For four years, I've been doing the occasional drive from Pennsylvania to Boston, and that includes a stretch on the Massachusetts Turnpike (a road noteworthy for several reasons, but none more compelling than its reference by James Taylor in Sweet Baby James.)
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Those trips to Boston offered the chance to try four wonderful Boston area pizzerias: Regina, Santarpio's, Cambridge 1, and Picco. All of those pies were so good that I was rarely tempted by Papa Gino's, the chain pie I encountered in the rest stops along the Mass Pike.
A little history on this regional chain, from Papa Gino's website:
Papa Gino's got its start in 1961 as a humble East Boston pizza shop. Papa Gino's founder Michael Valerio opened the first pizzeria, Piece O' Pizza. In 1968, they changed the name to Papa Gino's. Today, there are nearly 170 Papa Gino's restaurants throughout New England.Needing some sustenance on the most recent journey back (piloting a loaded cargo van), we decided that it was finally time to try Papa Gino's. Its reputation was that of "above average" chain pizza. Given how historically bad the pizza is at airports and turnpike rest stops across America (think Sbarro-bad), it was a pretty low bar for Papa Gino's to clear in order to qualify as better than average.
For the two of us, we chose the "Fenway" combo, featuring two slices of "multi-top" pizza (sausage, peppers, onions) with a fountain soda for $7.19 before tax.
Our big slices were served in a narrow pizza box. On first inspection, the pizza resembled the fat, puffy, soft, loaded slices from Costco. And in fact, the crust was on the softer side, lacking any rigidity to support eating a slice with one hand. It was medium thickness and had a decent flavor equivalent to supermarket "Italian bread." Soft and tasty, even if inauthentic.
|Underside - good crust character despite its floppiness|
This pie was generously topped with sauce, cheese, and sausage. The overload of toppings made it filling, sloppy, and imbalanced - much like a Costco slice. Still, the sauce had some good tangy character. The cheese was salty and generic, but this pie was well cooked so that it got a nice top browning. The sausage was not the magical stuff found at places like DeLorenzo's, but it was authentic slices of the real stuff.
Overall, this pie was flavorful and satisfying, despite its soft crust and toppings overload. Better than Costco pizza. What sets it apart from other mass-sourced pizza is how much top heat is used to give it that lovely browning, and even a touch of char. If you find yourself at a stop on the Massachusetts Turnpike, you could do a lot worse than a slice of Papa Gino's pizza.