– What’s for Lent? How about pizza? – Chestnut Hill Local

Restaurant News
Cook Jose Castro (left), with owners Wanda and Salvatore Evola at Bella Maria kitchen.

by April Lisante

I admit it. I did it last Friday night, and I’ll probably do
it again this Friday night.

I ordered pizza.

With the season of Lent upon us, and two middle schoolers in
and out the door on Friday nights, I took the easy and delicious way out,
rather than slave over pan-seared salmon and jasmine rice pilaf they probably
wouldn’t eat.

For the next several Fridays through April 10 when meat for
Christians is a no-no, pizza places all over will see their orders go through
the roof. It’s that time of year, and the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention
Board depends on those pizza lovers to conduct its annual Montco’s Best Pizza
Tournament survey.

The annual contest, which debuted five years ago, plays on
the increase in Lenten pizza orders, as well as the spirit of March Madness
college basketball, offering voting brackets for the top 64 pizza joints
throughout Montgomery County, which are whittled down to a final two, and then
a winner April 13.

The contest was born when the tourism board staff made the
mistake in 2016 of posting their top 10 pizza places on its website. This was
tantamount to blog suicide.

“Within 24 hours we took nominations,” said Rachel Riley,
director of communications for the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board.
“Some people were like, ‘What? My local pizza place is better!’ We were already
into March Madness and within 24 hours we posted a new contest with 32 pizza
places based on what people were nominating.”

Welcome to living in Philadelphia, where even in the
suburbs, foodies have an axe to grind when pizza is on the line.

“People started voting February 27, and the voting goes
until April 10,” said Riley of this year’s contest.

Those who would like to cast their votes can go to
valleyforge.org/pizza, and find various brackets each week to weigh in on. It
began Feb. 27 with 64 entries. It’s anyone’s game now.

“When it comes to pizza, everyone has an opinion,” the
website reads. “That’s why every year we open it up to you to tell us your
favorite pizza in Montgomery County.”

This year, some local favorites were in the running, but the
fierce online voting, which is tallied each Friday, eliminated some of
Flourtown’s finest pies this past week. Flourtown was represented by Mr. P’s
Pizza and Pasta, Scoogi’s Classic Italian and Bella Maria Pizzeria. Each has a
different style of pizza and each was vying for the big win.

Scoogi’s offers a variety of specialty pizzas, from a thin
crust version to a roasted pork or Caesar salad special, according to their
menu. Mr. P’s, located in the Flourtown Shopping Center near Giant, has a
thicker crust, topped with everything from broccoli to buffalo chicken. And
Bella Maria’s prides itself on thin crispy crust.

Bella Maria owner Salvatore Evola was thrilled to be in the
running. After nine years crafting thin crust pizza that is truly addictive (my
address is permanently in his computer for deliveries), he’s proud of his New
York Style pizza.

“I really don’t advertise,” said Evola. Customers “consider
me the best kept secret in Flourtown.”

 Tucked just off
Bethlehem Pike beside the new El Limon, Bella Maria is the product of 47 years
of pizza experience, as Evola likes to say.

“I grew up in Brooklyn, then Staten Island, and had a
restaurant in New Jersey,” he said. “I’m a New York style of pizza. I grew up
on thin pizza. It’s thin and crispy, not spongy or soggy.”

Last year, Via Veneto on Dekalb Pk. in Norristown was
crowned winner, receiving the coveted pizza paddle trophy from the board. The
mom-and-pop pizza place has been in Norristown since 1973, opened shortly after
co-owner Joe Stabile’s father and uncle came from Sicily in 1968.

Stabile was excited with his win, crediting his thick crust
Sicilian pizza with bringing home the paddle.

“We are famous for our Sicilian pizza,” Stabile said. “When
people are driving half an hour to come get it, it’s good.”

With dozens of nominees across the county still in the
running, there is still time to vote.

May the best pie win.

Source: Thanks https://www.chestnuthilllocal.com/2020/03/11/whats-for-lent-how-about-pizza/