A clear victor emerged in the battle for the title of Pittsburgh’s Ultimate Pizza: Vincent’s Pizza Park in North Braddock.
Over the past two weeks of championship voting, Vincent’s racked up 77 percent of the vote total, trouncing Brookline-famous Fiori’s Pizzaria in a landslide.
The shop doesn’t open till 4 p.m. today for dinner, so we interrupted its owners’ afternoon of paperwork to announce the news and present Vincent’s with a framed championship bracket.
With big smiles, Toni Zollner, Vincent’s daughter, and Lisa Zollner, Vincent’s granddaughter accepted a framed copy of the pizza bracket, quickly deciding where to add it to the walls full of family photos and old snapshots of Vincent.
“I was overwhelmed by all the support of the customers and just wish my Pap Pap was here,” Lisa Zollner said.
“He would be very proud of you,” her mother responded. “She would have been the last person in the whole wide world he would’ve thought would be doing this.”
Management credits their customers for the win — and it’s customer support, in fact, that brought Lisa Zollner from California to run the business.
“That’s why I’m keeping it open,” she said.
Throughout the seven-week saucy bracket showdown, the 65-year-old pizza shop dominated, round after round.
With a fierce start, Vincent’s took out Sir Pizza of the North Hills with 65 percent of the vote, then went on to outmatch Iron Born Pizza of the Strip District again with 65 percent and Caliente of Bloomfield with 60 percent. Before advancing to the championship, Vincent’s faced its toughest match-up in the Final Four, beating Slice on Broadway with just 54 percent of the vote.
During the bracket competition, we also took a look at the history of Pittsburgh’s various pizza styles, talked with the person chronicling Pittsburgh pizza today, and took an up-close look at Vincent’s. (No, we weren’t playing favorites. Fiori’s declined to have such a feature written about them.)
Since it opened in 1952, Vincent’s has become an institution — a place to feed fascination (and hunger) for everybody from kids pressing their noses up against the windows to steel mill workers grabbing a bite and an Iron City to young couples dropping by for a first date.
The late Vincent Chianese established the business and a persona his regulars still remember to this day. His granddaughter describes him as an old-school Italian with a wide-open shirt, a Jesus medallion around his neck, flour in his hair and an unstoppable work ethic.
Vincent’s grew from humble beginnings and a road-trip across America. Sixty-five years after Vincent opened the shop, his customers still tell stories about the guy who called everybody “babe,” and they still line up at the door waiting to get a slice of Vinnie Pie.
Zollner describes Vincent’s pizza as a “hefty, tons-of-toppings, thick crust, full-of-flavor kind of pizza.” Hungry customers drive long distances just to get a Vinnie Pie, and Vincent’s even ships their pizzas to fans.
“We also half-bake them and have shipped them all over the world. We’ve shipped them to Africa, even Italy [and] Afghanistan,” Zollner said. “People from Pittsburgh move away, and they’ll miss the pizza so much that they have to have it.”
Want to try it yourself? Find Pittsburgh’s Ultimate Pizza at 998 Ardmore Blvd. in North Braddock.
And if you have to wait in line, it’s worth it, babe.