The Guilty Pleasure: Pretzel-Crust Pepperoni Pizza. Where to Get It: Little Caesars, locations everywhere. Price: Only six bucks. What it Really Costs: Say cheeeeeeeese.
Little Caesars has been one of my favorite guilty pleasures for quite some time. Thanks to modern technology (read: warming cabinets), you can walk into a Little Caesars with five bucks (plus tax) and walk out mere seconds later with a hot pepperoni pizza. At that price, it sure as hell isn't Bianco's, but at that price, what did you expect?
While their business model seems to be working fairly well, it's still a good idea to get a boost every now and again. To do this, Little Caesars jumped on the pretzel-as-bread bandwagon that chichi burger joints got going last year.
For just a dollar more than the regular five-buck pie, you can get a pepperoni pizza that received the pretzel treatment. On paper, doing a pretzel-crust pizza is utter brilliance. It's a simple, elegant idea that I'm surprised took this long for someone to implement. But is it any good?
The outer crust is the part that gets the pretzel treatment, and it seems Little Caesars had no choice but to make a half-assed attempt at the full pretzel experience. The beautifully browned crust had a little saltiness (I'm going to guess from a little application of baking soda and water before it goes in the oven), and plenty of shine from brushing on melted margarine when it came out of the oven.
The problem is, to get that distinct pretzel sheen (and its accompanying flavor boost), you have to boil the pretzel in the baking soda water. Since that's not an option for the whole pizza crust, you end up with a crust that's pretzel-ish, not quite a true pretzel. In an attempt to get the pretzel experience to extend across the entire pizza, Little Caesars switched out the sauce from traditional tomato to a Cheddar cheese sauce. It sounds a little odd, but it could have been a bit more off the wall.
While the recipe was being developed, the test kitchen experimented with other sauces. One of them was a mustard-based sauce, since pretzels and mustard are a fitting combination. The reaction to it was, shall we say, polarizing at best.
However, I understand why they tried mustard in the sauce. The pizza is topped with the cheese sauce, the regular layer of mozzarella cheese, and then finished with a sprinkle of a four-cheese blend in case there wasn't enough cheese yet.
There was so much cheese that the pepperoni barely registered as an ingredient on the pizza. All that fatty richness needed to be cut with some sharp acidity. Such as with a little dab of mustard.
I grabbed a bottle of spicy brown mustard from the fridge and gave a slice a drizzle. Sure enough, it was exactly what all that bread and cheese needed. But then, I'm on the mustard-loving side of the polarized reaction I mentioned earlier.
Would I order one again? Probably not. I felt seriously over-cheesed after a couple of slices. I might throw one or two on as a novelty purchase if I'm buying stacks of pizza to feed a mess of people on the cheap. But then, with football season coming up, maybe it would sell better if they think of it less as a pizza, and more like a giant piece of cheesy pretzel bread.