In 2019, the garlic sauce-soaked pizza that defined my early 2000s video gaming marathons got a massive upgrade – Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq came into Papa John’s not only as a brand ambassador, but also a board member and part-owner of nine franchises. (LeBron James and a Blaze investment who?!) Fast forward a little over a year later and the NBA Hall of Famer gets to break the backboard of 2020 with his first signature pizza.
The Shaq-a-Roni Pizza channels the energy of Shaq and promises an epic experience of extra large, extra pepperoni, and extra cheese. Sounds like I’m gonna need some extra cardio!
Not only does this pizza sound like a good time, the chain also donating $1 for every pizza sold to the Papa John’s Foundation for Building Community – bringing relief not only to our rumbling tummy’s but the community too. Count me in.
First things first – this pizza was supposed to come in a special box with Shaq’s face on it and the saying “everyone loves pizza – pizza loves everyone” along with a QR code to unlock another level of fulfillment via Snapchat. The location I went to didn’t have the box, but the pizza itself still felt big and substantial in my hands.
All awesome NBA tie-ins aside, this is Papa John’s attempt at making a NY style pizza, which harkens back to Pizza Hut’s The Big New Yorker that I absolutely adored in the late 90s. The dough is spread out thinner than your average Papa John’s pizza but maintains a doughy soft chew without any of the crackery crunch one might associate with a “thin” crust pizza. Picking up the slices, they flip and flop all over the place like James Harden driving into the lane, and even though I can’t stand that kind of offense, I love this kind of eating.
The pizza is large and intimidating with tons of pepperoni often overlapping each other fighting for space across the vast cheesy landscape. As you might expect, the initial taste is salty and just a touch spicy with spotted greasy pepperoni taking the star player role as I chew.
I’ve always enjoyed Papa John’s for its slightly sweet crust that pairs oh-so-beautifully with its signature (and included!) garlic dipping sauce, and the crust and sauce are just as good as I remember. The cheese definitely feels abundant, but it’s more of a gooey texture than distinct flavor with the overlapping ‘ronis that control each bite.
This is a solid take on a big and thin, but chewy NY style slice, but it does falter a bit in its excess. While I appreciate the extra everything mentality, the sauce gets lost in the mix kind of like Shaq’s free throwing ability. I miss that sweet and zesty zing that ties everything together.
Papa John’s Shaq-a-Roni Pizza is good, and I would definitely eat it again, but it lacks that perfect balance and feels one note after a couple of slices. Fortunately for Shaq, just like his ability to dunk on whoever he wants, that garlic sauce switches it up whenever I want a little extra depth and keeps me coming back for more.
Purchased Price: $12.00 (allegedly normally $27.99!)
Size: one XL pizza
Purchased at: Papa Johns
Rating: 8 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (One Slice) 285 calories, 17 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 690 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of total sugars, and 10 grams of protein.