The good news is that you will get an ever-expanding range of pizza shop options, offering good to great pies. You should have to depend much less on pedestrian pizza from the (current) big chains and the independent locals who use low grade ingredients in order to compete on price with the chains.
|Click on any image for full-size|
The bad news is that the pizza renaissance, which has given birth to wonderful Neapolitan and other artisan pizzerias all across America, may have crested.
In the first golden age of American pizza, from the 1950s into the 1970s, Italian immigrants and following generations made great, simple, cheap pies from scratch. That era ended when the big chains began to push out the mom and pop pizza joints, or forced them to switch to mass-sourced low quality ingredients. Americans ate a lot of bad pizza from 1975 through 2005.
|Open flame oven behind the pizza assembly line|
The current pizza renaissance has seen a surge in new pizza places offering all kinds of wonderful hand-crafted pies using top-end ingredients. Most of these pies are Neapolitan style. It was, I suppose, only a matter of time until some companies began to attempt chain-pie production of Neapolitan style pizza.
It's already under way. Wolfgang Puck Express pizza is very good, and I got it at an airport! In my Pennsylvania hometown, the new RapiDough Pizza seems to be constructed in a way that will facilitate expansion to other stores. Philadelphia's amazing Pizzeria Vetri was recently sold to Urban Outfitters and is opening a branch in Austin, TX.
|The "Kasey" at MOD Pizza|
In the near term, this is good news. Good-to-great pizza can now be found easily by more people. But just as Pizza Hut and Papa John's brought mediocre pie to the masses, it is likely just a matter of time until the quality begans to slide, as each franchise gets a bit further removed from the founder's inspiration and they all begin to compete on price.
All this brings us to MOD Pizza. MOD opened in Seattle in 2008, and already there are almost 90 locations. For this review, I visited MOD Pizza in Wayne PA, in the Gateway Shopping Center.
|Good char underneath|
MOD has been described as the "Chipotle of pizza." You get your 12" personal pie any way you want it, and the price is always $7.87. They have a menu board with several suggested pies, or you can custom tailor your own pie from a large selection of sauces, cheeses, meats, and vegetable toppings. Friendly staff build your pie assembly-line style, and then the pies cook in a gas-fired open flame oven at 800 degrees for 3 minutes each.
|Nice fountain beverage options|
As a pizza purist, I usually get a simple red pie with one meat topping, but here I opted for the "Kasey" which featured gorgonzola, bacon, roasted brussel sprouts, red onion, and a balsamic glaze (no red sauce). For another $1.97, I got a fountain drink with some fun lemonade, tea, and soda choices and no apparent limit on refills.
I watched my pie being assembled, and I was a bit dismayed to see that they are prepared and cooked on a circular screen pan.
The pie was ready soon. There is no table service, but plenty of seating in a hip attractive space, which was plenty busy at a Tuesday lunch time. MOD is a big space for a pizza place.
The pie had great eye appeal, the toppings were evenly distributed, and the bacon was generously applied. Just as it had appeared pre-bake, the crust was very thin, with a little puffiness at the cornicione.
The crust was crisp and rigid, but without a lot of dinstinctive flavor. I think it would be improved (but made less healthy) with some olive oil and salt. Bonus points that there were no wet or soggy areas.
|Ordering at the counter|
Most of the toppings were good, not great. They played together well, and the bacon was the highlight. The Brussels sprouts were more boiled than roasted, and did not spend enough time in the oven to acquire a char.
The pie had the look of a Neapolitan, but not the texture or flavor. Bottom line, it was the kind of downgrade you get when you train kids all across America to make a pizza in 3 minutes. Without question, it's better than 90% of the mom and pop shops making floppy pizza of no distinction, but well short of the real thing. And a little bit short of the very good Neapolitan pie at Wolfgang Puck Express.
|Ordering sheet doubles as your pizza placemat|
Still, this is very good fast food. I enjoyed the pizza and the ambiance, and I can recommend MOD as a good pizza stop. But again, the Chipotle analogy is apt. It's a tasty imitation of the authentic product. And it has the capacity to displace the pizza shops that are making the real thing and charging appropriately for it.
It's great for foodies that the pizza renaissance is cresting at the same time as the craft beer wave. Enjoy them now, because the chains are coming.