Tropical storm Ophelia didn’t stop a few thousand pizza lovers from converging on Coney Island for Barstool Sports owner Dave Portnoy’s inaugural One Bite Pizza Festival at Maimonides Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones, on Sept. 23.
Over 35 iconic pizza joints, among them New York City’s very own pizza institutions like Di Fara, Lucali, and John’s of Bleecker Street, served a few thousand pies to the hungry crowd clad in rain gear and umbrellas, braced against the torrential downpours.
Vocal powerhouse Teddy Swims, D.J. Irie, and Pup Punk spun tunes for the nearly sold-out event — according to the organizers, they sold 6,000 tickets — and sponsors like Coca-Cola, High Noon, New Amsterdam Vodka, and Peroni made sure pizza lovers had something to wash down the doughy pie.
The makings of One Bite Pizza Festival
The festival is named after Portnoy’s YouTube series, where “Stool Presidente,” as his fans call him, judges pizza places across the country based on one bite, rating them between one and ten — which can make or break a small business owner.
Earlier this month, the controversial pizza parlor kingmaker — who has been accused of racism and sexual misconduct in the past — found himself embroiled in a headline-garnering feud with the owner of Dragon Pizza in Somerville, MA, when Portnoy dished out a mere 6.4 points.
The more than 35 pizza parlors that fired up their pizza ovens on the Cyclone’s turf are Portnoy’s all-time favorites among the over 1,000 pizza spots he has tried over the past few years.
Portnoy told Brooklyn Paper he has had the idea for a pizza fest “forever,” and brainstormed with Medium Rare, an event creation and production company.
“I basically asked [Medium Rare], ‘How do we do an event,’ I said. ‘If you can get these pizza places, the ones here, Di Faro, Lucali, John’s of Bleecker, which I thought was impossible if you get them to say yes, I’ll do it,'” Portnoy explained. “And [Medium Rare] got them to say yes by getting the ovens and all the logistics done. So once I knew the top guys were in, I was happy to do it.”
Portnoy’s favorite pizza topping is cheese.
“But if I wasn’t going cheese, I go peppers and onions. That’s my, like, day-off pizza,” Portnoy said.
Brooklynites sample the best of the best
Kevin Jackson, general manager of John’s on Bleecker Street, said he was excited to be part of the event.
“I think it is the first time that I’m aware of all the top-rated pizzerias getting together at once, so you have to be a part of that,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, as of 5 p.m., the family-owned historic pizza joint had dished out around 400 pies.
“So far, we are getting good reviews,” Jackson said. “Let’s see if the restaurant is busy in the next week or two.”
The Original Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, based in Connecticut and one of the oldest pizza parlors in the country, received an 8.5 score from Portnoy and served cheese and pepperoni pizzas in the VIP Lounge at the festival.
Victoria Ohegyi, Pepe’s director of marketing, and Chris D’auria, director of quality assurance, said their pies are all about using premium ingredients and making everything from scratch.
“We are just the best,” Ohegyi said.
“We don’t sacrifice a buck,” D’auria said. “We’re really all about our ingredients. It’s a bread dough, not a pizza dough, because Frank Pepe was a baker.”
Some of Portnoy’s fans, or “Stoolies” were on their 16th slice and “pushing boundaries” as friends Nathan Cavik, John Opalewski, and Nick Stagnetta from Philadelphia, New Jersey, and upstate New York, respectively, put it.
When Brooklyn Paper caught up with the trio, they were sampling pizza from Baby Luc’s and gave it a 7.5.
“I think Baby Luc’s up there,” Stagnetta said. “It has a nice crunch to it.”
Cheyenne Murphy from the Bronx works at the stadium and love pizza. She admitted she didn’t know whose pizza she was chowing down but said, “The cheese is cheesing; they put a little green plants on it, and I ate it too. It’s pretty good.”
Josie and Ryan from New Haven, CT, said they were happy everyone came out despite the weather and had tried about ten pizzas when Brooklyn Paper talked to them.
The couple follows Portnoy on YouTube.
“Sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree with some of his reviews,” Josie said. “So we want to check out some of the New York locations.”
Portnoy and One Bite criticized
A number of the pizzerias who participated in Saturday’s festival were criticized online for associating with Portnoy, the Washington Post reported, including Brooklyn’s Di Fara Pizza, but none pulled out.
Portnoy, who accused the Post of writing a “hit piece,” criticized the journalists behind the piece — as well as food blogger J. Kenji López-Alt, who criticized the festival online, on stage at the festival.
“I’d be remiss not to say ‘f–k Kenji Alt’ … I’d be remiss not to say ‘f–ck’ the Washington Post,” Portnoy said, to cheers from the audience.
“Those motherf—ers don’t deserve the same air we breathe,” Portnoy added. “Let’s have some fun, eat some pizza. Again, thank you to all the pizza places and small businesses.”