Creativity counts in the pizza business.
That's why the sweet Thai chicken chili pizza is so popular at Isopo's Downtown Pizza in Schenectady.
"This pizza was created by accident," said Dante Isopo, who opened his business at 176 Erie Boulevard in April 2011. "One of the guys here put the wrong sauce over the top of a buffalo chicken pizza.
"We kind of looked at it and said, 'Let's give it a shot,'" Isopo continued. "So we added green peppers and red onions, cooked them up and put them on the pizza. It became our best seller here during lunch and it was by chance, by accident."
Isopo's fared well in the Daily Gazette's recent poll of essential pizzerias in the Schenectady area. Dante's place received the most pizza votes in the informal, unscientific poll that also asked readers to choose their favorite places for chicken wings.
More than 100 votes were counted, with many places receiving just a few votes. Dozens of restaurants and pizzerias were nominated.
Joining Isopo's on a list of five essential pizza places are:
- Bricklayers Pub and Pizzeria (the chicken wing winner), 2612 Guilderland Ave., Rotterdam.
- Prima Pizza, 3610 State St., Schenectady, which also finished third in the wing count.
- Home Style Pizza, 1720 Union St., Schenectady
- Visco Vley Road Pizzeria, 149 Vley Road, Scotia.
Pizza has been sliced in bars, restaurants, homes, college dorms and high school cafeterias for decades. Culinary sources say the first pizzas were baked in Italy during the 1860s, with cheese, basil and mozzarella the toppings of the time.
Dante' Isopo (left), owner of Isopo's Downtown Pizza, with his best-selling sweet Thai chili pizza, and Mario Isopo and Paul Woodward with Prima Pizzeria's best-selling 28-inch party pie. (Marc Schultz)
When Italians began immigrating to America, they brought their recipes with them.
Isopo believes top-grade ingredients and fresh-made dough are two reasons people like his pizza pies. A heritage in the food business also helps: Isopo's relatives opened Home Style on Union Street in 1970, later selling the business. There were other family-operated places, Isopo's in Rotterdam and Prima.
All family recipes are now in the kitchen on Erie Boulevard, in a building that once housed a Quizno's sandwich shop.
Isopo said he gets plenty of traffic from General Electric workers on lunch break. Pizza toppings include bacon, ham, pepperoni, shrimp scampi, veggies, sausage and mushrooms; submarine sandwiches, specialty dinners, gyros and salads are also part of the game plan.
The game plan for next Sunday will be pizza.
"It's our busiest day of the year," Isopo said. "Super Bowl Sunday is the day because most people don't go out. They have house parties, they watch the game from home."
Voters in the poll explained their allegiance to Isopo's.
"Experience means the most in your passion for pie and wings, and Isopo's is where it's at," wrote Joseph Amiccuci in an e-mail note.
"Isopo's in Schenectady for both," wrote Kim Andrews in a Facebook post. "Pretty awesome salads too!"
"Isopo's Downtown Pizza wins this title hands down for the best pizza and wings," wrote Maria Freund in an e-mail note. "You can depend on Isopo's for great food each and every time."
Other pizza hot spots also received kind words.
"Bricklayers in Rotterdam has the best pizza and the most amazing wings," wrote Becky Vannie.
"In our opinion, the best pizza we enjoy is Prima Pizza," wrote Bob and Peggy Bowman. "Nothing comes close!"
"Home Style restaurant on Union Street," wrote Bonnie Hebert.
"Visco's Pizza," said Julia Vanpatten.
In the Capital Region, neighborhoods often have their "own" pizzeria. Isopo knows his business must compete with the locals, and also with national chains with big reputations and big advertising budgets.
"You just have to make sure you put out a top product," Isopo said. "If you're consistent with your product, people will come. A lot of people will come in for the authenticity."