Monday, August 1, 2016

The People vs. Jet's Pizza

Jet's Pizza is a national chain which has opened its first location in Austin, on Brodie Lane.

Majority Opinion from Chief Pizza Justice Kevin

"Good" is a difficult word to parse sometimes, so let's simply say that I would call Jet's good, and my doctor would not agree with me.

Jet's is that kind of chain where anything that can go through a pizza oven and come out decent is on offer. Wings, salad, subs, and of course, pizza. Subdivide the pizza into round, square, New York, and gluten-free crusts, and throw in the kind of bizarre creations that bored delivery guys make. Oh - and don't forget to "flavorize" your crust with eight varieties of special ingredient, including "Jet's Turbo Crust". Jet's is delivery and carry-out, at least in our neck of the woods, so Karin and I took home three items: Jet's Bread (a sort of deep dish cheesestick covered in butter); a four corner Meatball Supremo; and a small (round) vegetarian.

Let's get the bad out of the way. The vegetarian was a pizza and not much more. The ingredients and the crust were both pretty bland - you could forget you're eating it while you're eating it. The crust appeared to go through some kind of machine that was visible from behind the counter. It went in a lump, and came out flat and round. I'm not enough of a connoisseur to tell you how much that hurt the crust, but certainly the crust lacked the fluffiness and texture I'd like to see in even a chain crust. Two thirds of the pizza died an inglorious death, reheated and slathered in enough ranch to make me forget how bland they were.
Mind you, that ranch.

Which brings us to the good, and there is no quicker way to summarize the good at Jet's than "Ranch Dressing". Their menu lists their ranch as "world famous". Like all lunatic marketing lines, "world famous" made me want to try the ranch so I could find out how terrible was. I was disappointed and pleased to find that the ranch dressing is some of the best I've ever had. It occurs to me I never realized ranch dressing could be particularly good. This ranch was buttery, with a viscous consistency, and I may actually be buying the bottles they apparently sell.

The Meatball Supremo won considerable praise. Pepperoni, mild peppers, and meatballs. I was initially concerned that the meatballs would be nothing more than an inconvenience, but the garlic undertone they supplied went perfectly with the pepperoni, and the pepperoni, as I believe I've mentioned in discussing other pizzas, were the perfect vehicle to provide an undercurrent to the spice of the peppers. The crust, which is specifically the crust on their four and eight corner pizzas, is square and deep. It is reminiscent of Via 313 - certainly not that good, but it comes closer than a chain has any right to. The square crust was crisp, with a layer of soft breading between topping and crust. It may be the best chain pizza crust I've ever had.

Jet's bread was served on the same crust, essentially cheesesticks, but slathered in butter, garlic, and romano (the "Turbo" option on the flavorizer menu). "Turbo Option on the Flavorizer Menu" is, incidentally, my favorite Electric Six song. My finger could leave see-through fingerprints on paper from all the grease, but the flavor works - you can certainly tell it's greasy, but the grease is never overpowering, and the flavor comes through as buttery, cheesy, delight, particularly in the ranch dressing. I'm sure every bite of the combination took a year off my life.

The two products we enjoyed simply didn't care about being gourmet food. They struck a reasonably balanced palette, forgot that heart valves need to be kept clear, and did everything they wanted to do until they hit 11. Previously I spoke about subtlety in pizza, and though the garlic undertone to the Meatball Supremo is an appreciated stab in that direction, Jet's can't really be given any points in that department. It's food to be eaten in the dark, alone, promising yourself you'll start working out Monday. It's damn good at that.

The round crust is to be soundly ignored in favor of the four and eight corner sizes.

Dissenting Opinion from Pizza Justice Karin

After the physical and psychological digestion of this meal, I disagree that the grease was not overpowering. I found myself quite powerless in its clutches. In other words, I didn't quit eating, but I wanted to.

Jet's wasn't bad, but the best tasting items were also ones that it is hard to justify even as an indulgent treat. Instead, I could order some Papa Johns or haul myself out of the house to an actual restaurant, both of which will allow me to pretend I'm doing something other than eating cheesy butter conveniently processed to be eaten with my fingers.

On other hand, I am too curious about some of the menu items (like subs) to say that I won't be back.

Monday, July 25, 2016

The People vs. Pinthouse Pizza

Majority Opinion from Chief Pizza Justice Karin:

The first time I went to Pinthouse Pizza on Burnet, I was not a fan (Adventure #55: Pinthouse Pizza). It was overcrowded and noisy (you may notice I have a problem with restaurants who get so noisy that I have to yell in order to have a conversation with my tablemates). On top of that, the pizza just wasn't that great.

Yes, I took this picture before I knew I was going to be adventuring again. Old habits die hard!

Now I'm a whole-hearted convert. They have a new(er) location at Ben White and Lamar and I can't pin it down exactly, but the pizza has improved. Maybe a new dough recipe? a new topping philosophy? Either way, I know that whatever pizza I get there is going to be amazing. Let's take the case of a BBQ chicken pizza. Normally, this would not be a pizza I would ever eat. BBQ sauce does not belong on a pizza. Chicken doesn't belong on a pizza. BUT, I've come to trust Pinthouse so much, that when it was their monthly special last month, I ordered it. I didn't like it, but if there was ever to be a BBQ chicken pizza that I liked, it would have been that one. It had a great balance of sweet and acidic and the chicken was neither over-cooked nor drowned out.

The Houdini

On this adventure, we went with this month's "Off the Map Pie" (and hopefully something they'll bring back), the Houdini. It is a pizza that goes in the category of "best things I've ever put in my mouth". Up there with a salami white cheddar with an egg on it from House Pizzeria or the Detroiter from Via 313. It has to be tasted to be believed.

Sliced zuchini are the base of the texture for this pizza, then the big dollops of ricotta provide bites of sweet creaminess. Along with the cheese and crust you might expect to fall into an umami coma, but the olive oil on this pizza is actually a lemon emulsion and it wakes the whole pie up. Topping it off is fresh basil, exactly the right herbal note.

I'll admit that this adventure wasn't my first Houdini, I've had three this month and I'll have at least one more before the month's out.

The Cannonball

For our 2nd pie we decided on The Cannonball, aka the meat parade. Every other meat parade should take note. Ham and pepperoni for variant pork flavor, sausage for chewiness, bacon for crunch, with cheese to hold the whole thing together.

I've actually never had The Cannonball before (I don't usually go for the meat parade on my own), but it was everything I could have wanted. Every bite was a meaty party in my mouth and the crust holds up surprisingly well to the onslaught.

Speaking of crust, Pinthouse has an amazing delivery-style crust. It's light enough to be an effective topping delivery system, but flavorful and chewy around the edges. Perfect for dipping in whatever sauce you have laying around from your appetizer or enjoying with just the soaked-in grease of the pizza.

El Queso doesn't look like much, but looks are deceiving.

Pizza wasn't the only new thing we tried. We took advantage of our indulgent mood and tried El Queso (and salsa). The menu lists it as "ale queso" and I'm not sure what that means, but it was certainly less salty and more ?meaty? than other queso I've had.

Our final indulgence was a beer. I tried Lil Sebastian at the recommendation of the bartender. I am always happy when I can walk up to a bar, explain what kind of beer I'm looking for, and the bartender has a recommendation. In this case, I wanted something yeasty, wheaty, and leaning more toward sweet than bitter. Lil Sebastian is Pinthouse's in-house Belgian-style and it hit every one of those notes.

Overall, I can't recommend Pinthouse enough.

Pizza Justice Kevin, concurring:

I write separately to point out the difficulty of a subtle pizza. Like so many of the foods we go out of our way for, a subtle pizza has not only flavor, but rarity to recommend it. I very much enjoyed the Cannonball, which didn't wear any meat without good cause. The Houdini, however, is creative in a way that is seen rarely, and which works even more rarely. The flavors are subtle while being interesting, and the landmines of ricotta provided a sweetness that blended neatly.

I would also emphasize the queso - it's certainly more savory than other queso I've had, and the flavor has more depth. I found the different flavor works a little more naturally as a counterpoint to the saltiness of a tortilla chip. I'd also note that the salsa, though less surprising, was excellent. Fresh, with a bite.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The People vs. Toss Pizzeria and Pub

Majority Opinion from Chief Pizza Justice Kevin:

I have never had garlic knots like that. I don't know if this simply means I'm uneducated in the art of knots, but they were excellent. Doughy in the center, but crisp on the edges, perfectly oily, just the right amount of Parmesan. The texture was gorgeous. Other knots I've had have been delicious, but never represented the same variety of texture. We got the knots with garlic butter, which was largely unnecessary. Marinara may have been useful.

The pizza was -- I've been struggling with whether to call it bad. No sauce whatsoever is a bold choice, for any pizzeria. Possibly even an admirable choice. My least favorite part of many pizza's is the sauce, and I was initially optimistic about the prospect of the thin layer of cheese on crisp crust (the crust being the one unquestionably delightful part of the pizza for me).

I chose the pulled pork and jalapeno. A warrior's pizza. The pulled pork and Jalapeno was unquestionably the better pizza, though the pulled pork was a little too dry, and the jalapenos unnecessary. Initially I was optimistic, as the pork and jalapeno married quite well in the first few, cheese-­only bites. As I got to the actual pork, however, it was simply uninteresting. It left me running through hog varieties in my head, trying to locate the magical difference that makes pulled pork so wonderful on a sandwich but terrible on a pizza.

The jalapeno was, much like the pulled pork, merely inoffensive. The bite it added was pleasant, but it didn't do more than marry jalapeno and cheese. Not a bad flavor, but not why we eat pizza. Even a simple jalapeno pizza from Papa John's would have at least had the sauce to make things more interesting. The pizza wasn't a chore, but nor did it have much of a point. The pizza could have done well to disregard pulled pork for the most ordinary pizza topping in the world, pepperoni, which would have done quite well alongside the jalapeno and the crisp crust. Pulled pork exists because it has a wonderful texture that can complement BBQ sauce and the moistness of melted fat. To sprinkle bits and pieces of it here and there, and then submerge them under Jalapeno, loses the texture and misses the point. That's why pepperoni stands it's ground on pizza.

Of course, then I have to ask myself why sauce doesn't belong on this pizza.

Karin's margherita was less inoffensive. A delicate pizza at the best of times, a sauceless margherita isn't impossible, but the tomatoes had better be perfect. So much of the texture of the margherita is built upon the marriage of sauce and cheese, and to use sliced tomatoes invites a failure of ingredients. In this case, the tomatoes were gooey. So too the garlic ­an unwelcome addition to the classic recipe, which, as I've mentioned, is delicate at the best of times. The garlic was mush, lacking (in the same vein as the pulled pork) any of the bite that makes garlic worthwhile. Being whole garlic, none of the flavor of it could get out to mingle with the rest of the pizza, so it was merely one nugget of sudden sweetness in the midst of other lackluster flavors. The sweetness of the cooked garlic wouldn't have been bad on it's own, but it did nothing to contribute to the flavor of the margherita. When I rule the world, it'll be a war crime to call any four topping pizza a margherita. Until then, I'll content myself with begging that garlic on pizza be chopped and cooked only when the pizza goes through the oven, so that it can work as god meant it to.

On beer:

Tipping is so complicated and awful as it is. Don't provide more options. And don't provide options that will result in drunkenly made pizza. Just split the waitstaff tips with the kitchen staff. You don't have to be so fucking Austin it hurts.

As someone who has been screwed over by customers seeing the delivery charge and thinking it was a tip, please, keep tipping simple.


Concurring Opinion from Pizza Justice Karin:

I would be tempted to go back only for the garlic knots, which were fantastic, but what makes me hesitant is that Toss was really noisy. It's a small room and sound bounced around so that even with a half-full restaurant, the atmosphere was cacophonous. I'll contrast with Pinthouse Pizza, which also has noise-control problems, but whose hours are such that I can avoid a crowd and whose pizza is so good that there is I would brave a lot for it. Are garlic knots worth it? Probably not, especially given that I wouldn't really want a pizza to go with them.

I promised myself that I'd only write one paragraph, but I can't leave it unsaid that I question the choice to simultaneously caution diners with "Don't go crazy...our pizzas work best with minimal toppings" while the "Carnivore" in the specialty pie section includes chicken (alongside 5 other meats). I know every pizzeria needs a meat parade option, but every topping that is included on a specialty better be there because the pizza needs it to achieve maximum deliciousness. That had better be some damn tasty chicken to stand up to all the pork on the pizza (see above notes on the pizzas we did get to understand why I'm skeptical).

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Wiping The Slate Clean and Introducing Adventurer Kevin

It's been a while and, while I've never stopped trying new pizzerias around town, I've missed blogging about it. Since the last time this blog was updated my life and Ian's life both changed, moving in opposite directions. I hope whatever Ian's doing in life he's enjoying pizza every now and again and thinking fondly on our pizzadventuring days.

Now, I'd like to introduce my new pizzadventuring partner Kevin.

I've known Kevin for five years. We got to know each other in a Saturday night RPG group. I have to admit that, much like my pizzadventuring days with Ian, I look back on that Saturday night group with a lot of nostalgia.

Here are three things that I like about Kevin:

  1. He has long pretty hair (also pretty green eyes).
  2. He's a writer. When the mood strikes us both we've even traded writing for critique.
  3. His opinions are always well thought out. Even when we disagree, he'll have thought through his position (something I can't always say about myself).

Check out our "about us" page for more about Kevin in his own words.

With a new partnership I feel it's only fair to wipe the slate clean and go back to Adventure #1. If you've ever walked into a comic shop and heard the news that Marvel or DC has decided to start all over again with issue #1, I feel for you. This isn't a decision I take lightly, but just like I've changed in the last few years (I have a newish husband and a newish baby), I'm sure that some of the pizzerias that Ian and I visited together have changed. Plus, you're going to want to know what Kevin thinks of these places.

Let's talk about new rules. ...sortof new rules. During our first adventure we joked about being the Pizza Supreme Court (Kevin is a law/SCOTUS geek). At least for now, I'm going to run with it. These are the Court Procedures:

1. We will trade off picking a pizzeria.
2. The person who did not pick the pizzeria is the Chief Pizza Justice for the adventure.
3. The picking person is afforded a brief concurring or dissenting opinion for each adventure. If the opinion is dissenting, the pizzeria is eligible to be picked again so that further exploration can be made.

Hopefully the subject of adventure #2 b/c this is one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth.
There are some things that haven't changed though. I still feel strongly about the following:
  • We love locally owned pizzerias. Homogenized chain pizza just doesn't hit the spot and doesn't contribute to the awesomeness of our city. With that said, there are more and more chains trying out Austin as their new market and we would remiss if we didn't try them out, just to confirm if they can reach the high bar that our local pizzerias set.
  • Specialty pizzas should be a showcase of what the pizzeria does best. These are the topping combinations that the owners/pizziolos recommend, and if they're not putting that much thought into them they are failing to provide a key component of the pizza experience
  • A pizza should stand on its own. We know that everyone has different tastes, but the pizza should be at its maximum deliciousness without any help from condiments. If Parmesan, red pepper flakes, or (I shudder at the thought) ranch dressing are needed, they should be a balanced part of the pizza, planned for and integrated into the recipe.
I sincerely hope that Kevin and I can carve out new, wonderful pizza memories and do the blog proud.

Look out for our first Pizza Supreme Court ruling tomorrow!