While we think mom-and-pop shops make the best pizza in the nation, we'd be remiss if we didn't keep abreast of what the chains are up to. Suit up, it's time for another Chain Reaction, folks.
Sometimes I need a reality check. I live and breathe pizza, and I know that Buffalo chicken as a pizza topping has been on the rise, but when did Buffalo chicken get so big as to make it onto all the chain menus? Domino's has one and now Papa John's is joining the ranks with their newest menu addition.
The Buffalo Chicken pizza at Papa John's throws down a tangy ranch base and is topped with a blanket of mozzarella, slivered onions, bits of bacon, and chunks of breadcrumb coated chicken strips. A concentric swirl of mild buffalo wing sauce finishes it all off. This combination of toppings add up to some pretty assertive flavors that works well with the characteristic sweetness of the Papa John's dough. The sweet, vinegary heat of the wing sauce matched with the creamy, zesty ranch is pretty much like licking the seasonings off a Cool Ranch Dorito chip. Maybe not that intense, but just as engineered.
I expected that the take-away flavor would be something like Buffalo wings, but a couple of things take it in a different direction. For starters: the bacon. It's more the bottled bit variety than the hot from the skillet variety. And there is something about the combo of ranch, cheese, and bacon that tastes a lot like a loaded baked potato. The second factor that steers the flavor profile in a different direction is the chicken. If the strips got tossed in some of the sauce, this pizza might get a little closer to tasting like its namesake. But instead of being center stage, the few chicken strips that made it onto my pie seemed like an afterthought.
In all other respects, this pie represents what you've come to expect from Papa John's. The crust is sturdy, with a crisp bottom, but soft and bready. Papa John's jumping on the Buffalo chicken trend makes perfect sense. After trying it, it's clear this pizza was made for chains. Aside from Papa John's two Alfredo based pizzas (one of which we didn't really like), this is their only non-tomato based offering. For that reason alone it should be successful. This will probably be big with the college crowds, and for chain pizza you could do a lot worse. Smart move Papa John's, now just work on that chicken.