Costco, a Pizza Chain Hiding in Plain Sight
Costco Food Court
Location reviewed: 32-50 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City NY 11106 (near Broadway; map); costco.com
Pizza style: Based on New York–style, something else entirely, though
Oven type: Gas-fired conveyor-belt
The skinny: If you're already at Costco, the pizza is weirdly satisfying, filling, and cheap as hell. Don't turn your nose up at it!
Price: $1.99 a slice
Think of high-profile pizza chains and the usual suspects probably come to mind. But what about Costco?
This membership warehouse club is the largest such chain of its kind in the U.S., with 416 domestic locations as of 2010. Most of these locations have a food court, and most of those food courts sell pizza. Even accounting for a handful of Costcos that might not serve pizza, this would make the warehouse club the 15th largest pizza chain in the U.S., just below Round Table Pizza and above Papa Gino's.
Not impressed? OK, I don't blame you, but consider that as of 2008, California Pizza Kitchen had 239 locations and ranked 18th.
The Costco food court I visited, in Queens, sells cheese, pepperoni, and combo slices and whole pies. According to Wikipedia and some googling, it appears that veggie slices are also an option at Costco locations, though I did not see it at my local store. Slices are all $1.99, regardless of topping, making the combo slice (sausage, pepperoni, green pepper, and onion) the value winner. Whole pies, all $9.99, have the same single-pricing structure.
I was hipped to Costco pizza in a 2009 thread on Serious Eats on the merits of the Costco snack bar. A surprising number of people mentioned the pizza:
"I eat the pizza at Costco all the time. It's big, cheesy, and the sauce is good too. I've had better pizza and I've had many worse." —joeqboo
"I used to have a Costco on the way home from work and I would buy a bottle of wine and have a slice of pizza. The pizza is pretty filling for the price." —redfish
"I know so many people that swear by the pizza at Costco. Like, they're not even members, but go there just for the pizza. My parents recently became converts. They buy all of their dog food at Costco and apparently, use that as an excuse to bring home those massive cheese pizzas. I've only had it once; it was good for what it was." --PumpkinBear
"Do I enjoy it? No, not really. Have I grabbed a slice of pizza in the middle of a busy shopping day? Heck yeah." —Kerosena
You'll notice that most folks came up with some variation of "It's good for what it is" or "It's good for the price." I'd agree. There was something sort of satisfying about the slices I tried — in a sort of institutional-pizza-yet-better-than-institutional-pizza way. If that makes any sense.
The crust is heavy and flaccid with almost no crispness, except at the rim — and that seems like an accident.
But the thick layer of melty cheese, dotted with crisp brown spots is somehow primally satisfying. And the sauce really is decent. It avoids the usual mass-food-service pitfall of oversweetness. Sure, it's just sweet enough, but there's some spiciness and some herbiness there beyond the sugar.
My favorite was the cheese slice followed closely by the combo slice (above), which is actually remarkably well balanced. It has what many Americans consider a roundup of classic pizza flavors (these toppings do work well together), but it doesn't go overboard into a MEGA-LOVER'S self-parody of a pie. And, as I said, it's the most bang for your two bucks here.
The pepperoni slice was fine. The topping had a bit of a metallic off flavor to it, as pepperoni often can, but if you've already lowered your pizza standards this far, there's not much to complain about in that respect. Just avoid it next time, unless you're truly a pepperoni fiend.
(You could do worse than Costco food court pizza. Sure, you could do better, but if you're jonesing for a slice after picking up a year's supply of toilet paper, I'd recommend visiting the 15th largest pizza chain in the nation.