Random Thoughts on Pizza

I’ve eaten pizza in four of the top ten pizzerias in America. Soon, I’ll be making the trip to NYC to check the fifth and possibly a sixth off that list.

I have plans to spend a weekend in Brooklyn, and a weekend in Boston to eat pizza. I hope to make the trek to New Haven again and explore more of the pizza there. (I have eaten at Pepe’s.)

I’ve driven as far as 2 1/2 hours one way just to eat pizza at a single pizzeria, and then I turned around and came right back.

I’ve eaten at every single Neapolitan style pizza joint within a 2-hour radius of Albany. Every. Single. One.

I’ve eaten at 95% of pizzerias that have a wood oven in the area (that I’m aware of), and at most of the wood-fired pizza trucks. If I discover a pizzeria that has a wood oven and I haven’t been, I usually go immediately.

I’ve eaten pizza at well more than 100 local places and counting.

I just spent a weekend in Buffalo, the primary impetus to go there was to eat the pizza at Jay’s Artisan, a fantastic Neapolitan style pizza joint.

I once talked my wife into spending a weekend in Syracuse to go shopping at its giant mall, but I secretly wanted to go to eat pizza.

I put all of that out there not to toot my own horn, but to list my credentials. My opinions are based on a fair amount of experience. One can disagree with me (and you should!), but my opinions are not born out of ignorance.

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Bad Chain Restaurants XIII – Domino’s Deception​

I had a good friend who worked at Domino’s Pizza in the mid-’90s. He worked the late shift and was left in charge. On occasion, he’d invite me to hang out with him. I got to spend time behind the counter watching the delivery drivers come and go, watch my buddy make the pizzas, and he’d also let me make my own pizza. I’ll never forget the contraption they used that would apply the cheese pellets (and they were indeed pellets). You’d load the proper amount of cheese into an elevated cone, then slide the pizza under, press the release button, and bam! A perfectly cheesed pizza.

At the time, I ate Domino’s pizza and would order a pie for delivery now and then.

But that was more than 20 years ago, and it wasn’t too long after that I met my wife, who was instrumental in nudging me toward learning to appreciate better food. She loathes Domino’s, and I haven’t eaten it since.

Recently, I decided it was time to revisit the chain. Admittedly, I fell victim to their marketing, and the idea of eating a pizza with a soft doughy crust, that’s sweetly sauced, and with a generous amount of cheese appealed to me.

I may have temporarily lost my mind. Continue reading “Bad Chain Restaurants XIII – Domino’s Deception​”

Bad Chain Restaurants XI – Cloning the Big Mac

Is there any burger joint more American than McDonald’s? Is there any restaurant more American than McDonald’s? No way, I say. McDonald’s is the very definition of Americana in my mind. And is there any American who hasn’t eaten at least once at McDonald’s? Perhaps, but I have no doubt they’re a small minority.

A few days ago, I received a phone call from The Profussor, a.k.a., Daniel Berman, proprietor of FUSSYlittleBLOG. It was related to a Yelp event I was hosting, but after dealing with that business, he asked me if I’d be interested in relieving him of a partially used bottle of McDonald’s Big Mac Special Sauce. An official, limited edition, numbered bottle of Big Mac Special Sauce.

Heck yes, I would!
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Bad Chain Restaurants X – Dread Lobster

I just had the blandest meal I can remember eating in a long time.

The dull dinner came about as a gift of sorts from my wife’s employer. In place of a Christmas party, my wife’s company instead gave everyone in her office a restaurant gift card. It’s a nice gesture, and we were looking forward to a night out on her company’s dime. The card arrived in the mail yesterday, and to my dismay, it was a Darden gift card.

Darden is the parent company of no less than eight restaurant chains (seven actually—I’ll explain in a moment). Eight restaurants are enough to choose from, and of those eight, a few are upscale, and the food is excellent. But only two of the eight Darden chains are local to the Albany area, and none of the other six are within a two-hour drive. The two that are local to Albany are the worst of the bunch, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster.

Oh, joy.

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Pizza Pilgrimage IV – Dinosaur Pizza

Back in March, I stumbled on a Syracuse-based news article that profiled one of the owners of Dinosaur BBQ. The article focused on the new pizza place they were opening directly across the street from the original Dinosaur location; Apizza Regionale.

According to the article, they’re cooking the pizzas in a wood-fired oven imported from Naples. They claim to have cooked one thousand test pizzas before opening. They’re going for Neapolitan style pizza, made with ingredients sourced from New York State producers. The flour for the dough, for example, comes from a mill in Ithica.

Impressive.

I ‘m a sucker for Neapolitan style pizza, and it made for a great excuse to make a day trip out to Syracuse to try the pizza, and visit a couple of other iconic places since I’d be out that way. Wegman’s immediately came to mind as a must stop. And since I’d be passing through Utica, I thought it’d also be cool make a detour there and have chicken riggies and Utica greens for lunch.

Things didn’t quite work out as I had envisioned. It’s a day I won’t soon forget.

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Bad Chain Restaurants VI – Cognitive Dissonance

Cognitive dissonance as it’s described on the Simply Physcology website:

“Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc.”

Am I feeling discomfort due to cognitive dissonance? Perhaps. But it does make me want to rethink some of my beliefs regarding casual restaurant chains. Some obviously are better than others and that makes it easy to justify eating there. Sometimes though there are places that shouldn’t be much better than the rest of the pack, yet I find myself eating there on occasion and actually enjoying the food, as well as the atmosphere.

Macaroni Grill is one of those that causes me to experience cognitive dissonance.

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Manhattan Copycats

I’m slowly becoming more and more enamored with simple foods. And I’ve discovered simple foods generally are created on a triune foundation. Three components that come together to make delicious magic. I want to elaborate on this more at some point and hope to write a full post about it in the future.

I found myself with the opportunity to spend a full day in Manhattan,  and I decided while I was there I would eat a couple of copycat items that are attempting to elevate themselves above their inspiration. I found a restaurant that’s making copycat Five Guys burgers, and one that’s making a copycat Chik-Fil-A sandwich.

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Bad Chain Restaurants V – Fool me once…

On a recent visit to a local chain restaurant, this idiom came to mind:

“Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

We all know that chain restaurants have marketing departments. People that get paid to make their restaurant appear to be someplace you want to spend your time, and more important, your dollars. This is no secret. We’re all jaded by TV commercials, online ads, billboards, etc. But have you realized that a restaurant’s menu is also a marketing tool? Some of it is obvious. Most casual chain restaurants today have very large laminated menus with beautiful mouth-watering photos of the food in the background. There’s also the marketing terms scattered throughout the pages that are obviously attempting to “sell” you.

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Under the Infuence

We are all influenced by those around us. Our personal circle of friends, family, and acquaintances affect how we view the world. In our jobs, professionally, we are constantly being pulled this way or that by our colleagues, superiors, and vendors. The media we consume—TV shows, movies, music, art, the national news, (food blogs!)—they all challenge or reinforce our views.

These forces are all, whether we realize it or not, constantly having an effect on what we like or don’t like, what we believe to be true or false, and what we deem valuable or insignificant.

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