The staff of That’s A Some Pizza recently returned from a trip to Pizza & Pasta Northeast, one of the largest pizza and pasta trade shows in the country, with more than a few souvenirs and full bellies.
They came back champions.
The recent Atlantic City, New Jersey-based convention, a trade show showcasing suppliers, pizza and pasta demonstrations by top chefs, and seminars and workshops given by industry leaders, also played host to the venerated Caputo Cup pizza competition — from which the little Bainbridge-based shop returned with high honors in hand.
The competition was expanded this year to four categories: traditional, non-traditional, Napoletana and gluten-free pizzas, with prizes going to the top three creations in each.
Pizza makers from throughout the U.S. baked their respective recipes in front of a panel of judges on both days of the expo, and an audience of event attendees too, with winners of the traditional, non-traditional and gluten-free categories receiving $2,500 and a trophy, and the Pizza Napoletana champion receiving $3,000 and a trophy.
That’s A Some staff came home with top three finishes in two of the four divisions, on this, their first appearance ever at the expo.
“You go there, you have to bring your food there, and you have to make it with their ovens and their equipment in front of them and you give it to the judges, which is a panel of celebrity chefs,” That’s A Some Pizza owner Will Grant explained.
It was, he said, the first time any Pacific Northwest pizza maker has claimed the cup.
Grant himself won first place from among more than 40 pizza chefs in the non-traditional category, preparing a Gorgonzola vegetarian pizza he first concocted about five years ago.
“It’s the one pizza I came up with myself that’s on the menu here,” Grant said. “My parents, 33 years ago, built everything and made everything. There’s been a few from the employees over the years, but that one was mine.
“I’ve always found it fun to try and work with vegetarian stuff,” he said. “Nowadays, we have gluten-free and we have vegan pizzas. But, back when I was a kid in the ‘80s and ‘90s there wasn’t even vegetarian stuff. So, to me it’s exciting to kind of think outside the box and make something different that other people will enjoy, because usually people are either meat eaters or vegetarians.
“It was neat to really show off something that I had made like that, and then to win this whole competition? It blew me away.”
The pizza features Gorgonzola sauce, mushrooms, pine nuts, feta cheese, red onions and garlic on That’s A Some signature dough.
Manager Allen Raymond, a shop employee for about two years, tied with Michael Ricca — of Ricca Brothers Brick Oven Pizzeria & Bar in Hammonton, New Jersey — for second place in the traditional category. He whipped up a pizza with pepperoni and onions (traditional pizzas are limited to any two toppings the cook chooses).
“Everyone just went nuts for our dough; it was that sour dough that really threw people off,” Grant said. “To them it was something new. This is a new style of pizza, but it’s something we’ve been doing for 33 years. It blew me away. I didn’t think we’d place.”
The dough may have been the edge in competition, but it was also a complication.
“A lot of people will go and make their dough there, but ours has such a long, a 48- to 72-hour fermentation, I had to make it here and hope that it transported correctly,” Grant said. “Two of the dough balls actually froze in the refrigerator in one of the hotel rooms, but it all worked itself out in the end.”
Between himself, Raymond and the first-place winner in the traditional division, who was also from the West Coast, Grant said this year was “kind of an upset.”
“No one’s ever won it out here before,” he said. “For us to go to New Jersey — the middle of pizza mecca — and then for West Coast guys to take home the trophies like this is pretty amazing.
“It’s very humbling, to say the least.”
The pizza, Grant said, was almost as popular as his mother, Marti, who opened the restaurant with her husband in 1984, and who accompanied her son to the expo. The original opening of the Bainbridge eatery came just one month after the couple’s first restaurant opened in Kingston, to great success.
“They loved the fact that my mom was there,” Grant said.
“I stepped out and he stepped up,” Marti said of her son’s recent takeover of the business. “It was cool because the people there knew what 33 years in the pizza business is. It’s not that easy, trust me.”
Mom was less surprised than Grant, though, at their success in Atlantic City. She’d been watching real closely and knew things had gone well right away.
The judges sit at a table behind a curtain, she said, and runners bring a contestant’s pizza to them right away as it’s finished. The leftovers would then be returned after the officials sampled their slices — typically.
“Usually what happened, because we’d been sitting there all day, is the pizza would go in and then immediately come out with like one slice out of it,” Marti said. “Well Willie’s pizza never came out of there. I thought, ‘Uh-ho, what’s going on there?’”
For Grant, though, it’s just the first step in a broader mission to bring Pacific Northwest-style pizza to the larger culinary culture.
“For me, this was to be kind of getting ready for the Pizza Games in Las Vegas that we’re still going to be doing in March,” he said. “The idea was that I just wanted to learn as much as I could about competing, about how to compete and what to do there. There was no pressure.”
For more information about That’s A Some Pizza, their menu and hours, visit www.thatsasome.com.