Pizza Paradiso vs. Papa Gino’s

featured

Welcome to our first ever Valley Pizza Challenge!  This is the first of what we hope to be many pizza tastings and it gave us a chance to start figuring out how to make this work.  This week sees us tasting two very different pizzas and two very different pizza places, Pizza Paradiso in downtown Northampton, and Papa Gino’s on King Street in Northampton.  The former is locally owned by the Spoleto Group that owns several other restaurants in town, and the latter is a very large regional chain that has a lot of history in New England.  So let’s get to it and check out our contenders!

bracket-start

Our starting bracket

The two pies were picked up by Adam and Noah respectively, and each has written up their personal experiences below.

Pizza Paradiso was picked up by Adam

PizzaParadisoExt

Tucked away on Crafts Ave

I’ve eaten a few pies at Pizza Paradiso over the years and have had a mixed but overall positive impression of them.  The restaurant itself is tucked away on a side street but still very much in the center of downtown Northampton, and it is always busy whenever I’m there.  Their brick oven pizzas create thin, crispy crust and lots of flavor, though they have many other items on the menu as well, so there is lots to choose from.  It is mostly a dine-in restaurant, and is pretty cozy (i.e. cramped) but they pack a lot into a small space and service is usually pretty good.

When I ordered up my pie on a Thursday evening at around 5:30PM the quoted ETA was about 25 minutes and it was ready when I arrived.  The takeout area encroaches on a dining area in the front and it’s a bit tight with servers bustling around you.  But the staff is always friendly and it definitely makes for a lively pickup experience.

Papa Gino’s was picked up by Noah

A classic

Not tucked away, but a classic New England Pie shop.

Papa Gino’s pizza has a very distinctive smell that hits you right away when you walk into the restaurant.  Maybe its the garlic dusted crust, maybe their particular brand of stringy cheese, or perhaps the oil which they use liberally — Whatever it is, for me it brings back a distinctive memory of being nine years old and loading up on pizza and root beer at Papa Gino’s in North Adams on Saturday nights before running next-door to spaz out at the Dream Machine arcade (until it devastatingly became a rent-a-center).  Given my own feelings of nostalgia and the fact that being a corporate chain makes Papa Gino’s an underdog in this contest, up against other Happy Valley restaurants featuring small-batch, organic, softly whispered-to artisan food — I really wanted Papa Gino’s to win.

Beginning with location, Papa Gino’s definitely starts out in the hole against its competitor, as nothing on King Street can be considered “tucked away”, or “charming”, or really anything other than functional.  The second strike came when my quoted order time of 20 minutes turned into an egregious 25 minutes (can you believe it?!).  My one and a half year old sure could believe it, and she was pissed waiting the extra 5 minutes in the car.  Once the very friendly staff handed me my pie however, it was game time.

The Pizza

This being our first rodeo, we’re still figuring out what works best for comparison purposes, but we will generally choose different toppings each week but the same toppings for each pizza. This time we chose half cheese, half pepperoni on both pizzas.  I’m glad we did because it ended up telling us a lot about the respective pizzas!

PizzaComparison

Papa Gino’s on the left, Pizza Paradiso on the right

When I ordered from Pizza Paradiso, I ordered a large, and I’m assuming Noah did that as well at Papa Gino’s, but obviously we got two different sized pizzas.  I didn’t measure but Paradiso has got to be a solid 16″ or 18″ and I think the Papa Gino’s pizza is more like 14″?  It really does look pretty dinky, and the Paradiso pie just looks altogether more appetizing to me, but let’s get to the meat of the matter and taste it!

Here’s how we’re going to break this down.  There were five of us, me (Adam), Jenny, Noah, Hilary, and Pending, each with different tastes and inclinations, and we had to choose which slice we liked better for 4 different characteristics: Flavor/Taste, Crust, Toppings, and Mouthfeel.  Each person would choose one pie over the other in each category, and the pie with the most votes overall wins.  The most interesting thing to see for me was how each person had their own opinion and tastes and how they came to their conclusions.

Crust

The crust of the Papa Gino’s pie was determined to be chewy and pillowy, a trait that most of us really enjoyed.  I felt that it was maybe a bit too pillowy, but I got some strong disagreements in that area. It was cooked well and evenly, but not overdone, something that can’t be said of the Paradiso sample, which was burnt in several places (common for brick-fired pizza).  The Paradiso crust was thin and crispy, though is still had enough give to fold up and be eaten with a single hand.  We probably spent more time debating the crust than any other aspect of the pizzas because we had such differing opinions, and at the end of the day I think this one simply comes down to preference.  Both crusts were done well and would be well received by those that have particular preferences.  At the end of the day though, more people were drawn to Papa Ginos’ chewy and evenly cooked crust.

Winner: Papa Gino’s

Papa Gino's Category Pizza Paradiso
Crust

 

Toppings

There really was no debating this one.  Hands down we all preferred the Pizza Paradiso toppings over the Papa Ginos’.  The spicy, flavorful pepperoni, higher quality cheese, and generous sprinkling of oregano on the Paradiso pie secured them this victory.

Winner: Pizza Paradiso

Papa Gino's Category Pizza Paradiso
Toppings

 

Flavor/Taste

The Paradiso pie had a sharp, almost spicy taste to the sauce and cheese, and especially with the pepperoni, it just created a flavor sensation in your mouth.  Most of the comments regarding flavor were geared towards the strong oregano flavor, the spiciness of the pepperoni, and the sharp bite of the sauce.  Less was said of the Papa Gino’s pie, which seemed more one-dimensional, though Jenny stepped out on a limb and gave it the nod for flavor.

Winner: Pizza Paradiso

Papa Gino's Category Pizza Paradiso
Flavor

 

Mouthfeel

This one is a bit more hard to nail down and really comes down to preference.  The Papa Gino’s pie was thicker, with a pillowy, chewy crust, and a more substantial amount of cheese and sauce.  Some of us liked that full-mouth feeling of a nice big bite, whereas others preferred the crispy, sharp feel of thin crust and less but stronger flavored sauce/cheese.  At the end of the day though, more people preferred the former than the latter and so Papa Gino’s comes home with the Mouthfeel victory.

Winner: Papa Gino’s

Papa Gino's Category Pizza Paradiso
Mouthfeel

 

Overall

By the time we had finished our slices and had talked through our feelings, we asked ourselves, what would we want to go back for seconds for, and most of us agreed, it would be Pizza Paradiso.  But don’t let that fool you into thinking Papa Gino’s was some kind of slouch, because it really was close.  It just turns out that the things that Pizza Paradiso does well, it does them better than the things Papa Gino’s does well.  That said, it really does come down to preference.

Adam: Voted for Pizza Paradiso in all categories
Noah: Split 50/50
Jenny: Voted for Papa Gino’s in 3 of 4 categories
Hilary: Split 50/50
Pending: Voted for Pizza Paradiso in all categories

 

Papa Gino's Category Pizza Paradiso
Crust
Toppings
Flavor
Mouthfeel

 

Winner: Pizza Paradiso (13 points)

 

Runner up: Papa Gino's (7 points)

 

Final Thoughts

If you like a satisfyingly chewy and substantial crust then you may want to head on down to Papa Gino’s on King Street.  But if you are interested in strong, thoughtful flavors and thin brick-fired crusts then Pizza Paradiso is for you (and most of us).  In a way this is a contest between brick oven pizza and a conventional pizza oven, and it is difficult to judge one over the other without coming to fisticuffs.  Sadly, there can be only one winner, and for us that is

Pizza Paradiso!

 

Moving on to the next round!

Moving on to the next round!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail