Editor’s note: Jersey Shore Pizza War is not related to The Asbury Park Press’ recent Pizza Playoff competition.

Sixteen competitors, five guest judges and 200 pizza fans gathered April 8 for the first Jersey Shore Pizza War, a fundraising event that took place at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center in Toms River.

Organized by Umberto Turelli, chef and owner of Zi Marie’s Original Pizzeria-Trattoria in Toms River, pizzerias from around the state brought their plain pies — hundreds of them, all together — to be tasted and judged by chef judges David Burke, Enzo Ferrante, Geoff Johnson and Eddie Goldberg. Local pizza reviewer John Crisafulli (known as Johnny C the Pizza Guy) also judged, and fans fans got to vote, too.

To determine the contestants, Turelli spent a year sampling and reviewing pizza at dozens of restaurants for his YouTube show, “What’s Cookin’ Jersey Shore.” The competitors were Manzano’s in Waretown, Frankie Fed’s in Freehold Township, Zoni’s Brooklyn Brick Coal Oven Pizzeria in Middletown, Tramonto’s Pizza in Ocean Township, Peel in the Oakhurst section of Ocean Township, Slice House in Toms River, PaciDough’s in South Toms River, Joe Diano’s Tomato Pies in Point Pleasant Borough, Romeo’s Pizza in Freehold Township, Romeo’s Italian American in Freehold Township, Verace’s Pizza in Toms River, DeCaro’s Pizzeria & Italian Eatery in Brick, Capricci Pizzeria & Restaurant in Howell, Calabria Pizza & Italian Grill in Absecon, Red Star Pizza in Southampton, and Filippo’s Pizzeria & Grill in Glassboro.

The winner? Zoni’s in Middletown.

More: Serving ‘old school’ pies, Zoni’s Pizzeria in Middletown expanding kitchen

“We put love into making our pizza,” said Robert Tarzia, owner of Zoni’s. “We keep it old school.”

For the competition, only plain pies were allowed.

The winners were announced by Ferrante, a certified Italian Master Pizzaiolo and member of the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana (the True Neapolitan Pizza Association).

“As judges, we look for different things: taste, sauces, cheese, the formation of the pizza, the dough,” Ferrante said. “Dough, for us, is very important.”

Zoni's Brooklyn Brick Coal Oven Pizzeria in Middletown won first place at the Jersey Shore Pizza War, which took place April 8 at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center in Toms River.

Zoni’s Brooklyn Brick Coal Oven Pizzeria in Middletown won first place at the Jersey Shore Pizza War, which took place April 8 at the Clarion Hotel & Conference Center in Toms River.

More: These pizza places at the Jersey Shore are a real slice of heaven

So what made Zoni’s stand out?

“Everything blends together,” Ferrante said of their pizza. “The sauce was really, really natural. The extra-virgin olive oil, salt and basil married with the beautiful sauce and fresh mozzarella. The air pockets [in the dough] we were looking for were right there. I called them the perfect crust, perfect pizza.”

Second place went to Manzano’s in Waretown, whose pizza Ferrante described as “something a little bit special … the crust, the sauce and cheese, a good rise on the dough, and a nice culture of pizza.”

Third place went to Verace’s Pizza in Toms River. The judges appreciated the air pockets in the dough.

“Everything was just perfect,” the chef said.

Graig D'Addetta of Manzano's in Waretown slices a pie at the Jersey Shore Pizza War.Graig D'Addetta of Manzano's in Waretown slices a pie at the Jersey Shore Pizza War.

Graig D’Addetta of Manzano’s in Waretown slices a pie at the Jersey Shore Pizza War.

The event raised between $5,000 and $6,000, Turelli said. Money raised goes to Cookin’ for the Cause, which does not have a set charity. Turelli encourages groups in need to reach out to him.

“[Charities] let us know when they need help,” he said. “Nothing’s too small, nothing’s too big.”

The Jersey Shore Pizza War is “about bringing people together,” Ferrante said.

Every pizzeria at the event is a winner, Tarzia added.

“They all work hard and smart,” he said. “They are all successful. I’m happy to know them and be a part of the pizza world.”

Sarah Griesemer joined the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey in 2003 and has been writing all things food since 2014. Send restaurant tips to [email protected], follow on Instagram at Jersey Shore Eats and subscribe to our Jersey Shore Eats newsletter.

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Jersey Shore Pizza War: Zoni’s in Middletown NJ named top pizza

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