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.
While your favorite pizza chain is still 2000 and late by adding more things to the crust, my favorite pizza chain – Papa John’s – is doing the most with its new Papadias. Inspired by the piadina, a Northern Italy flatbread sandwich, these were tested back in July and clearly did well enough to be launched nationwide. Thank you, test markets!
I was surprised to see ALL four varieties (Italian, Philly Cheesesteak, Grilled BBQ Chicken & Bacon, Meatball Pepperoni) made it through, but I’m making an educated guess the Philly Cheesesteak was the crowd favorite because it’s the hero image on all posters, website, etc.
I’m going to cut right to the chase; these part pizza, part sandwich phenoms are legit! I have eaten many a Subway flatbread sandwiches and it simply can’t compare to flatbread created with Papa John’s fresh, never frozen dough that has a fantastic springiness to it.
I can see why this portable form would work well for lunch. Thanks to the uniform fold-over, it was really easy to hold and didn’t come undone. There was no chance of me accidentally eating more of the top than the bottom and making a mess. Additionally, there wasn’t much oil residue on my fingers – just the tolerable, manageable dustiness that comes with eating pizza.
I was also very impressed by the amount of food for $6 each. It was one of the rare times that the press photos actually mirrored the size of the food in real life!
Here’s my ranking, in order of would order/eat again to likely would not order/eat again:
Spicy meatballs, pepperoni, pizza sauce, mozzarella, and classic Italian seasoning. Served with a Pizza sauce dipping cup.
I didn’t want to put this one down. I don’t usually order meatballs as a topping at Papa John’s, so I was a blank slate on this one. I found that the beef and pork meatballs had good flavor and a pleasant overall texture – easy to bite into without weird tough bits or strange gamey-ness. And the pepperoni complemented these very well!
The meatballs were also cut in half, which helped with the distribution – I always had bites with meatball and/or pepperoni – and ensured that it all stayed in the flatbread. I was a bit disappointed the meatballs weren’t actually spicy though. On the bright side, no need for Alka-Seltzer! Spicy meatball reference, anyone? Overall, this Papadia had all the tastiness of a meatball sub without any of the messiness.
Rating: 8 out of 10 Nutrition Facts: 950 calories, 50 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 140 milligrams of cholesterol, 2460 milligrams of sodium, 81 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 42 grams of protein.
Grilled BBQ Chicken & Bacon
Grilled chicken, bacon, fresh-cut onions, and mozzarella. It’s drizzled with sweet and smoky BBQ Sauce. Served with a BBQ sauce dipping cup.
What I noticed immediately about this one was the smell. The BBQ sauce was quite pungent, but it was welcomed! The plethora of sweet and smoky BBQ sauce was well-balanced with the mild mozzarella, savory bacon, and sharp onion strips. The first thing that came to mind was that it reminded me of a Carl’s Jr Western Bacon Cheeseburger except way easier to eat. Again, I can get a version of another favorite with LESS MESS? YAS.
Rating: 7 out of 10 Nutrition Facts: 880 calories, 30 grams of fat, 14 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 165 milligrams of cholesterol, 2630 milligrams of sodium, 91 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of fiber, 36 grams of sugar, and 59 grams of protein.
Alfredo sauce, spicy Italian sausage, salami, mozzarella, and banana peppers. Served with a Pizza sauce dipping cup.
I LOVE Italian sandwiches because of the nuanced cold cut meat flavors balanced by the fresh crunch of banana peppers. The Papadia interpretation lost me a little bit because by having it all warm/cooked, the flavors and textures blended together too much.
It blended so much so that I didn’t even realize there was Alfredo sauce! Furthermore, the salami and spicy Italian sausage melded together so much that the salami flavor couldn’t be discerned. And once again, no heat. Luckily, I was able to get some fuego from the standard pepperoncini fixin’ on the side. From a texture perspective, I could definitely taste the tangy banana pepper, but I wanted that added crunch!
Rating: 6 out of 10 Nutrition Facts: 960 calories, 55 grams of fat, 21 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 140 milligrams of cholesterol, 2760 milligrams of sodium, 77 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 8 grams of sugar, and 38 grams of protein.
Sliced Philly steak, fresh-cut onions, green peppers, mozzarella, and the chain’s Philly sauce. Served with a Garlic sauce dipping cup.
The flavor was unmistakably a Philly cheesesteak with that green bell pepper and onion-forward flavor. However, my biggest gripe was the texture of the “sliced” Philly steak. Sliced is in quotes because it felt like ground beef and I couldn’t get past that. I’m no Philadelphian, but even I know that’s blasphemy! The flavor couldn’t make up for the faux pas on texture. However, even if the texture was right, it still would not leap frog the other flavors in tastiness.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Nutrition Facts: 850 calories, 39 grams of fat, 16 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 2180 milligrams of sodium, 81 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 40 grams of protein.
Grilled Buffalo Chicken
Grilled chicken, onions, signature cheese, and three-cheese blend, buttermilk ranch buffalo sauce. Served with a ranch dipping cup.
The latest Papadia to hit the menu is a Buffalo chicken flavored one. It’s inspired by Buffalo wings, but it needed way more tangy heat to deliver on that! The sparse dabs of Buffalo sauce reminded me of pepperoni grease pools. But obviously, there’s no pepperoni.
The cheese was the dominant flavor. The cheese blend and ranch reminded me of alfredo sauce, which is tasty but a far cry from saucy wings. This was all without dipping it in the ranch sauce, so I didn’t bother with the extra cup on the side.
There were also pretty visible slices of onion. But, like the grilled chicken, it took a secondary flavor seat to all the cheese.
The Grilled Buffalo Chicken Papadia is a safe choice if you can’t decide what to get but want something reliably tasty. But don’t go in expecting big Buffalo flavor.
I would tell you to try it soon, but it isn’t clear if this flavor is being offered only for a limited time or if just the $6 pricing is limited until 10/25.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Nutrition Facts: 910 calories, 39 grams of fat, 18 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of trans fat, 165 milligrams of cholesterol, 2860 milligrams of sodium, 77 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of fiber, 9 grams of sugar, and 62 grams of protein.
Besides personal preference on flavors and textures, the only thing I thought was gratuitous across the board was the sauce on the side. All of the Papadias were really well-sauced and didn’t need any extra love.
Given the tastiness and viability of this innovation, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Hutadias or Domdias soon.
Before you @ me, hear me out: it has the perfect balance of flavors as the slightly sweeter pizza sauce is the perfect primer for the savory toppings and signature Garlic Sauce. Also, the texture of the pizza has the springy goodness of fresh bread. Since I’m a crust enthusiast, that’s pretty dang important to me.
So, when Papa John’s launched its new garlic parmesan crust earlier this month, my crust purist self was a little skeptical. Why ruin a good thing?! It’s the first time in company history that it’s taken a page out of Pizza Hut’s book and changed up the crust. According to the VP of the menu strategy team, the chain found inspiration from its glorious Garlic Sauce.
For good measure, I deviated from my usual pepperoni order with a half pepperoni, half mushroom pie with the garlic parmesan crust. Why? Because I was worried the new addition would throw off the aforementioned perfect balance. I figured mushroom was the tastiest neutral pick.
The new crust passed the visual test; it looked pretty different from the standard crust. I liken the look and feel of it to Subway’s Italian Herb and Cheese bread because you can see the shredded parmesan-romano cheese baked into it.
Flavor-wise, I could taste the parmesan, and it didn’t throw off the balance at all! It was fine with both pepperoni and mushroom. The flavor was like eating cheesy breadsticks. It wasn’t garlicky or buttery enough for my liking, though. Especially if it’s supposed to be inspired by the signature sauce.
However, after dipping the garlic parmesan crust into the garlic butter, I had some seriously vampire-warding breath.
Overall, Papa John’s Garlic Parmesan Crust was average. It didn’t add or take away from my experience. I could see it as a nice way to jazz up a pizza order, but I wouldn’t go out of my way for it.
Purchased Price: $10.00 Size: N/A Rating: 7 out of 10 Nutrition Facts: N/A.