So, I’m not a huge fan of take-away pizza since I prefer making my own, but I’ll admit to ordering it every now and then when I’ve got a particular hankering for that deep, wood-fired flavour that you just can’t replicate with a standard domestic oven.
Thankfully I have an INCREDIBLE little Italian restaurant a quick drive away whos good hit the spot to perfection, so it’s usually not a huge problem.
After years of alternating between home-made and restaurant-quality pizzas, I’ve eschewed chain/franchise pizzas for the most part as I’ve found that the quality is lacking and the bases tend to be flavourless (yes, Pizza Hut and Dominos, I’m looking at you here).
When I heard about the new Crust Gourmet Pizza franchise stores that were opening up all over the place, I must admit that my interest was slightly piqued. A few friends of mine tried there wares and I was hearing some pretty good reviews about their products. And when Keep Left PR asked me if I would be interested in trying a few pizzas from their new “Upper Crust” range, I thought it “why the heck not?”
But to just do a standard taste review is boring. So I thought I’d put them to a real test against my other two local pizza places – Pizza Hut and Mi Va Il Gusto. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the four contestants!
Crust Gourmet Pizza – Wagyu Prawn ($24.00)
4+ Marble Score Wagyu Beef, Asparagus, Red Capsicum, Shallots & Marinated Tiger Prawns on a Tomato base, drizzled with Hollandaise sauce, served with Salt & Cracked Pepper.
Visually, this is a very impressive-looking pizza. Brightly coloured with lots of ingredients, the asparagus and plump prawns atop each slice make it appear quite “upper crust” (heh). The quality of the ingredients for the most part is also to be commended, the prawns are plump and the wagyu beef is tender. Unfortunately, there’s also a number of issues with this pizza:
- Half the asparagus stalks were dry, woody and completely inedible. Some of the asparagus was actually great – unfortunately we had to discard half of it as the rest of it was pretty much inedible. I’d also like to know why all the pieces we had were from the bottom half of the asparagus rather than the top half of the spears??
- There was so much hollandaise that the pizza was virtually drowned in it, making the wagyu beef a bit of a waste as the flavour was overwhelmed. Do me a favour and go look at the picture of this pizza on the Crust website. Note how the hollandaise is applied sparingly. Now look at my picture. Understandably, “fast food” never looks like the pictures, but this is a perfect example of how even a recipe created by a chef can be botched by a cook who quite frankly doesn’t care
- The hollandaise itself wasn’t particularly fantastic. I’m used to having a little bit of an acidic bite to my hollandaise when I make it, but the hollandaise here barely had any acidic note to lighten it up. Instead, it tasted flat and a little sickening.
It’s quite possible that if the hollandaise was not applied in such an incredibly heavy-handed method that I might have overlooked the asparagus, but all in all it was quite a disappointing pizza and not one that I would fork out $24 of my own money for.
Crust Gourmet Pizza – Five Spice Pork Belly ($24.00)
5 Spice Marinated Pork Belly & Pear Slices on a Tomato base, topped with Wild Rocket, crushed Walnuts & Balsamic Glaze.
I actually wanted to dump this pizza once I opened the box and took a look, but was convinced to take a bite.
So I took a bite. And dumped the rest. As did everyone else who tried it.
Come on, guys. Seriously? What the hell is this? The pork itself was flavoured quite well when I picked up an individual piece of it and chewed on it, but it was completely lost to the rocket and pear.
As for the the rocket, it looked as though the cook at the Crust store in Glen Waverley (my stomping ground) had quite literally grabbed a handful of salad leaves and thrown them into the middle of the pizza.
Admittedly, he may have been a little disgruntled with me after spending 10 minutes arguing with me and telling me that the vouchers supplied by the PR agency were invalid and couldn’t be accepted, and it was only after he called his manager and spoke to him on the phone that he agreed to make the pizzas. And while I could understand presentation being a little haphazard if the store was busy, but there was not a single other customer in the store.
Once again, I ask that you take a look at the picture on their website, or even at a picture from the Crust event that Iron Chef Shellie attended and you can see the difference in this pizza from when made with some attention to detail compared to when it’s slapped together by a cook who doesn’t care.
And as for the pear in the middle of each slice. Well, the pear itself couldn’t be faulted as it was ripe, soft and tasty. However, it was HUGE and having the one piece slap-bang in the middle of each slice meant that most of the slice was actually eaten without pear, and when you did get to the pear, that was the *only* thing you could taste.
Pizza Hut – BBQ Prawn & Bacon ($13.50)
Prawns, pineapple, onion & bacon rashers all on a freshly made pizza base with mozzarella and BBQ sauce
This can be summed up in one sentence – there would be no difference between this pizza and a piece of cardboard covered in cheese, mediocre bacon, frozen prawns and tinned pineapple.
Mi Va Il Gusto – Grecco ($16.50)
Tomato, cheese, lamb fillets, spinach, Spanish onion and fetta cheese on a crispy, wood-fired base covered with herbed tomato sauce and topped with natural yoghurt.
My only regret with this particular pizza is that I took the photos later at night and so the colours just don’t look that appetizing. But the smell was so incredible that the family couldn’t wait to rip open the box and dig in.
Visually, it isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the other pizzas, though this is mostly due to the ugly splodge of yoghurt in the middle of each slice. I feel that the visual appeal of this pizza would be greatly improved if they went with a drizzle like the hollandaise on the Crust pizza. This would also have helped to ensure you get a little of the tasty tangy yoghurt with each bite.
In terms of the rest of the ingredients, they’re all very well done with the exception of the lamb. Unfortunately while the lamb was fairly tasty in terms of flavour, it was a little tough and contained the odd bit of gristle which made chewing unpleasant. Despite this, it was quite easily overall the best of all four pizzas.
So despite the pizzas all having different toppings, they were touted by each store as being from their “Gourmet” ranges so let’s see how they stack up against each other in each category (maximum 3 points for each category):
|CRUST||MI VA IL GUSTO||PIZZA HUT||NOTES|
|Base Texture||2||3||1||The texture of the Crust pizza was actually pretty good for a franchise – chewy, with a crunchy bottom. However, when placed against a totally bangin’ wood-fired pizza, it just couldn’t hit first place.|
|Base Flavour||2||3||1||The wood-fired pizza has an incredible smokey flavour in the base, which neither franchise could even come close to. Crust beat Pizza Hut, but not really by much.|
|Quality of Ingredients||3||2||1||This was a tough one, but I’d say that the quality of the ingredients were better on the Crust pizza than the other two. Unfortunately, the wood-fired pizza was let down by the slightly tough and chewy lamb which really needed to be a more tender cut. As for Pizza Hut – MEH.|
|Topping Balance||1||3||2||This was a shocker. In terms of balance, I’d say that it was a close tie between the wood-fired pizza and Pizza Hut. Yes, the Pizza Hut pizza looks like it was made by a machine, but unfortunately the heavy-handedness by Crust with the Hollandaise and wild rocket as well as the gigantic piece of pear in the middle of each slice of the five-spice pork belly pizza let them down in a HUGE way.|
|Edibility Once Cooled||2||3||1||You may think this is a strange category, but isn’t there always some slices of cold pizza left after you get a take-away pizza? This wasn’t too surprising – the wood-fired pizza was surprisingly edible, the Hollandaise sauce on the Crust Wagyu & Prawn became even more overwhelming when cold, and the cold pear on the five-spice pork was unappetizing. And yet, none were as bad as the cardboard-like Pizza Hut pizza.|
|Creativity||3||2||1||The flavour combinations on the Crust pizzas gave them the edge in this category – the wood-fired pizza tasted very much like a lamb souvlaki on a pizza base and while tasty and different, it wasn’t quite as different as “five-spice pork belly with walnuts, wild rocket and pear”|
|Cost||$24.00||$16.50||$13.50||I wouldn’t even pay $5.00 for that awful cardboard circle from Pizza Hut. Well, I did for this review, but by god I’ll never do it again!|
|Value For Money||2||3||1||Though I received the Crust pizzas free of charge, I actually think that at $24 a pop, they’re somewhat overpriced. Yes, the quality of the ingredients is great, but the flavours I experienced didn’t quite work and therefore wouldn’t be something I’d want to purchase again, or for that amount of money.|
|FINAL SCORE||15/21||19/21||8/21||1st Place – Mi Va Il Gusto
2nd Place – Crust Gourmet Pizza
3rd Place – Pizza Hut
Let’s start with Pizza Hut. This result wasn’t surprising. Their pizzas are pretty much the lowest of the low, and you have got to be absolutely desperate for pizza to go this route since it’s barely any better than the frozen pizzas you can purchase at the supermarket. Overpriced for what is on offer, you’re far better off with almost anything else rather than the utter crap they market.
Next is Crust. I’d actually heard fairly good things about them and had been quite excited to see what they had to offer, even though they’re a 15-20 minute drive away from my place. However, I was immediately disappointed once I opened the boxes as the wagyu prawn pizza was smothered in sauce and I suspected that this would affect the flavour, and the five-spice pork belly pizza was…well, have a look at the picture, I think that pretty much says it all.
Finally, my local Italian restaurant, Mi Va Il Gusto. With the owner working in the store side-by-side with the pizza cook, it’s very obvious that both the cook and the owner took pride in their product. The cook treats each pizza that he puts into their wood-fired oven with immense care and love. The quality of the ingredients is good, not great, but the flavour comes together very nicely and makes up for this. For a mom & pop pizzeria out in Vermont, they know what they’re doing and do it well!
So what are your favourite toppings on a pizza? Have you tried Crust and have any comments on their products? And what do you do when you have a craving for take-away pizza? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic, as well as any recommendations that you have for great pizza around town