Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mini Pizza Tour Part 1 - Blaze

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.


  1. Jon,
    I totally believe in "Pizza Cognitive Theory". But then again, I was fortunate to eat some really great pies, at a very young age; I believe you were as well. (Or maybe that was a curse on us.)

    I predicted you'd have that impression of Blaze.
    But I do think it's a very interesting approach to the mass production of "pizza-like" food.

    Having been to both the Schenectady and Albany locations, I can say the Albany folks do need some more experience. But even with experience they still wont be "Pizza Makers" in my mind.
    The press is perfect testament to that. They use the press to eliminate any need for personal involvement with the dough. I think that's a very powerful statement on their product.
    If you do happen to go back, try going in with the attitude that it's NOT pizza. It's just this very convenient, inexpensive, crispy, tomatoey, cheesy, baked food-snack.

    I continue to remain hopeful for our local pizza scene.


  2. Sal- I grew up eating wood fired pizzas. There's no doubt in my mind that I am chasing the pizza of my childhood...as well as some other new to me styles of pizza. But I really want to be able to make the pizza I loved in the 80's.

    Not sure if I'll make it back to Blaze. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Although I know there's a Five Guys across the street and DiBella's nearby too.

  3. Knowing how you've turned the art of pizza making into science, you're one of the few I'd consider even talking to about pizza any more. Well, you and my cousin Bobby, who has been making pizzas his whole life. The two of you had pretty much identical impressions. It's actually really remarkable how similar some of the thoughts you guys have on this are.

    My wife and I have gone to the Niskayuna location a few times since they've opened, and I'm still working on getting my thoughts down, but I will say, under $8 for a pizza where they will literally dump their entire kitchen onto your pie if you want (and believe me, I've asked for them to add more arugula than they had on site) with no extra nickel and dime charges is remarkable. Also, being that I'm on a meal plan that's a little more gluten restrictive, let's say, I will add that the lengths the staff goes through to prevent cross-contamination is extraordinary. And, frankly, their GF pizza is just as passable as their normal crust.

    When I see families of 4+ ordering individual pizzas for everyone there, I want to bury my hands in my face, since part of the allure of the pizza experience is the economics of it, and, when you're spending over $30 to feed 4 people pizza, the economics completely fall apart. But it is what it is.

  4. After reading this, I'm embarrassed to admit I thought Blaze wasn't half bad. Though if you asked me where I'd go for pizza right now, I wouldn't choose Blaze.

    By the way, have you been to Navona yet? I'd love to hear your opinion of it. And if you're looking for company let me know, I'd be glad to join you there for lunch sometime.

  5. Jerry- there is so much worse pizza out there and I'm not only talking chain pizza. I got take out from a local place that was bad enough to make me angry for a few days after. I haven't had it, but my sister-in-law is gluten free and she likes the Freshcetta GF pie the best out of the ones she's had. Hannaford and Price Chopper carry it, but if I remember correctly, the price is a little more than Blaze.

    Steve-It's one thing to go to a place and grab a pizza and think it isn't half bad. It's another to go with a pen in hand, a piece of paper with a few questions, and immediately write down your thoughts of hyper analyzing each bite. The only reason I am able to write this detailed a post is because I take a picture of what a wrote before passing it in. A while back we did a burger tour. Plus timing is everything. We could go at different times (especially at a brand new shop) and have pretty different experiences. That being said, I don't think I'm ever going to really enjoy a pressed dough.