The best pizza and meatballs were crowned in New Jersey at the third annual Pizza Bowl held for the second year in a row at Redd’s Restaurant & Bar in Carlstadt, which closed its doors to the public on Saturday, Feb. 4 to host the all-day live tournament in the Meadowlands.
Celebrity judges including former Giants ” the touchdown maker” Stephen Baker, ABC news anchor Ken Rosato, and singer songwriter Eddie Brigati tasted samples from the 16 finalists in North, Central and South Jersey. In the end, Nino Coniglio’s Fashioned in Morristow was named the Pizza Bowl III champ for best slice and John Speciale’s PizzAmore in Carlstadt took top honors for best meatballs for the second consecutive year.
Coniglio has champion status from the TV show “Chopped” and the Las Vegas pizza circuit; Speciale’s meatball fame has garnered him national attention, with and fans popping in from other states. Other winners from across N.J., as well as complete event information, is on Guy Madsen’s Jersey Pizza Joints Facebook group page.
All told, the nine-hour event raised over $20,000 for the Towers to Tunnel Foundation, said Madsen, a Rutherford native and Clifton resident. Madsen cooked up the idea for the group in 2020 to help support local pizza restaurants during the pandemic. The first Pizza Bowl was in 2021, an fundraiser effort started by the group that was also meant to be fun.
“People are proud of their food, people are proud of being from Jersey,” Madsen said. “The Jersey way makes our pizza that much better.”
During the competition, over 250 pizzas and more than 2,000 meatballs were served up to hungry ticketholders who packed Redd’s to watch celebrity judges sample the finalists’ goods, made on-site. Local bands entertained the crowds, with Garfield native Briganti of the Young Rascals fame joining in for a couple of numbers. Fresh mozzarella was made onsite with live demonstrations from Annabella’s House of Mozzarella in East Rutherford and Vinny’s Mootz in Lyndhurst.
To ensure there were enough pizza and meatballs to feed the sold out crowd, a pizza-themed Taste of the Meadowlands was currently held with Pizza Bowl III, Madsen said. Meadowlands-area pizza and meatball makers donated food throughout the day so everyone had a true cross-section of all-you-can-eat Jersey pizza and meatball varieties.Participating restaurants were:
Ralph’s, East Rutherford; Mr. Bruno’s, Little Ferry; Benny Tudino’s, Hoboken; Natoli’s, Secaucus; San Remo, Clifton; Urban Tomato, Edgewater; Plaza Pizza, Secaucus; Cara Mia, Guttenberg; Love Farms, Paterson; Angelo’s, Clifton; and Zonis Brooklyn, Middletown.
The event also inducted a new pizzaioli into the New Jersey Pizza Hall of Fame. A 40-year veteran pizza maker in the Meadowlands area, Steve Bruno was recognized for his exceptional Sicilian-style square slice. Probably best known as the founder and chef of the original Mr. Bruno’s pizza on Valley Brook Avenue in Lyndhurst, he had around a dozen pizza shops in the state.
Doug Palsi, Redd’s owner, said he got involved with the Pizza Bowl, a Towers to Tunnel Foundation fundraiser, because he personally knows Madsen. “Everything went well … so we decided to do it again.”
During the live competition, Palsi and his kitchen staff serve as assistants and help ensure a smooth operation. “The contestants would need some help with prep…if they forget a spatula or something else, the kitchen staff helps them.”
Palsi said the pizza competition speaks to the popularity of pizza. Everyone likes pizza, he said, and the people who make it “are very passionate about it and it can vary quite a bit. It’s really fun to see how people make their pizza and dough and do things differently.”