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November 16, 2017

Ten most popular Antonio’s pizza slices compete to see who wins the final rose

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/ Daily Collegian)

Every Monday, I go through a similar routine. I wake up, sit through three literary and film courses, and then make my way down to the dungeon of the UMass Amherst Campus Center where the office of The Massachusetts Daily Collegian resides. There, at this office, my Monday schedule finds the spice that it so desperately needs. New stories are pitched to writers, and with this comes new inspiration.

Though the newspaper meeting provides so much for my psyche, it was hindered by a singular reoccurring story that had yet to find a writer. It began to feel as if the staff editors had been pitching this story since the first moon landing. “Which Antonio’s Pizza by the Slice topping is the best?” an assistant arts editor would suggest as an article premise.  Fellow staff writers and I would roll our eyes in unison. There seemed to be a silent agreement amongst us that this story idea would remain dormant in the repertoire of writing ideas for all eternity.

I wondered why it was that the Collegian staff had for so long avoided writing such a unique article. Could it simply be that writing about food is less interesting than film or music? “Certainly not!” I quickly concluded, knowing well that writing about food can be great too. Moving on to more plausible options, I alternatively wondered if Antonio’s Pizza, the most famous pizzeria in all of Amherst, has a reputation so high and esteemed that us writers trembled at the notion of having to cover a story on this cultural giant of tomato and cheesy goodness. “Ah, that must be it!” I surmised.

Therefore, brave like David with his slingshot, I walked up to the foot of Goliath in the form of a pizzeria, and took down the 10 most popular Antonio’s pizza slices this past Sunday. Though 10 slices of pizza will upset even the strongest of bellies, my conclusion of the best slice will forever be worth the subsequent tummy ache. No longer will the mystery linger on amongst students and townsfolk alike. “The best slice of Antonio’s pizza will be found!” I told myself.

So it was 10 slices. Ten cheese-filled, meat-condensed, veggie-sprinkled, yummy, oily slices. I ate them all and somehow lived to tell the tale. Follow me on this journey through the kingdoms of pizzas to uncover the holy grail of Amherst’s most beloved pizza shop.

The first slice I tried was dubbed “Don Giovanni.” Like the Italian opera from which it derives its name, I was left in a state of bliss by this slice’s powerful employment of fresh mozzarella cheese, plum tomatoes and fresh basil.

I followed the “Don Giovanni” by reluctantly biting into a “black bean avocado” slice. “Black beans on a pizza slice?” I thought. “Yuck!” However, the mixture proved to be sublime.

Following this, I went for the “buffalo chicken” piece. As I’ve never been a fan of bleu cheese, this slice was not for me. I washed it down with a nutritious glass of Mountain Dew and jumped straight into the “chix bacon ranch” slice, keeping up my momentum with another chicken-topped pizza.

The “chix bacon ranch” slice had a dazzling contrast of chicken, bacon and ranch dressing. I was impressed. That is, until the next slice I tried: the “tomato basil” slice. This caught me off-guard like a right hook of veggie-based goodness. Nothing in this world is better than some fresh mozzarella when paired with good tomato. The thin and crunchy crust on this slice left me feeling groovy.

Warming up in the batter’s box was a delicious “Mexicana” slice, and it was a home run. Filled with rice, beans, spicy chicken, sour cream and cheddar cheese, this slice was the most flavorful of the bunch.

I went for the “portabella and fresh mozzarella” slice next to tame my overwhelmed taste buds. It did the trick; this slice tasted very similar to the “tomato basil” slice I had earlier.

I now stared down the last three pizza slices. I knew it would not be an easy feat to finish them but I am a man who likes to finish what I start. With the verve of a glutton, I inhaled both the “avocado quesadilla” slice as well as the “spicy chicken quesadilla” slice. They both provided some fine crunch and were incredibly filling. I’d recommend these slices to the truly hungry soul.

Last but not least, I ate the “honey mustard chicken” slice. As I’m not particularly keen on mustard, I believe my love of honey saved this slice from complete top-10 disqualification.

After 10 heaping slices and a powerful combination of TUMS and Pepto-Bismol, I have to say, firstly, to all the meat-lovers of Amherst, I am sorry. Though meat on a pizza seems initially appetizing, it’s a confusing mixture of flavors. No one likes getting mixed signals from their romantic interests or from their pizza. If “The Bachelor” were a show about pizza, we’d be sending these meat pizzas home with their heavy luggage of chicken and bacon.

With only a few vegetable pizzas left, I knew this decision would be of epic proportions. The “Don Giovanni” was a slice so pristine; the “black bean avocado” a slice with such brimming sensuality; the “tomato basil” a slice that knew just how to hit the right spot; and the “portabella and fresh mozzarella” a slice so alluring. I was in a real hole after spending a truly intimate night with all these different pizzas, but I knew I heartbreakingly had to send three of these slices home.

The best slice of pizza, the pizza that earns the final rose, is…the “tomato basil!”

I am aware of the controversy behind this choice but I am equally confident that no singular slice of pizza will provide as fully-rounded a pizza eating experience as this delicious and healthy option. With the perfect ratio of crunch to sauce to cheese to tomato, this slice belongs in a pizza league of its own.

“Pizza makes me think that anything is possible,” claims Black Flag front man Henry Rollins. Rollins is right, after chowing down 10 slices of pizza, nine more slices than my usual serving, I believe that anything is possible too. Viva la pizza!

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

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