I‘ve never had a pizza from Little Caesars. Not growing up under their regional umbrella, the only thing I understood about the pizza chain was that, in the 1980’s, you could get two pizzas for the price of one as part of their “Pizza! Pizza!” campaign. Though this seemed like an almost unbelievable bargain to my eight-year-old brain, with visions of 10, 20, or even 30 pizzas filling a room, the information was ultimately useless; there wasn’t a Little Caesars within 100 miles, and further, I didn’t hold a valid credit card.
I didn’t give Little Caesars another thought until recently, now that the chain has exploded all over the television with news of their “Hot-N-Ready” promotion. In case you’ve missed it, here’s the pitch (from the Little Caesars website):
“Large Cheese or Pepperoni Pizzas…Hot out of the oven! Ready when you are! No need to call ahead! No need to wait! No limit!”
If you’re anything like me, your eyes just bulged out of your head while reading that sentence, the result of the combination of no less than FIVE exclamation marks mixed with the realization that you have never heard a more America!n sentence in your entire life. In a desperation-level move to remind you of their very existence, Little Caesars has managed to accomplish the ultimate dream of our entire nation: Finally, the time that exists between “thinking about pizza” and “eating pizza” has been reduced to practically zero. You are limited only by your proximity to a Little Caesars, which in most areas across the country, has been reduced to under two miles. You no longer have to waste precious moments of your life with, I don’t know, a two minute phone call, or some kind of wasted social interaction. Nearly the moment pizza occurs to you, you can be sitting in your car with the defroster on, hungrily shoving Hot-N-Ready slices down your gullet while you stare off into the middle distance and listen to Boston’s “More than a Feelin'” for the sixth time that day on WBLM.
Needing to block aside as much time in my day as possible for the countless important, world-changing tasks that lay before me, I finally broke down and tried a Little Caesars® Hot-N-Ready® Pepperoni Pizza. The ordering experience was exactly as described on the sign, and by the sandwich board sitting on the shoulders of the poor bastard out on the side of the road. In fact, I’ll bet I could have accomplished the same results without saying a word, opting instead to just walk in and point to the rack of warmers filled with pizzas, handing over my five bucks, and walking out the door. Within moments, I was back in my car, a piping-hot pepperoni pizza riding shotgun on the seat beside me.
Before I dive into the specifics of the Little Caesars® Hot-N-Ready® Pepperoni Pizza, I need to qualify my remarks with a bit of an explanation. As regular readers know, I’m a bit of a snoot when it comes to pizza. To me, there’s no better pizza in the world than you will find in New Haven, where 1,000 degree coal-fired ovens cook pizzas to black-charred perfection in mere moments. Obviously, the offering from Little Caesar’s can’t really be evaluated using the same metric. The Hot-N-Ready pizza doesn’t have to be the best pizza I’ve ever tasted; in fact, at just five dollars, it really only needs to be as good as a frozen pizza, which can actually cost several dollars more. It doesn’t even have to be THAT good. Even frozen pizzas don’t have the advantage of being available and ready to eat the moment you’ve thought of them. So, even if the Hot-N-Ready pizza is almost as good as a supermarket frozen pizza, I think it can be measured as a success.
I am astonished to report that the Little Caesars Hot-N-Ready pepperoni pizza is precisely that successful. Featuring a Greek-style crust, cooked in a pan with plenty of oil, the crust bakes up fluffy, airy, cake-like, and barely browned on the bottom. The pizza has a good layer of sauce, with no specific flavor apart from a vague sense of “herbs.” It is topped with a somewhat light hand of barely-browned, flavorless mozzarella, and plenty of pepperoni that is without spice or salt. In fact, that’s how you could describe nearly every component of this pizza: It’s all completely lacking in flavor. It’s kind of astonishing, actually, as you are eating, that something that is clearly food can be so completely devoid of any flavor of any kind. It’s the pizza equivalent of a Subway sandwich: It doesn’t so much taste like much of anything in particular, and is more of an exploration of different textures and temperatures.
Before you get bogged down in this criticism, however, the name of the product emblazoned on the box is there to remind you exactly what this pizza promised you in the first place. Little Caesars didn’t call this the “Tantalizing-N-Luscious” pizza. Little Caesars promised you exactly two things: That this pizza be “hot,” and that this pizza be “ready.” It is, and it was. Is it the best pizza you’ll ever taste? Not by a wide, wide margin. But it’s absolutely better than a frozen pizza in terms of taste and the amount of effort required, and it is even, I dare say, better than a lot of other pizza in town that we have tried. Don’t misunderstand: This is terrible pizza, by most standards. When you get an awful pizza anyplace else in the world, however, it’s going to be inedibly, horrifyingly bad; a cracker crust smeared with cream cheese, say, or a Boboli with a Kraft Single melted on top. When you get a sub-average pizza in the States, it’s still not half bad, and in this case, is also wildly inexpensive, is hot, and is ready immediately. That is where Little Caesars finds its success and its niche, delivering perfectly on what was only a halfhearted, mumbled promise to begin with.