The Guilty Pleasure: Huge new menu additions. Where to Get It: Pizza Hut, at your door in about half an hour. Price: Right now, any non-stuffed-crust pizza for $12 if you order with the app What it Really Costs: Skinny crust? It's a little better for you than usual!
In the constant struggle for mass-market pizza domination, Pizza Hut has found themselves struggling recently. Papa John's seems to be doing just fine thanks to their NFL sponsorship. Domino's was faltering quite a bit until they had the brilliant idea to change their base recipes so the pizza didn't taste like dried oregano-covered cardboard anymore.
For quite some time, Pizza Hut's modus operandi has been to come up with a variety of outlandish novelty pizzas. Most recently, they made their caloric monstrosity Stuffed Crust Pizza even more so by adding bacon to the cheese in the stuffed crust.
When the writer of a column about this kind of stuff takes a look at something like that and doesn't even bat an eyelash, it's pretty clear the schtick has worn thinner than their thin-crust pizza.
Since the old tricks don't work like they used to, Pizza Hut went and made massive additions to their menu. They did this while keeping everything they already had. Franchisees probably have a bit of a headache juggling all the new items, but the new ingredients create the perception of a more premium product than what they have been serving all of these years.
New to the menu are meatballs, fresh baby spinach, salami, sweet-hot Peruvian peppers, and sliced banana peppers. They also ripped a page out of Hungry Howie's playbook, and offer 10 different crust treatments, including the pretzel crust that Little Caesars introduced not too long ago. There are even different sauces you can have drizzled on top of the pizza in addition to the usual layer of sauce under the cheese. They've also introduced a new kind of crust. Given their past you might expect it to be something like a crust stuffed with cheese all the way through instead of just on the edge, but it's the opposite. Their new Skinny crust is similar to the regular hand-tossed, but there is less dough involved for a modest calorie reduction overall.
The new Skinny crust might be the best mass-market pizza crust available. The perennial problem with pizza from a national chain is the crust. The massive scale and consistency required to make pizza for the whole country means that the crust doesn't get the attention it deserves. You end up with a relatively spongy, flavorless crust as opposed to the chewy deliciousness available at most any neighborhood pizza joint.
Since the crust is the weak link in the chain, the easiest way to make chain pizza better is to simply have less crust. The Skinny crust does exactly that. It's closer to a "regular" pizza than the cracker-like crispy thin crust, but doesn't have the pillowy texture of the standard crust.
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All of the new ingredients in the kitchen mean that there are several new specialty pizzas available. I settled on the Pretzel Piggy, featuring bacon, mushrooms, and spinach, with creamy garlic-parmesan sauce, a balsamic reduction drizzle, and pretzel crust.
It sounds like something out of one of the scores of chichi pizza joints around town. With the artful spiral of balsamic reduction, it looks quite impressive. The taste... It still tastes like a Pizza Hut pizza, for better or for worse. The new additions do help, though. The balsamic drizzle helps break up the unctuous taste of the cheese and creamy sauce. For that reason alone, I'll probably get the balsamic drizzle on most any pizza I get from the Hut.
Overall, I think that Pizza Hut's ambitious new plan is going to work wonders for them. All of the new ingredients create the perception of gourmet pizza, without alienating anyone who has been ordering from them all along. It's pretty likely that the next time I'm ordering a pizza when it's too late for me to call up the local slice joint, I'm going to make a beeline for the Hut.