Have you ever known anyone who didn’t like pizza? If you said yes, go ahead and take the next few minutes to unfriend and unfollow them on all social media platforms. I’ll wait.
Pizza is a universal food that everyone enjoys and craves. No matter what your food preferences are – carnivore, vegetarian, gluten-free, or anything else in between – pizza is the common glue that holds all of it together.
CLE Food Tours started at the small Lakewood bar called The East End on a cold winter night in December 2017. My fiancée Andrew, and our friends Glenn and Lesley, and I were the only ones in the bar when we drafted the first season of the Pizza Tour. We took turns naming our favorite pizza places and places we wanted to try and wrote them on the back of a receipt. Out of the 21 pizzerias, we drafted 13 and thus the 2018 CLE Pizza Tour was born.
There are six of us who went to the majority of the pizzerias on the tour, which was also open to any other friends wanting to come along that week. We all live in Northeast Ohio and like pizza enough that we could eat it every week for 13 weeks, which was really the only (and very achievable) requirement.
- Sammy and Andrew – We’re transplants from the DMV (DC/VA/MD) and have lived in Cleveland for almost 4 years. Andrew’s job moved us to the Midwest and we haven’t looked back since.
- Glenn and Lesley – The fanciest, most non-upitty (yes, I made that up) couple I know. I say this because their hobbies include sailing and horseback riding, but they’re always up to hang out and have fun.
- Kelly and Matt – They are the most down-to-earth and easy going. Kelly is also my 90s music and Africa by Toto, dancing in a corner soul sister. If we’re in a bar, chances are Kelly and I are probably spending over $14 playing Africa (Toto and Weezer versions, hell no to Pitbull version) over and over again on the jukebox. Sorry, not sorry!
Starting in January, every Friday we met at a local bar for drinks, before heading off to try the next golden brown delicious (GBD) pizza. We had professionally designed scoring sheets where we rated the following:
- Crust – Was it perfectly GBD? Did it hold the toppings or was it too flimsy and all the toppings fell? Was it too chewy or just the right amount of chew?
- Sauce – Was the sauce the perfect vehicle for the toppings? Did it have the right amount of tomato tartness or was the white sauce lacking in flavor?
- Toppings – Do they use old world pepperoni or is it grocery store Hormel? Are the toppings fresh?
- Atmosphere – This is an important part of the pizza tour. Not only did we want to eat fantastic pizza, but we also wanted a place where we can hangout and drink on a Friday night. For small or take-out pizzerias, we opted to take our pizzas to local bars nearby.
- Variety – Could you customize your own pizzas or did they have an issue with adding basil to it (I’m looking at you, Andrew)?
- X-Factor – This one is an undefined category and was up to each judge’s discretion on what they thought the X-Factor was. Personally, I looked at this category as would I go back and how often. If it was pizza I could eat every day, it was rated highly. If it was pizza I could never eat for the rest of my life, then it received a low score.
- Value – This is a new and contested category we ultimately voted to add. During the first season of Pizza Tour, we got a variety of pizzas (sizes and prices). From small, personal pizzas that were too pricey for what you were getting, to large topping-filled pizzas that could feed multiple people for multiple days, and we felt value was a good category to judge a place on.
And the award goes to…
After 13 weeks of gorging ourselves in glorious amounts of pizza, we tallied the score sheets and awarded a winner for each category. We also crowned the winner for Best Overall, which went to Il Rione located in Ohio City. They scored high in almost all of the categories and delivered a quality pizza that we often crave. We’ve gone many times since it was crowned the winner and each time, we remember why. Their service and hospitality is also top-notch!
Onward and upward
During the summer and fall of 2018, we went back and forth about the different types of food we could focus on for the next tour. Would it be tacos – a welcoming, friendly food that everyone opens its borders to? Or maybe wings? But we did go on a wing crawl in August and ate 36 wings (each) already. Or would it be the reliable, all-American burger that’s beloved by all? After much debate, we decided that this year’s CLE Food Tour would be a repeat of the always satisfying, craveable pizza and in NEO, there are endless pizzerias that we’ve yet to try.
Starting on January 5th, follow us as we eat our way through 13 more pizzerias – some repeats and many newbies – and rate each one weekly.