Slice of greatness: Tucson Originals event features local pizzerias
Upper Crust Pizza, located at 1909 E. Grant Rd., displays it's competition pizzas.
Tucson may be known for Sonoran hotdogs and Mexican food, but you’d think it was the center of the pizza universe last Saturday as it hosted the Tucson Originals Fourth Annual Pizza Throwdown.
The event took place before a sold-out crowd of over 150 people at Fresco Pizzeria, 3011 E Speedway Blvd., just down the street from the University of Arizona campus. An assortment of restaurants, breweries and specialty purveyors were on hand to offer up a variety of their best pies to the masses.
For Caity Evans, the food outreach and events coordinator for Local First Arizona and Tucson Originals, the event was an accomplishment not just for pizzerias in town, but for the entire Tucson culinary scene.
“We’re here to promote and protect Tucson’s sense of place by empowering the culinary community,” Evans said. “We have a couple of pizzerias that are not members [of Tucson Originals], but are family.”
That tight-knit community — which Evans credited to deceased Tucson Originals founder Pat Connors — was present throughout the event. No chain or national-brand pizzerias were offered, only Tucson-area beers were served and local ingredients were emphasized.
Tucson Originals has been active since 1999, and its website bills the non-profit group as “committed to vigorously support[ing] its member restaurants, and welcome[ing] new members, large or small, to ensure rich culinary experiences.”
For Upper Crust Pizza, located at 1909 E. Grant Rd., the Throwdown was a chance for more exposure to both Tucsonans living far from the restaurant's Campbell corridor location and to UA students, according to server Charlotte Walk.
Walk, a 2016 UA graduate, volunteered to work the event. “It’s one of the best [pizzas] around and it’s just so under-represented,” she said, handing out slices of The Godfather, Upper Crust’s competition pizza consisting of salami, pepperoni, red onion and mozzarella cheese.
While The Godfather isn’t on the everyday menu, it is available as the Pizza of the Month for June, Walk said, encouraging any UA students around during the summer months to stop in.
“Come here, just come here,” she said. “It’s one of the best pizzas around, and we have lunch specials with a huge slice and a drink.”
Of course, no beverage pairs with pizza quite like beer, and three local breweries were on hand to keep patrons satisfied. Barrio Brewery, Crooked Tooth Brewery and Thunder Canyon Brewstillery served up the suds to wash down the slices.
Lexi Okurily, a 2014 UA graduate, works special events for Barrio Brewery. In between her duties handing out the brewery’s two summer-inspired beer offerings, she talked about how Tucson Original events, including the Pizza Throwdown, are especially geared toward a college-aged audience.
“They’re cheap; it’s right next to campus,” she said. “There are free drink tickets and stuff. It’s a way to network in the area and for jobs.”
Near the end of the night, the winners of the Throwdown were announced. Each pizzeria counted up how many vote tickets were dropped at its table during the two-hour event to determine the winner. Winners for best brewery and best dessert where also named.
Last years’ champion, Fiamme Pizzeria, took home the title again. The Catalina Foothills-area Neapolitan pizzeria even brought its own portable oven to the competition. It was followed by deep-dish favorite Rocco’s Pizzeria in second place and host Fresco Pizzeria in third.
Evans was encouraged by the Throwdown’s attendance and mix of participants. With Tucson Originals World Margarita Championship coming in September, she encouraged UA students to explore.
“There’s tons of stuff going on here in the summer,” she said. “It might be hot out, but there are events like this. Things don’t end just because it gets hot out.”
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