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Chowdown Showdown: Good Pizza is in the Pie of the Beholder

When it comes to national chains, can Domino's beat out the competition? Patch writer Rob Gryder tries his hand at some hand-tossed pies.

The stars were aligned for this showdown. On my way back from the first of the three places I checked out, I got behind a car in traffic with a license plate that seemed to be a correspondence from the heavens. I’ve included a pic of that car that I safely took with my camera-phone while driving. Have a look at that license plate. 

So then my friend Debi made these homemade mini-pizzas for our board-gaming group the other evening. To add some spice to my life, I unsafely took a picture of those while stationary.  

So with that in mind, I checked out three pies from places I’ve recently seen advertised on television. My favorite crust is hand tossed. My favorite toppings are meat and onion. So this week is large hand tossed, with Italian sausage, pepperoni, and onion week!  

It was a very good week. 

 

I give a lot of credit to Domino’s for that whole “Sorry our pizza was worthless, we’ve reformulated to add flavor, try us again,” thing they did within the last year or two. That was a smart and interesting move by them, I’d thought. I was excited to hear them acknowledge their 20+ years of pizza ineptitude. I was eager to try Domino’s again.  

Fast forward to this week, and I still had never tried the “new” Domino’s. Turns out that “Alright, tonight I eat Domino’s,” is just something I still haven’t found a comfort with saying. That’s come to an end. The new pizza is pretty sensational.  

It is now easily the spiciest of the national chains. It’s heavy on oregano, which I found interesting as I’d figured that tastier pizza probably just meant more garlic. That’s some good, chewy hand-tossed crust they use as well, however it did not hold up its end of the flavor bargain. Fine, flavorful, quality toppings and the perfect amount for the size of the pie.     

The Domino’s Good: At $9 plus change, you can’t beat that price. Strong flavors were the best. Domino’s has found a way to create a tasty “Italian” dish without throwing garlic haymakers at you.
The Domino’s Bad: The crust wasn’t tasty, and I still don’t like that awkward box. Not only was it closed improperly when I picked the pizza up, but I couldn’t close it properly in the comfort of my own kitchen where I had all the time in the world to do it. 

Papa John’s has never really excited me terribly much. I’d never eaten it while trying to figure out how to tell people about it before, and as such had never formulated words to describe my opinion. It’s just always been Papa John’s to me. Kind of a different thing. You don’t see mom-and-pop pizzerias serve a pizza like they do.

So now I want to tell you about it. The crust. The crust is what I dis-love about the pizza. It’s almost too much like a sandwich bread both in terms of softness and in terms of flavor. Not a lot doing there. But I have now identified who the lovers of Papa John’s are – ingredientophiles.  

If you are the type who focuses on the toppings, you love Papa John’s. Talk about freshness. Of all three properly baked pizzas I ate this week, here is where I could most sense the quality of the toppings. The onion just tasted like you get at the grocer, and the meats just had this tender, juicy goodness about them. 

The Papa John’s Good: ‘Dem toppings.
The Papa John’s Bad: Crust that tastes like it was inspired by the bread on Mom’s bologna sandwiches. 

I’ve loved Pizza Hut for years. It’s the stuff I was born and raised on. I was a “Book-It” child, so I was indoctrinated early. When I set out to do this week’s research, I figured “I already know what to say. It’s Pizza Hut; I’ve had it before.  

Turns out I have no idea what to say. The crust is okay, same with the toppings. The sauce is okay. It’s a great pizza – I loved it – but it’s all just kind of okay. Nothing pretentious, nothing but good enough.  

Which, I guess, is how you make a good pizza. 

The Pizza Hut Good: The pizza.
The Pizza Hut Bad: The amount of inspiration the pizza gave me to do this writing. 

And the winner is… Domino’s. Who’d of thunk? 

Kathy Tucek October 18, 2011 at 01:54 PM
Good for you Rob to try those National Chains. Shame on you for using the photo of a car whose owner is NOT a National Chain. (yet). Thanks for the reviews. I will stick with our hometown pie makers.
debbie anaya October 18, 2011 at 02:06 PM
english muffin pizzas made by your friend debi, that made me laugh. i think the pizza at papa john's is iffy, we have had good pizza from them and we also had pizza with a crust so thin you couldn't even pick it up and we didn't order it extra thin just regular. i have not tried domino's so i can't comment on them. pizza hut is not my favorite but our kids like their personal pan pizzas quite a bit. i grew up on rosati's and our family prefers it. you will need to do another pizza challenge against rosati's, genoa pizza and macciano's!
rhonda annala October 18, 2011 at 02:10 PM
Love the Yorkville Domino's. Thanks John for all the great service over the years!
MBSchroeder October 18, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Saw the same license plate last week and decided it was pizza night. :)
Robert J. Gryder October 18, 2011 at 04:43 PM
According to the web page where I placed my order, John was the individual responsible for my pie, as well. Right on, John. I guess keep up the good work!
Robert J. Gryder October 18, 2011 at 04:44 PM
Oh, yeah? You know the driver of the "PIZZA" car? Who is it? And what's the plan?
Jillian Duchnowski October 18, 2011 at 08:14 PM
In January, another Patch writer reviewed pizza in a Chowdown Showdown among Genoa Pizza, Suzy's and Maciano's. You can check it out here: http://patch.com/A-dxlX
Jason October 19, 2011 at 08:52 AM
Okay, so there's Rosati's, Dr. Dough, and... someone fill in the blank for the next showdown, pizza challenge 3
Concerned October 19, 2011 at 12:47 PM
I don't find any of the chain pizzas to my liking. Maciano's makes a good pie and you might just think of sandwiches at Yorkville Pub, but their pizza is right up there with the best in town.
Kim armstrong October 19, 2011 at 02:55 PM
Better ingredients better pizza. The freshness of Papa Johns is to my liking. The chain store dough is made the exact same way at the commissary, why not choose fresh over kryovac -defrosted frozen?

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