Monday, February 27, 2017

Papa John's Pizza

I rarely order pizza.  Sure, I had plenty of pizza growing up, takeout pizza at birthday parties, personal pan pizza at Pizza Hut for Book It, my dad's homemade pizza when my mom worked nights.  When I was in college, I had way more than my fair share of monster slices (with blue cheese to dip my crust in!) delivered late at night to my dorm room.  I went through a phase where I loved making bagel pizzas in my toaster oven.  I discovered deep dish pizza (no, not Pizzaria Uno, I'm talking the good stuff like Little Star), and couldn't get enough.  I went through an artisanal thin crust 900 degree wood fired trendy pizza phase (like Tony's Pizza Napoletana).  My office had a pizza oven for a while, and we had pizza every day.  I've certainly eaten, and enjoyed, plenty of pizza.

And I like carbs.  I love cheese.  I adore toppings.  But, for some reason, pizza has fallen off my list of preferred foods as of late, and I'm really not sure why.  I keep trying to like pizza, and just ... don't.  The only exception is when I transform it via my waffle iron, of course.

But Ojan loves pizza, and one day I had a coupon for a free large 1-topping carryout pizza from Papa John's (thanks, T-Mobile Tuesdays!).  Not one to pass up a freebie, I of course used it as a chance to try Papa John's again for the first time in years.

Do you need me to tell you about Papa John's?  It is a pizza franchise, the 3rd largest in the world (behind Dominos and Pizza Hut, with ~5,000 locations worldwide.  Fairly impressive, given that it was only started in 1983, yes, by a guy named John.

Ordering from Papa John's website was actually kinda fun.  They let me customize far more than I was expecting, and, illustrated it the whole way.

First, the crust.  I could choose my style (original, thin, pan), and then my size (medium, large, extra-large for original, large only for thin, or 12" for pan), and then how it was cut (normal, square), and finally, how it was baked (normal, well done).  There was so much I found novel at just this crust selection step.

For example, sizes.  If the pizza comes in medium, large, and extra-large ... how is that not just small, medium, large?  Have they inflated the sizes so much small no longer exists?  And why does thin crust only come in one size (large)?  And why is pan crust specified in inches, a real metric, rather than these arbitrary sizes?  How does a 12" compare to a large? (If you care, the internet implies that they did used to make a 10" small, but now only have the 12"/14"/16" sizes, the thin crust comes only in large because it isn't made in-store, and the pan pizza comes only in 12" which is a medium in original crust).

Then, cut.  Normal or square?  I had no idea that I had options like this.  I clicked on "square", and watched my pizza illustration change from "normal", 8 triangle slices, to 4 crustless squares in the center, 8 square-ish slices with crust, and 4 rounded corners that were more than 50% crust.  Well, huh.  When getting a large pizza, I immediately saw the appeal.  8 same size slices never really is ideal, is it?  Someone always wants more, but not a full slice more.  Someone always discards the crust.  Someone else always wants the crust for dipping.  With square cut, you can take a small piece more.  You can opt for crust or not.  You can go for the little corners with all the crust.  So much better for groups.  Why is this not an option at more places?  Or is it, and you just have to ask normally?

And finally, baked regular or well-done.  I guess that is for the folks who want really crispy pizza?

Next up was sauce.  I had choices: original (aka, tomato based pizza sauce), bbq, or ranch.  I could choose how much sauce (normal, light, extra, no).  Again, I guess you can ask any place to go light or heavy, but it was great having it built into the ordering process without feeling like asking for something special.  While there was only one choice for cheese, I again could pick if I wanted it light.

Finally, toppings.  For meats, I could add pepperoni, bacon, canadian bacon, grilled chicken, sausage, spicy sausage, beef, anchovy, and salami.  Veggies were pineapple, onion, black olive, roasted garlic, jalapeno peppers, roma tomatoes, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, green peppers, and banana peppers.  Oh, and here was more cheese customization, extra cheese, 3-cheese blend, or parmesan romano.  You can opt for half toppings, and choose which half, again, nicely illustrated.

I had way too much fun playing with the online pizza maker, particularly the toppings.  It animated them dropping on!

Since my coupon was for a single topping large pizza only, I didn't spent too much time exploring the rest of the menu, but, Papa John's is basically just a pizza place, no other entrees, no token salads or pasta dishes.  They do have a few starters, a slew of different forms of breadsticks (original, cheese, Tuscan 6-cheese, garlic parmesan, Wisconsin cheese stuffed, bacon cheddar stuffed), garlic knots, wings (buffalo, bbq, honey chipotle, plain), and chicken poppers.  Oh, and dipping sauces.  All pizzas come with their magic garlic dipping sauce, but they also have bbq, ranch, buffalo, blue cheese, honey mustard, cheese, and pizza sauce dipping cups, $0.65 each.  As a dipper, this is a highlight for me, although I wish you could sub in another sauce for the garlic sauce from time to time, since they are all the same price.  I could have added on crushed red pepper or special seasoning packets (complimentary), but I totally forgot, as they weren't part of the pizza making flow.  Doh.

Of course I did glance at the dessert options, but alas, no dessert pizzas here.  They do have a huge family size chocolate chip brownie cut into 9 squares and a large format 8 slice chocolate chip cookie, both served warm, plus local It's It Ice Cream Sandwiches, and the only one that looked good, cinnamon pull aparts, sweet roll pieces covered in cinnamon and sugar, drizzled with cream cheese icing.  Alas, my freebie was not for dessert.

Anyway, I easily ordered my pizza from the San Francisco location online.  I could have specified a pick-up time in the future, but I opted to get it ASAP, worried that saying I wanted it at 5pm, could mean they'd make it early to prepare, and it would be less fresh.  Of course, this meant I didn't know exactly when it would be ready, and the online system just told me that I'd get an e-mail with more info.  The e-mail said ... 5-15 minutes!  Luckily, I was just a couple blocks away.

My pizza was ready when I arrived, and, my order was correct.  The sole guy running the place looked up when I entered, greeted me (even though he was in back making pizza), and hurried out to help me.  He double checked my order, handed it over with a smile, and was really quite pleasant.  Perhaps I lucked out, as I honestly was a bit worried about the whole thing, given Yelp reviews consistently saying that online orders were not received and that the staff are rude.

My entire experience was pleasant, from ordering, to pick up, to consumption.  Is Papa John's amazing pizza?  Nah.  But it was well made pizza, and the garlic sauce is really a thing of (awful) beauty.
Large Original Crust Sausage Pizza. $18.74.
I could say this was just a "Large Original Crust Sausage Pizza", but, if you want the real order, it was a Large, Original Crust, Square Cut, Regular Bake, Original Sauce, Normal Amount Sauce, Normal Amount Cheese, Sausage Pizza.  As with all Papa John's pizzas, it came with a single pepperoncini on the side and a single pot of garlic sauce, each of which you can order more of for $0.65.

The box was warm, and the pizza looked like any old standard takeout pizza.

The SF location does not have any seating, but, I wanted to try it hot, so I pulled out one small slice as I walked down the street, pizza box tucked under my arm.  Don't judge.  (Side note: this is part of the beauty of the square cut, I could pick just a small piece, easy to hold and munch on the go, rather than a full sized triangle slice).

It was indeed hot and fresh.  It was a well made pizza, for this style of pizza.  It had plenty of cheese, equal coverage to the edges.  Generic, shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, not too greasy.  The sauce was also well distributed, and in a proper proportion, although, I didn't quite care for the tangy, herby nature to it.  Maybe I'd get light sauce next time, or even switch in the bbq or ranch.  My topping pick, sausage, came in a good quantity, although the coverage wasn't quite even.  The sausage was fine, a bit spicer than I expected given that they also have a spicy sausage, but I didn't mind this at all.

But the sauce, cheese, and topping weren't particularly interesting to me.  It is those elements that have made me kinda sick of pizza.  What I cared about was the crust and the dipping sauce.

Again, the beauty of the square cut, is that I could opt for those tiny corner pieces that were 80% crust.  The loser piece to many, but for me, the prize.  The crust was fluffy and light, crispy on the bottom, puffy and doughy on the edges.  It had a good chew to it, as in, not chewy, and a subtle sweetness that I really liked.  Sure, still generic takeout pizza crust, but, I liked it.

Ok, maybe I just liked the garlic dipping sauce?  The Papa John's "Special Garlic Sauce".  A magical mix of scary ingredients, that tastes like liquid garlic butter (although, it, uh, has no butter).  The garlic is great.  The buttery nature is great.  It transforms crusts into what you always want a garlic breadstick to be.  If you read the ingredients however, you'll be scared: soybean oil, vegetable mono & diglycerides, soy lecithin,  lactic acid, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium EDTA, citric acid ... Their online ingredient guide does tell you why they add each of these things (some help maintain the consistency, others for freshness, others for color).  But still.  I pretended it was just totally natural liquid garlic butter of perfect consistency at room temperature.

I enjoyed my crusts dipped in the garlic sauce.  I appreciated that, even though a generic pizza, it was made some decent care.  I can't imagine paying $18.74 for this though.

I found some notes later that I had actually tried the thin crust (with pineapple on top), before.  I didn't like the thin crust, noting that it was "very cardboard-like.  Thin and fairly useless.  Not sure why I ordered thin crust, I know generic pizza places are better at regular crust!"  So, original crust it is.  I also didn't like the sauce then, saying it was too sweet, and that there was far too much of it for a thin crust pizza.  The cheese then was well melted and in the proper amount too.  The pineapple was little chunks, good distribution, but just canned stuff.  And I loved the spice packet on the side for the zing.

Papa John's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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