Tomato Taste Test Part II

Exactly eight weeks after our crack team of pizzaphiles and tomato enthusiasts congregated in my back yard to dive into the highly-controversial world of canned fruit studies, an even larger and hungrier gang gathered for round two. The weather was colder and the group of tasters was larger, so our venue was shifted into the Lower East Side’s cozy Pizza a Casa, a pizza (and now pasta) training center and supply store. After analyzing the method used for round 1, we tweaked the process a bit.

Here’s how the test went down. I brought unlabeled cans to Pizza a Casa for Mark and Jenny to distribute into identical serving boats. Prior to delivering the goods, I marked each can with a letter (A-O). Each serving boat was marked with the letter from its corresponding can.

Tasters were each given a unique tasting order, so no sample was relegated to the first or last position. We graded sweetness, acidity, texture, color and overall flavor on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. We tasted 15 samples but one tomato appeared twice to act as a control. Any tasting sheets whose findings for these two identical tomatoes were drastically different were ignored in the final tally. Two sheets were disregarded for this reason; one additional sheet was ignored because it didn’t have data for most of the tomatoes.  This left eleven data sheets to be included in the final tally.


I have to admit, our roster of tasters has been really exciting for both taste tests but this round was incredible. Here’s the roll call:

Roberto Caporuscio (Keste)
JoAnne Ling (Scott’s Pizza Tours)
Brooks Jones (Me, Myself & Pie; Paulie Gee’s)
Mark + Jenny (Pizza a Casa)
Adam Kuban (Slice)
Rachel Cohn (author; tomato lover)
Louis Colluccio (Coluccio & Sons)
Megan (tomato lover)
Jason Fierman (I Dream of Pizza)
Michael Glazer (Pullino’s, Paulie Gee’s)
Michael Park (food writer)
Sara Bonisteel (food writer)
Al Santillo (Santillo’s Brick Oven Pizza, Elizabeth NJ)

I did not participate in the tasting because I already had too much interaction with the cans. The group was stacked with killer taste buds and pizza palates so I was content to let ‘er rip and wait to tally the results. It was funny to watch because everyone was so intense. These people were so focused it made me uncomfortable. I wanted to toss a whoopie cushion under somebody’s chair but I held back. Good thing too, or someone might have blogged that the tomatoes were giving them gas to save face.

The results of the test were super interesting because the two highest rated samples were both products of Canada. Crazy, I know. But it’s also heartwarming. Most probably expected the Italian tomatoes to come out on top, but that was not the case. Next time you’re in the canned tomato aisle of your local grocery store, keep your eyes peeled for Luigi Vitelli and give them a whirl. They scored highest in all five tasting categories and took home the prize for overall flavor. Way to go, Canada!

For the rest of the results of our taste test, check out the full writeup on Slice. It even has a link to the raw data so you can make your own observations. If you missed the results of Round 1, you can check those out on Slice as well.

Canned Tomato Taste Test Results

The results of our first blind taste test of 16 canned tomatoes have been posted on Slice! We tried a variety of tomatoes from local grocery stores, supermarkets, pizzerias and restaurant supply stores. Tasters include Roberto Caporuscio (Keste), Adam Kuban (Slice), Brooks Jones (Me, Myself and Pie), Jason Fierman (I Dream of Pizza), Nick Sherman (Pizza Rules) and tomato researcher Erica Mole.

Check Out The Results of Round 1


It looks like I flew too close to the sun. My beautiful tomato garden has been destroyed. Who’s to blame? I’ll tell you who: nature. For the past three days, New York has experienced weather more suited to Seattle. It’s constantly damp and gross, which is not good for adorable tomato plants. To be quite honest, I hadn’t checked on them for days. Rain means I don’t have to water them, right? NOPE! Rain means I should have thrown a tarp over them to stop wicked infiltration of unsolicited irrigation. I looked out the kitchen window this morning and saw this…

Those plants are supposed to stay vertical. I carefully tied the indeterminate vines to stakes with strips of pantyhose, as not to cut into the plants and prematurely end their lives. It looks like the weight of water droplets along with gusting winds was enough to take the plants down.

This is the reason great tomatoes are grown in Southern Italy and California’s central valley. Those regions don’t get rain in the summer, so controlled irrigation is possible. We’ll have to wait for next year to test the assumption that volcanic soil from Mt Vesuvius creates perfect growing conditions, but what good is soil below if your plants are at left vulnerable to nature from above?

Upon closer inspection, I found evidence of destruction left by yet another of nature’s dark warriors: rodents. It looks like a real jerk scampered around taking a single bite out of each ripe tomato.I know the photo seems blurry but I just wanted you to experience what it looked like through tear-filled eyes.

I was afraid this might happen so I’m glad I picked a few tomatoes while they were ripe, but it looks like the plants are out of commission unless I can fix them up tomorrow after the rain stops. In the meantime, I grabbed any untouched fruits and brought them inside. Now I have to learn how to can tomatoes. Sounds like a great project for tomorrow!

Here they are, the lonely soldiers who made it through the Great Tomato Ravaging of 2010. I’ll have more updates after tomorrow’s plant fixing / tomato canning operation is complete.

Slice Out Hunger Raises $1600 in Two Hours!

On Thursday, May 27, SPT and GAP Adventures joined forces to raise money for the homeless and hungry by harnessing the powers of pizza. We collected pies from some of the city’s top spots and offered slices for $1 each. Donations came in from Lombardi’s, NY Pizza Suprema, Arturo’s, Luzzo’s, Joe’s, John’s of Bleecker and Lazzara’s.

Since we had lined up about 45 pies, our main concern was finding enough people to eat all of them. So we were a bit overwhelmed when the event began at 6:30 and huge line formed out the door. All of the pizza was gone by 7 PM and reinforcements were called in from Joe’s, Ben’s, Lombardi’s and NY Pizza Suprema. We ended up eating all 65 pies, raising $1600 for City Harvest. Because of our love of pizza, we are putting 7,272 pounds of food on the tables of people who need it.

Our exhibit of international pizza boxes (and menus) was also a huge hit. We had submissions coming in right up to the last minute and more are on the way for next year’s event. Please contact me if you have a box you’d like to submit.

We also raised money by selling $1 raffle tickets. Prizes ranged from SPT tickets and shirts to GAP Adventures travel coupons to pizza books to passes to the Vendy Awards! We even had some great prized donated by PMQ’s Pizza Magazine.

Huge thanks to everyone who attended, especially our pals in the pizza blogosphere. You can read their accounts of the evening at Passion4Pizza and Me Myself and Pie. And just in case you’re curious, this is what the aftermath of a huge pizza party looks like.

San Francisco Pizza Safari Part 4

The time has come for the final installment of my San Francisco Pizza Safari. Between February 19 and 24 of 2010 I visited over twenty-five pizzerias and lived to tell the tale. I’m leaving some out of this four-part series because they’re either not exciting enough to mention or better suited for future posts. This final piece will tackle four pizzerias of note in the San Francisco Bay Area.

First up is one of the most anticipated stops of my entire trip: Cheese Board Collective, an offshoot of the renown cheese shop/bakery of the same name. The Cheese Board is a co-op, so it is owned completely by its members. They produce one type of vegetarian pizza daily and they rotate pies from day to day. This makes ordering a breeze because you just say how many you want and whether or not you’ll be staying to eat. Easy as pie!

The slices are great because they cut a single slice into two, so you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck! There were a bunch of cooked and par-baked pies sitting around in piles and that got me a little down, but the pizza is pretty delicious. The crust left something to be desired, but I didn’t expect it to be revolutionary. This may be the most “California” slice I had on the entire trip because it embodies the west coast pizza virtues of topping experimentation and crust anonymity. You know what I mean. Overall, a great experience and something you need to check out when in food-crazy Berkeley. 

While San Francisco, it was my responsibility to check out some sourdough. Rumor has it that the Bay Area is a feeding ground for some delicious bacteria, which is why you can’t duplicate the robust flavor of local bread anywhere else. I heard about a pizzeria that uses a sourdough base of their pizzas, so I had to check it out. The Godfather and I went to Goat Hill Pizza for a taste of something different. The only sourdough crust I’ve ever had (or as bakers call it, “natural leaven”) was at New York’s Una Pizza Napoletana, which just so happens to be moving to San Francisco’s SoMa district this month!

The Goat Hill menu claims that the pizza is baked in a “traditional brick oven,” but all I saw was a conventional gas-fueled deck oven. BUSTED! But as we all know, the oven doesn’t matter as long as the pizza is great. Unfortunately the pizza wasn’t anything special. We each had a cheese slice and a specialty slice, which was actually just a cheese slice with some diced tomatoes and cheese on top. Oh well. It was worth a try.

That experiment out of the way, I headed out for a real treat. Jeff “PizzaHacker" Krupman joined me for a stop at a pizzeria neither of us had ever visited. When Boot and Shoe Service opened last year on Grand Avenue in Oakland, locals thought it was just another foot ware repair shop. It’s actually the Bay Area’s latest NEOpolitan pizzera.

One problem plaguing so many of these new pizzerias is their use of extremely low lighting at the tables. I love eating in dimly lit restaurants but it’s no good for those of us who like to document our food and write about it months later. I can’t publish the photos I took of my Margherita, potato-pancetta-fontina-rosemary, or green onion-guanciale-egg pizzas because they’re so dark. You’ll just have to trust me that they look lovely. At least the most important part of the restaurant is lit:

These San Francisco pizzerias all have a long wait but B&S was kind enough to feed us delicious olives as we marked time before being seated. The deliciousness continued with our pizza selections. All pies arrive at the table cut, but I was most impressed at the decision to cut our green onion-guanciale-egg pizza in such a way that the yolk was left intact. I enjoyed every pie but once again the toppings ruled the flavor party, leaving crust as a mere placeholder.

The final notch in my Bay Area pizza belt was marked at Beretta in San Francisco’s mission district. Once again, the menu had all the buzz words (“locally sourced,” “sustainable,” “seasonal”) and the wait was long. Thankfully, we made a reservation earlier in the day and managed to snag a spot with minimal trouble.

** For all you pizza tourists, don’t forget to call ahead to make sure you can get into a pizzeria. It can really ruin a pizza safari when pizzerias are closed or have a long wait you could have avoided by calling in advance. Planning ahead saves time in the end!

The pies are baked in a gas-fueled Wood Stone oven, which has a brick hearth and ceiling but a door wide enough to drive a Hummer through. With an oven mouth like this, you end up losing a lot of heat. This particular oven has a sliding glass door that keeps heat sealed in while still allowing you to see both the pizza and the flame. But as you can see from the thermometer below the oven mouth, the temperature is still in the 550 F range, far below what wood- or coal-fired ovens can produce.

Regardless of oven technology, the proof is in the pizza! Darkness once again prevents me from posting pizza pics, but trust me when I tell you they are just as pretty as other Bay Area spots like Gialina, Flour + Water, Boot and Shoe, etc. When you’re at Beretta, you absolutely must get the burrata. This cheese is a simple combination of mozzarella and cream in which the mozzarella acts as a shell for creamy center. Get it as an appetizer or get it on your pizza — JUST GET IT!

The Bay Area truly is a pizza wonderland and things are just starting to heat up with the impending opening of Anthony Mangieri’s SoMa resurrection of Una Pizza Napoletana. If you live in the area, get your pizza shoes shined up and ready for some dancing. If you don’t, book your flight now and plan your pizza itinerary. Trust me, you’ll be busy.