Arts & Leisure

Pizza is fast-breaking news now

FAST FOOD pizza, as baked by Pizza Press, one of the two chains – Blaze Pizza is the other – competing for the Orange County palate (OC Tribune photo).

By Jim and Marilyn Tortolano

One of America’s favorite foods is pizza, but up until recently, it was more of a slow food than a fast one, unless you were willing to eat a slice from under a heat lamp. But now pizza lovers in a hurry are rejoicing because the tasty Italian dish with a million variations is now available pretty darn quick.

We have a proliferation of  fast-food pizza places around; we’ve seen Pizza Rev, Pizza Theory, Pile-it-On Pizza and others. But the top two contenders for king (or queen) of the rapid round pie world are two chains: Blaze Pizza and Pizza Press. So, being pizza devotees, we decided to take a look at these two heavyweights and pronounce a champion. If possible.

Our two aspirants have a lot of similarities. They both have a kind of cafeteria format in that when you walk in you order either a “signature” pie, or “build your own.” You get to specify what sort of crust, sauce, toppings and more. There are some sides and drinks to order as well. In both cases you get your pie in around three minutes, which is faster than some hamburger joints. Prices in both cases are moderate. Here’s how they compare, point by point.

Decor:  Blaze has a modern, almost high-tech look with high ceilings and wall-size graphics of young people skateboarding, et al. Pizza Press riffs on its name with a bit of a retro look with newspaper-themed posters and decorations. The employees wear newsboy-style caps (think “Newsies”) which is a bit distinctive. Advantage: Pizza Press.

THE PIZZA PRESS store on 5th Street in Huntington Beach (OC Tribune photo).

Pizzas:  This, of course, is the most important part of the review. How good were they? First off, there’s no way you’re going to get as good a pie in a fast-food joint as you are in a genuine Italian restaurant. Having said that, we found Pizza Press’s version slightly more tasty, but Blaze was quicker in getting your pizza cooked, if only by hair. Blaze also had – in our opinion – a slightly better selection of toppings in terms of meats and cheeses. Advantage: Tie.

Sides: Here’s where Pizza Press stands out. Although Blaze has some salads and sweets, its rival has a much better selection of salads, desserts, liquor, soft drinks and more. You can get garlic cheesy bread at Pizza Press along with a wide selection of craft beers. If you’re a drinker, take heed. Advantage: Pizza Press.

Service: Both places have friendly, helpful employees. No one rolls their eyes when a customer hems and haws while trying to decide between pepperoni and smoked ham. But at Blaze the bon homie goes beyond the ordering and cooking. Worker bees come out into the dining area to say hello, ask you if you need anything and offer to clear your table. Advantage: Blaze.

THE BLAZE PIZZA in Garden Grove in The Promenade at Chapman and Brookhurst (OC Tribune photo).

Availability: If you’re looking around for one of these places, you’ll find quite a few of them. Blaze is a national chain, with stores in Garden Grove at The Promenade (Chapman and Brookhurst), in Orange in The Plaza (on Glassell at Chapman) and Mainplace in Santa Ana (Main Street at the Santa Ana Freeway). As for Pizza Press, it’s a much smaller chain, with only 11 locations so far, all in Southern California. Local eateries are in Huntington Beach (downtown on  5th Street), in Orange on Glassell north of Chapman, and in Anaheim on Harbor, north of Katella, near Disneyland. Advantage: Tie.

Conclusion: Hmmm. As you can see, these two chains are quite close in overall experience, and your tastes may be different from ours. Blaze seems to cater more to a family kind of vibe, while Pizza Press might aim at a slightly more hip clientele. As the TV guys say on election night this one is “too close to call.” So call on them yourself and decide which fast-draw eatery best satisfies your pizza impatience.

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