REVIEW: Papa John’s Pan Pizza

Papa John's Pan Pizza 2

Let’s have some real talk about my relationship with Papa John’s.

I’ve been walking the Papa John’s beat for TIB for some years now. New menu item, new toppings – if it’s got that new car, er, pizza smell, I’m on it.

But this doesn’t mean I have some sort of love affair with Papa John’s. You know what I do have a love affair with? Laziness. If every item I wanted to review could be delivered to my door in 40 minutes, I would be very rich in Oreos and very, very poor in dollars.

But there’s no “weird Oreo flavor of the month” delivery service (yet), so instead I find myself reviewing a lot of weird pizza. And that seems to mean reviewing a lot of Papa John’s.

This time around, Papa John’s isn’t doing anything weird. In fact, they’re coming out with something that’s a bit of a classic: the pan pizza.

Papa John's Pan Pizza

Look at that fancy pants box. Or should I say, fancy PANS box. Anyways, Papa John stands smugly in the upper-right corner of the box, compelling you to marvel at his black-and-gold special pizza box that tries to look for all the world like a package of Magnum Ice Cream Bars. Seducing. Beckoning. Pizza.

I always thought that pan pizza was the same thing as deep dish pizza, because I had no culture. I’ve since learned myself, but I actually had to look up what pan pizza really is. What it boils down to is that, instead of being hand-tossed, the pizza is baked in an oiled pan with the dough just sort of shoved up against the edges, resulting in a thicker crust with crispy edges.

Or, as Papa John puts it, “Why do we bake it in a pan? Because it bakes our fresh dough into a thick, hearty crust that’s light and fluffy with crispy edges and cheesy caramelized goodness.”

Since it’s all about the crust here, I’m going to ignore the toppings. (For the record, I chose the Pan John’s Favorite.)

I’mma be real with you – Papa John’s hand-tossed crust is not my favorite. It always seems a little undercooked to me. That said, their pan crust is a study in contradictions.

Papa John's Pan Pizza 4

On the one hand, the outer crust was definitely crispy and somewhat buttery – I enjoyed those aspects of it much more than a regular Papa John’s crust. Also, the cheese goes all the way to the edge, so I didn’t feel like I was left with a half-cooked breadstick at the end of my slice of pizza. The crust under the toppings was chewy without being soggy – also good.

But then there was the flavor. Papa John’s says that the dough is made fresh and with only seven ingredients: flour, extra virgin olive oil, cold-filtered water, sugar, salt, yeast, and oil. Yet, there was an odd, artificial flavor that I couldn’t quite pin down. Given that none of the ingredients are actually artificial, the best I could come up with was the flavor of spoiled oil. If this was the case, then maybe I just got a bad pie?

Papa John's Pan Pizza 3

Papa John’s came so close to giving me a crust I really enjoyed with their Pan Pizza – crispy, crunchy, buttery edges that didn’t even need the included dipping sauce that I usually require in order to ingest the crust of their pizza. But then they went and gave it some weird undertone of flavor that made me feel like I was eating something that wasn’t quite right. So close, Papa, so close.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 slice – 290 calories, 160 calories from fat, 18 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 35 milligrams of cholesterol, 870 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, 12 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $12.00
Size: 12” pizza
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Not left with a doughy breadstick crust. Fancy, seductive box. Crispy edges. Toppings to all the way to the edge.
Cons: All food should be available for delivery at all times. The artificial/spoiled flavor taints the whole pizza. Only available in one (pretty small) size.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Cap’n Crunch’s Orange Creampop Crunch Cereal

Limited Edition Cap’n Crunch’s Orange Creampop Crunch Cereal

Confession time: I have never in my life eaten Cap’n Crunch. That’s right: me and the Cap’n have never made it happen.

I know one thing about Cap’n Crunch, which is that it is like eating a spoonful of razor blades. This is just one of those things I’ve heard people speak of while they fondly recall their childhood. It baffles me. Did you all turn into little masochists when it was breakfast time?

It’s not one of those situations where I wasn’t allowed sugary cereals, either – Tony the Tiger and…whatever the name of the Lucky Charms leprechaun is were regulars in my house. The Cap’n just never entered my radar. Ha! I just realized that’s a boat joke.

Before we get started, I want to note that the marketing department did a spot-on job with the front of this box. Everything from the jaunty orange valance to the Olde Tyme Shoppe font to the little ice cream cart proclaiming that this flavor is Limited Edition made me want to pick up Cap’n Crunch’s Orange Creampop Crunch and take it home with me.

I will say, though, it seems less like the Cap’n is offering me a 50/50 bar and more like he’s about to assault me with it. Stand down, Cap’n! We all be buckos here!

Limited Edition Cap’n Crunch’s Orange Creampop Crunch Cereal 2

I know the cereal is orange on the front of the box, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how bright it was when I opened the box. My brain immediately went to Cheetos, which is a weird thought to have when you’re about to eat sugary cereal.

Luckily, I was able to push the cheesy thoughts away and dig in to my bowl full of crunchy Creamsicles. I mean, Creampops. Wouldn’t want to violate any registered trademarks, here.

It was hard to pin down the taste at first, but finally the perfect analogy came to me – Froot Loops that had been dosed with extra artificial orange flavoring. It was that ubiquitous “I’m fruity!” sugar cereal flavor but with one particular standout.

Limited Edition Cap’n Crunch’s Orange Creampop Crunch Cereal 3

Unfortunately, this does not a 50-50 bar/Creamsicle/Creampop make. Where was the vanilla? I thought I tasted hints, but that could have just been the milk and sugar mixing with my imagination.

Regardless, I’m very familiar with the delicious flavor of the orange and vanilla ice cream bar, and this was not it. Along with the lack of vanilla, which is half of what makes up the ice cream bar this cereal was modeled after, the orange was all wrong. The orange outside of a Creamsicle has a light, fruity orange flavor, and the Cap’ns version was like an orange Runt got mixed in there and started throwing punches.

Something kept pulling at me, telling me that Orange Creampop Crunch reminded me of something, and then I realized it: Yummy Mummy cereal! The difference is that Yummy Mummy actually tasted like orange cream, in my opinion. Congrats, Cap’n, you got showed up by a Halloween monster.

With all that said, will I have another bowl? Probably. I might even finish the box. Despite the over-orangeness and disappointing vanilla, Cap’n Crunch’s Orange Creampop Crunch has that satisfyingly artificial, super sugary, crunchy goodness. I’ll just pretend I’m eating orange Froot Loops that managed not to sog out after two seconds in milk.

Me and the Cap’n finally made it happen. I popped my Cap’n Crunchcherry. I would say that I regret that that is the second-to-last sentence of my review, but I regret nothing.

(Nutrition Facts – 3/4 cup – 110 calories, 15 calories from fat, 1.5 grams of fat, 0.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 grams of polyunsaturated fat, 0.5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 50 milligrams of potassium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 12 grams of sugar, 11 grams of other carbohydrates, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49 (on sale)
Size: 14 oz. box
Purchased at: Safeway
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Had that lovely sugary artificial fruit flavor. Boat jokes! You’ll like it if you’ve been craving orange cereal. Cute box design. Stays crunchy in milk. Didn’t cut my mouth to shreds.
Cons: Lack of vanilla flavor. The Cap’n trying to assault me. Orange flavor was very artificial. Making gross jokes about the Cap’n popping my cherry. Totally failed at capturing the flavor of a Creamsicle.

REVIEW: Papa John’s Mushroom Swiss Burger Pizza

Papa John's Mushroom Swiss Burger Pizza

Papa John’s seems hellbent on deconstructing already-existing fast food sandwiches and turning them into pizza. They are the Dr. Frankenstein of dough. And, as with the infamous doctor, things don’t always go well.

For instance, there was the time they tried to turn a Philly cheesesteak sandwich into a pizza, and they also did it to a double cheeseburger. Both of these were, in my opinion, failed attempts. Oh, sure, Papa John could shout “IT’S ALIVE!” But at what cost?

To my taste buds, I mean. The price is on their menu.

I feel like right after the God of Burgers created the cheeseburger and then added bacon to it, his next creation was the mushroom Swiss burger. I’m not sure why it was that combination that came up next, but it seems to be menu item #3 on a lot of burger restaurants’ lists.

Papa John's Mushroom Swiss Burger Pizza 2

Papa John’s says that “Our New burger pizza comes with beef, crimini mushrooms, onions, cheese made from mozzarella and Swiss cheeses, with creamy garlic sauce.”

I’m not a mushroom expert, but the mushrooms that came on my pizza looked like what I would call “pizza mushrooms”. Are criminis always used for pizzas? I don’t know, but the ones on my pizza tasted like pizza mushrooms. Which is fine, I suppose. There was also a healthy coverage of them.

What there was not a lot of was burger pieces. I feel like if you’re going to make a pizza specifically designed from a burger, you should get at least one burger piece per bite. That was not the case with my pizza. However, the umami from the mushrooms helped balance that out a little.

The onions were, of course, rather floppy, but they added a nice kick of flavor to the pizza. As for the Swiss, I feel like it added an extra dimension to the cheese profile. I also feel like that sentence smelled just a tiiiiny bit like bullshit. My mind could have been tricking me into thinking that the Swiss was there; I honestly can’t say for sure.

Papa John's Mushroom Swiss Burger Pizza 3

Call it trivial if you like, but I think the biggest victory of this pizza was Papa John’s choice to use garlic sauce. They must have tweaked the recipe since its application on the Philly Cheesesteak Pizza, because this time it did not taste like bile. It had a nice creamy texture and the taste of garlic was present but not overwhelming.

This was a critical decision, because using tomato sauce would have made the pizza impressively boring, and using the weird “zesty burger sauce” they had on their Double Cheeseburger Pizza would have been disgusting because that shit tasted like hot Thousand Island. So again, good call, Papa.

The Mushroom Swiss Burger Pizza is by far not Papa John’s worst limited time pizza, but I wasn’t exactly blown away by it. There were lots of mushrooms, but they were the same kind of mushrooms you’d get on a usual pizza as far as I could tell, and the burger – kind of an important part – was sparse. I’m not entirely sure I could taste the Swiss, but if I did, it was okay? The real saving grace here was the creamy garlic sauce, which really brought the pizza together and gave it that little something special that it otherwise definitely would have lacked.

(Nutrition Facts – 1/6 of a small pizza – 240 calories, 110 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 500 milligrams of sodium, 25 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 3 grams of sugar, 9 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $12.00
Size: Small
Purchased at: Papa John’s
Rating: 6 out of 10
Pros: Creamy garlic sauce brings it all together. The God of Burgers. Plenty of mushrooms. Garlic sauce doesn’t taste like bile this time.
Cons: Sparse burger pieces. Being the Dr. Frankenstein of pizza. My stupid brain could have tricked me into tasting Swiss. Just a bit boring.

REVIEW: Easter Sundae M&M’s

Easter Sundae M&M's

Easter Sundays hold a special place in my heart. So many memories of floofy dresses bought just for that day. Sleeping with my hair in rollers to get those special curls the next morning. Socks with little bows on them, and saddle shoes or Mary Janes.

That was a shoe before it was a term for weed, guys. Just a heads up.

The point being, I loved–oh, wait, no, I hated Easter Sunday. I hated wearing dresses. The curlers pinched my scalp. Bows are for girls who don’t play in the mud and try to catch lizards. Church was boring and too early.

Okay, it wasn’t all bad. After church we got to go to The Original Pancake House, where they put bacon in pancakes before putting bacon in everything was cool. We had an Easter egg hunt at home, and got to open our baskets full of sweet, delicious candy. It was a fantastic reward for my sore head and sleepy morning.

What we didn’t have was Easter Sundaes. That’s probably because they didn’t exist until M&M’s decided to use some easy wordplay for their latest in a line of many flavors. Look at Red up there, acting like bunny ears and sundaes go together like Halloween and candy corn.

I’d also like to address the flavor itself, which is described on the bag as “White center surrounded by Milk Chocolate.” I know it’s a controversial stance, but White Center has been and always will be my favorite flavor. Good ol’ White Center.

Easter Sundae M&M's 2

M&M’s idea of Easter Sundae colors is apparently bright blue, bright pink and what some guy in the paint department of Home Depot would describe as ecru. These feel more like “baby shower gifts when the parents are keeping the gender a secret” more than either Easter or sundaes. Also, for some reason my bag had approximately four times as many blues as pinks, so…I guess it’s a boy?

Easter Sundae M&M's 3

Of course, White Center is actually white chocolate, the proof of which is that white chocolate is the first ingredient listed on the back of the bag. It’s the predominant chocolate inside the larger-than-usual M&M, surrounded by a thinner later of milk chocolate.

The taste of Easter Sundae M&M’s is both pleasant and almost oppressively boring. That’s a weird sentence, but it’s 100% true. The white chocolate center dominates as a flavor, while the surrounding milk chocolate plays a nice backup role.

But that’s it; that’s all there is to it. White chocolate and milk chocolate, together at last, or for the 100th time. One of those two. If they really were going for the taste of a sundae, they failed to hit the marks of ice cream, hot fudge, whipped cream, cherries, and…well yeah, that’s entirely what comprises a sundae.

If you like to eat white chocolate and milk chocolate together, then you’ll enjoy Easter Sundae M&M’s. But don’t be fooled by the name; there’s no new flavors, no unique experience. Just chocolate.

(Nutrition Facts – 1.5 ounces — 210 calories, 90 calories from fat, 9 grams of total fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 35 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of total carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 27 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.88
Size: 8 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Enjoyable mixture of white and milk chocolate. Easter egg hunts. The candy shells are cheerily colored.
Cons: A boring combination of flavors. Trying to force Easter and sundaes together. Candies taste absolutely nothing like sundaes. Floofy dresses.

REVIEW: Pizza Hut Hershey’s Hot Chocolate Brownie

Pizza Hut Hershey's Hot Chocolate Brownie

Unlike many of you out there, I am not a chocoholic. Chocoholism is so prevalent that spellcheck recognizes “chocoholic” as an actual word, and it doesn’t even think spellcheck is a word.

That said, there are a few chocolate snacks I can’t resist. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Coffee Crisp candy bars. And, pertinent to this review, brownies and hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate will always have a special place in my heart, since every Christmas morning before I opened presents, my mom would make me a cup, complete with Christmas-shaped marshmallows slowly dissolving on top.

Pizza Hut’s website describes their Hot Chocolate Brownie as “a fresh baked warm Hershey’s Triple Chocolate Brownie topped with toasted marshmallows and drizzled with Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup.”

With two of my four chocolate weaknesses covered, Pizza Hut had me salivating at the idea of their new Hershey’s Hot Chocolate Brownie, despite the deep-seated idea that a brownie coming from Pizza Hut couldn’t be that great. However, I am nothing if not the consummate professional journalist, so I put on my objective tasting hat and waited for the brownie to be delivered to my door.

I am very happy to report that my brownie arrived exactly as advertised. When I opened the box, it smelled exactly like brownies fresh out of the oven, and it looked absolutely scrumptious. Yes, I realize I sound like I just morphed into a Food Network chef, but I can’t help it. The marshmallows covered almost every square inch and looked toasted to perfection.

Pizza Hut Hershey's Hot Chocolate Brownie 2

The inside of the brownie was incredibly rich and super gooey, more like a half-baked brownie than a regular brownie. This texture contrasted nicely with the crunchy edges, which are always the best part of the brownie. I could definitely taste that this was a Hershey’s product; the chocolate was quality and had no fake taste whatsoever.

As if this wasn’t good enough, those marshmallows on top just added to the feeling that I was eating a warm hug. They were super gooey and melty, doing that slow-separation thing that commercials love to showcase. They added a fluffy texture to the rich chocolate center, as well as a tiny bit of extra crunch because they were toasted. Plus, that light and sweet marshmallow taste just gave the brownie an extra layer of flavor.

Despite all this fawning, there were a few downsides to the Hot Chocolate Brownie. Due to the innards being so gooey (sorry for using that word so much, but there aren’t any good synonyms for it), cutting it was nearly impossible, as you can see from my best attempts at taking a picture of a “slice”. You’d be better off just eating it straight out of the pan with a fork.

The chocolate drizzle on top looked nice but didn’t add any flavor, probably because the brownie itself had already reached Maximum Chocolate Richness. While this made it delicious, it also made it impossible to eat more than a tiny square (or glob) in one serving.

As I am but one mere mortal, I had to store the rest of it in my fridge, giving it one last, longing gaze as I did so, even with a slight tummy ache. I knew I would never get that recipe again, and I was right – all that gooey magic goes out the window once it’s cooled down. I thought about re-warming it in the oven, but I’m not very good with things like that when it comes to times and temperatures. Much to my extreme sadness, a lot of it wound up going to waste.

Pizza Hut Hershey’s Hot Chocolate Brownie tastes nothing like hot chocolate, but it does taste like a warm, rich chocolate experience on a cold winter night, which is in the same realm as hot chocolate. However, I highly recommend you find someone to share it with, unless you are a serious chocoholic machine.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 square (1/9 brownie) – 290 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 3.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 100 milligrams of sodium, 45 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of fiber, 31 grams of sugar, 3 grams of protein.)

Item: Pizza Hut Hershey’s Hot Chocolate Brownie
Purchased Price: $6.99
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Pizza Hut
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Quality Hershey’s chocolate. Getting a warm hug from a brownie. Marshmallows are toasted, gooey and fluffy. Brownie is gooey and half-baked on the inside. Crunchy brownie edges.
Cons: Far too rich for one human to consume while fresh. Saying “gooey” so many times. Chocolate drizzle adds no flavor. Sounding like a Food Network chef. Doesn’t taste exactly like hot chocolate.