Blaze Pizza, the Doc’s Take: “Welcome to Corporate Crapfest?”

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I, unlike the Maestro, am not starving for pizza. I don’t even think I’m in the mood for pizza.

I’m not especially in the mood for anything, at the moment. [1]

Blaze Pizza, on Belmont was…okay. The Maestro compared it to a Subway, insofar as they assemble your pizza in front of you, assembly-line style. I’d liken the feel of the place more to a Chipotle, really. Lots of design elements that my brain wants to call “industrial,” for some ill-defined reason. Lots of exposed metal. High stools. Echoing acoustics.

 

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It should be noted, I’ve never really shared the Maestro’s antipathy for chain restaurants– or corporate culture generally, really. There is, famously, exactly one instance in which the Maestro and I have exchanged honestly cross words since the inception of our friendship, and that was way back in the winter of 2014, when he’d made a (to my ears) strident, very overgeneralized comment on Facebook about how the “only” priority of corporations was to make money. [2] Being the son of an entrepreneur and a business owner myself, I chafed at that. While it’s true that most businesses literally cannot survive without making money, profit is one of many things that most businesses prioritize. The most successful companies in the world actually go way, way out of their way to be mindful and creative about their impact on the world– and I clearly remember my father teaching me that one’s financial success is directly proportional to the kind of contribution one is making to others, in terms of labor, creativity, and passion. I found the Maestro’s statement that business culture “only” prioritizes money ignorant at best, and deeply insulting at worst. And I told him so.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. For about five minutes, the Doc was legit pissed at the Maestro, over a FACEBOOK COMMENT. Wrap your little heads around THAT.

(How, one might ask, did the Maestro respond to the Doc’s expression of displeasure at his (to the Doc’s ears) overgeneralized, dumbass comment? He called the Doc. And the gist of his phone call was: “C’moooooooon.”

It was persuasive. We were cool immediately thereafter.)

But the point is, corporate chains, including chain pizza places? All they are, are pizza places that have less flexibility with their standard operating procedures, from decorating the place to creating the ‘za, than local places. Much like chain shopping stores, they’re constructed to create the illusion that you’re more or less in the same Pizza Hut in Chicago that you would be in Des Moines. [3] Much like you always more or less know where, in Wal Mart, the electronics section is, or where the toy aisle is in Target– even if you don’t know, you sorta know, because, in the words of the opening line of Stephen King’s “Needful Things,” “You’ve been here before.”

 

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That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that, however convincing an illusion may be, it remains, in fact, an illusion. The Blaze Pizza we went to on Belmont, while superficially similar to Blaze Pizzas all around the world, is, actually, its own place. Broad strokes aside, nowhere else in the world can we get exactly the experience we got last Friday at Blaze Pizza Belmont. And, I figure, if I have preferences among different locations of pizza chain restaurants– how, if given a choice between the Lou Malnati’s in Lincoln Park and the one near my office in River North, I’ll totally drive the extra fifteen minutes to do the former, because their cheese is gooier– I’ll give the Blaze Pizza on Belmont a similar benefit of the doubt.

All that said: who cares. I didn’t know Blaze was a thing until last week, and I’d basically forgotten about it until the Maestro posted his log a few minutes ago.

 

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Let’s see, what can I tell you about Blaze Pizza. As previously mentioned, it feels like Chipotle in there. The elevated tables, around which our cadre perched on raised stools, felt oddly…exposed. The acoustics made conversation at one end of the table difficult to discern at the other. This is the kind of thing that always bugs me.

 

 

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The pizza? Well, I mean, it was…fine, I got their standard veggie pizza and something called a “red vine” pizza, which was heavy on the tomatoes, both normal and cherry. I will say that watching your pizza get constructed in front of you, Chipotle/Subway style, does kind of detract from that “mystery” experience you get when you’re anxiously awaiting a pizza to emerge from the kitchen. This step-by-step involvement with your meal sometimes is a good thing– I kinda like knowing what’s going onto my Subway sandwich, into my Chipotle burrito, onto my Mongolian barbecue. Here, it just felt kinda anticlimactic.

 

 

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Which isn’t to say it wasn’t plenty tasty. Maybe a little bland, but, you know, fine. You’re not going to wake up in the middle of the night craving Blaze pizza, any more than you wake up craving a Subway sandwich, but I suppose that’s an unreasonable standard on its face. I think the bigger disappointment with Blaze is that nothing about it is a “destination” place. You go to Blaze as a compromise, to kill some time, to have a food option that pretty much everybody will agree on. It’s the Bret Hart [4] of pizza.

Pro tip: Blaze pizza doesn’t really stand the overnight-in-the-fridge test well. Do yourself a favor and consume it while piping hot, and don’t worry so much about carting the leftovers home.

All right, now let’s see if I can fix my attitude in time for this pizza crawl thing. Here we go.

 

NOTES AND ERRATA

[1] Possible exceptions: cats, pretty barefoot girls, Diet Coke, Insomnia Cookies.

 

[2] I believe the corporation in question, too, was Apple, which may have played a role in the Doc’s arguably exaggerated reaction. The Maestro goes through, like, two crappy Android phones a year, so he doesn’t quite get the fanatical loyalty Appleheads like myself feel toward our iProducts.

 

[3] This example would be far more accessible if Pizza Huts were, anymore, legit sit down restaurants, rather than mostly delivery/pickup joints secreted away in strip malls, as they are presently. A perhaps more applicable example might be Chuck E. Cheese– but those places scare the hell out of the Maestro, and he’s sworn that they shall not make an appearance on the pizza blog proper. I am currently gathering a secret team of guerella pizza reviewers who are interested in visiting a Chicago location– contact me for details.
[4] Canadian pro wrestler whose career peaked in the late ‘90’s, known for not really being anyone’s favorite wrestler, really, but an immensely talented, overwhelmingly reliable worker in the ring who had main event credibility, if modest charisma (i.e., no one would OBJECT to a wrestler as talented as Bret Hart being in the main event, but no would outside of Calgary would be particularly passionate about it, either).

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