Monday, February 9, 2015

Review: Pizza Hut Pretzel Crust Pan Pizza

While the main purpose of Pizza Quixote is finding unique pizzerias serving destination pizza (pizza worth the trip), we live in a world also filled with convenience pizza.  That includes frozen pizza, refrigerated bake-at-home pizza, and chain pizza. We enjoy quite a few of the smaller chains (round-up HERE), but it's been several years since I've eaten pie from Domino's, Little Caesar's, or Pizza Hut.

Perhaps in response to the rise of better pizza in America, Pizza Hut recently revamped its menu with some bold new choices. The ordering process is very confusing! There is a lot of advertising about specialty crusts, but that is really just about some extra flavorings brushed onto the cornicione.

You begin by choosing from several crust foundations that include:

  • Hand-tossed
  • Thin 'n' crispy
  • Pan pizza
  • Skinny
  • Original stuffed crust

You next have a choice of sauces:

  • Marinara
  • Crushed tomato
  • Garlic Parmesan
  • Honey Sriracha
  • BBQ
  • Buffalo

Then you pick a flavor drizzle to top your pie:

  • Balsamic
  • Honey Sriracha
  • BBQ
  • Buffalo

Finally, you select a flavor for your cornicione:

  • Toasted Parmesan
  • Salted pretzel
  • Honey sriracha
  • Toasted asiago
  • Fiery red pepper
  • Toasted cheddar
  • Garlic buttery blend
  • Curry
  • Ginger

It's a dizzying array of choices.  I wanted a reasonably traditional pizza, so I chose the pan pizza crust, crushed tomato, no sauce drizzle, with sausage and pepperoni for toppings. To make it a little more interesting, I chose the salted pretzel cornicione.

One more element of confusion - I had a print ad with advertised specials, including a two-topping large pizza for $7.99. However, the physical location Pizza Hut store could not honor that price, which applies to internet orders only. So I (and another patron in that store) used smartphones to place an order online while standing in the store! The store owner (Exton, PA) apologized for the system, which is beyond his control.

The pie was ready in less than 15 minutes. "Large" by Pizza Hut standards is not a very big pie; this one was about 13.5 inches in diameter.

How did it taste?

The crust was actually quite good. It had some good browning and crispness on the bottom. It was properly thick, but it had a nice hole structure and overall texture. Surprisingly, it had its own good flavor, which is rare in any big-chain pie.

The salted pretzel edge was a disappointment. I wanted pretzel crust, what I got was salted pizza crust. Still good, but not what it might have been.

The sauce also disappointed. Crushed tomatoes are standard in the superb tomato pies of Trenton, and the best pies have a distinct tomato flavor. This sauce (and the cheese) were simply pleasant role players with no distinct character.  There was a bit too much cheese, and it could have used more and bolder tomato sauce. 

The toppings were ordinary, featuring standard-grade pepperoni, very thinly sliced. The sausage was pre-cooked, and I regretted that I hadn't opted for the new "premium salami" instead.

All told, this pie was tasty and of course filling. It was a little better than a DiGiorno frozen pizza, for not much more money. I'm in no hurry to eat Pizza Hut again, because there are so many better choices.

A pizza is about crust, sauce, cheese - and mostly about the crust. Whenever there is an emphasis on toppings or other unusual flavors, the purpose is typically to distract from a mediocre crust. And that it true, for the most part, with this new Pizza Hut menu.  But for a big chain, "mediocre" is a step forward. I had remembered Pizza Hut as lousy pizza - but this pie was pretty good. Not memorable, but there are a lot of worse ways to fill your belly for $8.

Pizza Hut on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Rise—and Fault—in Pizza Lists

We have a guest blog post by one of our favorite pizza writers. Liz Barrett, author of Pizza: A Slice of American History, offers her thoughts on the merits and the traps of pizza rankings.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed the number of “Best Pizza” lists growing over the last few years. We used to see one or two big lists released per year, drumming up huge disagreements over which pizzerias made the list and which did not. I remember when Alan Richman’s 25 Best Pizzas in America list came out in GQ back in 2009. Personally, I thought he named some great places, many of which still make the cut years later, but therein lies the fault with lists—they’re personal.


Don’t get me wrong. I love “Best” lists. I read any I can get my hands on. When I first started working at PMQ Pizza Magazine in 2007, I kept all of the “Best Pizza/Pizzeria” lists that were released. My plan was to make it to every pizzeria that made the list. It went OK for a while there, but then the lists started coming faster and I started falling behind (think Lucy in the chocolate factory). In addition to long-standing historic pizzerias, brand new places started showing up on the lists. How could I make it to all of them without working from an RV?

It suddenly became very apparent that I would never make it to every “best” pizzeria. Besides that, there are more than 70,000 pizzerias in the U.S., so there had to be some missing from the lists I was finding.

I get asked regularly about my “favorite” or “the best” pizza, and I’ve easily eaten enough pizzas to run the comparison, but I very rarely answer the question. 

You see, the odds of my favorite pizza turning out to be your favorite pizza are highly unlikely, and vice versa. We’re all products of our own culinary upbringing and individual likes and dislikes. I recently broke down and participated in a couple of “Favorite” lists, but only because after eight years of writing for the industry it’s getting harder and harder to escape the question.

The bottom line is, “Best Pizza” lists should be read and enjoyed for what they are—a list of someone else’s favorite pizzas. They’re great for promoting pizza and getting the pizza conversation started, but they are by no means the final word in what your best pizza will be. Leave the judging to your own palate, and never stop exploring and searching for your own favorite pizza.

Liz Barrett
Author of Pizza: A Slice of American History (www.writtenbyliz.com/the-pizza-book.html)
Editor-at-Large, PMQ Pizza Magazine (www.pmq.com)

Blogger, The Pizza Insider (http://thepizzainsider.pmq.com/)

Review: Mama Cozzi's Take & Bake Thin Crust Pizza (Sausage and Pepperoni)

For decades, pizza lovers have had the quick-fix option of frozen pizza to bake at home. Although the quality of frozen pizza has improved substantially, it still lags well behind the better pies that you can make yourself or buy from a pizzeria.
Mama Cozzi's Thin-crust Sausage and Pepperoni Pizza

One recent "convenience pizza" development is the "take and bake" refrigerated pizza. These began in specialty shops, such as Mom Mom's Take and Bake, in Newtown PA. (Bonus trivia - Mom Mom's was shown in the 2002 film Signs that was shot in Bucks County, PA). At these specialty stores, you could order a customized pie on a par-baked crust, then take it home for the full bake. As I recall, the Spinach Salad pizza at Mom Mom's was especially tasty.

Within the last five years, the refrigerated take and bake pizzas have begun to show up in just about every supermarket. They seem to be priced as loss leaders - big pizzas, loaded with toppings, in the $5 to $8 range. A few years ago, we tried the Artisan Take and Bake pizza from Costco - full review is HERE

Being ALDI fans in general, we also tried the ALDI version, Mama Cozzi's Italian Meat Pizza - full review HERE. It was a thin-crust pie that remained chewy, not crackerlike, after baking. Recently in the local ALDI, I saw a large variety of take and bake pies, but was drawn (again) to the thin-crust one. It seems as if the Italian Meat pizza has been re-badged as a simple Sausage and Pepperoni pizza with a blend of mozzarella and provolone (compared to the "five cheeses" of the Italian Meat pizza).
Right out the freezer, in shrink wrap, before baking

The instructions changed a bit, too, with recommended baking time of 10-16 minutes instead of 10-14. Before baking, I removed all the meat and then distributed it more evenly on the pie, and I cut each large pepperoni slice into two bite-sized pieces. I also added a bit of sweet yellow peppers and purple onion.
Post bake, before slicing

I followed the directions and baked it at 400 degrees. I put it on a low rack, with my Baking Steel on another rack six inches above to better deliver top heat.To reach an ideal state of crispness, I often need to cook frozen or take/bake pizzas longer than indicated by package directions, and then finish them under the broiler to get some top browning. However, I checked this one at 12 minutes and it seemed done underneath and on top.
Sliced and ready to eat

I gave it a traditional cut into 8 triangles for serving. The first thing we noticed was the thin and crackerlike crust. This one was not chewy like the Italian Meat pie; it was crisp (yet dense), crunchy, and it had an excellent flavor. 
Click to enlarge

Every other ingredient was a role player; the sauce and cheese and meats surely contributed to a well-balanced taste and texture, but none stood out as especially good or lacking.

I think the regular price on this 16" pizza is $4.99; I found it on special for $3.49. At either price point, this is a tasty pizza that sits - without shame - about halfway between a good cracker-thin crust Midwest pie like Rubino's (full review HERE) and the cheapest thin cracker frozen from Totino's
A close look at the thin crackerlike crust
Underside of the crust

There is no such thing as a good low-calorie pizza, but this entire pie clocks in at 1900 calories, so if you eat half of it, you're still under 1000 calories. That puts this pie on the low end of the pizza calorie spectrum. Scary, perhaps, but then don't even look at the calories on some of the meat-laden self-rising frozen pies you can get.

This pizza was better than what you get from the large chains, better than most frozen pizza, and even better than most mom-and-pop storefront pizzas. It's not grand or gourmet, but like most things ALDI, it was pretty good and very inexpensive. We'll have it again, no doubt.