Welcome to the Pizza Issue, 2019 edition. If you’re a hardcore reader – which all of you surely are – you might remember that we put out a “For the Love of Pizza” issue on Jan. 30 of last year. In that issue, back when the Insider had a hearty two-man staff, my esteemed colleague and I hit the streets hard to learn as much about pizza as we possibly could.
For this issue, working in the new reality of this being a one-man show, there was a bit less time available to hit up tons of pizza places and write detailed features about each one – plus, there isn’t exactly a whole lot that goes into making a pizza besides putting sauce, cheese and toppings on top of a round piece of dough and firing it in the oven for several minutes.
Instead, we decided to create a little challenge, pitting three downtown-area slice-sellers against each other for the unofficial crown of having the best slice game in Concord.
There was no real method to this madness – I simply popped in to several pizza shops to see whether they offered slices. If the answer was yes, I ordered whatever sounded the most interesting to me at that moment.
The first stop was Sal’s, a place that’s pretty well known for its gargantuan slices. You never really know what you’re gonna get at Sal’s, which is part of the fun. On this particular day, a slice of steak bomb pizza caught my eye, so I ordered one of those – heated, please.
As expected, this slice was ridiculously large (they cut their slices into two pieces after you order one), was served piping hot and had a nice level of crisp to it. It also was really loaded with legitimate pieces of steak, as well as plenty of peppers, onions and mushrooms (the mushrooms were the scarcest of all the toppings). This actually tasted just like a steak bomb sub, something highly unusual for the pizza industry – usually if you see a steak bomb pizza on a menu all they do is throw a couple tiny specks of meat on there and load it with mushrooms and peppers. Not at Sal’s.
Next up was Vinnie’s, Concord’s original pizza shop. On this day the options were fairly limited for slices, so I went with a sausage and hamburger slice, also heated upon request.
This slice was certainly smaller than the one at Sal’s, yet it seemed heavier. The Vinnie’s slice was thicker than the one at Sal’s, with more grease and not as many toppings. It was served on a silver platter, one probably meant for a small pizza, which held a lot of the grease from the slice.
With all this complaining about the weight and the grease, you’d think I hated the pizza, but that wasn’t the case. This was actually quite tasty, and while it was a bit light on the toppings, those pieces of meat that were there had plenty of flavor and brought the dense slice to life. After all, if you’re looking for something light, plain, dry and healthy, go munch on some granola and stay away from the pizza joint circuit.
The third and final stop on this journey of dough, sauce and cheese was Checkmate Pizza, just beyond the downtown core on Washington Street. Unlike the other two places in this challenge, Checkmate does not have a sit-down eating area. Because of this, it would be easy to assume that they don’t even offer slices, but they indeed do.
When I walked in and asked if they had slices, they said yes – cheese or ‘roni? Naturally, I went with the ‘roni option. I ordered just a single slice, but I was given – and charged for – what appeared to be two. I wasn’t sure if Checkmate, like Sal’s, customarily gives you what is really two slices but they call it one, or if this was some sort of a communication breakdown, but either way, I wasn’t complaining.
Of the three slices, Checkmate’s were the thinnest. This slice was not approaching that super-thin, bar-style crust, but it was certainly thinner and lighter than either of the other two places. It also was the least crispy of the bunch, and the slice itself may have been the greasiest, though it was a close call between Checkmate and Vinnie’s.
In terms of pure flavor, the Checkmate slice was good. Of the three I tried, this was the most classic of them all – pepperoni, tried, true, predictable, consistent. It’s why it’s by far the most popular pizza topping in America – it’s really hard to screw up a pepperoni pizza.
The major downside to getting a slice at Checkmate is that you have to take it on the run. Normally I’d sit there in my car, parked on the side of the road, and down the thing right then and there, but I happen to live just a couple minutes from Checkmate and was able to take it home. Checkmate also, curiously, packed the slice(s) into a styrofoam take-out container, like the kind you’d put leftover spaghetti in. The pizza didn’t actually fit all the way in, as there were corners poking out the sides of the container.
When all was said and done, there could only be one winner. While each place had quite a different take on slices, the crown has to go to Sal’s. Maybe it’s unfair to put a place that really does a lot of slices in the same competition as a place that, for instance, doesn’t even have tables, but hey – it’s a tough world out there. Other slice-sellers may want to take note – less grease plus more toppings (even with significantly higher prices) equals Slice Supremacy.