As one of the nation's favorite comfort foods, pizza has become the staple of choice for Americans of all walks of life. Devoured by the millions during televised sporting events, the gooey concoction of cheese, meats and vegetables piled high on different types of pie crusts, has satisfied our hunger for generations. With the rise of national fast food pizza chains across the land, let's take a look at ten of them, comparing value for your money as well as taste.
Number 10. Chuck E. Cheese
A virtual carnival greets visitors as they enter a Chuck E. Cheese establishment. Parents can purchase tokens for the array of games and rides for the little ones. There are video arcade style games that range across the spectrum, from toddler games and simulators to more advanced ones for the older kids (adults included).
But what we want to look at is the food for the price, and that's where Chuckee's, as it's called for short, falls somewhat flat. The sauce on their pizzas is somewhat bland, the toppings sparse and low grade, but when one brings the children there for a birthday party, one can imagine the shortcomings of their food can be overlooked, as the kiddies are there to play and probably could care less what they're eating. Also noted is the fact that comparatively speaking, Chuckee's is somewhat expensive, but attempts to offset that food cost by giving you a few free gaming and ride tokens with your food purchase.
In recent years, Chuck E. Cheese has introduced several healthier alternatives in the form of salads and juices. Overall, this is the place to bring the kids and let them run wild for a bit, but not really where one would go to enjoy a good food experience.
Number 9. Papa Murphy's Take'N'Bake
For the family on the go, Papa Murphy's Take'N'Bake offers uncooked pizzas for you to take home and bake at your leisure. The ingredients used are somewhat low grade and fairly tasteless. Although they give the consumer the opportunity to buy their pizzas and take them home to freeze them for later use, (something I wouldn't recommend with a hot cooked pizza), the overall impression is very little sauce, sparse toppings, little seasonings, and basically a place to purchase a pizza to have on hand for that rainy day when you just don't feel like cooking.
The other bright spot for Papa Murphy's is that in most states, people that receive food stamp assistance may purchase Papa Murphy's products due to the fact that they aren't cooked.
Number 8. Godfather's Pizza
Godfather's Pizza tries to play off the old Italian stereotype of the mafia don. Founded in Omaha, Nebraska in 1974, the parlor was sold to the Pillsbury Corporation in the mid 80's, who in turn named Herman Cain (the former 999 presidential candidate), as CEO in 1986. Cain and his vice president bought the Godfather's brand from Pillsbury and today boasts over 600 restaurants in 39 states.
The menu at Godfather's is very simple, with just a few specialty pizzas and a couple of side offerings. Although famous for their any one topping pizza for $9.99 commercials in the 1990's, prices have gone up as of late but not the quality of the ingredients. Seasoning is so-so, quantity of toppings is promised to be piled high, but in reality they use the 'pebble' type of sausage, low grade meats and their crusts are very doughy, as though not cooked through all the way. Chintzy is the only word that comes to mind when one thinks about value for the money.
Number 7. Sbarro's
One of the few truly Italian style pizza chains, Sbarro's has it's roots in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, N.Y. From one specialty shop opened in the late 1950's, Sbarro's has blossomed into a one thousand plus chain operation spanning 44 countries.
The food at Sbarro's can be compared favorably with such eateries as Olive Garden due to their larger than life menu that includes not only pizzas, but dishes such as Chicken Portofino, (battered, marinated, and sauteed chicken with zucchini and yellow squash), Baked Ziti and Lasagna. Their menu is fairly extensive for a fast food type eatery, including over twenty different types of pizzas. Ingredients are medium grade, seasoning is a little better than most, and overall the food is very well presented. Pricier than other chain pizza restaurants, Sbarro's nonetheless makes the top 10 list due to the sheer volume of food they serve, and the loyal customer base they have cultured.
Number 6. Cici's Pizza
Cici's Pizza may just be about the best value for one's money. For around five dollars they offer an all you can eat pizza, pasta, salad, and dessert buffet that includes over twenty varieties of pizza, as well as Marinara or Alfredo topped pasta, topped off with several types of desserts. The bad news is that they don't deliver, but do offer take out service.
The loyal customer base of this 600 plus chain that is based out of Coppel, Texas, swear by Cici's food. In reality, the sauce is very bland, with almost no spice, and the toppings are what one might find in a high school cafeteria. That shortfall is more than made up for though in the low buffet price and the sheer volume of available products offered. This is definitely the place for those on a budget, because you're not walking out of this joint hungry.
Number 5. Little Caeser's
Made famous with their 'Pizza! Pizza!' commercials, this chain pizzeria was started in Garden City, Michigan in 1959. Best known for their $5.00 large one topping take out pizzas, Little Caeser's quickly became the 3rd largest pizza chain in the country. A chain that only has delivery service in select areas, they nonetheless have defied the odds with their advertising blitz to become succesful, despite the meager menu offerings and very slim pickings on their pies.
Sauce on their pizzas is almost non existent, the dough tastes like raw yeast, toppings must be searched for with a microscope, and all that can be said for Little Caeser's is that they always seem to be located right near a big chain motel where hungry travelers are probably grateful to be able to just pop in and out very quickly, not care what they're eating, and just go right to sleep afterward.
Number 4. Hungry Howie's
Another Michigan offering, Hungry Howie's began in 1973 in Taylor, Michigan as a local high school hangout that blossomed into almost 600 stores nationwide. Made famous in 1980 by being the first chain pizza restaurant to offer flavored crust pizzas, Hungry Howie's boasts eight different seasonings in their crust, ranging from ranch to sesame to garlic herb and more.
Delicious and well seasoned, Hungry Howie's pizzas can be ordered online in most locations, as well as their baked sandwiches and Greek style salads. Toppings are plentiful, with the only drawback being the dependency on those cheap little pebble sausage bits. A Michigan favorite is their 'Howie Maui' pizza, a glopping mass of cheese, ham, bacon, and pineapple. Good pizza for an about average price.
Number 3. Domino's Pizza
One could not begin to discuss America's love affair with pizza without taking a look at the once again transformed Domino's Pizza chain. Once the bane of the pizza world with their famous 30 minute delivery guarantee, it used to be hard to distinguish between the cardboard box the pizza was delivered in and the pizza itself. All that has changed in recent years.
With some nine thousand franchises worldwide, Domino's has reinvented themselves as one of America's premier pizza delivery services. With their current deal of two medium 2 topping pizzas for $5.99 each, and the improved seasonings on those pizzas, Domino's weathered the economic downturn by offering value for product, including their reinvention of cheese and jalapeno stuffed bread for $5.99.
Downsides to Domino's would be that Michigan dependence on pebbled sausage bits, (although one can specify sliced sausage if one has a mind to do so), and their oven baked sandwiches are absolutely horrible. (they use pizza dough to make the sandwiches)
When ordering from Domino's, which can be done online these days, one absolutely MUST try the Molten Lava Cake. Even better when chilled in the fridge for awhile, this fudge filled concoction is so good that they can cause a state of euphoria to take hold in one's chocolate overloaded mind.
Number 2. Pizza Hut
Started in 1958 in Wichita, Kansas with a $600 loan borrowed from their mother, brothers Frank and Dan Carney grew into a franchise business with an aggressive ad campaign. Pizza Hut, owned by PepsiCo since 1977, has grown into a six thousand strong franchise conglomerate.
Various offerings have had limited success over the years, such as the 'Brooklyn Style Pizza', but nothing makes Pizza Hut customers swoon like their 'Stuffed Crust' pizza offerings. There is probably no better bite of pizza in the world when it comes to fast food joints than the last bite of a slice of a Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust where you get to eat even more cheese instead of just the doughy end.
The P'Zone is pizza Hut's version of the classic calzone, and well worth the $5.00 price. packed with cheese and your choice of meat or vegetable stuffers, it's like eating two folded over slices of pizza.
Other offerings on their menu include two pasta dishes and the ever present wings, but to many Pizza Hut addicts, the well seasoned, delectable Stuffed Crust pizza is this chain's best offering.
Number 1. Papa John's
Ok. I admit it. I saved Papa John's for last and made them number one due to a personal love affair with their pizza. That being said, Let me give the reasons why.
John Schnatter started Papa John's Pizza in Jeffersonville, Indiana in 1984 by selling his car to buy out the owner of the bar where he worked in order to begin selling pizza. Having worked in the pizza industry since his teen years, Schnatter quickly garnered a local following. Today, there are some four thousand locations worldwide. Papa John's is credited with being the first pizza chain to offer online ordering to all it's U.S. customers, forcing many other large chains to follow suit.
The slogan "Better Ingredients, Better Pizza, Papa John's", has been piped into America's living rooms during important sporting events for several years now, including the most recent Super Bowl.
Which leads me to my personal experience with Papa John's. For some reason, I always equated Papa John's with Papa Murphy's, a pizza chain I didn't particularly care for. In February of this year, while making preparations for our own Super Bowl party, (which always included Domino's), we decided to give the $11 large, any toppings pizza a shot.
To say we were all pleasantly surprised is an understatement. The thick slices of sausage, the robust sauce that has a one two kick and slight bite at it's finish, the generous amount of melted cheese barely able to hold back the flow of pepperoni and other toppings all amounted to an almost religious experience after having been content with the fare of the other chain pizza joints. Bold flavors, where the meat tastes like meat and the seasonings are right there in front of your eyes, made me a convert from that day on. The crust reminded me almost of a New York style, crunchy and good to the last bite. As if that weren't enough, each pie comes with a peppercini and a side of garlic sauce that you can dip your crust into.
Even though they have recently changed their price structure to $12 for any large pizza with up to five toppings, the Papa Rewards program makes up for the increase in short order. Each twelve buck pizza earns you 3 points, and when you reach 25 points you get a free 3 topping large pizza. Since February, I personally have gotten three free pizzas from Papa John's. Once when he lost his nationally televised bet on the coin toss at the Super Bowl. Free pizza for everyone signed up at their website. Once in April, when during tax week, he awarded everyone with 15 free points. Wow. Another free pizza. Then just recently, I hit 25 points again. Bam. Another free pizza. Nothing in the world tastes better than a free, hot, delicious pizza delivered right to your door.
As far as I'm concerned, Papa John's is America's best fast food pizza chain, bar none. Oh, and their wings are pretty good too.
So there we have it. Surely many of you will have your own favorite pizza haunts, and many will want to rearrange the order of this listing. None of that matters though as much as everyone enjoying, (in moderation of course), what has become America's best comfort food and some of the best deals found anywhere.
Of course all of this is, just my humble opinion....................