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.
Head Slice has a fiery temper and a filthy mouth that belie her sweet smile and genteel upbringing. She's a lovely woman through and through, but when displeased she starts swearing like a sailor who swallowed David Mamet's parrot. She's told me to go do some pretty gross stuff to myself through the years, but nothing worse than the curse she hurled at me last week: "Hey, pal, why don't you go have Pizza Hut's new Cheesy Bites Pizza for lunch?"
I lack the food pedigree of most Serious Eaters; the only reason I'm even allowed to write about food is because I have naked photos of Kenji (just kidding—everyone has naked photos of Kenji). At any rate, I've settled into the role of token populist, which suits me fine because I've always been something of a chain restaurant apologist. I think a lot of food people are too reflexively harsh on the corporate places.
While I agree that the best restaurants in a given city are rarely the chains, we tend to overlook the fact that the worst restaurants in town tend to be just as independent as the best, with the chains hovering somewhere in the boring but acceptable lower-middle rank. There are plenty of dirty, incompetent moms and pops out there, and by comparison chains usually have cleanliness and consistency going for them, if nothing else. This is as true for pizza as it is for signature sizzlin' skewer bowls, which is why I didn't consider myself above a Pizza Hut Cheesy Bites Pizza lunch.
This limited-time-if-we're-lucky abomination is of the modern trick-pie kind, in which unlikely things are stuffed into, welded onto, or stacked atop a normal, unsuspecting pizza. In this case, the Hutters have affixed mozzarella-filled dough nuggets along the perimeter of a standard round pizza. It's a dubious idea with even worse execution.
Cheesy Bites Pizzas are available as large only, with a one-topping going for $11.99. That's not a bad deal by volume: My dozen dollars netted a big pepperoni pizza ringed by 28 Bites (3.5 Bites to the slice), which would be more than enough food to satisfy a couple of fat guys, provided those fat guys didn't have nerve endings in their tongues.
Nothing about this pizza worked. The most immediate problem concerned the approach: How the hell is one supposed to go about eating this thing? The obvious way seems to be removing the Bites first and then eating the actual pizza after you've been sufficiently appetized, but when I went this direction I was left with a crustless pizza and a bad case of pie-thumb.
The other option is to eat the pizza first and then have the Bites for dessert, which is tricky because not all Bite bonds are created equal: Some of them fall off at the slightest touch, making for an unreliable crust and a high risk of lap pizza.
The cheese from the Bites—a creamy and, to be fair, not bad mozzarella—leaked out onto the pizza to form an extra layer of white cheese around the edge of the standard white-and-orange mix. The Bites themselves are therefore just blobs of dough rendered hollow by the escaped cheese. They're salty.
Once you dispense with the Bites distraction, you're left with no choice but to confront the root of the problem: Pizza Hut doesn't make good pizza. It was slightly undercooked, though structurally sound. The crust didn't taste like anything much, but it had no glaring flaws. And that's it for the good news.
The pepperoni was terrible—sour and gamy and dominant—and once I removed it, there wasn't much flavor coming from any other pizza component. The cheese blend was somehow plainer than the straight mozz from the Bites, really nothing more than a rubbery slick of salt and grease. The sauce was slightly sweet and suggested a chance encounter with garlic powder but was otherwise nondescript.
Remember the baked ziti from the middle school cafeteria? How when you ate it you wouldn't even have known you were alive if not for the occasional forkful of dried oregano tangled up in the cheese? That's what Pizza Hut reminds me of, minus the oregano.