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.
The folks behind The Cheesecake Factory have stuffed their voluminous menu with every kind of Americanized food you might want to consume en route to the dessert course. Hamburgers, tacos, popcorn shrimp, and Thai lettuce wraps? Yeah, they have all of that. And it appears that they even do some of it reasonably well.
It goes without saying that a menu that aims to cater to everyone's tastes will certainly include pizza, and The Cheesecake Factory obliges. This must be a relief for anyone who covets cheese on their bread before they have some cheese in their cake. There's a selection of eight pizzas at The Cheesecake Factory. They run the gamut from Hawaiian to Everything, though even the most heavily-topped of these pies seems to inch its way towards milquetoast in terms of flavor.
We're talking about a chain here, but it's not conveyor belt pizza. The Cheesecake Factory we visited cooked their pies in the sort of gas-fired Blodgett deck ovens you'd expect to find at your corner pizzeria. One does wish they'd give their dough a bit more time to develop some flavor before putting it in these ovens though. The light speckling of cornmeal on the ultra-thin undercarriage may have provided more flavor than the crust itself, which had a crisp, almost-brittle quality around the edges.
It was my dining companion who described our cheese pizza as the kind of thing you'd give your really picky six-year-old. They did hide a little flavor in the cheese blend, which includes Fontina and cheddar to go along with the mozz, so there's a bit of tang in the background. The tomatoes in the sauce don't come through, but some dried oregano does.
This commitment to avoiding any flavors that might offend a diner's palate even extends to topping their Everything Pizza with, well, not-everything. The menu notes that you must explicitly request Kalamata olives if you want them. We did, and they added to the fetching rainbow of colors on top of this pie, which included sausage, pepperoni, yellow peppers, red onion, and mushrooms. We were most surprised at the sanitized flavor of the little pepperoni, which had curled-but-not-crisped in the oven, and without enough spice, tasted closer to lunch meat than pizza meat. The soft wads of sausage did offer some sedate fennel flavors.
Ultimately, I got the impression that, rather than trying to impress me, The Cheesecake Factory had attempted to serve me pizza that I wouldn't dislike. This makes for a decidedly lukewarm review from a fellow who gets paid to be a little snobby about pizza, but maybe it's a winning strategy when you know your guests are hyper-motivated to stick around for the goodies in the dessert case?
About the author: David Kover is a San Francisco-based freelance writer and food enthusiast. He occasionally gets his tweet on as @pizzakover.