Bella Rose Pizzeria Ristorante put its cheese and four cheese pies to the test among five other restaurants in the first annual Best Pizza in Monroe Contest on Saturday afternoon and took the trophy for Best Overall. Bella Rosa had just opened five months ago.
"I just want to thank everybody for coming out and voting," said David Rodrigues, who owns Bella Rosa with his neighbor and friend Tom Feminelli. "Thanks for coming out for a good cause."
Six Italian restaurants participated in the friendly competition to benefit Project Warmth, the town's home heating and energy assistance program. The event was sponsored by the Monroe Economic Development Commission, the Monroe Chamber of Commerce and the Project Warmth Committee.
More than 200 people sampled slices of cheese pizza at tables set up around the Chalk Hill School gym from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. All could vote as many times as they wanted for a dollar a ballot — all money went to Project Warmth.
Bella Rosa also won in the categories for Best Thick Crust, Tastiest Cheese and Cheesiest.
Tina's Pizza also did well, winning in the categories of Best Spices, Best Sauce and Best Thin Crust.
McGowan's Pizzaland tied Tina's for Best Thin Crust with 60 votes a piece.
The rest of the field, Paisano's Pizza and Adriana's Pizza, both garnered a lot of votes for their entries but those votes were scattered among the categories.
Roberto's Restaurant had badly wanted to participate, but could not make it on Saturday, according to event organizers.
The contest raised over $400 for Project Warmth.
Monroe Social Services Dir. Barbara Yeager, who runs the program, said it is in better shape due to this year's mild winter. However, other organizations like ABCD and Operation Fuel have either closed or will soon close programs for fuel delivery assistance, so demand for Project Warmth should increase.
"The fact that we had a mild winter made a big difference," Yeager said.
Project Warmth depends solely on private donations. There have been a number of efforts to raise funds throughout the community. The next one will be a run by Vania Isaac.
A Community Event
Lee Hossler, chairman of the EDC, had taken his two grandchildren to the Easter Egg Hunt at the in the morning before going to the pizza contest.
"I'm pleased," he said of the turnout. "There seems to be quite a few people in here enjoying the first event of its kind in town."
Hosseler said he would like to see more events showcasing the different types of businesses in town, as well as organizing a restaurant week.
Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Ray Giovanni said, "I think this supports the restaurants and brings good will to residents."
Rotella, the town's part-time Economic Development coordinator and an EDC member, said it was slow early on before it gained momentum.
"I was a little concerned in the beginning, but it's great," she said.
When asked if she was encouraged enough to continue it next year, Rotella said, "Oh yeah, this is going to be an annual event. Whoever wins it today can keep the trophy if they repeat, but if they don't win again, they have to give it up," she added with a smile.
If Bella Rosa does not repeat in 2013, Rotella said the trophy would be replaced by a certificate for its 2012 victory.
First Selectman Steve Vavrek came to the event with his wife and daughter.
"Nice turnout," Vavrek said. "It's just a proud moment for Monroe. Kudos to the EDC and Teri for putting this together."
'This is What Monroe Needs More Of'
Pizza was not the only thing being voted on.
Masuk High School students who are members of DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America) created posters for the pizza contest, which received votes in the form of gold stars. The artwork will soon be on display at Monroe Town Hall, according to Rotella.
Nick Kapoor, chairman of the Monroe Democratic Town Committee, was among the town officials at the contest. He reflected on how Monroe is considering closing Chalk Hill if a viable revenue generating plan is not established to justify keeping the building open.
"Something like this ... this is what Chalk Hill should be used for," Kapoor said. "I can't understand why we're talking about mothballing it."
Kapoor said the building could be used for community events, volunteer organizations and youth programs like a teen night.
"This is what Monroe needs to be doing more of," he said of the pizza contest.