Q: What’s big and round, full to the brim with zesty tomato sauce, savory sausage, pepperoni and smoky meatballs, and loads of fresh mozzarella?
A: ME, after making the circuit at the 2014 Sarasota Pizza Wars at Phillippi Estate Park recently!
This was the 5th year for Sarasota’s annual Pizza Wars, benefitting Sarasota County Schools and The Humane Society of Sarasota. And, as usual, it’s an event not to be missed. For ten measly bucks, you could sample unlimited offerings from a dozen local independent businesses, plus a handful of national chains. Seriously, if you missed out this year, it’s bound to be back next year . . . I mean, who doesn’t love pizza?
Running from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., we got there on the early side, around 11:30 (hey, it’s college football Saturday after all), and walked straight up to the Polpo Pizza Company’s catering truck for a sampling of their spicy margherita pizza, and a taste of their “Bee Sting” pizza.
**Spoiler alert** I’d never tasted anything quite like the Bee Sting Pizza, so I (accurately, as it turns out) called my “best in show” shot. With its crispy made-from-scratch thin crust, home-made Mozzarella (you read that correctly), organic and locally sourced basil and oregano, spicy calabrese, artisan paremesan and hot honey. . . as in honey infused with hot peppers, this pizza will keep the buzz going for Polpo Pizza, who made their maiden voyage into catering less than a month before this event. Note . . . Polpo’s is a catering business, which isn’t the same a a food truck. Polpo doesn’t show up and hope folks will stop by. . . they’re hired like any other caterer, only their focus is on wood fired pizza, beer and wine. (They actually have a beer tap off that amazing truck. I need one these!)
OK, while we were pretty happy with the pizza at Polpo, it’s not like we quit there. There was still Rico’s, Goodfella’s – a SarasotaFoodie fave restaurant – Francesco’s, 3.14 Pi, and The Oaks Club (!), among other local pie-artist luminaries to try.
This should be where I state my disclaimer: pizza is one of those foods that I will eat until it hurts, and that there is no such thing as a bad pie. Only varying degrees of yumminess.
As expected, Goodfella’s has all but perfected the art of the thin crust pizza with its 800 degree oven giving each pie a beautiful rustic look and crunch. Even though it was a bit on the windy side . . . ok, really windy side, Goodfella’s was tossing their pizza dough, just like they do at the restaurant, but maybe not quite as high. While they may have dropped a few crusts on the ground, let me say officially . . . you just can’t miss with a Goodfella’s pizza . . . but we’ve told you that before. Check out our blog on Goodfella’s from a visit we made previously to their restaurant on Clark Road.
In another “holy smokes!” moment, we found ourselves lingering for a more-than-what-might-be-considered-polite time at The Oaks Club stand, where Executive Chef James Pampinella was cranking out a thicker crust meatball pizza, cooked on a, get this, honest-to-gosh smoker! Cooked over an oak fire (naturally) The Oaks Country Club really set the bar with their, “I never saw that coming!” hybrid of traditional pizza with a smoky flavor profile that reminded me of the best BBQ this side of Memphis. Oh, and you could have knocked us over with a flake of shaved parmesan when he also offered candied bacon bread sticks! Needless to say, The Oaks Country Club put a new spin on meat lover’s favorite!
Call it “15 Shades of Great”, as we lustily tried every participants entries, as it became more difficult to separate the splendid efforts of all involved. But I will say one thing , . . there’s something to be said for the local restaurants who could serve their pizza hot, whether from a wood fired oven, a smoker or, as in the case for Evie’s Tavern, a gas barbeque! I never knew how great pizza crust reacts to an open flame! How crisp and crunchy!
Around one in the afternoon, a panel of six judges was asked to chose the winners from the local restaurants, and here’s their decision: (drum roll, please)
Best Cheese Pizza – Francesco’s Pizza
Best Specialty Pizza – Goodfellas Cafe & Winery and Rico’s Pizzeria (A best pie tie!)
Best Corportate Chain Pizza Cheese & Specialty – Five Star Pizza
Congrats to all that worked so hard to feed the ever growing crowd, which also had an opportunity to vote for their personal favorite, whether a local restaurant, national chain or a catering business. We cast both our votes for the first pizza we tasted that day, and clearly we weren’t the only ones. Polpo Pizza’s Bee Sting won the Fan Vote by a significant margin. Bravo, Polpo! Your Bee Sting is one bite I can’t wait to have again!
Pizza Wars is a great event. We hope to everyone back at War next year!