The first two rounds of the PZZA Tournament have come to a close and — oh, my! — they were doozies. If you're new to our inaugural Mozzarella Madness, here's the rundown: We split 64 Bay area pizza joints into four geographic regions and ranked them according to personal experience and popular acclaim. Just like the NCAA hoops tourney, these cheesy challengers go head to head in a titanic showdown of bread, sauce and mozzarella, all decided by little old me. At least until we hit the Final Four, when a celebrity panel of judges will decide who makes the Bay area's Best Pie.
This week the field was sliced down to the Savory Sixteen, a short list of the best and brightest pizza producers in the Bay area. Favorites fell. Underdogs rose to the occasion. Who went home crying tomato-stained tears?
In West Pinellas, high seeds dropped like spinning dough. Top seed Gigi's breezed through the first round, but was unable to best the straight-up New York slice of Mario's, securing Mario's a place in the Savory Sixteen.
Beach's dense cheese pie melted under an assault by Village Pizza, which went on to win a hard-fought matchup against the similar, but not quite as tasty, Paulo's. In two major upsets, the fabulous crust of darkhorse Vito & Michael's (14) eked by both the third seed Toby's and 11th seed Sorrento, sending V&M on a hot streak that could stretch into the later rounds. That run set up a collision with regional rival Alberico's in the next round. Two great pies on the same block of Blind Pass. Let's not get chippy, guys.
In East Pinellas, the carnage was massive, with only one of the top four seeds — Gianni's (2), beating both Fazio's (15) and Fortunato's (7) — surviving to the Savory Sixteen. Peg's (14) sweet and square-cut Midwest pie eked out a win against a disappointingly undercooked (but still burnt at the edges) offense from Bella Brava (3), then beat a puffy pie from Joto's (11). Landshark's, a longshot at a 16th seed, lost to Pizze Rustica (1), but the soft 'n' soggy effort of Rustica was no match for the pungent pie of Ammazza (8) from Baywalk.
Will any of the No. 1 seeds be around next week? Read on.
Low seeds ruled the day in the middle of the North Tampa bracket, with 12th seed New York City (aptly named) and Bona (14) powering past the competition. Bona put up an especially strong performance in the first two rounds, so keep an eye on them — they ... could ... go ... all ... the ... way!
Unless, of course, top seed Windy City has anything to say about it. That cheesy deep-dish Chicago pie blew out the competition with hardly a sideways glance. (Sometimes, pizza joints are popular for a reason.) Elsewhere in the bracket, Market on 7th (2) managed to squeak by Mellow Mushroom (7) — best chain pie in the area — in the second round.
South Tampa is loaded with powerhouses. Some pies that got knocked out, even in the first round, could easily have made it to the Savory Sixteen coming out of another region. Bella's (9), mounting a powerful assault led by the best tomato sauce in the Bay area, fell just short of beating newcomer Alessi Bakery's (8) fantastic pie. Shed a tear, folks, cause Bella's pie is good. Alessi went on to knock off No. 1 seed Gourmet Pizza Co. in the second round.
Cappy's (12) incredible crust cruised by lesser competitors like Tate Brothers (5) and Cesare's (4), paving the way for a bruising match-up with Alessi in the next round. Downtown Tampa fixture Eddie & Sam's (2) brought its New York A-game, sliding by Paci's (15) and easily surpassing Cellini's (10) to justify its high seeding. Same with Sally O'Neal's (3) stellar pizza, which had little trouble with Papa Roni (14) or New York New York (6) (the pie so nice, they named it twice).
What did the first week teach us? Don't mess with South Tampa, baby! The performance of almost all of those pies was exceptional. But now, all bets are off. In Pinellas, can two 14 seeds — a Midwest pie from a "cantina" and V&M's N.Y. slices — make it into the Final Four?
Will the last No. 1 seed survive another round? Now that the real contenders have distanced themselves from the impostors, we'll see some truly titanic battles in Week 2. I'm salivatin' already — ohhhhh baby!