A Hamburger Today
Chain Reaction: Uno's New Family Size Pizzas Make a Bad First Impression
The biggest challenge faced by a low-end food and drink reviewer is finding new ways to call things rubbery and sugary. You don't want to plagiarize your vanilla cream vodka evaluation in the following week's frosted cupcake rum story, but it can be disingenuous to obscure the fact that they are very similarly flawed enterprises. And it turns out that most unhappy chicken sandwiches are unhappy in the same way: They taste like condiments and feel like you're chewing on a [redacted; can't waste a good rubber chicken analogy in a pizza post].
In addition to the daily struggle to avoid repeating yourself while acknowledging that a lot of these things share the same corrupt DNA, the subprime-food reviewer must constantly remind himself to be fair. In my case, this means evaluating a product on its own terms. Serious cocktail monsters will reject the notion of smoked brisket schnapps out of hand, and for good reason, but my job isn't to help them celebrate their prejudices; rather, it is to get inside the mind of the target market and decide if they'd be well served by the product.
The other major elements of being a fair critic are moderating your expectations, controlling for your personal biases, and not letting one anomalous experience corrupt your view. This last part is the trickiest one for a chain restaurant reviewer. Last month I was ripped off by a Panera sandwich that didn't have nearly enough turkey. Does this mean everyone should avoid this national chain of poultry thieves? Or does it just mean I got a bum sandwich from a rogue assembly line?
Shortly thereafter I set out to review McDonald's new CBO (cheddar, bacon, onion) burger. Mine came without O. So do I write a negative review of an incomplete sandwich, or do I abort the mission on the grounds that McDonald's presumably remembers the onion at least 51% percent of the time? But then if I ignore the misburger and start over, does that let McDonald's off the hook for a pretty major mistake? Or should I bow out of the story altogether and just vent my frustration in a pizza review at a later date (bingo!). It's complicated, man.
Which brings us to Uno's new Family Size pizza. This just-launched line of takeout-only 15-inchers features two pies from Bizarre Foods guru Andrew Zimmern, Greek Isle and Artichoke Bianco. I like Uno's pizza, and 10 percent of Family Size sales go to the veterans charity SUS (Services for the UnderServed), so I was happy to pony up $19.99 plus tax and delivery to try both new Zimmern creations. (The standard Family Size price is $16.99, but Uno was running a two for $19.99 special when I placed my order.)
I ordered online at noon for a 3:15 delivery. At about 2:15, I got a call saying they were out of broccoli rabe and would substitute regular broccoli. Fair enough. Then at 3:00, a couple of room temperature pizzas showed up. I would normally have just rolled my eyes and popped them in the oven for a couple minutes, but since I was eating these for review purposes, I worried about the photographs. If I took photos of cold, congealed cheese, that would be broadcasting my anomalously bad experience to the whole pizza world. But if I showed you pictures of freshly reheated pizza, I'd be lying to you and covering Uno's ass with my own oven.
Flustered and hungry, I called the shop. My working theory was that if you order online in advance, they cook your food whenever it's convenient, even if that's hours before the delivery time. The polite and competent manager on duty assured me that wasn't the case. The problem, he explained, is that corporate headquarters had yet to issue insulated delivery bags large enough to accommodate the new pizzas. While this makes sense, it also presses my "Sorry pal, not my problem" button. But the manager was apologetic and honest; I liked him, and I will continue to patronize the Uno's in Harvard Square. Now gather round while Bitter Uncle Willie tells you about one of the worst pizza experiences of his life.
Uno calls the Artichoke Bianco a "white pizza made with a blend of artichokes, spinach, fresh basil, and four cheeses." Full disclosure: I don't care for white pizza. True fact: No one will care for this pizza. At least not the version I got. A few minutes in my oven did nothing to reinvigorate the thick blanket of cold, oversalted cheese, which threatened to burn before it showed any hint of softening. My first bite suggested very little by way of concealed greenery, so I popped the hood—which was a simple matter due to aforementioned congealing—and this is what I saw.
Way too much bad bianco, not nearly enough artichoke. There were a few flecks of spinach, though I didn't taste any through the cheese, and the basil was pretty good. Pretty good basil isn't enough to save an entire pizza, however, and the Artichoke Bianco went into the trash after half a slice.
The Greek Isles pizza wasn't any good, either. It's hard to evaluate the crust on a temperature-traumatized pizza, but the thin undercarriages on both the Artichoke Bianco and the Greek Isle tasted like greasy crackers. They were an odd combination of slimy and brittle. Uno purports the Greek Isles pie to feature "house-made pasta sauce topped with plum tomatoes, broccoli rabe, onions, kalamata olives, feta and mozzarella." Mine had no sauce. Not light sauce, mind you, but an utter lack of sauce. The couple chunks of dried out plum tomato weren't nearly enough to cover this oversight. The olives were firm and flavorful, briny enough to bother being olives but not so much that they overwhelmed the pizza. Both cheeses were bland and dry, and the mozzarella was too salty. As previously mentioned, my broccoli rabe was replaced by broccoli broccoli, and I must admit that this was the highlight of the pizza. I picked off all of the firm, crunchy florets before throwing the Family Size Greek Isle in the trash with its partner in crime.
Uno is too well run to let these problems persist. Your pizza almost certainly won't be as bad as mine was. But my job is to review the pizza I ate, not the pizza Uno promises. The pizza they sold me sucked.