Dante Isopo measures pizza by the 50-pound bag of flour.
On a regular Sunday, the cooks at Isopo’s Downtown Pizza on Erie Boulevard turn one 50-pound sack into dough, then into roughly 100 pizzas. This particular Sunday, two football teams from thousands of miles away met in a stadium only a few hundred miles away for the Super Bowl, so flour usage skyrocketed.
“We’ll use four bags today,” Isopo said. “So you’re talking 200 pounds worth of pizza.”
Sunday night the Seattle Seahawks met the Denver Broncos in MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Both teams are headquartered many states west of Schenectady, but that didn’t seem to diminish the number of local Super Bowl gatherings. It certainly didn’t slow the delivery rush at Isopo’s.
An hour before the game, the place was dense with the smell of melting cheese. Delivery drivers rushed for boxes and cook Tony Martin gripped pizza peels in both hands, moving pies around the great oven in a rotating jigsaw puzzle of crust and cheese to keep them from getting singed.
“You have to keep them flowing through,” he said, adjusting the moist bandana over his perspiring forehead.
The Super Bowl is for Isopo’s what Valentines Day or Mother’s Day is for more formal restaurants.
“This is it,” Isopo said. “We’re running on fumes.”
But that wasn’t the case everywhere. Katie O’Byrnes, a short distance down Erie, was home to a significantly more relaxed atmosphere.
“Thank God, the Giants aren’t playing,” said pub owner J.P. Malone. “If they were playing we’d be mobbed.”
He sat on a bar stool at the end of a buffet table and chatted with regulars. He had an employee tending bar, freeing him up to actually watch the game.
The bar itself was crowded, but tables sat empty. Malone theorized the relatively light turnout was caused by a lack of local Seahawks/Broncos fans, along with the nature of the Super Bowl itself.
“People tend to have Super Bowl parties in their homes,” he said.
Rachel Battagilioni sat with a group of friends at the end of Malone’s bar enjoying a draft Guinness and some roast beef.
“I don’t actually care about these teams,” she said, “but I’m pulling for the Seahawks because I have a dear friend who’s a fan.”
The disconnect, she said, allowed for a low-stress game-day experience. There was food and beer without the risk of a depressing home-team defeat.
“It’s definitely more relaxed,” she said.
Scott Gregory over at the 20 North Broadway Tavern had a different theory on the game.
“Everyone here has some sort of stupid bet on this game,” he said.
While few if any of the crowd eating, drinking and watching the big screens at his favorite bar actually followed either team, Gregory explained financial wagers, even small ones, kept everyone invested.
As he spoke, the game finally began, a pair of huge padded men colliding on a corner TV screen. Shouts and cheers rang through the bar.
“Oh, that’s going to make things more complicated,” he said, paging through a sheet of possible bets, after Seattle scored two points on a safety.
Gregory had money on the Broncos. More specifically, he had money on Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning — which seemed to be a theme of the night.
“I make no bones about it,” said tavern owner Dave Nigriny “It’s Manning. He’s just a class act.”
The 20 North Broadway Tavern was jammed up with locals. Like Malone, Nigriny said the Super Bowl isn’t the bar-centric event most people think. Most people, he said, host house parties. He got around the problem by just turning his tavern into a sort of home away from home.
“This is just a party,” he said. “It’s not even a money-maker.”
Hours before opening, he had pounds of brisket and pulled pork bubbling in crock pots — all free for game-day patrons. Regulars even showed up with their own dishes.
A guy named Eddy brought meatballs. Someone’s girlfriend made taco dip.
“My mother made deviled eggs,” Nigriny said.
By the time players actually took the field, the tavern’s back corner was piled with pot-luck food. The fresh smell of barbecue joined the fragrance of all the drinks spilled over the years and a decidedly festive mood spread through the room.