Crust belt! Pie-lovers face off in Fifth Ave. pizza-eating contest

The Brooklyn Paper
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Nature itself bowed to Bay Ridge.

The Fifth Avenue festival went off without a hitch — despite predicted thunderstorms that held off until just after the 16-block party wrapped up.

“It was like a miracle, because they were predicting all this bad weather, and we were low on vendors, but it went beautifully and we were able to fill out the avenue,” said veteran street festival organizer Chip Cafiero. “I think we had a bigger crowd because people didn’t go to the beach.”

The neighborhood’s keynote spring festival stretched from Bay Ridge Avenue to 85th Street, bringing food, games, rides, and local and regional vendors to the avenue.

And of course, there was the pizza-eating contest at Rocco’s.

Upstart Geoffrey Esper of Massachusetts won the day, wolfing down 28 slices in 12 minutes — that’s three-and-a-half 18-inch pies at a pace of more than two slices a minute.

It was the out-of-stater’s first time in Brooklyn, and Bay Ridge apparently made a good impression.

“I’ve heard some bad things about New York, but the area was nice,” he said

Esper plans to use the $700 prize to train for another famed competitive-eating contest later this year.

“I might use the money to qualify for the Nathan’s hot dog-eating competition,” he said. “Those hotdogs aren’t cheap. I’ve gotta buy 50, 60 packages of them to practice,” he said.

Esper bested perennial pizza pusher David Brunelli of Philadelphia, who took runner-up for the fourth year in a row after putting away an impressive 20 slices.

“I got beat pretty bad by a newcomer, and it wasn’t what I was expecting,” said David Brunelli. “I wasn’t too happy with my performance — last year I did 26 [slices]. But it’s always a great contest for a great cause, and I hope they keep having it every year.”

Rocco’s Pizza is donating the $500 — the competition’s proceeds after the cost of making the pies — to Pietro’s Fight, an organization that raises money to fight Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, named for a neighborhood tyke with the rare and deadly disease, pizzaria owner Danny Loccisano said.

The driving rain steered clear of Fifth Avenue until festival-goers left at 6 pm, but Cafiero and his crew had to deal with a deluge later while they were cleaning up, Cafiero said.

“The rain came afterward during the cleanup, and we were soaked,” Cafiero said. “We don’t stop until its over.”

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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