Big Y vs. Sam’s Pizzeria

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Here we are in the final week of round 2, after culling the 12 Northampton pizza places down to the top 8.  For the semi-finals we’ll be challenging Pizza Paradiso vs. Pinocchio Pizzeria and Mimmo’s Pizza vs. the winner of tonight’s contest.  Tonight we’re getting our first look at Sam’s Pizzeria & Cafe, a popular pizza joint on Main Street across from Pulaski Park.  And in the other corner is our neighborhood grocery store, Big Y, which surprised us all by beating Joe’s Pizza & Spaghetti to squeak into the quarterfinals.  Anyone who knows these pie shops knows how different they are, but as it turns out their pizzas are not that different from one another.

After last week’s victory for Pinocchio’s launched them into the semi-finals, here is how our current board looks.

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Sam’s Pizzeria & Cafe

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What is it, a pizzeria or a cafe?

I’ve gotten pizza for lunch here many times through work and have found it to be serviceable, though a tad on a greasy side.  I’ve only eaten at Sam’s once before and they have live music some nights and a nice atmosphere.  They sell slices for lunch, though be prepared for sticker shock if you get a topping or two on your slice.  I paid around $9 for two slices some time ago, and could have gotten two for about $6-7 at Pinocchio’s just down the street.  Still, Sam’s is right in the middle of town across from Pulaski Park, so if you’re doing some business at city hall and get the munchies, Sam’s is right there.

 

Big Y

Big Y, tucked into a giant parking lot next to a Walmart.

Big Y, tucked into a giant parking lot next to a Walmart.

I’ve received some amount of shock and surprise that Big Y beat Joe’s Pizza & Spaghetti in round 1, and yes it did shock us.  Who would have thought a chain grocery store could create a better pizza than a three-quarter century old historic landmark like Joe’s?  Well on that particular day it did happen.  Maybe Joe’s just had a bad day?  I know that Big Y definitely didn’t have a good day that day, as I found it to be overcooked and over-greasy.  And yet, Joe’s still lost.  I do plan to revisit them some time in the future and see if it was a fluke.  But for now we will consider Big Y the victor and move on.

 

The Pizza

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Which is which? Big Y on the left, Sam’s on the right.

 

Honestly I’m pretty shocked at how similar these pies look to each other.  They’re exactly the same size and have very similar-looking crusts.  Of course the toppings are handled in a completely unique way on each, so that is how I differentiated them during the test.  This week we had our pizzas topped with sausage and mushroom, a classic combo that gives us good visibility into the choices they make with their toppings.

 

The Crust

Like I said earlier, the crusts on both of these pizzas looked very similar, and tasted pretty similar too.  We found the Big Y crust to be perfectly cooked this time, as opposed to last time when it was overcooked and crunchy.  This week it had a fine chew and good seasoning.  Sams’ crust was a little denser and had more of a bite, but also had great chew and good mouthfeel.  In the end I found these to be pretty even and it came down to personal preference.  This week’s group seemed to like their crust a bit denser and chewier and so Sam’s won it.

Winner: Sam’s Pizzeria

Big Y Category Sam's Pizzeria
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The Toppings

One of things I like about getting a sausage-topped pizza is you get great insight into the how they view their customer base.  Big Y’s sausages are little round balls that very obviously come out of some sort of package, whereas the Sam’s sausage seems fresh and somewhat less overly processed.  These sausages are similar to the ones we saw in the Domino’s vs. Pizza Paradiso challenge we had back in early May.  We found the mushrooms to be pretty similar on both pizzas, pretty much just thickly sliced standard raw mushrooms placed on a pizza.  The only other comment about toppings was that the Sam’s pizza was somewhat greasier than the Big Y pizza, though not enough to not vote for it.

Winner: Sam’s Pizzeria

Big Y Category Sam's Pizzeria
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The Flavor

The sausages on the Big Y pizza had a nice zingy spice to them, and the crust had just the right amount of salt, but I think where the flavor let things down for Big Y was the bog standard sauce from a can, which was heaped on.  I heard the term “cafeteria pizza” a couple times, though I don’t know if that is entirely fair to what Big Y has produced.  There actually wasn’t an immediate reaction towards Sam’s.  People had to think about it, but think they did, and they eventually tended to favor Sam’s.  The cheese on the Sam’s pie was somewhat sharper and more abundant, and the sauce was a lot more subtle (though perhaps too subtle).  While this category was hard to vote on, everyone ended up voting the same way.

Winner: Sam’s Pizzeria

Big Y Category Sam's Pizzeria
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Final Thoughts

There isn’t much more to say that hasn’t been said here.  Sam’s is the definite winner, though it did take some careful thinking and analysis to come to that conclusion.  When you’re sitting there sampling two different slices of pizza, it is harder than you think to differentiate them.  Part of the end result comes from the specific people around the table and their specific preferences, but generally we do come to agreement about which is the superior pie, and we came together on this result as well.  The sauce and the sausages on the Big Y pie were a bit too cafeteria-like for our tastes, and the cheese and crust stood out on the Sam’s pie.

Big Y Category Sam's Pizzeria
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Winner: Sam’s Pizzeria & Cafe

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