their favorite shop has been slighted.

I already have a list of 43 contenders, but I need to hear from the general public.  The list of candidates will be provided in a future post where I explain who is likely in, on the bubble, or most definitely on the outside.  Comment here or on social media and let me know who absolutely has to make the tourney.

How will the pizza be judged?

Full disclosure: I am not a professional food critic (Gasp!).  While I may not have fancy credentials, this project is not intended to be a snooty display of criticism.  I do have some experience in the pizza industry, but my expertise has been honed by eating pizza, probably more than a cardiologist would suggest.  While my days of making pizza for money are over, I have always held the opinion that pizza is the supreme food item in all the land.  That, itself, is a controversial statement, but let’s just pretend that I’m right.

So, while New York can be considered the pizza Mecca, Pittsburgh is no slouch.  Okay, I hear you Chicago, but let’s not pretend that deep dish pizza is actually pizza.  While it’s enjoyable, I would be more comfortable calling it a savory cake or crusted lasagna, but I digress.  The unique problem in rating/ranking Pittsburgh pizza is that it comes in many different forms.  The New York style is in play, but there are also different styles like Roman, Neapolitan, Sicilian, bakery style, Detroit, and even New Haven (known as apizza).  This creates a challenge in trying to compare, but luckily I’ve come up with a plan to try to make the evaluations fair.

First of all, I will be eating only pepperoni or cheese pizza. No specialty pizza like Buffalo Chicken or Steak.  Those are great, but I want to evaluate each slice in it’s base form.  Some of the fancier places may not have just cheese or pepperoni, so I will choose the most comparable option.  Second, I will be going to each establishment for every match-up.  The higher seeded pizza place will technically be the home team, so I will visit that place first before going to the opponent’s establishment.  I will be only eating one slice at each place in each round.  If you’re wondering, that means I will be eating 62 slices of pizza during the course of this undertaking.  Yeah, that is a lot, so I will be mostly eating salad for my other meals so I can avoid death.  Finally, each slice will be judged based on three categories:

  • Appearance – While this may seem shallow, how the pizza looks is important.  Are all of the toppings jammed in the middle with a fat bubbly crust?  I sure hope not, because then I will be much less excited to  eat said pizza and subconsciously that might influence my opinion.  This category won’t hold as much weight as the other two, however, it will factor into my decision.
  • Components – Cheese, sauce, crust, and toppings.  The guts of the pizza, as well as it’s structure will be evaluated in this category.  This category will also assess greasiness of the pizza (and my face after eating).
  • Overall Flavor – The components portion of judging will touch on flavor of individual parts of the pizza, but this category will judge the overall flavor as the title of the category clearly states.

On my quest, I will be joined by various friends and family members, so they will also be judging, however, I will have the final say.  That’s not to say I won’t be influenced, but ultimately I will make the call.  If you are interested in joining me during any of the “games”, please feel free to hit me up here or on social media (IG: pghpizzamadness or my personal account jakecsikora; Facebook).

How will the match-ups be determined?

This is an important piece of the plan, however, we can’t really figure this out until we know for sure who is in.  We can revisit the specifics of this once we’ve finalized the contenders.  Basically, the 32 entrants will be broken into four separate regions/brackets and each will be seeded from 1-8 based on popularity, just like the NCAA does (except they seed from 1-16 since their tournament is larger).  The four brackets will obviously feed into the Final Four and then the champion. The four brackets will be likely be arranged by geographical zones or will be based on type/style of pizza.  More on this after Selection Sunday which for this tournament will be March 1st.

Let me know where to go and mark your calendars!!

Pittsburgh Pizza Madness – What is it?

My name is Jake, and I like pizza.  Unless you’re some sort of controversialist, sadly attempting to draw attention to yourself, I’ll wager that you too like pizza.  Pittsburgh offers a multitude of options from fancy wood fired pizza, to neighborhood favorites, to unique regional styles of pizza, and, of course, the ever so dull national chains.  I’ve sampled numerous slices in the city of Pittsburgh and heard the opinions of countless individuals on where they think the best pizza can be found in and around the three rivers.  I’ve endured these tales of who has the best pizza and decided that I want to put the arguments to the test.

“But, Jake, with so many different joints and styles of pizza how will you ever find out who has the best?”  Great question, fake person!  To answer that, I have to consider the options.  I could just try a bunch of places and deliver my opinions to the public with no specific format, however, that idea seems lazy and void of fun.  I could make a list ranking the best spots counting up to number one, but many others have already done so. Instead, I look to sports, because head to head competition is always better.  How do most of them figure out who the best is every year?  They do so with a tournament, and no tournament is more recognizable than the NCAA’s March Madness basketball tournament.

Every March, the 64 (okay, technically, 68) best college basketball teams in the country compete head to head in a tournament to crown a champion.  This endeavor will be just like that, but with fewer “teams” and less taking advantage of student athletes to make a fuck load of money.

Pittsburgh Pizza Madness will pit 32 establishments against one another in a tournament that will lead to One Shining Moment for the best pizza in Pittsburgh.  I cordially invite you to observe and participate in my venture to determine the best pizza in Pittsburgh.