Tuesday, September 30, 2014

TOP Round 1 - Mario's vs. Marino's

The All Over Albany Tournament Of Pizza moves on to the next battle. My pizza insanity has driven me to document each slice I eat as a judge in the Tournament. If you would like a chance at judging some pizza, ticketsare available for the finals. You’ll get the same pizza as the judges, some beer samples and a brewery tour. One thing I’ve learned on past pizza quests is that tasting things back-to-back or side-by-side can seriously impact your perception of what you are eating. If you are around on October the 11th, come join me at Schmaltz Brewing to eat pizza and crown this year’s Tournament champ.

As a little reminder, here’s how the rounds were scored. Each judge had 25 points to award (or not award) a pizza. Crust, sauce and toppings were given up to 5 points each and then Overall Taste was allowed up to 10 points. After each round, I wrote up my thoughts on the evening within a day so that they would still be fresh in my mind. Here’s how I thought the second tournament match-up went.

Mario’s in Niskayuna
For consistency’s sake, I began with the sausage pizza. The crust has a little bit of browning and there were screen marks on the bottom of the slice. The crust was a little tough and dense, kind of bready. The sauce was decent but nothing special. The cheese was a little tough and rubbery. The kind of cheese that when you bite it, it all comes off the slice. The sausage was seasoned all the way through, but the flavor was just so-so. The pizza looked a lot better than it tasted.

Sausage Pie
Crust:3, Sauce:3, Toppings:3, Overall Taste:4  for a total of 13 points.

Moving onto Mario’s white broccoli pie. The first thing you notice looking at the pizza is how wet and runny the ricotta was, but it had an OK flavor. The crust was browned but looked oily - and it was. This crust was also cooked on a screen and a little bready. The rim was dusted with something. I took a taste of the dusting and that was a mistake; it tasted like a ton of granulated garlic. After the scores were in, another judge made a comment that was right on the money. His slice had an everything bagel taste with what he thought was some onion mixed in with the garlic. I didn’t catch any onion flavor on my slice, but a garlic bagel is a great description. The broccoli was cut into bite size pieces and tasted like frozen broccoli.

Broccoli Pie
Crust:2, Sauce:3, Toppings:2, Overall Taste:4 for a total of 11 points.

Marino’s in Schenectady
I had driven by a few times but never stopped at Marino’s. When you walk in, it has the feel of a nice family restaurant. Nicer than a hole in the wall with a very friendly feel to it. Sticking to the same order as last week, I began with a slice of the sausage pizza. The crust was nicely browned, no noticeable char on my slice (a few darker spots on the rim) and they don’t use pizza screens. I thought the sauce was nice and light. There was a good distribution of sausage clumps all over the pizza and it had the standard sweet Italian sausage flavor, but that flavor wasn’t very strong. On the way out, I asked if the made the sausage there and they do. The cheese had a nice flavor and a good amount of salt. All in all, I thought it was a good pizza.

Sausage Pie
Crust:4, Sauce:3, Toppings:4, Overall Taste:7 for a total of 18 points.

Next up was the white broccoli pizza. The crust was lightly browned with some delicious random bubbles on the rim and once again, no screen. I found nothing to complain about with the crust. There was a heavy garlic aroma coming off the pizza and small ricotta dots were spread out all across the pizza. The broccoli tasted like fresh, not frozen and cut into bite size pieces. A tiny bit of garlic got burned in the oven and I had one bite with the strong taste of burnt, bitter garlic. Other than that one bite, I thought this pizza was pretty much as good as a white broccoli pizza gets.

Broccoli Pie
Crust:5, Sauce:3, Toppings:4, Overall Taste:8 for a total of 20 points.

In my opinion, the pizza we sampled at Marino’s was better than Mario’s and the scores showed that with Marino’s having a sizable lead on my scorecard (38 to 24). Looking at the total scores from all the judges for Marino’s I gave the sausage pie 18 out of its 74 points (24%) and the broccoli pie 20 out its 84 points (24%). At Mario’s I gave the sausage pie 13 of its 49 points (27%) and the broccoli pie 11 of its 46 points (24%). In a completely unscientific way, it would appear that the judges and I are in near perfect agreement with this match-up.

Round 1: Schenectady Wrap Up
If you told me that I’d taste 4 pizzas and like a white broccoli pie the best, I’d think you were dreaming. So I’m surprised to see a white broccoli pie with the most points I awarded to a pizza after two match-ups of pizzerias that have already proven themselves in the tournament. But I wasn’t alone. One thing that was mentioned as we left Marino’s was that all of the judges ranked the Marino’s broccoli pie higher than their sausage pie. Several years ago, I went to Mario’s for dinner. They offer a pizza on a long cutting board. Going on what’s left of my memory, that pizza (while more of a Sicilian style) was better than their round pizza. As for Marino’s, I’m going to bring the family there for dinner sometime. Seemed like a nice, family friendly neighborhood joint. The world needs more of those.

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