Update, Oct. 28: Vote for the Ultimate Pittsburgh Pizza bracket champion
Update, Oct. 21: Final Four: Vote to show your love for Pittsburgh’s Ultimate Pizza
Best job in Pittsburgh? Pizza journalist.
For Dan Tallarico, of Lawrenceville, this moniker is his night-and-weekend gig (by day, he works in marketing at Matrix Solutions), and he takes this professional passion very seriously. On his blog Pizza Walk With Me, Tallarcio has spent six years reporting on Pittsburgh’s pizza scene and posting videos of himself dining on and describing pizza.
“I think it’s a really powerful food. It’s this comfort food that’s been part of your life when you’re happy or sad,” Tallarico told The Incline. “People are incredibly passionate about pizza. Every exciting thing in your life is punctuated with pizza. Before you even know the value of money, you know the value of pizza.”
What a poetic way to think about pizza — as a punctuation mark to life events.
Think about it: Win a Little League game? Get pizza. Complete a “Book It!” task? Go to Pizza Hut. Have a tough day at work? Have a slice (and a beer). And when it comes to places to find those slices, Pittsburgh really delivers.
“It’s great that Pittsburgh has so many awesome pizza places,” Tallarico said.
So as you can imagine, he’s got some feelings about our pizza bracket.
Q: What are your thoughts on The Ultimate Pittsburgh Pizza Bracket so far?
A: “The fact that Driftwood Oven isn’t winning this thing is the biggest travesty.”
Other upsetting upsets: Spak Brothers and Slice Island both being nudged out in the first round. But the fact that this competition can even happen is a big deal to Tallarico.
“Five years ago, probably half this list didn’t exist. That’s amazing that Pittsburgh pizza has come that far.”
Q: What are your predictions for the rest of the bracket?
A: Funny I should ask this question. He pulled from his pocket a printed-out copy of the bracket and unfolded it to reveal hand-written predictions of what’s to come. (Of course, I hadn’t let him in on which shops advanced to the Elite Eight.)
He doesn’t want to just see Mineo’s and Aiello’s (which was edged out by Beto’s by *18 votes*) make it to the Top Two. He wants something new to come to Pittsburgh’s attention.
He had Slice on Broadway, Pizza Taglio, Fiori’s and Frank’s Pizza and Chicken making the final four — but Frank’s and Taglio just got knocked out.
His Top Two contenders, Slice and Fiori, do still have a shot.
Q: Have you tasted every pizza on this bracket?
A: “I haven’t had Iron Born, Vincent’s, Pasquarelli’s, Shelly Pie, and Upper Crust out of the [Sweet] Sixteen.”
Q: What’s your fave Pittsburgh pizza?
A: It’s three-way tie: Driftwood Oven, Spak Brothers and Slice Island. And maybe Pizza Taglio makes the cut, too, he muses. It’s hard to pick just one.
Q: How often do you eat pizza in a week?
A: “Two or three times a month. Now, in my prime I was definitely eating probably pizza four times a week, getting a slice or something. That was a lot of pizza.”
Q: How do you review a slice?
A: By always ordering plain for a neutral palate. It’s all about the cheese, dough and sauce.
Q: What is Pittsburgh-style pizza?
A: This is a question Tallarico asks when he interviews people — and there’s never a good answer. Some people insist it’s a blend of cheese — a provolone-mozzarella blend. We investigated this very question and the origins of Pittsburgh pizza with the Heinz History Center. But to Tallarico, there are so many different types of pizza in Pittsburgh, it doesn’t need to be defined.
“I don’t have a good answer to that either. I think Pittsburgh-style pizza is whatever you grew up eating.”
For him, that’s Luciano’s in the North Hills.
Q: Why are you so passionate about pizza?
A: It’s part tradition: “It’s something I always have eaten because pizza is great obviously.”
It’s part culinary intrigue: “People get into coffee and beer and all that stuff, and once you start digging into the different types of pizza and making it yourself,” he said, you understand the culinary balance.
It’s part enigmatic Pittsburgh: “Pittsburgh, of all places, has sort of become this mecca for pizza,” with old-school traditional spots, as well as newer Neapolitan styles. “The variety and styles of pizza here is pretty unique.”
Q: What was the best pizza you’ve ever had?
A: Tallarico answers without hesitation: Di Fara Pizza in Brooklyn.
“It is like a legit holy experience.”
Yes, that pizza even beat out the slices he sampled in Italy (so book your trip to Brooklyn right now, basically). Another pizza that topped the list for Tallarico: The now-defunct and beloved Pittsburgh bakery Bread and Salt.
Tallarico and his wife Christa Cardone visited Di Fara early one Sunday morning — yes, morning because you have to get there that early to wait in line, even at 10:15 a.m. Mr. Di Fara slowly made the pies, then snipped fresh basil onto the pizza.
“That pizza hit this perfect trifecta,” Tallarico said thinking back on the experience. “I’m salivating right now.”
Your turn: Which pizza will make the Final Four?
Whittling 32 parlors down to 16 was pretty easy for Pittsburgh’s pizza connoisseurs, with the closest race separated by 99 votes (Frank’s Pizza & Chicken over Spak Brothers).
Not true of this round. Many races were neck and neck for the duration of the voting.
Though hundreds upon hundreds of votes were cast in one particular race, it was decided by just six votes.
That, of course, was Slice on Broadway taking down Angelo’s Pizzeria.
Meanwhile, fan-favorite Aiello’s Pizza lost by 18 votes to controversial-cold-cheese-masters Beto’s.
The most votes were cast in the runoff between Mercurio’s and Mineo’s, the latter taking more than 77 percent of the pie.
The shop to get the most votes in the first and second round? Also Mineo’s.
Look out, Slice on Broadway.
So who’s headed to the Final Four? Vote below or here by 10 a.m. Oct 18. That round will be announced Oct. 21.