Tonawanda News — AMHERST — If there’s one thing Western New Yorkers are proud of it’s their pizza, though choosing a favorite purveyor of the baked goodness is often a contentious topic.
And on Tuesday night, many of the very restaurants often the subject of debate among locals were all in one spot.
For the 12th year, Pizza Fest was held by the Chamber of Commerce of the Tonawandas, meaning the Classic’s V Banquet Center on Niagara Falls Boulevard was packed with 400 people who brought their appetites.
By the end of the evening, as a vivacious crowd quieted, with many slumping in their chairs after downing slices and wings from 13 of the area’s best pizza joints, everybody left a winner, according to Joyce Santiago, executive director of the chamber.
What started as a fundraiser has turned to a growing cultural entity in the Tonawandas. Edith Koerner, 85, who lives in the town, said while she has heard of the festival for years, it didn’t occur to her to attend until she received the encouragement of a friend, who came along with Koerner and her husband.
“It was so good,” Koerner said, as she dropped two colorful red and yellow ballots into a box that would later decide the winners of the “People’s Choice Awards” — one for pizza and the other for wings. Another 10 judges made up of local politicians and other community leaders decided the official victors.
Koerner voted for Flora’s Cafe, located in three Budwey’s Supermarket locales. Though she has been a regular shopper at the supermarket for decades, she wasn’t aware of what its cafe, named after owner Frank Budwey’s mother, had to offer.
“I shop there all the time but never tried their pizza,” she said. “I give them first prize.”
Bill Donnelly, who is the cafe supervisor for Flora’s said the reaction from Koerner really summarizes the point of the event. While Budwey’s has participated since 2004 presenting new dishes, exposing them to those who haven’t tried them is a big part of the evening.