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February 1, 2012

The Taste Bud: Barbecued goodness ends an era

A few years ago, when I first got wind that there was such a thing as barbecued chicken pizza, I nearly wretched. Chicken on pizza? PIZZA? And don’t even talk to me about putting barbecue sauce on a pizza. Now you’re just being ridiculous.

As time went by, I got more accustomed to the idea, but I still remained skeptical. You say pizza? I say pepperoni. Chicken and barbecue should be served without a crust, and sitting next to some potato salad and green beans.

But a funny thing happened recently at Wick’s Pizza: I found a version of barbecue pizza I can get behind. Not only that — it’s cheap. What I’m talking about is the barbecue chicken pizza bread. Basically, it’s barbecue sauce and Cajun-spiced chicken on a hoagie roll, topped with a ton of melted mozzarella.

Sounds simple, right? It is, and yet it did something no barbecue chicken pizza had been able to do for years, and that’s shake me from my purist ways.

Anyway, it happened on a recent Sunday. I had already eaten dinner, so I went to Wick’s with my buddy Greg to simply watch some football and have a couple beers. He was hungry, and we talked about possibly getting wings or breadsticks, but the barbecue pizza bread is what he landed on. I told him I wasn’t really interested, but may try a bite.

Then his meal arrived. I was intrigued by the thickness and gooey-ness of the dish, the sheer amount of cheese that topped it, and also by the delicious smell. It was just two halves of toasted hoagie roll smothered in a pile of cheese, sauce and chicken, and yet somehow it seemed to be more.

He cut off a small piece for me to try, and … well, let’s just say I had to eat a little crow along with my bite of pizza bread.

The next 15 minutes were excruciating, as I tried to pretend I didn’t want another bite. I would catch myself looking at his pizza, the dark red sauce dripping onto the plate, the chunks of chicken that would occasionally fall off the slightly browned bread. And the cheese — ooohhh, the cheese.

You can probably see where this is going: I didn’t admit to him that I wanted another bite (or 10), but I did go back a couple of days later to get my own. By myself. So no one could see. I sat at the back bar and requested a half order ($4.75) as a light dinner, and then looked around to make sure no one I knew was watching. I had just ordered barbecue chicken pizza. On purpose. For, I’m pretty sure, the first time in my life. I felt so dirty.

When my dinner arrived, it was topped just the way I had remembered, along with parmesan cheese and oregano sprinkled atop the melted mozzarella. I took the first bite, and it was just as good as the first go-’round.

I always found Wick’s traditional pizza sauce to be a bit on the sweet side, but the barbecue sauce on this pizza bread is the opposite — it’s dark red and tangy, with a hint of spice. The chunks of chicken are marinated in Cajun seasoning before going into the sauce, and it helps create the lingering spiciness that puts the flavor over the top.

Another aspect I found interesting is that while you may occasionally go a bite or two without finding any chicken, it’s about then that you’ll come across a huge chunk of moist, tender meat. And to tell you the truth, even without the chicken, a bite of toasted hoagie with sauce and cheese isn’t exactly a disappointment.

Well, I polished off my pizza bread in short order, paid my bill, and slowly walked to my car, a Cheshire grin painted on my face as though I had just uncovered a long-hidden secret. It was sort of humbling to then realize that this secret had been right in front of me all along. Eh. Better late than never, right?