another Chipotle-like pizza joint. Around LA we first had Umami-backed 800 Degrees, which will open a much-larger Santa Monica location this fall. And then PizzaRev, which just got a big money injection from Buffalo Wild Wings, hit the Valley, and Pizza Studio hit USC. Somewhere in there Blaze Pizza entered the fray, first in Irvine and then Pasadena, and with 36 locations planned around SoCal, plus Wisconsin, Connecticut and pizza-centric New York, it's poised to grow exponentially across the country.
This is all fine and good for the 'burbs, but will customizable quick-fired pies hold up in the Big Apple? After a taste test the other day, we can see it working in some neighborhoods, especially around LA. But we don't think it will ever overtake a classic NYC slice.
First, a little background. Blaze is owned by Elise and Rick Wetzel (yes, of Wetzle's Pretzles fame), backed by bigwigs like Maria Shriver, with chef Bradford Kent, whose wood-fired pies are near-perfect at Olio Pizzeria on West Third, as consulting chef. It's definitely more slick than Pizza Studio or even Pizza Rev, but not as artisanal as 800 Degrees. But judging from the lines that wrap around the block of the Pasadena location, no one cares about anything but fast, cheap, decent pizza. Here's a quick breakdown:
1) The set up. The Playhouse District location holds down a corner right next to the Laemmle Theatre, a spicy tuna rolls' throw from Roy's, Tender Greens and another newish pizzeria, Settebello. You walk in, chat with a person about your pie, and you pay.
2) The ingredients. Unlike other quick-pizza spots, there is only one crust (two if you count gluten-free), red sauce or white, a few cheeses and meats but a ton of vegetables. We think that's because Blaze touts its pizza as "healthy," 100 calories a slice even. We're not sure if that's true, but they have gone from limited meats and cheeses and unlimited toppings for $6.85 a pie, to unlimited everything. Pile it on; your pie will always cost less than $7.
3) The pie. Honestly, this was decent pizza. Better than PizzaRev, maybe more on par with 800 Degrees. The crust was uniformly charred along the bottom and even bubbled around the edges a bit. It had a bit of sweetness to it, but not too much so. The sauce - we got original tomato but there was a spicy option - was ok, and the person working the line didn't pile on our choices (mozzarella and ricotta, salame, spinach, basil, roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, pepperoncinis) in any unwieldy fashion. But we think that even if you just had a cheese pizza, there's enough give that no matter how you slice it (they only do quarters), you still need to fold a piece over. Or get a knife. Also, one pie can feed two. We took home leftovers (not bad cold).
4) The cost. We added a drink and our total was less than $10. Now the lines make sense. Settebello, which serves Neapolitan-style wood-fired pies, starts at $10 a pie. It's more of a sit-down spot, but there have never been any lines out the door there.
5) The verdict. Will this sate our Mozza cravings? Hell no. But we can see why it's popular. It works in a pinch. It's pizza, and even bad pizza, which this isn't, pretty much will always do. But will New Yorkers take to it? Maybe, but you can get a slice and a Coke for a few bucks on just about any corner in Manhattan. Then again, at one point, people went nuts for California Pizza Kitchen. You just never know.