Roasted garlic, please. And some brie. And spicy marinara. Oh, and more pepperoni.
I don’t normally write about chain restaurants in this space, but I do make exceptions. This week, I’m making one of those exceptions for Blaze Pizza, a place I’d heard good things about but had not taken time to check out since it opened back in the fall. When my buddy Jerry suggested we hit it for lunch, I was all ears and all stomach. But I didn’t realize what I was walking into.
Blaze is a fast-casual concept built on fresh food and an atmosphere that offers fast service but with an ambience that is a step or two above traditional fast food. My small concern as we prepared to meet a friend there was, “What if we don’t all want the same pizza toppings?”
But at Blaze, all pizzas are individual, and you can top them pretty much anyway you want. And who can resist building their own pizza? With their own toppings? And keeping it all to themselves? My inner 9-year-old was happy that day, my friends. Very, very happy.
My friend Chuck, whom we had met there for lunch, remarked, “Oh, it’s like Subway.” It sort of is — you step up to the plate and are assigned a pan with uncooked pizza dough, sort of like empty sandwich bread. At that point, you choose your sauce (try the spicy marinara).
Then, it’s time to pick your cheese — or cheeses — of choice. Mozzarella, of course, is the mainstay, but you can also add goat cheese, gorgonzola, ovalini mozzarella, parmesan, ricotta or even vegan cheese. I asked for some brie to add some kick to my pie, and boy, was that a good choice.
Next, you’ve got meats. Lots of meats. Pepperoni, check. Italian sausage, yep. Oh yeah, and there’s also salami. And smoked ham, crumbled meatballs and Applewood bacon. And then you move onto the vegetables, with choices from A (artichokes) to Z (zucchini). Fresh basil and pepperoncini, baby.
Anyway, once you’ve topped your pie — which, remember, is just for you and that inner 9 year old — it goes into the fire. It takes about three minutes to cook to a crispy, thin finish, at which point they call your name and you’re all set. Sounds simple and even arguably gimmicky, but I have to say, it’s just really good pizza. Not bad considering the build-your-own (there are also predetermined specialty pizzas available) pie starts at $6.75.
I topped my pie with roasted garlic (among other toppings), and it really was fresh clove garlic that was perfectly roasted in the Flame oven. I found myself torn between picking off cloves and eating them separately and looking forward to bites that included both garlic and brie. Hey, it’s a tougher decision than it sounds.
Meanwhile, the 10-inch standard pie is enough for a hearty dinner, or could even stretch into a light lunch for two if needed. I dived into my pie expecting to take half of it home, but I quickly realized that it was too tasty not to finish. (Sometimes I indulge myself.)
Just as we started eating, an employee came over to check that everything was satisfactory. And a few minutes after that, the owner (who has all the Kentucky Blaze franchises) followed up to see that we were happy. After my lunch was finished and we sat there discussing business, another Blaze employee came over and took away my empty pan and crumpled up napkins, and she did so with a big smile.
I found that to be the winning touch — even a good fast casual place can feel like simple fast food if the employees are too harried to be bothered with making sure you’re getting what you paid for. But as a first-timer at Blaze, I was already ticking off people I could recommend it to.
The first one that came to mind was my girlfriend’s 9-year-old son. Hey, if my inner 9 year old was that happy, imagine what an actual 9 year old would think. •