Friday, March 09, 2018

Mrs. Crimbles Gluten-Free Baked Goods, UK

Mrs. Crimble's is a UK based producer of gluten-free packaged baked goods, mostly cookies, cakes, crackers, and macaroons.  They also make gluten-free baking mixes, ranging from stuffing and breadcrumbs to sweet pastry mix. 

I tried a few individually packaged items during my last visit to the UK.  They were ... fine?

Bakewell Slice: Top.
"With layers of fruity jam, crisp pastry and no soggy bottoms."

"Almond Flavoured Sponge Slices with a Fruity Layer and Gluten Free Pastry Base."

"These Mrs Crimble's Bakewell Slices are made to a high quality recipe with toasted almond topping on a frangipane base with a strawberry jam filling."

The first product I tried is Mrs. Crimble's signature item: a Bakewell slice, a bar style form of a classic British bakewell dessert.  The format is similar to the more traditional Bakewell tart, with a shortcrust pastry base, a layer of jam (strawberry and apricot blend), a layer of softer frangipane-ish sponge, and sliced almonds on top.

Every website I looked at had different descriptions of the bakewell slice, so, I give you three to pick from above.

It really wasn't bad at all.  I had no high hopes given that it was a packaged product and gluten-free, but, I liked it.

The top had a few slivered almonds, on top of a almond flavored soft moist cake (er, sponge?)
Bakewell Slice - Bottom.
The bottom was the shortcrust, harder than the sponge, crumbly.  Between the layers was the fruit spread.

Overall, it was sweet, fruity, soft, crumbly, crunchy.  Perfectly enjoyable by itself.  I'm sure it would have been good with a cup of tea.  It didn't entirely meet my "dessert" needs, but for a mid-afternoon treat, or perhaps even, uh, as part of a nicely balanced breakfast, I liked it.

I also had a chunk with whipped cream on top, which then did meet my "dessert" needs.
Jam Coconut Ring.
"Coconut ring with a fruity filling."

Next, the "jam coconut ring".

This was a decent product, but you really need to like coconut to enjoy it.  It was ... shredded, sweet coconut, formed into a soft cookie-ring, with a strawberry and elderberry (!) based goo in the middle.  Sure, it had a few other ingredients, but, mostly, it was sweet sorta gooey sorta soft coconut, with fruit goo.  Sweet, soft, good textures, but, uh, very "coconut forward"?

Basically, a macaroon, but shaped in a ring, with a bit of goo. 

The most interesting element was under the goo.  A piece of paper.  Edible paper.  Rice paper.  To hold the goo in place.  Why not have the cookie extend all the way through? I have no idea.  It didn't taste bad, but, it wasn't exactly good either.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Pepple's Donuts -> Donut Farm

Back in 2015, I tried Pepple's Donuts, when it was just a little pop up at the Ferry Building.  Let's just say, I wasn't impressed (although I never published my review then, I've included it below).

But Pepple's has re-branded and expanded, with multiple locations now, including Berkeley, Oakland, and even Los Angeles.  After 3 years, I decided to give them another try.

What is Pepple's?  Er, now "Donut Farm"?  A donut shop (promising!).  An ... organic donut shop (ok, fine).  A ... vegan organic donut shop (yeah ...).  My memories were of pretty lackluster creations.  I'm glad to report, they have improved.
Donuts? Well, ok!
I didn't seek out the donuts though, they came to me.  Someone brought in donuts, and had lots of leftovers.

Luckily for me, everyone seemed interesting in sampling them, and was happy to cut off chunks of different ones.  This meant I got to try a large selection!

The texture of all of them is different from what I expected.  They *look* like cake donuts, but taste like old fashioned.  Dense, crispy, greasy in a good way.  I actually really liked the texture quite a bit, and certainly would not know they were vegan.

Most of them just have different glazes on top of the same cake-old-fashioned base, although the chocolate ones use a chocolate base.
(Clockwise, from Top): Blueberry (upside down), Whiskey Tangerine Fig, Maple Candycap Mushroom, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Lemon Poppyseed ($3-$3.50 each).
The first box had an assortment of $3 "Classics" and $3.50 "Top Shelf" selections.  I tried all of these.
  • Blueberry:  The glaze on this was great, with a very bright berry flavor.  Second favorite.
  • Whiskey Tangerine Fig: I didn't taste whiskey in this, but it had a citrus note to it.  Ok, nothing special.
  • Maple Candycap Mushroom: This was my favorite!  The maple flavor was very strong, but then there was a really interesting depth to the finish, a sweetness that I would never be able to identify (from the candy cap).  Glaze was more generous on this one too.
  • Mexican Hot Chocolate: I didn’t realize this was chocolate when I took it.  Mexican chocolate is never my favorite, and the chocolate base and icing tasted funny.  Least favorite I tried.
  • Lemon Poppyseed: Very tangy, good lemon flavor, bright.  Middle of the pack for me.
(Clockwise, from Top): Coconut Whiteout, Whiskey Tangerine Fig, Szechaun Chai?, Matcha Green Tea, Blueberry, Vanilla Cookie.
The second box had some repeats, plus a few news one.  I tried two from here.
  • Matcha Green Tea (green with white stripe): This had a strange flavor to the matcha.  I like matcha, but I did not like this.  Second to last pick, and I didn’t even want a second bite (but I took it, to keep evaluating …).
  • Vanilla Cookie (cookie crumbles on top):  This was fairly plain, just plain donut base, plain vanilla icing, and a couple cookie crumbles that weren’t enough to be tasted.  The cookie wasn’t incorporated anywhere else.

Original 2015 Review (previously unpublished)

I never published this, but found my notes, so, including for completeness.  Things have clearly improved!
Vanilla Sprinkle.
Wow, this was not tasty. It was dry. The base had no real flavor. The glaze just fell off, and it too wasn't tasty. The sprinkles even looked pathetic.

Other notes:
  • Blueberry: Blueberry throughout the donut with blueberry glaze.  Glaze was nice, rest of it was just kinda soggy and uninteresting flavor.
  • Coconut:  Standard not very goo cake donut with coconut flakes on top.  Did not like.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Waffling Leftovers: Sticky Buns

Another Update Review, March 2018

Waffling leftover sticky buns is no longer novel, I know.  I do it all the time, as you have read about before, with several different types of buns, like maple pecan sticky buns or my mom's "famous" pecan sticky buns.  This is yet another story about my mom's version, as she makes them, at least once, every time I visit.

Because she is the best mommy ever.  And these are the best sticky buns ever.
Pecan Cinnamon Sticky Bun Transformation.
Today's lesson? Yes, the waffle iron is a great way to revive day (or two) old sticky buns, but you need to be careful not the burnt the caramel.
The Original: Pecan Cinnamon Sticky Buns (Bottom View).
The originals were the same recipe my mom always uses, from King Arthur Flour, that we have tweaked over the years.  Doughy, moist, and we always slightly under-bake, because that is how I like them.
The Original: Pecan Cinnamon Sticky Buns (Top View).
They are crowned with a glorious layer of sticky maple syrup based caramel and pecans.

This photo was taken a moment after I tipped them over onto the platter, so the hot caramel hadn't quite solidified, but it turns a perfect softball caramel when done right.

The sticky buns were glorious.  I told my mom that these were the best batch yet.  They were so moist, so doughy, so gooey, just, absolutely perfect, hot and fresh out of the oven.
Leftover Pecan Cinnamon Sticky Buns. 
Glorious as they were, we had leftovers.

This was the second batch she made, just two days after the first batch.  The batch had 14 sticky buns.  My dad doesn't like them (he doesn't like the topping) and my mom only likes a little piece of one for dessert, and doesn't actually eat them for breakfast herself.  And that's everyone in the house these days.  Let's just say ... I had a lot of sticky buns.

And I love them, but, in my world, the shelf life of a sticky bun is ~5 minutes.  Ok, maybe a few hours, but, even by dinner time, they have lost some glory (I still warm up another and top it with ice cream, and love it, of course).  By the next morning, a warmed one is ok, but not great.  By that evening though?  No way.

They don't look that bad, but, the buns themselves dry out, the topping gets strangely moist.
Grilling ...
We had a big family dinner with a few extra relatives that night, and my mom, completely out of character, didn't prepare a dessert.  (Ok, to be fair, she made sticky buns that morning, a huge dinner and fruit crisp for the same group the night before and cinnamon rolls that morning, sticky buns the morning before that and strawberry shortcake that night ...).

I said I'd handle dessert.  I wanted to introduce more relatives to waffling!

So I loaded up the waffle iron with sticky buns, one in each compartment.  I usually just do one at a time, as I'm usually just waffling for myself.  It was fun to have a group to waffle for!

However, I made an error.  In my excitement to share my waffled sticky buns with everyone, I forgot to check the temperature of the waffle iron.  I leave mine set at 350°, but hers ... hers was set to the highest temperature.  And I didn't notice.

And then I made another error.  I went to socialize and set up the toppings bar (I was going to have everyone top them to order with ice cream, whipped cream, and more), instead of carefully watching them as they cooked, and discovering the error sooner.
Burnt Waffled Sticky Bun.
The result?

Uh, more crispy than I intended.  The caramel went too far, got too hard, and even tasted a bit burnt.

This was not my finest showing.  I covered it up somewhat with generous amounts of ice cream, but, oops.  One person liked it with maple syrup instead.

I did not sell them on the waffling concept, due to my own errors.
Waffled Sticky Bun Perfection!
The next day, I wanted to redeem myself, and we still had leftover sticky buns.

This time, I put the waffle iron on the correct temperature (I actually did 325° because I was paranoid), paid attention, and pulled one out perfectly done.  Just a bit crispy on the outside, still soft inside, caramel just caramelized, not burnt.

Redemption.  Of course these waffle, you just need to pay attention ...

Update Review, June 2017

By now, I know that waffling is a great way to "save" day (or more) old sticky buns, donuts, cinnamon sugar knots, or any other glazed sticky bread products. All staleness vanishes, and sticky glaze turns into excellent caramelization.
Sticky Bun Transformation.
So when I had another giant batch of sticky buns that really degraded quickly past their first day, I knew exactly what to do.
The Originals: Maple Pecan Sticky Buns.
The originals were fairly classic sticky buns, rolled with cinnamon sugar between the layers, a basic dough as the base, and sticky bottom side.

I had them at my office, and we had platters and platters of them. Suffice to say, there were tons leftover, and I grabbed some, thinking they'd hold up ok for another day, and I pondered making bread pudding from more.
The Original: Maple Pecan Sticky Buns (bottom).
Of course, sticky buns are all about their sticky side. The undersides of the buns were coated in a sweet, maple syrup based sticky sauce, with plenty of halves of pecans.
Day Old Leftover Sticky Bun.
After a day, they were dry and stale. These has zero shelf life. Even warmed up, they weren't good.

So I sliced one in half, and threw it, sticky side in, to my waffle iron at 350°.
Waffled Sticky Bun.
After about 5 minutes, the waffle transformation was complete.

The outside was crispy, the inside stayed moist, and the maple syrup coating turned into liquid that infused the whole thing, and then formed a slightly caramelized layer.

It extracted fairly easily from the iron, except that ... it split apart where the rolls were. I didn't really care though, and topped it with plenty of whipped cream. And dug in. I realized about halfway through that I forgot to take a photo of the completed "dish", but, I think you get the point.

These items are always a success, as long as you don't overcook. Highly recommended as a way to salvage 1-3 day old glazed bread products!

Original Review, September 2016

A few years ago, for Christmas brunch, my mom made incredible sticky buns, following a recipe from King Arthur Flour.  Since then, I request them literally every time I visit.  It is a given that I want them for Christmas brunch annually, but I'll also ask for them for a random breakfast when I visit in the summer, or for dessert even (because really, they *are* dessert!).  We've tweaked the recipe a few times over the years, trying different cinnamon fillings and ratios, and adjusting the cooking time slightly (I like them a bit under-baked, more soft and doughy inside, and the topping more gooey and sticky).  At this point, my mom has these sticky buns nailed, and they are a highlight of my visits.
Sticky Buns: Normal Version.
Anyway, I adore these sticky buns and they come out excellent nearly every time (there was one time when we baked them too long, and the topping turned into caramel brittle and the buns were kinda dried out ...).  Pictured above is how they normally look, with an amazing cinnamon sugar topping and tons of pecans bathed in the sticky topping.

A batch is fairly sizable, and not everyone in my family is as crazy about them as I am.  Which means, I generally end up responsible for eating ... 80% of the buns?  And, their shelf life isn't exactly long.

They are incredible hot and fresh out of the oven for a decadent breakfast.  They are pretty good later that day for a dessert, topped with whipped cream or ice cream.  They are acceptable the next morning, warmed, for breakfast again.  After the second afternoon though, I generally start to turn my nose up at them, and move on to whatever new baked good my mom's oven has produced (because, well, she knows I have a sweet tooth, and she keeps me very well fed!)
Sticky Buns: Not-risen.
So that is how things normally go.  Incredible sticky buns that I enjoy for about two days, and then move on.  But on my recent visit, things didn't quite go as expected.

My mom made up the dough in advance, knowing that is the time consuming part.  She stashed the dough in the freezer to pull out and easily make my sticky buns when I arrived.  On my first day there, she pulled it out and defrosted in the fridge.  She intended to surprise me the next morning with hot fresh sticky buns.  But ... she forgot.  And we had breakfast plans the day after that with my grandfather at 4 Aces Diner.  So, two days passed, and then she remembered the dough.  She pulled it out to make the buns on the third morning.  But ... they just didn't rise.  Was it from freezing?  Was it from being in the fridge for a few days?  We weren't sure.  But I still wanted my sticky buns, so, eventually, she put them in the oven, warning me that she could tell things weren't quite right.
Sad Sticky Bun: Not Risen, Way Too Much Topping.
And ... yeah, things weren't quite right.  The buns didn't rise, didn't get as fluffy and doughy as usual.  Instead they stayed fairly deflated.  The topping amount was too much, given the significantly reduced dough surface area.  So, what we had was kinda undercooked balls of dough, with way too much filling inside the folds and on top.  They looked horrible.

They tasted decent enough, but were crazy sweet, and totally not right for breakfast.  Warmed up later in the day with a huge scoop of ice cream to cut the sweetness, they made for a fantastic dessert (in my mind), but, no one else wanted to touch them.  They were going to throw them out.

I had another one after lunch the second day, warm with ice cream.  It was still pretty good.  I had one after dinner the second day, warm with ice cream.  Still a winner.  But, no one else wanted any.  I had an entire batch of sticky buns to eat myself (save for one that the others split the first day).

By day three, I decided to get creative.  Even a perfect version of the buns never holds up to day three.

I imagine you might know where this is headed.  What else would I do with a sad leftover that I desperately wanted to save?  Of course I waffled it, following my tradition of waffling all the things

So, Leftover Messed-Up-Sticky-Buns: Will It Waffle?  Yes!
Mid-Way Through Cooking.
I knew this idea had potential.  The cinnamon sugar coating would likely get crispy and actually caramelized when it came in contact with the hot irons.  The entire thing would hopefully cook a bit more and improve upon its under-baked state.

I threw the sticky bun in, unmodified, into a 350 degree waffle iron. (Of course, my mom has the same waffle iron I do, with adjustable temperatures, so, no modifications were needed to my technique).
Waffled Sticky Bun!
The result was certainly better than the original, but, I did accidentally leave it in a bit too long, as I was busy socializing with my family.  Rookie mistake!

The outside sugar and cinnamon did indeed turn more caramelized, into a crispy layer encasing the side of the bun.  It went a touch too dark though, so had a hint of burnt flavor to it.  The pecans on the outside sadly did burn, so I ended up scraping those off.

I think the dough did cook a bit more, but, really, it just mattered less because the whole thing was mushed down to be waffled, so the lack of rise wasn't as strange in this form.

I served the sticky bun with both whipped cream and ice cream, and preferred the whipped cream since I could dunk the crispy roll into it easier.

Overall, this was a success, and a great idea for what to do with future extra sticky buns, even ones that DO rise properly, after day two.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Dirt Dog, Los Angeles

I was in Los Angeles for a short recruiting trip, and, one night, our event got out extremely late, and I just needed a bite to eat.  Of course I had done my research and had a few places in mind that were close by, like, Dirt Dog.
"The Official Hot Dog of Los Angeles™, the ultimate bacon-wrapped hot dog. It's the best dog you'll ever have, so we've been told. Expect the unexpected."
People rave about these hot dogs.  I also had noted that the sides sounded good, and the desserts quite fun.  So, to Dirt Dog I went.
Fries & Churros.
Dirt Dog made it on my radar for the hot dogs, but I actually wasn't in the mood for a hot dog when I visited (strange story, but, 2 days in a row of hot dogs leading up to this), so I went for just fries and dessert.

The quality was high, very freshly prepared, and creative offerings, but, I didn't love it.


Dirt Dog is located in a strip mall, because, LA.  In the same little mall as a Popeye's and 7-Eleven.  Oh so classy.
Ordering Register.
The setup is casual, order at a register.

For takeout, they call out your name, for dine-in, you are given a number to take to your table and the food is delivered to you when ready.
Everything is prepared, to order, in the open kitchen.  Here you could watch each order being done individually - fries were weight out, dropped into the oil, and then tossed with toppings.  Each and every deep fried Oreo was battered and fried to order.  Hot dogs were actually queued up, with a few on the side of the grill just waiting to be ordered and assembled, but, besides that, things were very, very fresh.  And the staff quite busy.
Seating is pretty simple, fake wood tables, comfortable enough benches.  Self-seating.
Hot Sauces.
Behind each table was a row of hot sauces on a shelf.  Standard ketchup and mustard were available near the soda fountain.


The place is known for the hot dogs obviously.

The menu features 6 types of bacon-wrapped hot dogs with crazy toppings, all with optional fancier rolls like a pretzel roll or lobster roll, for a very reasonable $6.25.  The toppings sound incredible, ranging from the basic #TheHouseDog with bacon thousand island and green chile spread to #TheBrownDog with teriyaki sauce and sesame sweet aioli.  There are 4 more "Extra Dirty Dogs" for $7.25, ones loaded with even more toppings, like the #PattyMeltDog with melted cheddar fries and chipotle aioli on it or the #RancheroDog with a fried egg, tortilla strips, refried beans, and salsa.  I believe the hot dogs are beef, they have a veggie dog option too.

For sides, there are 2 corn dishes ("dirty corn" or "dirty esquite", e.g. elote or elote-in-a-cup), and 6 styles of fries (again, think, toppings, all using the same fries as a base).  A few street tacos round out the savory menu.  Certainly no healthy options here, no salads, nothing light, as both corn dishes are loaded with mayo and cheese.

The dessert menu is ... fun.  Deep-fried twinkes, battered and fried to order, served with horchata whipped cream to dunk it in.  Or deep-fried Oreos, same deal, housemade batter, fried to order, horchata whipped cream.  And then there is the horchata ice cream, a huge 4 scoop sundae with horchata syrup, rice crispies, almonds, and a full churro on top.  Or, go a bit more restrained, and get just a churro, again housemade, fried to order, and served with that horchata whipped cream.
#EloteFries. $5.50.
"Corn, lime mayo, chili powder, cotija cheese, cilantro, bacon."

For fries, I had 6 options: dirty fries (with chile and lemon seasoning), garlic fries (garlic oil, garlic seasoning, fried garlic bits), salt & pepper fries, #FilthyFries (with guacamole, chipotle aioli, cheddar and cotija cheese), #DirtyChiliFries (with beef chili and bacon cheddar), and these, the #EloteFries.

I nearly went for the garlic fries, but since I was debating between garlic fries and the Dirty Esquite (basically elote in a cup, as in, corn with elote toppings), I decided to get the #EloteFries as the compromise, as I'd still get all the tasty toppings from the Dirty Esquite.

My fries came in a takeout box, served open, since I was dining in.  A fork was stuck in by the server before she brought them to me.

I'll start with the good: the fries were fresh.  Seriously fresh.  Piping hot.  They really do make everything to order.

They were coated in chile powder, nicely seasoned, a bit zesty, and salty.  But ... I just didn't like the fries.  Yes, they were crispy enough, and fresh obviously, and not oily, but ... I don't know, I didn't like them.  I think they were too thick, and just too potato-y.  If that makes any sense at all?

But the toppings were good.  A generous glob of zesty lime mayo.  A little cotija.  A few springs of cilantro.  A few tiny bacon bits.  And of course, corn.

The corn was great, sweet, fresh, very tasty.  I like mayo, I like cheese, and I loved the seriously crispy bacon bits.

The problem though?  There really wasn't much of the toppings.  Even if I had liked the fries, I think I would have bee disappointed by the tiny amount of bacon in particular.

Oh, there was a lime to squeeze over the top as well.

Overall, a really cool idea, but since I didn't like the fries themselves, not much way to save this for me.  I think I would have liked the corn cup though!
Churro. $2.
"Housemade churro tossed in cinnamon sugar, with horchata whipped cream." 

I wanted dessert, since, well, I'm a dessert girl.  I've never actually had a deep fried Twinkie, or Oreo before, but, I wasn't quite feeling those.  The horchata ice cream sounded great, but, given that it came with 4 scoops of ice cream AND a churro, it seemed ambitious for me to take on myself.  Which left ... the churro.

I'd never normally order a churro, as I don't like them that much, but I knew this was freshly made, as in, they'd fry it when I was ready for it, and it certainly wasn't a generic frozen Tio Pepe churro that they were heating up.  Plus, it came with horchata whipped cream, which certainly sounded interesting.

So, a churro it was.

I was instructed to let them know when I was ready for it, which I did by nodding to the cashier after I had decided I didn't want more fries.  I heard him yell, "time to fire a churro!", or something like that, and several minutes later, he came back to my table with the churro, wrapped in a paper bag, a little container of whipped cream on the side.

Hot and fresh.  Very hot and fresh.
Part of a Churro.
I failed to take a photo of the full size churro, but here is about half of it.  As you can see, this is not a standard generic churro, no signature ridges.

It was really quite good.  Clearly freshly fried, which I knew because I watched it being done, but even if I hadn't seen that, I would be able to tell.  Piping hot, too hot even, on the inside.

The exterior was crispy, but not hard, if that makes sense.  I usually find churros really hard, whereas this was just nicely crisp.  Inside though?  Crazy soft, and actually, it seemed under-baked?  Not bad necessarily, but it was mostly liquid raw dough, which I don't think it was supposed to be?  Also, did I mention, HOT!

It wasn't greasy though, or at least, it didn't feel too heavy or oily, even though it was fried dough.  And I did like the crispy outside and doughy inside.  So I think I liked those elements.

It was rolled in cinnamon sugar, and here I felt it was not well executed.  Just, too much.  I scraped some off and liked it more that way.

And then, the horcata whipped cream.  It didn't taste like horchata necessarily, but it did taste like something.  Clearly not just whipped cream, not vanilla.  It was also a bit thick.  But I did like having whipped cream to dunk my churro in.

Really, this was a mixed success.  I did like it, but, I'm not sure the churro was cooked properly, it had way too much cinnamon sugar, and I only quasi-liked the whipped cream.

But $2 for a freshly made item wasn't bad.
Dirt Dog LA Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Monday, March 05, 2018

Papa John's Pizza

Update Review, 2018

Papa John's is known for the pizza (which I've reviewed twice before), but, they also offer up a slew of sides, most based on the pizza dough, just ... assembled differently.  Bread sticks, knots, cheese sticks, and, wings.

I opted to try the bread sticks, as I read poor reviews of the knots (they don't cook evenly, and use a small pizza dough vs a large pizza dough the others use, so, less bang for the buck), and I didn't want the cheese sticks (available in 3 varieties), since I didn't really care for their cheese on the pizza, and didn't think I'd like it in this application either.
Garlic Parmesan Breadsticks. $6.99.
"Fresh dough baked to a golden brown then topped with our Special Garlic sauce and Parmesan cheese. Served with pizza sauce for dipping."

Papa John's makes two kinds of breadsticks: plain, or garlic parmesan.  Both use the pizza dough as a base (large size pizza), and come 10 to an order, but one is doused with garlic sauce and seasoning.  Given how much I love the garlic sauce, this was a no brainer.

My order was piping hot, freshly made.  You could tell they were actually made by one of the employees there who just cut up a regular crust into sticks before baking, as they were fairly different sizes.  They were, well, breadsticks?  Basically just like the crusts of the pizza, soft enough interior, slightly crisp exterior.

Of course, I was in this for the special garlic sauce.  I believe it is literally the same stuff they give you with the pizza, just, they drizzle it all over the top, and also toss them in parmesan cheese and seasoning (likely the same as the packets you can get on the side too?)  Expert re-purposing of what they already have in the store.

Overall, these were fine.  Basically like the pizza crust with the special garlic sauce that I like to dunk in, just, less dunkable.  I was able to soak up quite a bit of the sauce from the bottom of the tray, there really was quite a bit, but, I preferred just dunking into a cup instead.
Cheese Dipping Sauce.
All bread sides come standard with pizza dipping sauce, but you can swap it out for any other sauce of your pleasing, from the long list of sauces (cheese sauce, buffalo sauce, bbq sauce, ranch, blue cheese and more).  Since I didn't ever like the pizza sauce on the pizza, I clearly didn't want more of that.  I was tempted to get the garlic sauce, since I love it so much with the pizza, but, I knew the breadsticks would be slathered in it already, so I used this excuse to try something new, and ordered the cheese sauce.

The cheese sauce did actually contain cheese (jack) along with a slew of chemicals.  The chemicals didn't scare me though, at least, the delicious garlic sauce was loaded with them, so I knew they could taste great.

This though ... was, eh.  It didn't taste like cheese, it didn't taste like magic. It did have a bit of a kick to it though, which surprised me, since it didn't sound like something that should have spice.

I wouldn't get it again.

Update Review, September 2017

Another year, another free Papa John's pizza as part of T-Mobile Tuesdays.

While I wasn't super excited about Papa John's the first year, this year, I was looking forward to it, since I was pleasantly surprised by the tasty crust and amazing garlic dipping sauce last time.  Plus, I had ideas on how to refine my pizza, and knew exactly what I wanted to order.

Last year, I was impressed with the speed and friendly service.  This year ... not so much.  Same location, different staff member, entirely different experience.  It took forever for my pizza to be ready, and in the end, it was actually sitting there for quite a while before it was handed over.  Also ... I'm pretty sure most of the flaws with my pizza were entirely his fault.  And to be fair, it was not busy, and I was the only customer.  If this was my first Papa John's pizza, I assure you, tasty garlic sauce or not, I would never return.
Medium, Original Crust, Regular Bake, Square Cut, 1/2 Pineapple, 1/2 Onion, BBQ sauce, light cheese. $16.49.
I changed a few elements from my previous order, taking my own advice.

Since I liked the soft, fluffy, original crust last year, I stuck with it (plus, I knew I didn't like the thin crust, and I have bad associations with pan crust from Pizza Hut ...).  I also stuck with the "regular" (instead of "well done") bake, and went for the less standard square cut, that I found so useful.

Unfortunately, this pizza, while those components were ordered the same was as before, was not at all the same.  Where was the puffy, soft, lightly golden, tasty crust from my previous pizza?  This crust didn't puff up, was dark brown, and was quite hard.  Overcooked for sure, but also, it seemed overworked and like it had not risen properly.  Since I was most looking forward to the crusts to dip in the sauce, this was quite sad.

I didn't like the regular pizza sauce last time (too sweet and tangy), so this time, I decided to try the bbq sauce.  The bbq sauce was also sweet, which comes as no surprise, given that the second ingredient (after water) is sugar.  Third ingredient?  Brown sugar.  Both before tomato paste and vinegar are two sugars.  Sweetness like this is more normal in bbq sauce than tomato sauce though, so it seemed more fitting.  It had a light taste of tomato and tang of vinegar, and seasoning from cumin, chili peppers, oregano, and garlic.  But, overwhelmingly, mostly just sweet, so not really possible to taste nor appreciate the other aspects of it.  I wouldn't go for BBQ sauce again.  The final sauce option is ranch, which perhaps I'd try, but honestly, I think I'd rather leave the sauce off entirely, and just have it more like cheesy bread.
Speaking of cheese, we decided to go for "light" cheese rather than regular, which doesn't actually change the type of cheese, only the quantity.  This was a mistake.  Well, it was probably worse due to the skill of my pizza maker, but many edge pieces had no cheese at all.  Only the center slices had cheese.  We ended up adding our own cheese at home, as it was really just lacking.  The cheese that was there was pretty standard, part skim mozzarella (with modified food starch, sugarcane fiber, whey protein concentrate, sodium citrate, and sodium propionate in there for good measure).

For toppings, I went for pineapple (since it goes great with bbq on a classic Hawaiian) and onion (to hedge my bets).

The pineapple bits, er, "tidbits" per the menu, were certainly the canned variety, sweet, and made even sweeter by the addition of sugar.  Yes, the ingredients list pineapple, water, sugar, and some bonus citric acid too.  There wasn't anything wrong with it, but it was very sweet, and with the sweet bbq and no cheese to balance it out, it was just too much.

The onion was actually good.  Onion and bbq were a great combo.  I wish there was more of it though, most slices had 1-2 pieces at most.  These did seem to be real vegetables, "fresh US #1 yellow onions" are the only ingredient listed.

Overall, this was a flop.  The hard crust just ruined it.  The bbq sauce was too sweet.  The toppings were eh.

Future Julie: stick with original crust, regular bake, square cut.  Consider ranch, but probably go sauceless.  Go for onions again, or maybe pepperoni for Ojan.

I got this for free, but normally it would be $16.49, which is way too pricey for such a low quality pizza.

Special Garlic Sauce. $0.65.
But let's talk about that garlic sauce.

Yes, this stuff is a horrible blend of chemicals.  Yes, it tastes just like amazing butter sauce yet contains no butter.  It is terrifying.  And it is delicious.  Liquid delicious.

Soybean oil and water are the base, mixed with some spices that make sense (garlic, salt, "natural flavors"), and then, a slew of additives: vegetable mono & diglycerides and soy lecithin are the magic that makes it to perfect smooth runny melted butter consistency,  lactic acid, sodium benzoate, calcium disodium EDTA, and citric acid add "freshness", natural beta carotene gives it the color, and vitamin A palmitate  is used to "enhance flavor".  Uh, yeah.  Better to not look.

And don't look at the nutrition stats, 150 calories in the little container, all 150 from fat.  

A single container is included with every Papa John's order (no idea why, really, and there is no way to opt-out, or ask for a different dipping sauce instead, but there is no reason you should possibly want to do that anyway).  If you want more, it, like all dipping sauces, are available for $0.65 each.

This was the saving grace of our order.  It makes anything you dunk in it tasty, overcooked or not.
All the free seasonings: Crushed Red Pepper, Parmesan Cheese, Special Seasoning.
I also asked for all the seasoning packets, just to experiment.

The crushed red pepper was totally standard, "dried cut ripe chili peppers", nice for a bit of kick, and something I grew up adding to pizza.

Papa John's can't seem to stop adding sugar to things.  Yup, the parmesan cheese includes sugar of sorts, sugar cane fiber, to prevent caking?   And they add some natamycin to prevent mold.  Lots of additives everywhere.

Finally, the "special seasoning".  This really was basically just spices, I'm not sure what exactly besides salt, garlic, and dried onion though, as the ingredients just say "spices" and "natural flavor" (plus fun things like wheat starch and soybean oil).  I was surprised by how finely ground it was though, it made it hard to really taste much of anything  besides salt and vague spiceness, even when I tried it plain.

Overall, nothing to really note about these, good to add a bit to your pizza, and nice that they include them for free if you ask.

Original Review, 2016

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