Life can seem very complicated as every day, there are seemingly endless choices: what clothes to wear, which roads to take, where to eat for the day, when to exercise and on and on. That’s one of the attractions of fast casual dining, which allows choosing a meal to be immensely easier by laying out all of the options in a straightforward manner.
Make-your-own sandwich places and buffet-style restaurants have been around for years, but Panera Bread and Chipotle were game changers as they raised the bar by offering fresher, higher quality cuisine at reasonable prices.
Pizzerias are offering the next generation of fast casual restaurants putting a new spin on that plain cheese pizza. The fast-growing chains Blaze Pizza is opening over 30 locations across North America just in 2016 and places like Pieology or Pizza Rev are also extremely popular.
So are they worth the hype? As a college student, I had to seek somewhere affordable, yet delicious.
Instead of a traditional dining experience, I waited in line with different stations for each step of the pizza-making process. There were at least 10 servers cemented behind the counter, performing their specific tasks with an undeniable, cooperative flow. One was spreading sauce across the dough, another sprinkling a variety of cheeses, and another scattering pepperoni evenly. The most impressive however were the employees who were manning the wood fired brick oven. Somehow they instinctively knew when to move a pizza and how long it should cook for.
Through each station, I picked what I desired with the help of friendly employees who were letting me know what was popular and what went together well.
-1st Station, Dough: Classic, Sourdough, Whole Wheat, etc.
-2nd Station, Sauce: Classic, Basil, Chunky, Spicy, Pesto, Alfredo, Buffalo, etc.
-3rd Station, Cheese: Mozzarella, Parmesan, Cheddar, Goat Cheese
-4th Station, Pepperoni: Spicy, Crispy, Mild, Extra Large, Shreds, Italian, etc.
-5th Station, Toppings: Variety of Sausage, Onions, Red Pepper, Chicken, Pineapple, Spinach, Salami, Bacon Shreds, Olives, etc.
I was especially impressed to see that pepperoni selections are often much more complex than I saw in more traditional style pizzerias. As the most popular topping, it is not uncommon for them to have their own station altogether. They are sometimes even sorted based on the location where they are made, natural, smoky, or extra spicy.
Overall, it was a deal: one, reasonably filling, six-slice pizza cost me about nine dollars. The vast amount of choices allowed me to expand my taste buds by picking a mix of options I had never heard of, creating a new-found favorite creation. All of these options gave me the ultimate freedom to craft the perfect personal pizza within the comfort and ease of fast casual dining.