Unfortunately, there comes a time in all of our lives when we are unable to get real pizza from a pizzeria. When this happens, we can look to a slew of chain restaurants. Most are “conveyor belt” pizza, using pre-made dough, canned sauce which would put an Italian grandma to tears, and barely edible toppings. Some may have their redeeming qualities, but in the end, are we ever truly happy? Can we enjoy such food guilt-free, or is that impossible? Below are the most prevalent options (at least in my neck of the woods). We will start at the bottom so we can end on a [mildly] positive note.
4. Domino’s: To me, they epitomize all that is wrong with chain, conveyor belt pizza. When I was in elementary school, “Domino’s Fridays” were a huge deal. Hell, that was probably fine cuisine compared to the slop that was being served up Monday through Thursday. Ironically, sixth grade is probably the last time it ever tasted good. The crust is essentially cardboard with an artificial garlic powder bite. The sauce can be zesty, or so acidic that even the strongest of stomachs will be burning in agony later on. The sodium could probably kill a horse. And why don’t we mention price while we’re at it? There is some grand misconception out there that Domino’s is a “cheaper” option. I call bullshit. Total, absolute, unequivocal bullshit. There was a night my paranormal team and I stayed late at the Strauss Mansion Museum after an event and needed to order pizza. I think we got two mediums. Maybe a topping on each. No drinks, no appetizers, no dessert. With delivery fee and tip, it came to around $40. We almost fell over. Then last month, a friend and I just wanted a snack. An order of boneless wings came to more than $10 (after taking nearly an hour for them to arrive—the store is less than a mile away). The “wings” were tiny, dry nuggets consisting of 90% breading which had no flavor and might not have even really been chicken. They looked like something my cat would leave in his litter box. I vowed never again. Never again will I order the disgustingess that is Domino’s.
3. Little Caesar’s: When I volunteered at a different museum many years ago, Little Caesar’s was always the go-to when we had a team of volunteers to feed. After all, their pizzas are $5 each and the size is not bad. You could literally feed an office for $20. However, you do get what you pay for. The “hot and ready” feature is fine if you happen to get one fresh or are desperately in a rush. But if it was sitting around for a while? That’s a different story. Sometimes there would be a coating of grease laying across the top. An abnormal layer. Hold a slice up and you were guaranteed to see little reddish beads dripping off. Fans of “extra cheese” probably would not mind this next complaint, but I remember so much cheese that the pizza was actually hard to chew. If you listened carefully, you could hear the crackling of your hardening arteries. After a few slices you are out of commission. It sits inside your stomach like a brick. It’s not a full feeling, but a queasy one. Three slices of pizza manage to feel like you scarfed down a Thanksgiving dinner in five minutes. And as for the cheesy bread, I’m pretty sure you could have sunk the Titanic with a block of that.
2. Papa John’s: Okay, so I tip my cap to Papa John’s for being the official pizza of the New York Rangers. I love that their boxes even have the team logo on them. Whenever the Rangers score three goals or more, the next day you can type in the code “rangers3” on their website when ordering, and you receive 50% off. Not a bad deal. I tried it for the first time just last month. The pizza itself was pretty large for a medium. Good amount of cheese, sauce was not bad. I love that they give you a little pepperoncini on the side. But it still reminded me of Domino’s. The crust was bland and had the same cardboard-like texture. After a slice or two, you start to get that heavy feeling in your stomach. The sauce repeats on you for hours after. Also on the side with the pepper is a container of garlic sauce. I thought this was disgusting. Maybe it had even gone rancid, steaming in the box with the hot pizza. But when examining the pizza as a whole, I ended up feeling satisfied. This was good-bad pizza (and their garlic breadsticks were awesome). The prices are exorbitant like Domino’s so I would not order unless the Rangers score those three goals. But for half price, it’s not a bad pickup for lunch.
1. Pizza Hut: Before you go bonkers, no, I do not have much love for Pizza Hut. Hardly any at all. But when you have a group as lackluster as this, someone has to come out on top. I have not been to the Hut in years. Maybe I’m just viewing the past with rose-colored glasses. The only one near me in Middletown closed down about three years ago. I guess I was there a year before that. Look, the pizza is not great, but it’s as close to any kind of quality that we are going to get here. The crust is at least crunchy and flavorful, while the breadsticks are the high point. I like the seasoning even though I normally hate oregano. The marinara dipping sauce is decent for a chain restaurant and won’t set your esophagus on fire like some of these others. If you happen to go to one that has a buffet, try it. The dessert pizzas can be interesting. Most locations also have a salad bar, a feature slowly going the way of the dinosaur.
I’d be curious to see what the Casual Crusader, Hunter Dillon, has to say about these places. Care to chime in?