The Mid-America Restaurant Expo is home to the Pizza Pizzazz Competition, a legendary contest that crowns "The Best Pizza in the Midwest."
Using a rigorously scrutinized blind-judging format, this contest sees 40 contestants battle with their best pizza in our competition arena by baking first-round pizzas. Six finalists are chosen and then asked to prepare two pies for an ultimate judging that decides first, second and third place finishers.
In earning the title, “Best of the Midwest,” past Pizzazz winners claim sales increased as much as 30 percent in the months following their victories.
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Brenz Pizza Co.’s Kyle Rosch wins the 2017 “Best of the Midwest” title with Bianca Rossa pizza
For the second year in a row, Brenz Pizza Co.’s Kyle Rosch took the top prize in the annual Pizza Pizzazz competition held here Jan. 29. The general manager at Brenz in Chapel Hill, N.C., out-baked 44 competitors to grab the $5,000 top prize and the prestigious “Best of the Midwest” title for 2017. Pizza Pizzazz was held in conjunction with the inaugural Mid-America Restaurant Expo (Expo) held Jan. 29-30, at the Columbus Convention Center.
Rosch took the win with the Bianca Rossa, built on a New York-style crust brushed with olive oil and “dolloped” with tomato sauce. From there it’s topped with grated provolone, mozzarella and fresh mozzarella cheeses, along with fennel sausage. Once baked, it’s garnished with a chopped fresh tomato salad, julienned fresh basil and shaved pecorino-Romano cheese, and the crust is brushed with garlic butter.
Asked about his key to his second victory, Rosch paused and admitted he was a bit startled to make it to the finals given the quality of his competitors’ pizzas.
“I’m really surprised and honored to be in the finals, much less win the top prize,” Rosch said. “But I really think it’s our dough. We have the best dough recipe out there. … I like to let it sit no less than 48 hours and sometimes 72 hours in the cooler. We touch it to determine when it’s perfect.”
Big City Pizza’s John Hunt took second place and $1,000 for his Tipsy Chicken. Made at its Lexington, Ky.-area pizzerias, the pie blends beer cheese, grilled chicken and bacon, and is finished with a sweet and smoky bourbon glaze. Alex Garcia of Flo’s Pizzeria in Grand Rapids, Mich., baked a third-place winner and claimed a $500 prize. That pizza, the Maui Wowie, combines marinated chicken, ham, bacon and pineapple with mozzarella and tomato sauce. Once baked, it’s drizzled with pineapple sriracha sauce and sprinkled with coconut flakes.
Winning the right to call one’s pizza, “Best of the Midwest,” provides pizza makers pride in besting stiff competition and also the resulting sales bonanza. According to past winners, fans often drive from several hours away to taste victors’ pies, and sales spike for months after the contest.
Iron Chef America judge, Mario Rizzotti, who emceed this year’s Pizza Pizzazz competition, told the battle’s six finalists their pies were some of the best he’s ever seen.
“This was a very tough competition, but you did yourself proud,” Rizzotti said. “These were pizzas made at the highest level. Congratulations to our winners and our six finalists.”