Ordering up a pizza for delivery over the phone has become a ritual at the very heart of modern American life. Pizza itself is so integral to our lifestyles that it warrants its very own section in the Yellow Pages. Yet as everyone knows, there is an art to picking just the right pie. And should you find yourself saddled with trying to accommodate the various tastes of varied guests, it's good to know that the person on the other end of the phone line is in your corner with accurate information and helpful suggestions.
That's not what you always get, however. And to make matters more, instead of less, complicated, most of the big-chain pizza joints these days insist on mucking up the pizza-ordering process by pimping all manner of non-pizza food items including dessert stix, cheesy garlic stix, nuggets, dots, even "chicken ribs (there's meat on chicken ribs?) -- everything but what you called about: pizza. Do these places not understand that when someone is craving pizza, they really don't give a dingy-dongy about anything else?
For the purpose of this pizza-ordering experiment, we chose three different pizza purveyors from a rather short list that included those few that operate within my particular delivery area. Our analytical team consisted of one caller (myself) and three additional tasters who jumped at the opportunity, as much for the scheduled pizza-tasting entertainment (Dawn of the Dead) as for the savory pies themselves. At the height of our pizza reverie, one of these tasters was heard to exclaim, "A moment this good couldn't be associated with work." And yet it was.
Oh, and one last thing about pizza delivery etiquette: We recommend that you tip your pizza delivery person. They most definitely deserve it.
"No one delivers more taste to your door"
Large three-topping pizza with two sodas for $14
The name "Pizza Pipeline conjures up visions of a long horizontal stretch of large-gauge tubular steel similar in dimension to the Alaskan oil pipeline. This pipe, on the other hand, is mainlining pizzas -- freshly made, piping hot pizza pies -- from the Pipeline's ovens directly to your digestive tract. At Pizza Pipeline, you also get soda pop -- whether you want it or not. As far as I can tell, it comes standard with every phone-in order, so don't even think about trying to escape it. When I called, the guy at the other end of the phone line promptly put me on hold, a hold that lasted at least 5 minutes. This "hot" line was going cold fast. Normally, I would have hung up after about 90 seconds, but I was curious to see if he would actually get back to me. He did, apologized for the wait, and proceeded to reel off a trio of specials including the one I jumped at: a large, three-topping pizza (sausage, onion, black olive) with two sodas (natch) for $13.99. "I'm telling people 45 minutes, but it will probably be there sooner," he promised. It was. The order arrived within just 20 minutes. The delivery guy was all business with his green and white Pipeline cap pulled down over his eyes as he efficiently passed off the pizza and drinks. The box was hot as hell on the bottom, an accurate indicator if there ever was one of the relative warmth of the pizza within. A "large" here is pretty big, roughly 16 inches in diameter, with a generous amount of toppings. Flavor-wise it was pretty tame, leaving the group with the impression that the Pipeline delivers an unremarkable though ultimately quite serviceable pie.
"Spokane's original pesto pie"
Large Greek Primo, $16.36
Bennidito's is locally owned and operated. This fact comes through loud and clear over the phone, when the delivery dude shows up at your door, and in the unique quality of the pizza itself. The guy who answered the phone when I called was quite patient with me as I quizzed him about different specialty pizzas and current deals ($2 off any large). When we heard "Greek Primo," we all kind of went, "yeah." The quoted delivery time was the longest we had encountered -- one hour. Mercifully, the pizza arrived in about 35 minutes. The delivery guy, unfettered by any uniform, actually smiled at me from beneath his wavy locks as he handed over the enormous hot box. He thanked me for the tip and bid me good night. The Greek Primo was massive and densely packed with chopped kalamata olives, chopped red peppers, sliced green olives, sliced pepperoccini, mozzarella and crumbled feta. For as good as it looked and smelled, it was almost too intense in the flavor department, with the surprisingly fiery peppers and very salty kalamatas threatening to overpower the other ingredients. "Those pepperoccinis are like zombies," exclaimed one of our tasters, "they're everywhere!"
"Better ingredients. Better pizza"
Large chicken alfredo with spinach and tomatoes for $16
When I called my neighborhood Papa John's, I asked the answering employee to give me the lowdown on any specialty pizzas featuring chicken. Politely, he did. And while we were all initially tempted by the Hawaiian Barbecue Chicken, the spinach-Alfredo-chicken-tomato thingie sounded even better. And so, we went for it. He then gave me the total and told me that my pizza would arrive within 35-40 minutes. It was there inside of 25 minutes.
The uniformed delivery guy was bit cheerier than the one from the Pipeline. He even thanked me. Inside of the Papa John's delivery box, we discovered a good-looking, well-made pizza, a couple pepperoccini peppers and this little plastic tub of melted garlic butter ("That stuff's really yellow," observed a taster). The Papa John's "large," it should be noted, is noticeably smaller (14") than those of both Bennidito's and Pizza Pipeline. It should also be noted that they tacked on a 75-cent delivery charge to our total. Yet it was our favorite, with the chicken chunks, spinach, sliced tomato and mozzarella on a creamy Alfredo base providing us all with a nearly perfect balance of zesty, sweet and savory flavors.