The PZZA Tournament Final Four

Separating the upper crust from the doughboys

Before we recap the incredible action of the third and fourth rounds of the PZZA tournament, let's remember that every pizza that made it into the tourney is worth a nosh. Still, someone's gotta win. We started with 64 of the Bay area's best pies; 16 survived to week three. Now, these titanic pizza powerhouses face off for the ultimate glory. Who makes it to the Final Four?

West Pinellas was a battle of the N.Y. slices, with all the pies in the Savory Sixteen representing the Big Apple style of pizza. All were good, but winning is in the details. Mario's thin crust had that ideal combination of snap and chew, edging out the flaccid underpinnings of Village's floppy slices.

In a neighborhood showdown, Alberico's well-balanced pie and pungent parm sprinkles fought a tough match against dark horse Vito & Michael's just a block away on Blind Pass Road in St. Pete Beach. Cinderella story? For sure, baby! Vito & Michael's intense tomato sauce and impeccable crust swept aside Alberico's tasty slices and proceeded to run roughshod over the blandly creamy cheese and subdued sauce of Mario's. Can anything stop this 14th seed juggernaut? Vito & Michael's makes it to the Final Four!

In the East Pinellas region, one of the last non-N.Y. competitors set out to make a stand. Peg's Midwest pie, with that cracker-thin crust and sweet tomato sauce, faced off against the typical pie of Gianni's NY. Can a square-cut slice compete with a big Brooklyn triangle? You bet, but just barely.

Which didn't bode well for Peg's next round against either Ammazza — the saucy BayWalk pie that surprised everyone last week — or Joey Brooklyn's. Joey's airy and translucent crust edged out the herbaceous tomato taste of Ammazza and, to no one's surprise, knocked Peg's out of the tourney. Joey Brooklyn's is Final Four bound!

On the other side of the Bay, variety ruled the Savory Sixteen. Let's start in North Tampa with thin slice vs. deep dish, Big Apple vs. Chi-town, or, more accurately, New York City versus Windy City Pizza. Windy City's deep-dish pie was not as thick as expected, but it had a tangy sauce and a crust sturdy enough to handle the vast amount of cheese. New York Pizza churned out a great slice, but it wasn't enough to overcome the novelty of Windy City's Chicago attack.

Second seed Market on 7th in Ybor produced a stellar pie featuring a multi-cheese blend that elevated it past the constraints of a particular style. Sadly, that effort wasn't enough to overcome a blast from the 'burbs, in the form of an impeccable N.Y. pie seasoned with a splash of black pepper from Bona out in Westchase. Not even Windy City could stand up to this unknown from the sticks? Bona? What the hell's Bona? Turns out it's Bona fide. Better learn the name, 'cause Bona has punched its ticket to the Final Four!

Finally, South Tampa, a region overloaded with some of the best pizza in the Bay area. Any one of these pies could compete in the Final Four, Sally O'Neal's or Eddie & Sam's, Cappy's or Alessi. Sadly, only one can enter the Final Four.

Sally's spectacular tomato sauce and rich, buttery crust defies genre and, perhaps because of the elegance of this atypical pie, managed to eke out a win against the exceptional N.Y. stylings of Eddie & Sam's downtown.

The other South Tampa matchup was even closer. Who can choose between the fabulously powerful cheese and peppery sauce of Alessi — with a rustic blistered crust to match — and the fantastically balanced pie of Cappy's, which may feature the most flavorful crust in the entire field of 64? It's on my shoulders, so Cappy's moved past both Alessi and Sally's. Cappy's — you're in the Final Four!

These four pizzas will now face the challenge of a lifetime — head to head, mouth to mouth with a panel of esteemed local judges to determine the best pizza in the Bay area. Which pizzeria has the moxie to nail down the championship? Whose pie will win it all? PZZA comes to a dramatic conclusion — next week! Ohhhhhhhh yeahhhhhhhhhhh!


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