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I was working all day Saturday on an upgrade for work. I got to work from home, but working from home on an upgrade is still working. Dinner time, by my professional, expert calculations would be crunch time, the time of day when I had the most manual activities to perform. So early in the week I'd made my demand.
Angel almost immediately suggested Pizza Hut. this surprised me a bit since for us, the great mid-Jefferson County Pizza wars are over. Adam works at perhaps the best pizza place in the area, it's a place we also have to drive right past, for an additional seven or so miles, to get to Pizza Hut. I realized though that we were doing this because of our reviewing task, not because of personal preference. Pizza Hut is where we used to get pizza before Pizza Junction opened. So, sure.
Amid a cluster of fast food franchises on the northern edge of Desoto. Domino's is a literal stone's throw from the Hut. Neither place will deliver to our address, I don't think, we don't mind the drive to pick it up. We tried Domino's once since moving here. They didn't measure up. After my review, Domino's corporate sent me an apology for the bad service, adding that there were a couple of coupons for free pizzas waiting for me at the store.We never took them up on that.
As it turned out, the upgrade was a wee bit ahead of schedule and by the time Angel called in the order I was at another 'wait for it' stage that would last an hour or so. I volunteered to go pick up the pies, just to get out of the house and for a change of scenery. Working on an upgrade from home is a little like being in a recovery room at a hospital. You're confined to the proximity of the devices that you are tethered to.
It was a pretty Spring afternoon, so the fifteen minute drive was not unpleasant. I parked and strolled up the ramp to the door.
Inside was dark, like a Pizza place should be, but what was more noticeable than the decor and the lighting was the aroma. Nothing smells as wonderful as a bakery or a seasoned pizza joint. Back in my younger days, I worked as a pizza delivery guy for Garcia's Pizza in a Pan in Rantoul Illinois. It was a part time gig that I took on to earn the $450 I needed to adopt my lovely daughter, Leslye. (She loves this story.)
That period of time was dubbed the worst winter on record for Champaign County Illinois, to that point. Wild, terribly cold winds whipped the snow like a brutal sandstorm. Wind chill factors were distant-planet like. To keep the pizza's warm in my bright yellow Pinto Station wagon, I had a thin metal warming box with four racks and two cans of Sterno.
I had that car for a couple of years after this job, it still always smelled like fresh pizza. I loved that. That's what hit my brain when I walked into the store.
They were pretty busy, mostly with take-outs. I've never actually dined in there.
I announced my name to the young man and he rang it up. I was hoping they got the order right, I wasn't paying attention when Angel called it in.
I got home and Angel and Adam were waiting at the door. I grabbed the boxes and stepped up to the door. I knocked on it. "The pizza guy is here!" Adam announced. Angel asked "Do we have to tip him?"
One large Super-Supreme, for Angel and I. One large, two topping (pepperoni and black olives) for Adam, plus one box of 16 hot wings, with Ranch dressing on the side. That was for Angel and Adam, I don't care for anyone's hot wings. Not eve Hooter's famous wings. I rarely go to Hooter's but when I do it's to gawk at the young, scantily clad babes, not for the food. I'm just being honest here. My daughter knows this as well. She grew up and became one of Springfield Mo.'s first Hooter's girls. I'm so very proud.
The Super-Supreme we were up-sold on. Angel had originally ordered the standard Supreme, but they said they were running a deal on the Super, more of everything. I grabbed a plate, picked out two slices, made some tea, and sat at the table with my book. I downed the slices pretty quickly, I hadn't eaten since breakfast, so I grabbed one more.
To be honest I didn't give the pizza much thought at the time. Angel and Adam didn't say much either. My mind was on work, trying to anticipate how many things could still go wrong and really, really screw up the rest of my weekend. It wasn't until later, after I was done with the upgrade and settled into my recliner for the evening, that we even talked about the meal.
"I don't think it was any supreme-ier than the regular supreme." Angel said.
I could only say it was okay, I was preoccupied at the time though. Had it been hideous, I would have remembered. Had it been wonderful, I think I'd remember that too.
That's the thing about franchise pizza though. Like franchise burgers, the best among them is only a manner of a few degrees. Franchises work with tried and tested, rigid recipes and procedures. A franchise pizza or burger place is no place for an artisan.The goal of franchises is consistency. Go into a Pizza Hut or Burger King in Little Rock, it'll taste pretty much the same as it does in White Plains, NY.
That consistency comes at a price though, lack of creativity. Locally owned places can tweak and tune and try new things every day. Places like Pizza Junction and The Concord Grill know this and capitalize on that originality.
That being said though, there's something a little comfortable about familiarity. Having done some travelling, it was often very, very comfortable to go to a franchise place, you knew exactly what to expect.
Unless the chains get lazy. My review of Domono's is an example of franchise laziness. The folks making the pies assembled them hurriedly and without basic quality control checks. It was as if those pies came off an un-tuned assembly line. This night's Pizza Hut pies showed a little of that as well. There was a lot of dry crust around the edges, more than an inch in many places. That's a lot of real estate on a big pizza that tends to just get tossed. We appreciated the generous amount of toppings, which we actually paid for, but leaving that much of the pie un-topped made us feel a little cheated.
The taste was fine, but not great. Timid sauce, uninteresting cheese. The crust tasted good, toasty, but there was simply too much naked crust.
Angel said the wings, the mild version were good, I'll take her word on that.
Forty bucks was the price for this okay pizza meal. That's not bad since there was easily enough for more than one meal. The tea was fantastic, because I made it. So no chart this week.
Pizza Hut, on a good day, is still better tasting and more consistent than Domino's. That's not really that high of a hurdle though, both of these franchises beat anything that you pull out of your freezer. However, Pizza Hut, my favorite franchise brand, is not nearly as good as Pizza Junction or those my younger brother labors over. These people care about the quality of every single pie. Given the choice here in Hillsboro, I'l stay closer to home next time.