Throwdown: The Best Pizza in CNY
Welcome to a new feature on LivableCNY, the Throwdown. In this series, we’ll do head-to-head comparisons between some of the best offerings in central New York. The rules are straightforward; we do one direct comparison that’s as fair as we can make it (apples-to-apples), we do a comparison of the strengths of each contender (toe-to-toe), we assess the ambiance and availability of the offerings, and we finish with a discussion of each contender’s x-factor. In the end, you win. For our very first throwdown, we’re stepping into a major argument; the best pizza in CNY.
The contenders: 2 guys named John*.
In March of 2016, a pizza made by John Vigliotti, owner of 2 Peppino’s Pizza shops in CNY was judged the the second best pizza in the world. At the International Pizza challenge held in Las Vegas, Vigliotti made a pie with 2 types of pepperoni and two types of sausage that is now on the menu at both the Grant Boulevard and Armory Square restaurants. That alone made Peppino’s pizza a contender for the best pizza in CNY.
A few days after Vigliotti received his award, John Stage, the man behind Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, and his partner Paul Messina (* not named John, but definitely a key player) opened Apizza Regionale in the building across from the Dinosaur restaurant. Stage is arguably the most famous and successful restaurateur in Central New York—his barbeque ribs are legendary and the original Dinosaur is always packed. When he and Messina decided to build a wood-fired pizza restaurant they made it in their signature CNY way with ingredients sourced from the many New York state suppliers they’ve partnered with in creating the Dinosaur empire. (The complete story is best told by Don Cazentre on Syracuse.com).
Both restaurants use wood fired ovens and that’s the first big win for customers; the pizzas come out quickly. After pressing the dough and assembling the ingredients, the cook time—at 800 degrees—is about 90 seconds .
Both restaurants make “personal sized” pizzas with premium ingredients. Everything from the dough to the toppings is high-quality and lovingly made.
Both restaurants are in hip walkable neighborhoods. We visited the Peppino’s in Armory Square for lunch, and a few hours later walked through Clinton Square and into Herald Square for dinner at Apizza Regionale.
Apples to Apples (A2A)
At both restaurants we ordered a plain cheese pizza for direct comparison.
The sauce on the Peppino’s cheese pizza had a very fresh flavor—as though the tomatoes had been pressed that morning. The pie was minimal; the ingredients were front and center. One of our tasters was very impressed with how the pizzaiola had “captured summer in the sauce” but the other taster wanted to sprinkle a little salt to heighten the flavor.
The cheese pie at Apizza Regionale was much more traditionally seasoned, and the fresh herbs cut onto to the pie just before the server brought it out were a fragrant and flavorful finish.
A2A, the edge goes to Apizza Regionale. Messina and Chef Jesse Lyons are working with a clear flavor profile in mind, and an excellent set of sauces in the kitchen, Their approach to seasoning could only have come from decades of experience balancing heat and smoke, and salty and sweet at the rib joint across the street. The flavors in the pizza balanced sweet, salty, acidic and umami into a uniquely CNY neapolitan experience.
Toe to Toe (T2T)
At both restaurants we also asked each to “give us the pizza you think is your best.” At Apizza Regionale our server strongly recommended the Calabrian, a cheese-lovers combination of house mozzarella and caciocavallo with soppressata and fresh oregano. In a Regionale signature seasoning move, the chef has added calabrian chili and CNY honey to the mix. Yes, it’s awesome.
At Peppino’s the recommendation was of course, the award-winning PS2, a combination of 2 types of pepperoni and 2 types of sausage. The pie is served on a special red sauce base that is seasoned differently than the regular cheese, and is topped with dollops of ricotta creme.
This one was no contest. Peppino’s PS2 is destined to become a CNY bucket list experience. Go there. Eat one. You’re welcome.
Availability & Ambiance
Both restaurants are readily accessible, but for availability we have to give the edge to Peppino’s. Their hours are are more friendly to the livable lifestyle we want. Apizza Regionale’s hours are, as one potential customer put it “a little weird.” On weekends Apizza Regionale doesn’t open until 4pm. No lunch for you.
But when it is open, the ambiance at Regionale is better. One of our testers said that the Herald Square restaurant could easily become a “favorite date spot” because the outdoor patio is so inviting, and the staff is so friendly. This is worth noting. Stage and his Dino-empire have turned this part of Syracuse into an up-and-coming neighborhood. People living in nearby apartments suddenly have some world-class dining options just steps from doors.
Peppino’s pizza crust—holy cow! There is something magical about this pizza dough. The crust has a perfect near-crunchy shell around a super soft and flavorful interior. It’s like a feather pillow in a savory crusty case designed by the bread fairy. By itself, this might be the best bread in Central New York.
Apizza Regionale’s vibe. The restaurant creates a wonderful experience. From the moment you step inside you see beautiful things. The drinks coming from the bar look and taste spectacular, the flames of the oven are visible, the aromas are seductive. In this restaurant, Stage and Messina have managed something astounding. The feeling is upscale, but the prices are incredibly reasonable. Seriously—tell your friends in Manhattan that you can get a 5-meatball appetizer with artisan raised beef and expertly seasoned sauce for 8 bucks, then spend the next hour convincing them you aren’t a liar.
But more than the decor and the prices, Apizza Regionale has managed to capture the magical Dinosaur DNA, express it through a worldly Neapolitan inspired take, and create something uniquely CNY. For that reason, Apizza Regionale is the winner of this throwdown.
Bottom Line: Everybody Wins
In an area known for it’s Italian restaurants, both of these pizza shops stand out. The real winners here are the people who live in and around the city of Syracuse. -Who makes the best pizza in CNY? For plain cheese we go with Apizza Regionale. For specialty pizza, you can’t beat the PS2 from Peppino’s. For a great CNY pizza experience, we highly recommend heading over to Herald Square to try Apizza Regionale.