The PIZZA BOWL

In a super taste test of popular delivery brands, our food pros pick the winners and losers.

January 30, 2002|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff

Since it's now settled that the Ravens won't be going to the Super Bowl, only one really important question remains for fans who will be watching the game at home: What are you going to eat?

Those inclined to get in the spirit of the game might pay homage to the Super Bowl's host city, New Orleans, by cooking jambalaya or shrimp creole. There're the old favorites like buffalo wings, hamburgers, hot dogs and chili to consider. And then there's pizza.

After a few beers, the idea of picking up the phone and having someone deliver your dinner sounds appealing. But which pizza maker are you going to call?

We assembled a panel of pizza experts for a blind taste test of samples from the major delivery chains to give us their favorites.

Our panel consisted of Rob Kasper, The Sun's food columnist; Lisa Troia Waters, a manager of Cafe Troia in Towson; Joe D'Adamo, former restaurant critic for The Evening Sun and president of the Little Italy lodge of Order Sons of Italy; and Joe Campitelli, retired businessman and cooking instructor at St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church in Little Italy.

All are discriminating pizza lovers who prefer to make their pizzas from scratch, but they've been known to order carryout when pinched for time.

Now for a disclaimer: The taste test was conducted in The Sun's Baltimore County bureau in Towson because not all of the pizza companies deliver downtown. So while we tested pizza from four large chains, you still may not be able to get them to bring their pizza to your door.

The pizzas tested came from Papa John's, Domino's, Pizza Hut and Pizza Boli. The panel tasted eight 14-inch pizzas -- a thick and a thin crust from each outlet.

We ordered the pizzas between 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. on a weekday and asked that they be delivered to the Towson office at 1:15 p.m.

The pizzas were judged in five categories: timeliness of the delivery, correctness of the order, cost, temperature and taste.

The results? Let's say that for the most part, the Ravens looked better in their loss to Pittsburgh than the pizza-delivery chains did that day.

On the positive side, all of them got the order right -- they each sent two pizzas, one with thick crust, one with thin crust, and both with half pepperoni and half cheese.

All of them arrived pretty much on time, although Pizza Hut came 15 minutes early and Pizza Boli arrived three minutes late.

The listed prices of the pizzas from Papa John's, Pizza Hut and Domino's were comparable -- a little over $12 for each pizza (prices were the same for thick and thin crusts). Pizza Boli's 14-inch pizza was a bit cheaper -- $9.45.

However, Pizza Boli, Papa John's and Domino's scored extra points by offering coupons and specials when we called. As a result, the overall bill for two pizzas from those outlets ranged between $14.65 and $17.84, excluding taxes and delivery. Pizza Hut didn't offer a discount and presented us with a bill for $27.21, which included taxes and delivery.

When it came to temperature, the pizza makers fumbled. Half of the pizzas arrived so cold that they failed to register a reading on our instant-read thermometer. Domino's did the best in the temperature category with its thin-crust pizza registering 102 degrees and its hand tossed-crust reaching 100 degrees.

As for taste, the big chains didn't score many points with our experts. Amid the piles of pizza boxes -- covered so their logos couldn't be seen -- the testers could not contain their displeasure. Their comments: "bland," "stale," "burned," "too dry," "overcooked" "greasy," "rubbery" and "crackery."

The panel took less than an hour to choose its favorites. The experts concluded that the best thick-crust pizza was Domino's Hand Tossed. Kasper called it "something worthy of a touchdown."

Second place went to Papa John's Original Crust -- "worthy of a field goal," Kasper noted. Pizza Hut's Thin and Crispy crust was deemed the winner among the thin crusts.

But winning is a relative term.

"I must be a bad judge. I didn't like any of the pizzas," said Campitelli. "Not a one of these would I take home."

The panel considered whether the Towson pizza makers were having an especially bad day, but decided probably not.

"I don't think this is any different from any other carryout you get," Waters said.

A couple of the panelists said the new frozen pizzas with the rising dough were preferable to most of those delivered.

"My mother would not have been married 62 years if she made pizza like this," D'Adamo said.

What they delivered

Ratings are from a low of 1 to high of 10.

THICK CRUSTS:

Domino's Hand Tossed

Price: $12.48

Delivery: 5 minutes early

Temperature: 100 degrees

Rating: 7.25

Comments: "light," "sweet but tasty" sauce, "moist"

Papa John's Original Crust

Price: $12.05

Delivery: 2 minutes early

Temperature: no reading

Rating: 5.5

Comments: "good balance," "spicy," "cheese looks good and soft," "not bad."

Pizza Hut Hand Tossed

Price: $12.48

Delivery: 15 minutes early

Temperature: 100 degrees

Rating: 4.75

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