“I'd like pepperoni, sausage, meatba—” I started to say to the Pieology worker when she cut me off.
“No, I only do sauces,” she growled.
“I only do sauces!” she repeated even more forcefully, her head down, a permanent scowl etched onto her face. I must not have been the first customer in line that day who had the gall to tell her what toppings were wanted on a pie, and damn it, it wasn't her job. And there I was, another clueless rube off the street who didn't know how things worked around here. Without uttering another word, she brushed olive oil, swirled red sauce and threw some curly shreds of mozzarella onto the flattened dough disc that was to become my pizza. Only when she pushed the peel over to the next worker down the assembly line did I realize I never actually told her which cheese I wanted.
By the time the next gent obliged me all the meat I could possibly want from troughs scarcely centimeters from the sauce and the cheese, my mood was formed before my pizza was. And as this decidedly happier chap assembled my pie and also my order for a salad with craisins, candied pecans, chicken and cheese, offering to go back to the start of the assembly line for extra veggies if I wanted, I still couldn't shake off being yelled at. If an assembly line is only as fast as its slowest worker, it's also true that in this kind of newfangled Chipotle-style model of pizza shop first popularized by Adam Fleischman's 800 Degrees in LA, a customer's experience is only as good as the surliest attendant. Thank God Gustavo didn't get the same treatment when he reviewed the place earlier this year—imagine the nuclear bomb he'd drop on the woman!
I only point this out to contrast it to Pizza Press, which is the second of many more of these kinds of pizza joints to open in our county. The two couldn't have been more different. At Pizza Press, located across the street from Disneyland, the pair of workers I encountered on a particularly slow Saturday night didn't seem to regard the speed of the assembly line as important as putting on a show and engaging their customers. One employee, who was more onstage and gregarious than any Disneyland cast member in history, maintained a cheerful five-minute conversation with the party ahead of us that started with a “How are you guys doing today?” He continued his chit-chat with my group while making our pizzas, and unlike that first Pieology employee I met, this person treated us as though we were fellow human beings and valued guests.
At Blaze Pizza in Irvine, the Wetzel's Pretzels people's contribution to this assembly-line pizza trend, I can report nothing noteworthy about the service. In other words, it was fine. Blaze Pizza also placed itself in the middle of the pack with its product, which I liked slightly better than Pizza Press', but less than Pielogy's. Blaze, as with Pieology, shoves its pizzas manually into the gaping maw of an actual pizza oven to bake, while Pizza Press employs a conveyor-belt oven the likes of which you've seen at Quizno's. As a result, Pizza Press' pies aren't as crisp on the bottom as Pieology's; Blaze's pie, while possessing crispness, has a lighter yet less satisfying texture on a crust with a presence closer to pita bread. Pieology's pies were the best of them all, chewy enough so you realize you're eating pizza, and with crispy, charred bottoms formed from sitting on the searing oven floor. Your fingers will likely get dusted with soot when you eat a slice.
Among them, Pielogy's pie is the closest to the Neapolitan idea of a pizza, except without the characteristically bulbous crust of Mozza or Ortica. Bubbles and an edge that's less than flat are the enemy of Blaze, Pieology and Pizza Press. All employ harpoon-like hooks to tamp down and burst any non-conforming bumps that might form during baking. At all three pizza parlors, the uniformly flat discs start out as shotput balls squashed membrane-thin by an oversized vice, and they stay that way after they're cooked.
Though Pizza Press and Pieology charge $10 and $7.50, respectively, per pie for unlimited add-ons, Blaze levies $6.85 for a maximum of three meats and cheeses. But the array of toppings might as well be carbon copies of the others. At all three, there's a version of a margherita and a barbecue chicken with identical drizzles of sauce applied by squirt bottle. But Blaze offers a wonderful S'mores pie that should not be ignored, and Pizza Press relishes in an old-time-newspaper theme with the Newsies soundtrack playing on a loop. At Pieology, one wall is plastered with aphorisms from great philosophers and thinkers. To motivate that less-than-gracious “I only do sauces” girl, I would suggest one more: “The customer is always right.”
This review appeared in print as “Stop the Presses: We compare and contrast the pies and the service at Pieology, the Pizza Press and Blaze Pizza.”
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.