The press release from Chili's shouldn't be much of a shock. In fact, that the Dallas-based, Brinker-owned chain would delve into the pizza game could be considered overdue, considering their presence in the national dining scene is about as ubiquitous as pizza itself. Really, the announcement that Chili's is now offering pizza came as no surprise.
To be fair, there is a reason Chili's has met with success; whatever can be said about the quality or creativity, their product is consistent and has a broad appeal, with a menu that includes hamburgers, tacos, and fajitas. What it appears they've done now is to have taken parts of that menu, put them on round pieces of bread with some cheese, thrown them in an oven and called them pizzas.
And they are pizzas—they're just Chili's pizzas. They're neither outstanding nor offensive. The crust, which is the unquestioned major player, is soft, thick, chewy and buttery. It's not a crust that mimics the form of any pre-existing geographic style, but rather bucks the system, a regular loaf of white bread that would otherwise have risen in the middle had it not been for the toppings.
As for said toppings, they're along the lines of what could be expected from pizzas entitled Taco and Southwestern, which were the two that we tasted. The other two static options are Five Cheese and Grilled Chicken and Cheese, along with a Create Your Own, which boasts one of 11 different toppings and up to three additional toppings for an additional charge.
The Taco pizza advertised 'ground beef, salsa, cheddar, monterey jack, mozzarella, red onion and cilantro with a cumin-lime sour cream and pico de gallo.' None of these items was missing, but the presence of nearly all of them was underwhelming. There was no sauce to be found on the pizza, which would have been fine if the toppings had popped a little bit—the pico tasted only of generic roma tomatoes, and while there were onions present, their scarcity was overwhelmed by the powerful presence of the bread. The cumin-lime sour cream, however, did taste of cumin and lime, and the taco-flavored beef made a stand against the crust and at the very least announced itself on the palate. As was the case with both pizzas, the flavors of the different cheeses (in this case Cheddar, Monterey Jack and mozzarella) don't stand a chance against the bready underbelly, though the texture of the dairy and a generic cheese flavor do peek through on occasion.
The Southwestern, likewise, was an unadventurous—if not very unpleasant—experience. The sauce and 'pico de gallo' situation was the same as the Taco, though the presence of bell peppers provided an extra component that was otherwise missing from its counterpart. There's a chipotle pesto on the pizza that we were curious about; we're still wondering about it. Though we identified it on the pizza, we never really tasted it. The grilled chicken did have a pronounced chili flavor to it, giving the pizza a bit of favorable personality that would have been sorely missed.
The pizzas at Chili's are acceptable—acceptable by casual, nationwide-chain standards. The prices are slightly more unpalatable: a nine-inch Taco Pizza checked in at $12.29, while the Southwestern Pizza ran us $13.29. There are dedicated pizza joints in every city turning out a superior product at a lower price. Even if you're a fan of Chili's, we couldn't recommend going there just to try the pizza. But if you do give it a shot, you'll likely find yourself unoffended by the offering, though slightly put out by the price it commands.