On Saturday, I was invited to join some contributors to AllOver Albany for a quick pizza tasting. Great people, good conversation and pizza…how could I say no to that?
The first stop on this mini pizza tour was the new Blaze Pizza in Stuyvesant Plaza. There was already a Blaze open in Schenectady but I had never been. I think Lebron James is one of the chain’s backers. Anyhow, it’s chain pizza and I’m a pizza snob so my idea was to go in with low expectations and hopefully be pleasantly surprised.
After entering the shop, my eyes were glued to the dough press. I had never seen one in the wild before. This Blaze has two of them. The digital temperature on the side read 242 degrees F. I asked the press operator if that was a steam temperature and she said it was. I asked someone who looked managerial on the toppings line and he said something about air pressure. Looking online afterwards, I believe it is the temperature of the platens (the actual plates in contact with the dough). To make a pizza, the bottom platen is sprayed heavily with a Wesson bake release spray, a portioned ball is placed in the center, more spray and then smush. I didn’t time the length of the smush, but during the smush the temperature is all over the place. When the press is opened up, there is a perfect circle of dough with a little lip around the perimeter. It’s kind of Play-Dough-esque. Based on the markings on the dough bins, the dough is a little over 24 hours old before being served. The dough also looked like it was pretty wet and sticky.
From there, the dough is put on a peel and you follow it past a lot of topping options customizing your pizza. We wanted to try there set topping combinations and I think we may have caused a little confusion since everything going on the pizza can be customized. And one thing I will say about the people working there: I’m not sure they could be nicer.
I tasted a slice of 4 Blaze pizzas. Here’s a rundown in the order that I ate them. First slice, the Link In: sauce, mozzarella, sausage, red pepper, sautéed onion. The crust was well cooked, didn’t have much flavor but there was a little bit of an off after taste. The sauce wasn’t bad. I thought the sausage tasted like a meatball. There was meatball on a later pizza so it wasn’t a mix up, they’re different. The cheese was good too. I think the option sprinkle of coarse salt and oregano helped the cheese out. I liked the pepper and onion, they had good flavor but if I found myself in Blaze again, I think I’d try something else. I messed up and didn't get a picture of this pie.
Slice two for me was the Meat Eater: sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, meatball, and red onion. Same crust and still without much flavor. I’m really starting to notice that the press gives the dough a weird texture. More like a flatbread/tortilla-ish thing going on. The sauce is growing on me with a good tomato flavor. The meat ball taste like meatball but different than the sausage meatball, the pepperoni is very salty and the onions were a nice touch. But still, this isn’t a pizza I’d order again.
Slice three was the Art Lover: mozzarella, ricotta, artichoke, dollops of sauce, chopped garlic – but they were out of garlic. I get that it is a few days into being open so things happen, but send someone to go get more garlic. It is a topping on more than 1 of your signature pizzas. Garlic is sold everywhere. The crust is starting to grow on me a little but the texture is really weird. I’m not sure if the garlic would have helped, but this pizza tastes like right out of the can artichoke and nothing else. I’d skip this one.
Slice four was the White Top: cream sauce, mozzarella, bacon, chopped garlic (missing), oregano and arugula. Back to the flavorless crust but still consistent with the off texture. I didn’t like the white sauce and the bacon was very salty. I did like the arugula but the pizza was mediocre at best.
In the end, Blaze isn’t for me. I pretty much knew that walking through the doors, going back to that snob thing. The foundation of pizza is the crust and I really don’t like the texture the dough press creates. If I found myself in a Blaze again, I think I would try to come up with my own topping combination probably starting with the tomato sauce and mozzarella and skipping the meats. There is definitely worse pizza on the market and I would pick Blaze over other fast food places like McDonald's, Burger King Taco Bell or KFC to name a few. However, at a similar price point, I think the food at the higher end chain burger joints like Five Guys or BurgerFi is better. But that's not pizza so it isn't an apples to apples comparison.
As someone who believes in the pizza cognition theory, I hate that this is going to be many kid's first memory of pizza. All future pizzas for those kids will be judged against Blaze. And that's too bad. While Blaze might be super convenient, there is a LOT of better pizza. The bar should be higher than "it doesn't suck." Unfortunately, I don't think it is. And if you think I'm being hyper-critical of a chain, I'm hyper critical of my own pizzas too. I made a white pizza with kalamata olives this weekend and I would be embarrassed to serve it to anyone. The topping combination was awful. My sausage/bacon/pepperoni pie, on the other hand, was pretty damn good.