D Magazine intern Carol Shih attended the Pizza Smackdown at West Village shopping center last Thursday. She observed three of the cities’ biggest pizza egos, I mean chefs. Here is here account of the shenanigans.
I am happy to report there were no casualties at the Mobile Pizza Smackdown (except for some bruised egos). The American Heart Association hosted their annual kick-off event and bravely invited Paolo Cavalli of Cavalli Pizzeria, Salvatore Gisellu of Urban Crust, and Jay Jerrier of Il Cane Rosso to a pizza battle in a corner alley of West Village. It seemed harmless enough to innocent bystanders there to just wine and dine, but unbeknownst to them, this was an epic, all-out pizza war between three rival chefs battling to become the King of Pizza.
Jump for the details.
The weapons? Three wood-burning ovens on wheels, the freshest ingredients, and three different styles of pizza. Current members and non-members of the Society and AHA walked between the chefs, sampling pies and wine provided by Pogos while dropping gold coins at whichever tent they felt deserved all the pizza glory.
Paolo Cavalli of Cavalli Pizzeria stood under the first tent, sweating from his oven’s 700 degree temperature and talking about his pies as tenderly as he would talk about his offspring. Making pizza is close to his heart. Knowing Cavalli’s Pizzeria is the oldest restaurant of the three, I decided to try this pizza first, biting into fresh mozzarella melted inside a light tomato sauce. My first instinct was to shake the slice and see if anything fell out. Nope. This margherita pizza held itself together well despite my abuse. When asked about the pizza feud, Cavalli bluntly stated: “It’s been going on since we opened. More with Il Cane Rosso. With Jay we have a bickering kind-of-forth relationship. Let’s just say he gets a lot of his inspiration from us, if you know what I mean.”
Il Cane Rosso’s owner, Jay Jerrier, had a different opinion. “Well, I didn’t know there is a rivalry!” he said with a big smile. “If there is, nobody told me. The competition really doesn’t mean anything to us. We’re here to support the charity and, honestly, we didn’t even know it was a smackdown.”
The chef and owners of Urban Crust (Nathan and Bonnie Shea and chef Salvatore Gisellu) agreed with Cavalli when it came to Jay, mentioning that Il Cane Rosso now has 4-5 of their ex-employees. Despite this minor issue, they are still cordial with each other – in fact, throughout the evening everyone had been quite well-behaved so far. No shouting, no yelling; just three pizza chefs feeding happy people. Nothing was noticeably tense about the event until Jerrier disappeared thirty minutes before they announced the winner. Noticing Jay’s small pile of gold coins (clearly he wasn’t going to claim any title), I looked over and spotted Paolo Cavalli and Nathan Shea of Urban Crust wildly gesticulating to each other about some matter.
A little after eight, the moment everyone was waiting for finally came. Urban Crust amassed the most gold coins and won bragging rights for having the best pizza that night. Of the twelve people I asked, all twelve unanimously agreed that Urban Crust had the best taste, thickness, and a perfect crisp on all sides and the middle – a trait that Jay’s thin, soggier slices couldn’t match up to. But even though Urban Crust told me they were “all about the crust,” I still preferred Cavalli’s crust. It was lighter, more airy, and had just the right amount of chewiness. Still, there is no doubt that Salvatore Gisellu has magical, pie-making hands. His Black & Blue pizza is the best combination of basil pesto, juicy sirloin, baby Portobello’s, onions, and blue cheese this mouth of mine has ever tasted.
At least all the chefs agreed on one thing: they were happy to help out with charity and feed hungry people; the competition, they said, was just a side thing. It probably didn’t help, though, that Cavalli and Gisellu prepared appetizers and drinks in addition to their pies. Jerrier grumbled to me at one point (before his disappearance) that he wasn’t “bribing people with fresh fruit and sangria illegally.” Despite one unsolved mystery, I’d say the entire event went smoothly, thanks to bigInk PR for their creative minds and muscles. It’s all in the name of friendly competition, wouldn’t you agree?