We've all seen the signs, and the ads: Little Caesars HOT-N-READY® Pizza, "ready when you are!" A 14-inch pizza, ready instantly. For five bucks. Is this a great country, or what?
But it couldn't possibly be any good, could it? Yet still ...
There was, for a while, a trend toward big, cheap pizza around here. Mostly these came out of inner-city places selling super-thin pies, often skimpy on the toppings. But some weren't bad, especially for the money - typically a dollar a slice, or $5 for a large pie.
I don't see them around as much as I used to, although as far as I know you can still get a 99-cent slice at Checker Flag on Dewey Avenue.
But what about a chain like Little Caesars? I don't think much of chain pizzerias to begin with, but for five bucks, it seemed worth a shot. So one day when I was in the mood for pizza (which is to say, like any other day), but couldn't think of where I wanted it from, I decided to take a chance on Little Caesars. Even if it sucked, I wouldn't be out much money.
I went to the location on Lyell Avenue in Gates, across from Wegmans. I went to the drive-through, and on a whim, I sprang for the extra 95 cents to get pepperoni.
There was no line of cars, so I got to the window within seconds after placing my order. Voila, the pizza was there waiting for me! This was truly instant - it's taken me longer to get a cup of coffee at McDonald's.
That was the good news. And the good news virtually ended there.
The bottom of this pie was dry, with no visible or tactile oil, but it had that pancake-like appearance of a crust that's been baked in a pan. I've had good pizzas that were baked in pans, but this wasn't one of them. It was soft and chewy, with no character and no, well, substance. Aside from the bubbly craters underneath, it didn't seem to have risen much.
The crust was topped with a slightly sweet, herbal sauce. It reminded me of canned spaghetti sauce, which is not in itself a bad thing, I mean I use it sometimes and I'm OK with it, but typically it's not anything great. I can't say for sure, but I'm guessing there was high fructose corn syrup in there somewhere.
The cheese wasn't bad. It was stretchy and smooth - these pizzas must be kept ready to go, but this wasn't dried out like a convenience-store slice that's been sitting there too long. And it hadn't exuded a slick of orange oil the way that cheap cheese will. The pepperoni was abundant but bland. Not bad, just not very flavorful.
So yes, I was only out five dollars. And if you're hungry and nearly broke, I suppose you could do worse. But if you can spare more than five bucks, get yourself a better pizza, preferably from a local independent shop. Little Caesars HOT-N-READY® gets a D from me.
Little Caesars Pizza, 2394 Lyell Ave., 14606
Various other locations in the Rochester area.
Open 11 - 11 daily, Fri. & Sat. till midnight.