<!-- -->While some folks worry about Super Bowl food, planning menus and such, you and I already have a game plan. We're ordering pizza. <!-- (And we're not alone; Super Bowl Sunday is one of the biggest days of the year for pizza delivery.) -->But with all the options available from the nationwide chains, things can get a little confusing.
Who better than Slice to coach you through the pizza playbook? After the jump: careful analysis of the various crusts, toppings, and specialty pizzas from Pizza Hut, Domino's, and Papa John's.
We spent hundreds of dollars on delivery pizza from the major chains in order to study their plays. Armed with napkins, paper plates, a stack of soft drinks, and plenty of antacid, we plowed through piles of crusty, cheesy, saucy stuff, trying to find the best pizza for you to order on game day. We ordered a selection of each chain's specialty pizzas as well as one plain pizza (just cheese), to judge the foundations of each contestant's team.
Team strengths: Fast delivery. Cool online Pizza Tracker option. Many crust options. Low price; any pizza of any size with any number of toppings is $10.99 on game day
Weaknesses: Underwhelming flavor, overly sweet sauce
Available crusts: Classic Hand Tossed, Crunchy Thin Crust, Ultimate Deep Dish, Brooklyn Style, Crispy Melt
Online ordering process: Awesome. Simple and intuitive and allows you to add, remove, and edit pizzas easily while giving you the option to update pricing info without forcing a full page reload. Remembers your favorites. And has the great Pizza Tracker that allows you to see exactly where your order is in the entire mouse-to-house enterprise, updating in real time
The Philly Cheese Steak Pizza (Classic Hand Tossed Crust): This pizza, surprisingly, had the most going for it. It'd normally be an affront to both dishes--managing to muck up the flavor of both iconic American foods--but its steak, Provolone and American cheeses, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms worked well together and had the best flavor among the Domino's line-up. Recommended crust: Classic Hand Tossed is hearty enough to stand up to the topping load but not so thick as to throw things out of balance.
The Bacon Cheeseburger Pizza: I never thought we'd pick hybrids as the top two players on Team Domino's, but this pie was a strong second. Made with mozzarella, cheddar, ground beef, and bacon, our analysts determined that its strength came from ... the bacon, of course. Recommended crust: Try a Crunchy Thin Crust if you really want to emphasize the bacon-cheeseburger-ness of this specialty pizza.
The Crispy Melt: Looks good on paper--a Crispy Thin Crust base and an equally thin layer of crisp dough sandwiching sauce, cheese, and toppings of your choice--but this pizza doesn't manage to complete the play. Too much dry, flavorless crust. Special notes: Only available in large, but you were going to order that anyway, right?
The Vegi Feast: Flavorless vegetables serve only to add texture to this pizza. Order it only as a Hail Mary to please your whiny vegetarian friends.
Team strengths: Higher-quality toppings. The most specialty pizzas. Decent crust. Ample toppings. Excellent presentation.
Weaknesses: Higher cost. Only three crust styles. The most specialty pizzas (some of them are pretty wack)
Available crusts: Original, Thin, Perfect Pan
Online ordering process: Lame. The site itself looks like ass, and navigation is frustrating. Forces you to log in just to see ordering menu. Choosing/adding toppings is confusing. If Domino's and Pizza Hut are NFL, Papa John's web ordering is Pop Warner
The Works (Perfect Pan Crust): This was the most visually pleasing pizza we encountered while scouting Super Bowl pizza pies. The crust had a rich, deep-golden-brown color around the edges and the toppings were artfully arranged. All in a square pizza cut in a novel way (see photo). Amount of toppings exceeded those on comparable Domino's ExtravaganZZa and Pizza Hut Super Supreme. Example: Instead of laying pepperoni slices flat, several slices of the topping were nested together and placed on the pizza in concave hills of meat held in place by plenty of melted cheese. This seemed to increase the amount of pepperoni that could be placed on the pie. Small chunks of sausage dotted the pie evenly, around and hiding under pepperoni slices. Vegetables had better flavor than either Domino's or the Hut. Perfect Pan crust was light and bready. Topped with: pepperoni, ham, spicy Italian sausage, onions, green peppers, baby portabella mushrooms, black olives. Recommended crust: Perfect Pan would seem the ideal base, but here its airiness collapsed under the weight of the toppings. A denser Original crust might be the way to go
The Meats: Pepperoni, sausage, hickory-smoked bacon, and ham give this pizza plenty of flavor and is sure to please the carnivores at your party. Like The Works above, the sliced meats are arranged carefully to allow for ample loads. Looks are deceiving here, but in a good way: Meat appears above the cheese and is hidden below it, so you get more than what you're led to believe just looking at it. Be sure to keep plenty of beer or liquids on hand, though; the saltiness of the meat will make you thirsty. Recommended crust: We tried Original by chance, and it stood up well to the carnal onslaught.
Regular Cheese Pizza: We had high hopes for this one based on the look and taste of The Works pie. But the plain cheese pizza from Papa John's really does need to be topped if it's going to have any flavor. Disappointing. Recommended crust: N/A
BBQ Chicken and Bacon: Seemed promising. I mean, bacon? 'Cue? We figured it was PJ's version of California pizza, but the substitution of barbecue sauce for the usual tomato sauce was a fake out we couldn't get our heads around. And the sweet intensity of the sauce drowned out any chicken flavor--not surprising as it's all white-meat chix. Recommended crust: N/A
Hawaiian BBQ Chicken: See above, and add pineapple. Recommended crust: N/A
The Towel Boys
We had to designate these specialty pizzas "towel boys," since they're not even in the game. We couldn't even bring ourselves to order them. I mean, could you imagine yourself ordering the following for your Super Bowl party?
- Spinach Alfredo
- Spinach Alfredo Deluxe
- Spinach Alfredo Chicken Tomato
- Chicken Alfredo Supreme
Team strengths: Innovative specialty pizzas. The most crust styles.
Weaknesses: Slow delivery. High price. Innovative specialty pizzas (hello? Stuffed Crust?)
Available crusts: Hand-Tossed Style, Pan Pizza, Stuffed Crust, Thin 'n Crispy, Crunchy Cheesy Crust, Pizza Mia
Online ordering process: Very good. Site itself looks beautiful. And ordering is just as intuitive and easy as Domino's, but gets upstaged by the Domino's Pizza Tracker. Allows you to store a "Pizza Playlist" (favorites) and your credit card info for even faster ordering
Pizza Mia: OK. So you know how sometimes team owners are crazy? Well, SliceSerious Eats team owner Ed Levine went a little nuts and, unbeknownst to us, ordered one of Pizza Hut's new Pizza Mia pies with bacon and black olives. What kinda of combo is that?!? But you know ... it worked! This was the best of the Pizza Hut pies we tasted and was actually good and not just "good for Pizza Hut." The crust was had a nice crispness to it and was thin but still just bready enough. The olives were flavorful without being overpowering, and the bacon wasn't half bad. The sauce is slightly sweet but not too much so, and the balance of crust, sauce, and cheese was pretty much on. We were all stunned that this thing came out of Pizza Hut. It was like Adam Sandler going from the waterboy to team MVP. And, it's reasonably priced--much more so than the other garbage pies we ordered. Recommended crust: N/A. If you order a Pizza Mia, you get the special Pizza Mia crust, "created for the taste expert" and made with "fine white Great Plains flour."
The Super Supreme: Just barely makes it into the game. After the Pizza Mia, this is the best Pizza Hut pie we tried. Toppings aren't as flavorful or as abundant as Papa John's, and crust is greasy and spongelike. Sauce is slightly bitter.
Recommended crust: We ordered ours as a Pan Pizza, but this one would benefit from the Hand-Tossed Style crust. Notice how that's "Hand-Tossed Style. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Anything with the Crunchy Cheesy Crust: Have you ever had really bad garlic bread--you know, really dry, with just too much of that garlic powdersalt mixture? That's what this is like. It wasn't discernably more crunchy than any other Hut pizza we had and was in fact nowhere near as crisp as the Pizza Mia. Recommended crust: N/A
For overall marks, we were most impressed with Papa John's. Its pizzas seemed to be made with more care, were tastier overall, and seemed to use better ingredientsand the delivery driver arrived quickly.
However, our favorite single pizza was, strangely enough, the olive-and-bacon Pizza Mia from Pizza Hut.
Domino's only seems worth ordering this Sunday if you want lots of inexpensive pizza.
Here's to everyone who helped taste-test the pizza. Eat through the pain, my friends! Eat through the pain. Pizza photographs by Robyn Lee.