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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.