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Chain Reaction: We Try the NEW Domino's Handmade Pan Pizza

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.

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[Photographs: Meredith Smith]

Maybe it was irresponsible to try the new Domino's Handmade Pan Pizza without getting a refresher in what the leading chain pan pizza is like, but I think I've had enough Pizza Hut pizzas in my day to leave me with a lasting impression. What I remember is a bread-y pizza with way more yeast flavor than any other chain and a borderline crunchy, oil fried crust. Living in New England, I'm exposed to more pan pizza (Greek in this neck of the woods) than most. But because it's hard to find anyone doing it well (though they do exist), Pizza Hut does set the bar—no matter how high or low it may be—it is most people's primary pan pizza experience*.

So how is Domino's gonna set themselves apart? They makes it clear on their home page announcing the new pizza what you can expect from their new pie. Using fresh, never frozen dough, they claim to have made a pizza with a golden, buttery crust, toppings to the edge, and two layers of cheese in every bite.

*Unless they have Jet's which is purportedly WAY better, though I've never had it and can't say with any authority.

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First up, thickness. When I first lifted the lid for the big reveal, the pie was thinner than I anticipated. As you can see from this lip shot, it really isn't a very deep pizza. The lack of end crust, which we'll get to in a minute, may have something to do with that. However, upon deeper reflection (oh,yes, I reflected deeply on this), it actually makes sense for Domino's. What I mean by that is that I think the body of this pie is in exact proportion to a normal Domino's end crust. It's as if the lift and rise of the crust from one of their regular slices has been applied pie-wide. So in that department, they seem to be making their own way. But even more distinguishing is the crustless toppings to the edge angle:

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Well, sorta. Some places weren't as well covered as others, but let's chalk it up to new product adjustment on the part of the employee doing the topping. But even that really isn't so distinguishing. Pizza Hut has definitely taken us "to The Edge" before, and even "to The Edge and back." Which makes it an interesting decision for Domino's to go with a style of pie that never took off for a chain that specializes in this kind of pizza. Regardless, the downside is that crust lovers will loathe this pie. The upside, is the bonus of a frico cheese edge. That crispy cheese edge is certainly the pie's best attribute. And as for the rest of the cheese, as advertised there are two layers (above and below the toppings) and the amount is in good proportion to the dough's thickness.

On to flavor. "Buttery" and "Dominio's" are a combo that sends me running. For one thing, imitation butter flavor anything should be banned from all kitchens. If a dish triggers my Whirl detector (a brand of the supremely offensive butter flavored oil products in use today), it quickly becomes a dish pushed to the side. I braced myself for the worst, but it actually wasn't that bad. There are definitely traces of imitation butter flavor at play here, but nothing so bad as to give it that rancid flavor that Serious Eater monkeyerotica commented on in the unveiling post earlier this week.

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Without having a lot of firsthand pan pizza making experience, I would think that a well-seasoned pan lends the crusts more flavor. And so it may be because these pans are new that there wasn't a lot of pan pizza flavor. And while it was golden in spots, as you can see, it was more blond than not.

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The squishy bread texture of the dough is most like that of standard sliced sandwich bread. In fact, even the golden browned patches, pseudo-flaky and trapping most of the faux butter flavor, have the texture of the crust of sandwich bread; offering slightly more resistance, but not much in the way of a crackling, oil-fried crust. It's the same texture you find in a fast food pastry. And really, there's something beyond the texture that makes that comparison ring true. All the dough between the cheese and outer most crust tastes most like a yeasted donut without the sugary glaze. And once that became evident, I realized that this pizza tasted exactly what I imagined Cinnabon's Pizzabon to taste like!

The lack of crispness is something that can befall any carryout pan pizza since the steam released by the pie in the box makes the bread sweat and soften. But Domino's is all take-out—all boxed. Based on the specimen I tried, I'm not sure that they can achieve the crisp crust, which I think is pan pizza's biggest draw. Add to that the oily, sweet fried dough flavor, and I think if faced with a chain pan pizza decision, I would choose the Hut over this new contender.

Anyone else tried the new pan pizza? What are your thoughts?

About the author: Meredith Smith is the Slice editor. You can follow her on Twitter: @mertsmith.

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