7-Eleven Slice Salvation
"Come fall, when pants must be worn and Mother Nature's napkins have gone brittle, it's time to put away the nachos."
Before I moved to Cambridge, I was warned it's a tough pizza city. There are a handful of great pizzerias, the nayers said, but Cambridge is a virtual by-the-slice desert, especially late at night. This didn't faze me, because I'm the sort of self-respecting full-grown man who scoffs at the notion of purchasing pizza one slice at a time. But once I got here I realized that the same restrictions apply if you need, say, three slices: In most parts of town, you're out of luck unless you want to wait for a whole pie to cook. And even if you're willing to wait for an entire pizza, it's not always willing to wait for you. A distressing number of Cambridge pizzerias close at the ridiculous hour of Before I Want Pizza.
Six days a week, I beat this system by living near the city's best after-midnight slicery, Otto in Harvard Square (reviewed here). But on the seventh day, while mere deities rest, this mighty mortal works at a bar till 3 a.m. Otto closes at 2. Ugh.
I could fortify myself for the walk home by stealing pretzels from the office, but it seems a bit underdignified to settle for so light a reward after work. Why bother mopping the pumpkin beer returns out of the ladies room at 2:45 if you don't have a proper meal waiting on the other side? If there's no pizza to be had, I like a post-mop sandwich at the very least. Fortunately, what Cambridge lacks in slice options, it makes up for in 7-Elevens. (And Radio Shacks. There are three within a mile of my apartment. Why would any neighborhood need so many Shacks? I can only assume slice-deprived locals are eating coaxial cable.)
During the summer, my 7-Eleven routine is no different from yours: a sausage biscuit and a tray of nachos, with a Peanut M&M chaser to freshen the breath. The nachos are the star of that sordid show, but they are a seasonal food due to the condiment orgy demanded by the free accessories station. When you're walking down the street eating chips blessed by chili, cheese, salsa, diced onions--and, in ritzier outposts, pickled jalapenos--you want to be wearing as little as possible. And when you do spill food on a part of yourself inaccessible by tongue, you want to have fresh leaves handy for cleanup. Come fall, when pants must be worn and Mother Nature's napkins have gone brittle, it's time to put away the nachos. This used to mean trudging back to the sandwich case. Have you ever had 7-Eleven meatballs? Oy. But now there's a fantastic new option: The 7-Elevens near me have finally started selling pizza!
For a buck, you get a choice of four cheese or pepperoni. The corporate website says the crust is "real French sourdough" and the cheese is "100 percent whole milk mozzarella." (No word on the other three cheeses in the pepperoniless option.) They also claim the pizza is "ready right from the oven in 90 seconds," but thank god the reheat policy's not enforced at my local. I don't have 90 seconds to spare, so I'm glad the pizza just sits in a heated case behind the counter waiting for the cashier to fork it over immediately upon request.
It's never served hot, per se, but it's usually about body temperature and always over room temperature, so it's warm enough given the circumstances. The next thing you notice is the surprising lack of grease. There's plenty of cheese, and you'd think that 7-Eleven pizza might pick up a nice puddle just from the store's ambient oils, but this is a decidedly low-shine slice.
And it tastes much better than I expected. The sauce is sparse but tangy, and the substantial crust certainly isn't good, but it's not a disaster, either. It's firm underneath before devolving into sponginess as it meets the sauce, and while it's chewier than the ideal, it provides the structural integrity necessary to keep your shirt clean. The cheese is fine, though it doesn't taste like much other than salt, and the four cheese model is indistinguishable from the presumably monocheese blanket on the pepperoni slice. The pepperoni is added in traditional disk form and also via curious little meat nuggets scattered about the surface. It tastes kinda like baloney. Stick with the four cheese.
So, no, this isn't good pizza, but judged within its proper context, it's worth every penny of the dollar. That's the good news, and here's the better news: With a few simple after-market modifications, you can goose this stuff up into the $1.75 range. Behold.
Multiple locations across the country; 7-eleven.com