Editor's note: In honor of National Pizza Month (aka October), the Serious Eats editors, staff, and Slice writers will top off our regular content with their deepest thoughts on all things cheesy, saucy, and crusty.
When I was in elementary school, weekend nights meant sleepovers. Sleepovers meant "camping" in someone's suburban backyard, or TGIF marathons, or stealing someone's older sister's copies of Seventeen and YM. And dinner at sleepovers, unfortunately, meant Papa Murphy's Take 'N' Bake.
The chain started on the West Coast, as two different brands (Papa Aldo's in Oregon, Murphy's Pizza in Northern California) which were then merged in the '90s. Looking back, I suppose my original Papa Murphy's must have been a Murphy's Pizza. The concept: buy a pre-assembled, pre-topped pizza, bring it home, shove it in the oven.
There's an obvious convenience appeal—of course I understand why parents with half a dozen kids running around their backyard would want a few pizzas in the refrigerator to heat up whenever those kids worked up an appetite. Maybe, coming out of your own oven, it felt a little less unhealthy than ordering a pizza. (At least I can imagine that being my mom's rationale, who thought Fruit By The Foot were acceptable fruit-based snacks but Fruit Roll-Ups were all sugar.) And I actually liked going to Take 'N' Bake, because you could watch them assemble your pizza, which generally isn't the case at a Domino's.
There's only one problem: Papa Murphy's is terrible. I was hardly a discerning eater as a nine-year-old, but even then, I couldn't stand the stuff. The crust was—absolutely, without exception, no matter whose mom was cooking the pizza—thick, gluey, and lifeless. If it wasn't cooked for 15+ minutes, at least in those days, the bottom would be spongy and pale, with raw, flabby dough in spots. If it was cooked for 15+ minutes, you'd kill the raw dough but get a stiff, nearly un-bitable end crust. I can still picture the piles of "pizza bones" on my paper plate, with other uneaten corners of burnt dough or congealed cheese.
I mean, the whole concept's pretty flawed. Home ovens just aren't made to produce great pizza (sure, there are many ways to get great pizza from your home oven, many discussed on this site, but none of them read "Preheat oven to 425°, toss the 1.5"+ thick pizza in the oven, cook until somewhere between raw-middled and hard and lifeless.") I think "freshness" was part of their selling point (Look, there are raw vegetables on my uncooked pizza! It must be healthy!) but the quality of the toppings were never apparently higher than any other major chain. I'd rather eat Pizza Hut or Round Table—or, frankly, plenty of the better frozen pizzas—for dinner any day.
They did also sell "take 'n' bake" cookie dough, which in my mind, was their sole redeeming quality. But cookies do a lot better in a 400° oven than pizza does. Plus, I was nine. Unbaked cookie dough was the best thing ever. Unbaked pizza crust never did anything for anyone.
But Papa Murphy's is still kicking, and in fact expanding; I thought of them as a purely Northern California phenomenon, but today they're expanding east and beyond. So people keep buying these things. I've only had Papa Murphy's once in more recent years, but it was just as underwhelming as I remembered. Does anyone understand the appeal?