BY MICHAEL GRASS
Weekend Food and Drink Critic
Published September 2, 2002
It was something that had to be done.
More like this
Sixteen pizza delivery establishments. Twelve empty stomachs. Four cell phones out and ready. One apartment. And a good amount of beer.
At 7:10 p.m. in January 2001, I, along with an adventurous group of colleagues from the Daily, set off on completing the first ever "Ann Arbor Pizza Challenge." Our goal was simple: Sample pizzas from every single delivery establishment in town. Ignoring common sense and the capacity of our stomachs, we were determined to do it and in retrospect, maybe, just maybe, we started a new college tradition.
But it's not as easy as it sounds.
"The Michigan Daily Ann Arbor Pizza Challenge" took a lot of planning and was subject to many arguments on how best to operate and accomplish the endeavor. Vegans, the small-stomached and the lactose-intolerant need not try to replicate because they will fail.
Only those with large, flexible stomachs, deep pockets and the guts to push the limits of common sense should attempt such a feat.
Here were our ground rules:
n Every establishment located within the city limits that had delivery to Central Campus were called. The Big Three - Pizza Hut, Little Caeser's and Domino's - were exempt.
n Participants had to be willing to purchase at least one pizza.
n Every order had to be a large pizza and have at least one-half cheese. The other half could be cheese as well, or a topping of the buyer's choice. No deep-dish.
n No coupons or specials.
n The buyer got the first slice. As the "Challenge" supervisor, I had to sample every single pizza to make sure evaluation was fair and objective.
n Taking ratings and comments from participants into account, along with criteria like speed of delivery, courteousness of delivery personnel, price and slice size, our group would choose the winners and bestow the honor of having the best pizza delivery in town.
Admittedly, our plan was not foolproof. For instance, getting a plain cheese pizza from Anthony's Gourmet Pizza when they are known for their excellent Chicago deep-dish was problematic.
Additionally, topping selection was not uniform and that threw in another obstacle in way of the scientific method.
Getting a cheese pizza from each place was the best measure for the Challenge in our opinion. If a place has a terrible cheese pizza, it's a good indication that quality of toppings, crust, etc. are equally as bad.
THE FIRST ROUND: Mayhem and then judgement
We decided to tackle the first four on our alphabetical list: A Hello Faz Pizza, Anthony's Gourmet Pizza, Bella Napoli and Bell's. With cell phones ready, four people called at the same time. While it doesn't seem like a big deal to order four pizzas, from four different places, to one location, all with a group of onlookers laughing, the first order degenerated into a hectic and chaotic mess.
When the round of calls finished, the orderers recorded estimated time of arrival, what was ordered and price into my notebook:
Faz: Half-cheese/half-mushroom, 35-45 minutes, $9.95.
Bella Napoli: Cheese, 35-45 minutes, $11.65.
Anthony's Gourmet Pizza: Half-cheese, half-green pepper, 45-60 minutes, $12.95.
Bell's: Half-cheese, half-Hawaiian, 30 minutes, $10.37.
At 7:35 p.m., five minutes ahead of schedule, the delivery man from Bell's pizza rang the doorbell. We opened up the box and out came the half-cheese and half-Hawaiian pie. The sauce had the right amount of spice, the crust was crisp and cheese had solidified to just the right consistency. Although Bell's was quick, something was wrong with the pizza: The Hawaiian half of the pizza had tomatoes, but no ham.
"They screwed up the order but it was still good," said Chip Cullen, an Art and Design senior and Daily cartoonist. "Overall the quality of the pizza was pretty good."
The next pizza to arrive was the large cheese pizza from Bella Napoli, the newcomer to Ann Arbor's pizza scene. The pie was huge and molten. With the cheese in a semi-liquid state, Bella Napoli's pizza specimen was a turn-off - at first. "Look at the cheese leakage, that's a faux pas," said LSA senior Nick Woomer, co-editor of the Daily's editorial page.
Even though the cheese burned the hand of one participant, the high-quality mozzarella saved Bella Napoli from ridicule. It was unlike any mozzarella I've had; it had a hint of brie. And most people agreed.
"I want that piece with the bubble, that looks awesome," said LSA junior Luke Smith, an arts editor, referring to a massive piece with a hemorrhaging mozzarella goiter.
At 7:59 p.m., A Hello Faz's pizza arrived. Then came the pie from Anthony's 11 minutes later. While Faz was the first in a series of mediocre and average pizzas to make its way past the jury, Anthony's was more distinct.