Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: Papa John's Original Crust Pizza

One year ago, Papa John's did a Super Bowl Coin Toss promotion; if you correctly predicted the coin toss, you won a free pizza from Papa John's for ordering online.  It was a clever scheme to get you to sign up on the Papa John's website.  It must have been successful, because they repeated the promotion in 2013.
Original crust pie from Papa John's

Because I prefer a thin crust pizza most of the time, I chose that option a year ago. It was wretched! See my complete review HERE. It was and remains the worst pizza I have eaten since I started this blog. 
A slice of the tragically bad thin crust pie, 2012

Well, duty called again. After last year's subpar pie, I surely wouldn't spend money on a Papa John's pizza. But since I called the toss correctly, I decided (for the sake of research, wink) to give the regular ("original") crust pizza a try.

Last year, I found the website so confusing that I had to telephone to get my order correct. The website is still awful. I'm thinking that Papa John's pizza eaters might consume even more of that stuff if they could figure out this badly designed website. In my mind, I figured "Papa John's: Terrible Website, Terrible Pizza."

Once again I ordered my pie from their store in Exton, PA. It's tucked into a dark stretch of a soulless strip of chain stores, next to a closed gas station. Finding this dreary location last year, even with GPS, was almost as difficult as navigating the Papa John's website.

Inside, I found (again) the staff to be very friendly. Kudos for that. My order was ready, and no one tried to upsell me any extras.  They handed me a free pie with a smile, and I drove home anticipating another scathing review.

It's cognitively convenient when you find the lone wolf pizza maker who searches out fine and rare ingredients, and his pies match his passion. It's also convenient to regard all chain restaurants as crap, and I frequently indulge in that type of thinking. 

That kind of broad brush, unfair as it might be, generally serves me well and keeps me out of Olive Gardens and Cheesecake Factories. (I don't share the same disdain for lowbrow chain food - Taco Bell and Five Guys are just fine, and not pretending to be anything other than tasty, fast, cheap). 

Pre- re-heat, with nice pepperoncino and pointless garlic dressing

With that as perspective, I opened up the green pizza box with the smiling image of Papa John. Inside, the smallish "large" 14-inch pizza had an attractive, dark, and uneven cornicione. It had a generous cover of thin-sliced pepperoni. Because it sat for about an hour, I planned to reheat in on a perforated pizza pan. I doctored it a little, adding some spicy capicola to fill the pepperoni gaps.

After 12 minutes at 350 degrees, I served the pie to EPBAC (eats pizza but avoids cheese) and myself. How was it?

It was good!  It was balanced, tasty, and had a very appealing freshness. Not remarkable, not gonna make you forget Denino's (review HERE) or Santarpio's (review HERE), but good enough that I feel a little bit badly about slamming Papa John so harshly a year ago and on every opportunity since then.

It was better than Pizza Hut or Domino's (as my memory serves me -- been a while since I had either). It was better than the good/bad monster slices at Costco (review HERE). It was better than DiGiorno! (Review HERE). DiGiorno is my baseline pie; if you, fresh pie man, cannot beat DiGiorno, then why are you selling pizza?
Surprising hole structure in crust

The thin-crust pizza I had a year ago was not only crackerlike, but without any flavor. This crust was like very good supermarket Italian bread. Not much character on the bottom, but crisp there and with remarkable hole structure in the tender, chewy interior. I can make a much better crust myself, but I haven't yet matched that lovely internal bubbling.

The cheese was commercial grade dry mozzarella (perhaps with some other cheese mixed in) but was well-suited to this pie. The pepperoni was paper thin, but it still was a savory addition and it cooked up to a salty, greasy, slightly spicy crispness.
Unremarkable underside

The sauce was the weakest part. Typical of low-end pies, it had a cloying sweetness that tells me it is made for youthful palates. Still, it didn't ruin the pie. Adding some salt was an effective way to cut the sweetness.

Overall, this was tasty, al dente, satisfying, and did not leave us with regret for spending calories on it. There was a good balance of crust, sauce, cheese, pepperoni. EPBAC agreed that it's better than Costco pizza. Kudos to you, Papa John!

The crust earns a 6.5, the cheese gets a 6, the sauce comes in at 3, the pepperoni a 5, and the balance a 6.  Overall, this mass-produced pizza comes in at 5.75 which puts it modestly above most mom-n-pop joints. Papa John, you are better than Sysco-sourced pies. Pie-eaters could do a lot worse when selecting inexpensive pizza.
Papa John's Pizza on Urbanspoon

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