Jillian grew up in Southern Connecticut, on the shoreline; a mecca for Italian immigrants, who brought high-temperature, Neapolitan-style pizzas in heavy brick ovens over on boats, and set up shop in New Haven. As a result, she has strong childhood memories of eating really, really good pizza, each and every single Friday night, without fail. It was a family tradition, a night off from cooking for Jillian’s mother, and an evening of easy, casual eating around the family dinner table.
I grew up in Midcoast Maine, where the closest thing to a family eating tradition was Saturday night bean suppers, where bright red-cased hot dogs swam in giant, sweet pools of baked beans that had been cooking all day. The closest pizza was 20 miles away in Rockland, at either the Pizza Hut, or an independent pizza place in the (then) very dodgy South end, or warming (kind of) in a rotating case in a gas station. Pizza in Midcoast Maine, at least in the early 1980s, was a very un-evolved beast, with heaps of lousy ingredients piled on dough rounds that could be measured in pounds, not inches.
Pizza Time proudly carries on this kind of ham-fisted pizza making tradition, and shows a real commitment to an awful style of local pizza that I thought had been all but erased by the likes of Flatbread Company and Otto Pizzeria.
Our first indication that something was amiss was the rash of coupons available on the website, which collectively bring the cost of your meal down to alarming levels. The “wacky” toppings were also a red flag; one of the specials included a “Nacho Supreme” pizza (comes with salsa!), as though combining two things that you don’t do very well into something new could possibly be the recipe for success. Finally, we were wary of the amount of menu space devoted to non-pizza offerings. The focus on fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and brownies brings to mind enormous steam trays full of dried-out, exhausted food, waiting to be bagged up for unsuspecting customers.
To keep things simple, we opted for the “Pizza and Wings” special, which includes a large, one-topping pizza, and ten “buffalo-style hot wings,” for $14.99. Over an hour later, our delivery arrived, and we scurried off into the kitchen to open the box and dive in.
Bowling alley pizza. Chef Boyardee pizza dinner kit. Hospital ward pizza. Pizza, as rendered by an animator for “The Simpsons.” Eighth grade rollerskate party pizza. After opening the box, we struggled to find the right words for what were looking at. Our pizza was huge, with an inverted plastic cup in the middle, presumably to keep the lid of the box from crushing the cheese. And oh, there were pounds, and pounds of cheese; utterly flavorless, heavily salted, half an inch thick, and just beginning to congeal into a solid mass. The cheese covered an almost comically thick, but surprisingly airy crust, with the texture of a damp sponge. There was a layer of child-friendly, lowest-common-denominator sweet tomato sauce, and dots of very thinly sliced, bland, bright red pepperoni. There was a thick roll of dough around the outside edge, reminiscent of undercooked Pillsbury breadsticks. On the bottom, light orange grease sheened across the entire underside of the pizza, making each bite unpleasantly moist.
The wings weren’t enough to salvage our dinner. Deep-fried and then clearly left to sit around for a while, the chicken wings packed a pleasantly spicy, vinegary sauce, which was wasted on limp, soggy chicken wings, lukewarm in their wet Styrofoam box.
The entire experience was a throwback to an era in Maine pizza-making that I thought had ended long ago, when pizza was almost exclusively the domain of gas stations and convenience stores, when pounds of poor-quality toppings were pulled from giant, garbage-bag-sized plastic containers, piled on thick dough cushions, and cooked in anemic, lukewarm ovens. It’s a relic, a remainder, a leftover, and the fact that pizza like this continues to exist at all does the entire pizza-making industry an incredible disservice, as it conceivably trains whole new generations that this is what to expect from pizza. It’s easy to see why many Mainers don’t have warm memories of sitting on craggy coastlines, near scenic lighthouses, munching on pizza. If this was the first kind of pizza you ever tried, and if you grew up thinking this was what all pizza was like, you wouldn’t ever want to eat it, either.
*Edit: A reader just pointed out via our Facebook page that Pizza Time bakes their wings, rather than fries them. This explains their sogginess, but if anything, makes me like them even less.