The Guilty Pleasure: Specialty Chicken Where to Get It: Domino's Pizza. Locations everywhere, but you were getting delivery anyway. Price: $5.99 when you buy another item from their mix-and-match menu What it Really Costs: [opens box] Jeez, that's it for six bucks?
Domino's Pizza has me scratching my head lately. Over the last few years, they've done some hardcore marketing to say that their mass-produced pizza is less dismal than it used to be.
Then we saw a press release for their new four varieties of Specialty Chicken, boneless chicken pieces topped with sauce, cheese, and toppings. It's basically a pizza with chicken nuggets in lieu of crust.
The advertising emphasizes taking risks, with a "failure is an option" mindset. On the one hand, it's true that there's no reward without risk. At the same time, way to hedge your bets, Domino's. Lower our expectations and we'll be more impressed by the result, at least in theory. And since everything is already in the kitchen, if it doesn't work all you have to do is take down the signs advertising them and all will be forgotten soon.
How are these new chicken bits? They didn't suck nearly as much as I expected. A couple of them were even somewhat enjoyable. My least favorite of the four was the Sweet BBQ Bacon. Domino's BBQ sauce is just too cloying for my taste. It needs something bright or sharp for contrast, and nothing here does it; the bacon only underlines flavors that are already overloaded.
Classic Hot Buffalo could use a little more kick. There's enough dairy (in the form of ranch dressing, and a trio of mozzarella, cheddar, and feta cheeses) that you only get a little hint of Buffalo wing sauce flavor. Indeed, I had to double-check the box to make sure that I was trying the Buffalo variety.
I was a little nervous about trying the Crispy Bacon & Tomato ones because they use that pasty white goop that everyone keeps trying to pass off as Alfredo sauce. This is one of the few times I've seen the stuff implemented well. Since the sauce bakes down into the craggy breading of the chicken, it gives an umami boost instead of just tasting like salt and starch-thickened dairy. Diced tomatoes provide a welcome subtle acidity.
Spicy Jalapeño-Pineapple was, dare I say it, quite good, especially considering the source. There was a good balance of sweet pineapple and spicy jalapeño, with a little bit of tanginess from mango-habanero sauce (which admittedly doesn't taste much like mango or habanero, just a generic spicy-ish tropical-ish sauce). It was almost enough to get you to forget that the base chicken pieces are more or less brined into squishy oblivion at the factory.
I could see myself ordering the bacon/tomato and jalapeño/pineapple ones again if it weren't for one thing: the price. For a cheapo mass market pizza chain offering, I found six bucks a little steep for a somewhat paltry portion. It's pretty obvious that what Domino's is counting on is that these are going to be impulse purchases.
You're still way better off ordering pizza and wings from your favorite local joint. But if their delivery guy already went home, the Specialty Chicken at Domino's is worth checking out at least once.
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