Pizza has changed a lot since I was a kid. Well, I guess my understanding of pizza has changed. There was a time when any pizza was what I wanted. Thick, thin, fresh, frozen, you name it. As long as it had cheese, sauce, and toppings that didn’t include black olives (I was a child), then I would eat it.
And, if we’re being honest (as I sometimes like to be), I am still a straight-up pizza whore most of the time. It’s a rare occasion when someone says, “I ordered pizza!” that I don’t find my way over with a napkin to use as a plate for a slice or several.
While I’d rather have a slice from Saucee Sicilian, Empire Slice House, Sauced, or Hideaway—among the many delicious purveyors of local pies you can find in Robbie C’s Pepperoni Situation, JFYI—I won’t turn my nose up at a pizza from the national chains.
And, since we can’t all walk down the street to The Wedge or pick up an extra-large from Jo’s Famous Pizza on the way home, I thought we ought to pull together the hard-nosed team of food mercenaries who brought you The Great OKC Chicken Strip Tease for a brand new round-up. It’s…
As before, our stipulations were pretty simple. This time, we’re focusing on the most popular pizzas (pepperoni) from national and regional chains with a fair amount of coverage in Oklahoma.
“Why not include Hideaway? They’re regional.”
Good question. I thought about it and Hideaway is too good for this round-up. It’s a more prestigious pizza than anything you might get from our list of pie slingers. The price is higher, for one, but they’re also a more full-service pizza place than the chains. Sure, you can find a few sit-down Pizza Huts, Mazzio’s and Domino’s out there, but most are delivery or pick-up restaurants.
We’re also going more scientific than last time. After I procured the pizzas, I cut them off the crust and into smaller “taster” pieces, put them on numbered paper plates, and set them out for our crew of guinea pigs. All of the pizzas are the large “regular” crust variety. I’d say “hand-tossed,” but let’s not fool ourselves here. No extra cheese or double pepperoni. This is just what you’d get if you ordered a large pepperoni pizza.
Testers were asked to rank the pizzas from one (the best) to six (the worst) and make notes on why they did or did not like each pie. I averaged the scores for each pizza and that’s how we got our rankings.
As with the Chicken Strip Tease, most of the tasters were from Leaf + Bean, which graciously allowed us to use their space for tasting. Owner Paul, baristas Dylan, Tom, and Alex (and Alex’s husband Grant) were joined by pizza freak and Oklahoma State Rep. Forrest Bennett, Pepperoni King of the Great Plains Robbie C., and Garbage Time Gang All-Star Ben Luschen.
As is my wont to do, we are starting with the worst and working our way down to the (frankly inconceivable) winner. Buckle up, because it’s an indigestion-filled ride.
What in Lizzo’s name happened here? Despite being the go-to fast food pizza choice of a number of tasters, Domino’s ranked last by a hair (and not a hair found in the pizza, don’t be gross). Rob called the crust “spongy” and the overall product “not great,” while Paul said it was “tough” and had “no flavor.”
Greg’s thoughts: Domino’s had the most pepperoni-per-pie, but the flavors and textures were a let down.
Two of the biggest names in the game going this far down the list is bad news. But, in fairness, these were not great pizzas. The highest praise came from Dylan, who said, “It tastes like a standard pizza, which I quite enjoy.” Others were less kind. Tom called it “hard to chew” while Grant proclaimed Pizza Hut’s offering as “pretty much cardboard.” Paul insisted the rest of us had never tasted herbs before, because he was tasting herbs.
Greg’s thoughts: I did not taste herbs. This was, by far, the toughest crust of the bunch and the toppings were not good enough to require so much effort.
While most of the other offerings were fairly standard during our collective Oklahoma upbringings, Marco’s is fairly new to our market, which led to a lot of curiosity after the tastings and a bit of confusion during. Paul said it was “good” and “spicy.” Actually, he just wrote “good spicy,” so I assume that’s what he meant. Robbie C. and I both confused it for Little Caesars, while Dylan declared it, “a little...bland.” Tom’s extremely forgiving nature meant that, while it was the second-to-worst on their list, they still said it was, “OK, oily, crust is cardboard, overall positive.” Forrest said it was “pretty damn good.”
Greg’s thoughts: I definitely thought this was Little Caesars. One weird note is that the cheese was darker than on the other pizzas and I think it might have been all the grease from the pepperoni and sauce leaching into it.
While we all took turns making fun of former Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter and the racist tirades that got him booted from being the store’s mascot, PJ’s fared surprisingly well in the tastings. Ben favored the mild sweetness in the crust and “by far the crispiest pepperoni,” while Paul summed his thoughts up as, “soft bad cheese.” Tom thought it was a little herby and definitely better than Domino’s, though not quite as good as the next entrant.
Greg’s thoughts: If you’re getting Papa John’s, pepperoni is the only choice. Only the spice of the cured meat is enough to counteract the extremely sweet sauce and bready dough.
There was a general feeling that Mazzio’s quality had nosedived in recent years, but that’s why we do a blind tasting! Tom loved the thinner crust and said it “tastes like Italian herbs and seasonings.” Alex ranked it lower, but still liked the herbaceous flavors and general greasiness. Forrest Bennett, a man with opinions, simply said, “Perfect.” Ben went a bit deeper: “This sauce is the flavor of my childhood. Tastes even better cold, straight from the fridge the next morning.”
Greg’s thoughts: If you like a greasy pepperoni pizza (I do), Mazzio’s is the choice. Their regular crust is thinner than most without being overly tough, which might be a function of the grease softening everything it touches on the way down.
WINNER: Little Caesars
Nobody saw this coming, except maybe Tom, who claimed it as a vindication for years of harassment they've endured for their Little Caesars love. The cheapest pie in the bunch, and the only one that was not made-to-order, somehow grabbed the top spot. It was Paul’s No. 1 choice thanks to “good garlic,” while Dylan gave it the lowest score and said only, “pepperonis taste...OK.” Robbie C. called it nostalgic and Tom said, “Crust is excellent!” Alex said it was “Yummo.”
Greg’s thoughts: Huh. I wish I could say this ranking was going to change everything about how I order fast food pizzas, but it 100 percent will not. For one thing, I’m a thin crust boy (that’s going to have to be our next tasting), and for another, I’m always going to spend a little more to get a better pizza when possible.