On a Thursday night in July, I attended the fourth annual South Philadelphia Pizza Olympics, accompanied by coworker FEE (food event enthusiast). What is the Pizza Olympics? Simply, a big caterer's hall that offers samples (unlimited!) from 15 different local pizza makers, all for the $10 admission price. With free parking on site, it is a lot of fun for a little money.
|Fresh out of the Nomad oven. Click to enlarge!|
Pizza Olympics is NOT a pizza snob event; many of the city's finest pies were not represented; Tacconelli's, Osteria, Zavino, and Stella were conspicuously absent. Pizza Olympics is simply a fun event where you might get to discover some worthy pie. Hence, I wasn't alarmed that some of the contestants were trying to show off with toppings instead of what really matters to pizza geeks - the right crust foundation.
The contestants included:
· Aversa Bakery, 801 New Jersey 168 (Turnersville, NJ)
· Bertucci’s, 1515 Locust Street
· Cacia’s Bakery, 1526 W. Ritner Street
· Chickies and Petes, 1526 Packer Avenue
· J&J Pizza, 1177 S. 9th Street
· Keyfood Pizza, 1846 S. 12th Street
· Nomad Pizzeria, 611 S. 7th Street
· Paulie’s Pizza, 31 S. 11th Street
· Pizzeria Pesto, 1925 S. Broad Street
· Powelton Pizza, 3635 Lancaster Avenue
· Rustica, 903 N. 2nd Street
· Santucci’s, 901 S. 10th Street
· SliCE, 1180 S. 10th Street
· SouthView Pizza, 367 Durfor Street
· Wise Fries, 1717 S. 2nd Street
The "official" winner has yet to be named, but based on our inspection and tastings, here is Pizza Quixote's ranking:
1. WINNER: NOMAD PIZZA. I have wanted to try Nomad for a long time, but I'm well-removed from their Philly and Hopewell NJ locations. Now, Nomad had a huge advantage -- they were baking pies fresh in the wood-fired oven on their portable truck; every other pizza maker was bringing them in in boxes. But with their superb execution of the Neapolitan crust and inventive toppings like soppressata drizzled with honey, their pies were a delight. Neapolitan never beats Trenton style, except at this event. As I told the owner, on this night, Nomad was twice as good as any other pie.
2. PIZZERIA PESTO. This one came out of nowhere for me - I had never heard of this pie maker. The crust was thin and crisp, even as it cooled. But the star of this pie was the sauce! Sweet and tangy, the flavor stood out from most of the competition. I surely need to get there for a whole pie fresh out of the oven.
3. BERTUCCI'S. I'm as shocked as you that a chain could rank this high, but this sample matched the superb pies I had not long ago at a Bertucci's in Jersey City NJ. These guys GET IT when it comes to good dough = good crust, and they cook it properly. A beautiful charred edge, and then bacon on top! How could you go wrong with that?
4. RUSTICA. This is one of Philly's highly-regarded pizza makers, and along with SLiCE and NOMAD, was one of the favorites entering the contest. Another thin and crisp crust, but the bottom showed little character. I loved the roasted Italian long hot pepper that rode on top. This was good pie, and it might be great when it's fresh.
|Rustica with long hot|
5. SLiCE. I've had their pie on Sansom Street, and I appreciate that they more or less pay tribute to the DeLorenzo's Trenton style pie. However, they did not show strongly here. The crust became a tad too chewy as it cooled, and they made some bad choices in toppings. Especially regrettable was the pie I sampled, with piles of boiled spinach and a slice of pink Florida tomato. The idea of fresh tomato on pizza sounds great, but it's either going to be a flavorless Florida slice, or a too-wet slice of local Jersey tomato. If I didn't know that SLiCE is destionation pie, this tasting would not have made the case for it.
|SLiCE - Plain|
|SLiCE - Tomato and Spinach|
|SLiCE - Truffle Oil|
6. SANTUCCI'S, AVERSA BAKERY, CACIA'S BAKERY. These pie slingers all offered some very nice square slices in a tomato pie fashion. My tasting was too brief to tell me much more than "I want to visit them to have more."
|Another Aversa offering|
|Cacia's tomato pie with roast pork|
9. PAULIE'S. I was very amused by the "General Tso's Chicken" pizza, served on a crisp crust. The broccoli was a mistake -- wet and mushy never belongs on a pizza. But A for effort!
10. CHICKIE & PETE'S. These guys have a hand in all things food. FEE had their pie, I didn't, but it looks better than your typical storefront stuff.
|Chickie's & Pete's|
I'm not going to diss the other pie makers because I did not try their wares, but I will say they all looked pretty conventional, in the Sysco sort of way.
|All This for $10 ?!|
|Pretty crowded as the night advanced|