Sunday, March 4, 2012

Review: Papa John's Pizza

I generally avoid pizza from the major chains. I don't remember the last time I had pie from Domino's or Pizza Hut, but I'm not willing to spend the dollars or calories on those soft-crusted pizza imitations. However, I have had a few chain surprises. Most notable is Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza (reviewed HERE), but it has a scant 32 locations in FL, PA, NJ, and DE. The most shocking exception was at Bertucci's in Jersey City; they knocked out a brilliant Trenton-style tomato pie. And I also have a soft spot for the soft pizza at Costco, even though I know there's nothing authentic about it.

Hence, when Papa John's Pizza offered a shot at a free one-topping pizza and a 2-liter Pepsi Max just for signing up for their Super Bowl Coin Toss promotion, I decided it was time to assess their pie. If I've ever had Papa John's pizza, it was so long ago that I forget how it was. But my expectations were that it would be better than Pizza Hut, Dominos, and the rapidly improving availability of frozen pizza.

Click any pic to enlarge

Armed with my promo code, I went to Papa John's website to order. They give you some interesting options to customize your pie; I choose "thin crust" cooked "well done" with half pepperoni and half "spicy Italian sausage." I was too far from their Exton location, so I needed to go pick it up.

The "sausage" slice
Let's cover the positives first. The price was right. The young lady who took my order (I had to call after I placed my web order to adjust it) was polite and helpful, and that experience was repeated when I picked up the pie at the store -- the kids working there had a customer-friendly attitude. I really wasn't keen on "Pepsi Max" and they allowed me to substitute regular Pepsi.

The well-done thin crust
How about that pie? When I opened the box, I was struck by how small this "large" pie was. And beyond its dimensions, it looked like a thin, dry, sad little pie. It looked like a frozen pizza from the 1980s, when crusts were thin and cardboard-y, cheese was scarce, and sauce was thin, orange, and ketchup-like. This is the worst looking pie in my recent memory. It looked like high school cafeteria pizza from the 1970s. It looked like turnpike rest-stop pizza before they were privatized; it looked worse than Sbarro.

Looks can be deceiving!  However, in this case, you can judge the book by its cover. The crust was laughably bad. While it certainly supported the sauce, cheese, and toppings, it did so without the slightest bit of nuanced texture or flavor. It truly was thin and cardboard-y. When I chose the well-done thin-crust pie, I was thinking of a well-done thin-crust Trenton tomato pie. Here, both choices were a mistake, I think. The thin and hard cornicione was completely uniform, indicative of the machine origins of this pie.

The cheese was adequate. The pepperoni was average, but plentiful. The sausage was a real disappointment - a tad better than rabbit pellets, but it gave no hint of authentic Italian sausage. The sole bright spot was the sauce; it was tangy and salty and the only reason to take another bite. I generally add a bit of surface salt to pizza, but this needed none. I suspect the saltiness may be the main (albeit unrecognized) reason that some folks might prefer Papa John's to other mass-produced budget pizza.

All told, this was the worst pizza I've eaten in many years. It was worse than the $1 personal-size "My Essentials" frozen pizza from Bottom Dollar Foods. I do understand that there is a place for the big chains, providing cheap pizza as a commodity. At this point, I don't understand why anyone would buy this pizza, which fails by any standard.

The crust gets a zero. The cheese is a four, the pepperoni a five, the sauce a 6, the sausage a 3. Overall, this pie rates a "1" out of 10. You can get enjoy much better pizza by topping a split English muffin with some Ragu and a slice of Velveeta.

Papa John's Pizza on Urbanspoon


  1. I kind of like papa john's pizza. If you want the taste of authentic italian sausage, order spicy italian sausage on your pizza. I usually order a pizza with 6 cheese blend, pepperoni, spicy italian sausage, & bacon. They have the best pizza in town. 5/5

    1. Rating out of 10:
      Cheese: 10/10
      Pepperoni: 10/10
      Spicy Italian Sausage: 10/10
      Sauce: 9/10
      Crust: 8/10
      Overall: 9.6/10

  2. They use to be good but no a days they do suck. They been leaving things out of my order. Really disappointed with them.