REVIEW: Papa Johns Crispy Parm Pizza

Cheese pizza is the most underrated item in the fast food world. Often looked at as “plain” or “boring,” cheese pizza’s perfection is in its simplicity. While I do enjoy various toppings on pizza as well as “creative” offerings, it’s nice to do a palate cleanse once in a while. Papa Johns’ new Crispy Parm Pizza seems like a perfect chance for my taste buds to hit the reset button.

The menu item takes Papa Johns’ thin crust and adds a layer of toasted parmesan cheese to the bottom. As someone who has thrown shredded cheese into a hot pan to make a crispy cheese bite on more than one occasion, I was very into this idea. You can order it with up to one topping, but I am pleased to have stuck with just cheese.

Driving home, the unmistakable smell of parmesan filled my little Ford Focus. It made me all the more excited to try the item. Visually, it was a standard issue-looking cheese pizza. I immediately flipped a slice over to look at the crispy parmesan on the bottom. There was a fairly decent amount adorning the crust’s underside. It was, however, not super crisp to the touch. I had hoped it would have a more crispy bite when trying it, but that wasn’t the case.

My first taste confirmed that the “crisp” parmesan doesn’t really add any textural difference to the item. I think once the pizza gets put in the box, the parmesan loses its crispness from the heat reflecting off the cardboard. But it does add a lot of flavor to the pizza, working well with the sweet red sauce and salty mozzarella to deliver a satisfying slice.

While I was disappointed the item didn’t fully live up to its name, I still enjoyed it. Papa Johns’ Crispy Parm Pizza has all the makings of a really good pizza, but it just trips a bit at the finish line. I think if you have the time (i.e., aren’t planning to immediately eat it when you bring it home), throwing it in the oven on a sheet pan might crisp up the bottom more. That sort of defeats the purpose of bringing home pizza for dinner, but it might be worth the extra step.

Purchased Price: $12.99
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (1 slice) 260 calories, 15 grams of fat, 7 grams of saturated fat, 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 650 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 12 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Papa Johns Papa Bites

Alas, “bite-ification” – when foodstuffs become snack/bite-size – has officially hit Papa Johns.

In December, it launched its new limited-time Oreo Cookie Papa Bites (fresh dough, topped with cheesecake filling and Oreo cookie pieces, baked and drizzled with icing).

Quickly after, it added two savory versions: Chicken Parmesan Papa Bites (fresh dough, grilled chicken, parmesan cheese, and pizza sauce that’s finished with garlic parmesan seasoning) and Jalapeno Papa Bites (fresh dough topped with its signature cheese, alfredo, jalapenos, and served with ranch dipping sauce).

They’re described as “eight savory or sweet delectable pillow pockets,” so I immediately thought of the pizza rolls found in the freezer aisle but with creative copywriting because the name “pizza rolls” is trademarked.

But I was wrong.

They’re more akin to stuffed, twisted breadsticks cut up into eight pieces and served with dipping sauces.

Before I get into a play-by-play, I will say that all varieties were flavorful on their own and didn’t really need any of the dips. I appreciate I had the option of slathering my bite in sauce, though, because I know folks love sauces, which includes myself! I always get an extra garlic dipping sauce.

Papa Johns also touts that these are all made with its fresh, never frozen dough. I’m not fancy enough to be able to tell frozen from fresh, but that Papa Johns pizza dough taste comes through despite all the mix-ins. Also, texture-wise, it’s not like the tough crust, but rather the soft, springy dough expected from its pizza.

Oreo Cookie Papa Bites

I started with the dessert collab with Oreo because I’m a dessert-first kinda gal!

Even though I could see chocolate cookie dusting, I didn’t get any Oreo chocolate cookie flavor. The icing also didn’t really taste like the creme. It tasted like dough with a plain ol’ icing. Dipping it in the side of icing also didn’t do anything but make it even more one-note tasting. I wanted to love these because they would’ve been a great add-on to my usual order, but they fell short. I had higher expectations because the Oreo name is front and center! If these were called Dessert Papa Bites, that would’ve tempered my expectations.

Jalapeno Papa Bites

After the disappointing Oreo one, I was ready for something savory, so I jumped to the Jalapeno version. The pungent, spicy, and sour aroma was calling my name because I also enjoy eating Papa John’s pepperoncini.

Despite thinking I was smelling the light-colored pepper that comes with Papa Johns’ pizzas, the bites did look like they were made with jalapenos as they were darker green pieces as opposed to bright yellow. As expected with jalapenos, there was just a kiss of heat that did not linger. The cheese was so plentiful that it was gooey, like a comforting grilled cheese. The alfredo helped to add a punch of flavor because it wasn’t seasoned on the outside like the Chicken Parmesan one. I preferred eating this flavor with the garlic dip instead of the ranch it came with, but honestly, I like garlic dip with almost everything. Again, dips and sauces are not needed, though!

Chicken Parmesan Papa Bites

The Chicken Parmesan one intrigued me the most because it looked like a stromboli or cut-up Costco chicken bake. I’m not sure if it was because they didn’t thoroughly split the bites apart, but these were wider than the other ones. It may have been a fluke, though, as all marketing materials lead me to believe it should look like the others! Visuals aside, this one was chock-full of add-ins like the Jalapeno one!

Unfortunately, all I could taste was sauce and cheese. The meat could have been a meatball, chicken, or mystery, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you which. Don’t get me wrong – I especially love Papa Johns sauce, but it’s not chicken parm if I cannot detect chicken! But, unlike the Oreo one, I would get this one again. It was still very tasty and tasted great the next day for breakfast, but the dominant flavors were sauce, cheese, and the garlic parmesan seasoning on the crust.

Like breadsticks, Papa Bites are listed in the sides section. It’s enough food if you ate a box of eight on its own, but it doesn’t satisfy a true pizza craving as a pie does. Maybe a Papadia with a side of Papa Bites could be the winning combo! I give Papa Johns kudos for continuing to be creative with its menu, but some flavors were better than others.

Purchased Price: $4.99 each
Rating: 5 out of 10 (Oreo), 6 out of 10 (Chicken Parmesan), 7 out of 10 (Jalapeno)
Nutrition Facts: (1 Papa Bite) Oreo Cookie – 80 calories, 2 grams of fat, 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 110 milligrams of sodium, 13 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 4 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein. Chicken Parmesan – 110 Calories, 4.5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 15 milligrams of cholesterol, 280 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 6 grams of protein. Jalapeno – 80 Calories, 3 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 10 milligrams of cholesterol, 220 milligrams of sodium, 10 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of fiber, 1 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Papa John’s Pepperoni Crusted Papadia

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Top

If you’re not hip to the lingo, Papa John’s defines its Papadia as “a delicious pizza sandwich calzone combo.” Previous Papadia flavors, featuring stalwarts like Philly cheesesteak and Italian meats, were pretty squarely on the “sandwich” side of the spectrum. But there’s no question which of those three words the new Pepperoni Crusted variety most evokes.

You may be able to tell that this is not my first Papadia rodeo, but it is the first time I can remember distinctly thinking, “Wait… isn’t this literally just a personal pizza folded in half and with extra pepperoni added to the outside?” It’s also possible that I’m more observant than usual today on account of being three cups of coffee deep and so highly caffeinated that I’m hearing colors. But in any case, any potential pretense that you might be eating something healthier than you actually are is out the window with this one.

Sure, it doesn’t look THAT much different than the previous Papadias, but somehow, seeing that familiar exterior festooned with pepperonis so red and round they’re nigh cartoonish just makes the same triangular shape, smattering of parmesan, and rounded crust-like edge scream “PIZZA!” so much louder.

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Split

You probably already have a good idea of what this tastes like just by looking at it. The crust is buttery, the cheese mild, and the pepperoni zesty (plus there’s a side of Papa John’s signature sweet sauce if you feel like making a dish that’s advertised for its portability slightly less convenient to eat on the go). All of those flavors are wonderful, but they’re not really what I want to focus on, because to me, what’s just as, if not more, important for a pizza or pizza-adjacent product is its texture. I want my crust chewy, my cheese dense, and my pepperoni tough enough for a primitively satisfying give when I tear into it. How does this Papadia live up to those super-specific standards? Well, I am not exaggerating when I say that that first bite was a near-religious experience (though again, that might just be the three-times-my-usual-caffeine-intake talking).

As a native New Yorker, I’m used to folding a slice of pizza before I eat it, and I hope this delicious Papadia officially validates that behavior for all the out-of-town friends who’ve made fun of me for it. Because, like I said, a folded pizza is basically what this Papadia is and that improves the experience tenfold (yes, emphasis on the “fold”).

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Flip

To test this assertion, I took a small bite of my Papadia after I’d opened it up, and it just didn’t hit the same way. Perhaps the crust was a bit thinner and the layer of cheese and toppings a bit thicker than I’d usually expect from Papa John’s, but the dissected Papadia still didn’t feel like anything extraordinary. There’s just something about biting into those two thick layers while they’re squished up against each other and masterfully enveloped by a crisp bready crunch on either side that’s so gratifying that I can barely put it into words, even as someone who is literally paid to put food into words. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because that means that in order to really understand the magic of the Pepperoni Crusted Papadia, you’ll just have to try one yourself.

Papa John s Pepperoni Crusted Papadias Box

Purchased Price: $7.99
Size: n/a
Rating: 9 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: 1080 calories, 61 grams of fat, 29 grams of saturated fat, 2710 milligrams of sodium, 77 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of sugar, and 50 grams of protein.

REVIEW: Papa John’s Epic Pepperoni-Stuffed Crust Pizza

Papa John s Epic Pepperoni Stuffed Crust Pizza Whole

I imagine that Papa John’s Epic Pepperoni-Stuffed Crust Pizza might have made Little Caesars — who released a similar product not quite a year ago — cry, “Et tu, Papa?” But I won’t subtract points for lack of originality. This combo feels quintessential; pepperoni and stuffed crust go together like pepperoni and pizza!

Before we get into the real meat of this review (ha, ha), I should point out that this crust is not just stuffed, but per Papa John’s website, also “seasoned.” This was a relief to read, as at first glance, the generous smattering of unexpected black flecks had me sort of concerned. The seasoning was zesty — hard to pinpoint one taste exactly, but it was simultaneously garlicky, salty, and a bit cheesy — and while I think the stuffed crust could have stood on its own, the addition wasn’t unwelcome.

Papa John s Epic Pepperoni Stuffed Crust Pizza Slice Side

Biting into the puffy, pillowy crust, I was pleased to notice that the taste of the pepperoni came through nicely but didn’t entirely steal the cheese’s thunder. It felt like a lovely complement, both in terms of the salty, meaty flavor popping against the mellower, creamy taste of the cheese, and the pop of slim, crisp texture contrasting the cheese’s silky thickness. But, while tasting this marriage of cheese and pepperoni satisfied my appetite, it couldn’t satisfy my curiosity; to do that, I had to peel back the crusty curtain.

Tearing open and rolling back the crust to reveal the cheesy, pepperoni-y secrets folded within had two effects. The first is that dissecting my pizza so thoughtfully made me feel kind of like a serial killer, or at least a very obscure sort of surgeon. The second, more pertinent point is that I could see exactly how many pieces of pepperoni went into the crust on each slice: two to three.

Papa John s Epic Pepperoni Stuffed Crust Pizza Slice Top

Honestly, that doesn’t exactly sound substantial enough to base a whole product around. Imagine how disappointed you would be if you ordered a pepperoni pizza and only got two to three pieces on each slice as a topping! You could argue that a little of this particular food item goes a long way, but I’m not sure the kind of person who orders their disc of meat and cheese with extra meat and cheese crammed inside is the kind of person who worries about oversaturation. It seems that at least three more pepperoni pieces could have been curled around the cheese stuffing without overlapping, and if you’re going to release something as all-out as pepperoni stuffed crust in the first place, why not fill every last gap you can?

Papa John s Epic Pepperoni Stuffed Crust Pizza Innards

Though maybe I’m just jealous because the site mentions that the pizza is “topped off with more pepperoni,” but mine didn’t come with any outside of what was in the crust. Maybe that’s on me for missing some step in online ordering, but I assumed a pizza with pepperoni in the name would include it as a topping by default!

I must disclose that I’m a stuffed crust fanatic, which might suggest that my bar for this offering would be quite high. But ultimately, I think it just means that I’m more willing to accept it for giving me the luscious cheese filling I crave even though its pepperoni potential underwhelms.

Purchased Price: $13.99
Size: Large
Rating: 7 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: Information not available on website.

REVIEW: Papa John’s NY Style Pizza

Papa John s NY Style Crust Pizza Whole

Papa John’s has been busy lately with a bunch of new offerings, including the Triple Bacon, Shaq-a-Roni, and Epic Stuffed Crust pizzas, all of which earned generally positive reviews from my esteemed colleagues of culinary critique. Now comes the NY Style Pizza, which launched nationwide on December 27 and will be available through March 13, 2022.

I’m sure this will shock you to your core, but no, Papa John’s did not successfully replicate true New York-style pizza. Yes, these are foldable and (somewhat) oversized as Papa John’s advertises, and I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt that it is also hand-stretched as the website claims, even though I was not there to witness that. But if you tried serving this at a pizzeria in New York City, then a brouhaha, fracas and/or kerfuffle would probably ensue. Perhaps even all three.

Usually, my main qualification to do a review on this site is simply that I have a functioning mouth, but in this case, I do bring some pizza credentials. I grew up in New York (actually New Jersey, but we decided long ago as a state that it’s better to just say New York), so I’ve had my share of authentic New York pizza. And now, as a resident of Texas, I’m used to be being both disappointed and amused when I try New York pizza around here. Truthfully, some local joints come reasonably close, and maybe even closer than I give them credit, but I do deduct authenticity points when someone says, “Here’s y’alls pizza.”

Papa John s NY Style Crust Pizza Slice

With that said, this isn’t bad — it is still pizza after all — and it’s a bit better than I thought it would be, especially considering it’s made using the standard Papa John’s crust, sauce, and cheese. To me, the two things that define New York pizza are the crust being both chewy and crispy with a few of those big air bubbles and the cheese having some stretch and snap along with an unhealthy amount of grease/oil.

Papa John’s fared well on the first requirement, and I think they probably did as well as they could using their regular crust, which I’ve always found to be a little too thick and chewy. This pizza fixed both of those issues, and it comes close to the overall thinness of New York pizza. The outer crust doesn’t quite hit the mark as far as the right balance of crisp and chewy, but it did contain a few modest-size air bubbles and faintly reminded me of New York crust.

Papa John s NY Style Crust Pizza Crust

The shortcoming here is the standard Papa John’s cheese, which has very little of the stretchiness, snap, or general oiliness you might get with a New York pizza. The toppings (I went with pepperoni) were plentiful, so bonus points for that, and even though the slices were a little smaller than most New York pizza I’ve had, they did fold quite well.

Papa John s NY Style Crust Pizza Fold

I didn’t expect to get anything close to real New York-style pizza when I ordered this — and I didn’t — but if you temper your expectations based on what a big chain can deliver using its standard ingredients, and you don’t have many other options in your area, then this is a serviceable pie.

Purchased Price: $13 with one topping
Size: Extra-large (16”)
Rating: 6 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: Detailed nutritional information not available on the Papa John’s website, but it does say each cheese slice has 310 calories.