I took a slice of my steamy hot personal pizza, the crust was crisp on my fingers and lips. When I bit down into the pizza, the dough was different than I expected; it was crunchy, yet it retained a slight elasticity. For a few minutes, I found myself reliving my memories of eating a margarita pizza at the steps of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. I opened my eyes and realized that I was still in Irvine and had dripped pizza sauce and cheese down the front of my shirt. I was not in Rome, but rather attending the media preview of Blaze Pizza, located in the University Town Center by University of California Irvine. If Pizzeria Mozza and Chipotle had a child, it would be Blaze Pizza. This new, quick-service restaurant blends the best aspects of the Chipotle “build your own” assembly line and gourmet pizza-making techniques of Pizzeria Mozza. In less than 5 minutes of me calling out what I wanted on my pizza to the “pizza smith”, I was sitting at my table sucking it down while day-dreaming of my Roman holiday.
Just like Chipotle’s assembly line system, you call out how you want your pizza assembled. While you are gazing at the menu, the “pizza smith” quickly turns a ball of pizza dough into a pie. Next, after you wake up from your menu-induced daydream , you tell the pizza smith what type of sauce you want (classic pizza sauce , BBQ, or pesto). For the standard price, you can select any combination of three meats and cheeses; add $1 for each additional topping. There are six types of cheese to choose from: gorgonzola, mozzarella, parmesan, perlini mozzarella, ricotta and vegan cheese. Next you choose your vegetables; I think I counted about 20 garden fresh choices. Finally, select your meats! There are 6 meat options including applewood bacon, meatballs, grilled chicken, Italian sausage, pepperoni, and salame. The pizza is then placed in their blazing hot pizza oven for only 2 minutes. When the pizza was passed to me, the cheese is still bubbling and the sausage still sizzling.
So what is the story behind Blaze Pizza and why do they seem to have the secret X-Factor? The secret is Chef Brad Kent, who is part chef and part food scientist. He seems to have cracked the code on making classic Italian pizza dough. The dough is made with Chef Brad Kent’s meticulous selection of flour to match his exact specifications, specially filtered water to impart the right flavors, high-quality olive oil to provide the right texture/flavor and two types of sea salt. The dough actually requires a 24-hour fermentation period to produce a signature light-as-air, crisp crust. Blaze Pizza takes their dough very seriously and it pays dividends in the texture and flavor. When it comes to eating pizza with my wife, I am the clean-up man for uneaten crusts; although with Blaze Pizza, it was so good she ate them! Chef Kent also owns his own gourmet pizza shop in Los Angeles, which has a cult following. For those who are gluten intolerant (or pretend that you do because it’s a fashionable diet), they offer gluten-free pizza dough as well! This quick service restaurant is the invention of Elise and Rick Wetzel (founder of Wetzel’s Pretzels), who were eating lunch at Chipotle and thought of the idea to blend fresh fired pizza and Chipotle’s Quick Service Concept. Utilizing their experience with dough and the expertise of Chef Brad Kent, they have translated their concept into what I think will be a huge success.
There is one similar competitor in this space called “Pieology,” which is pretty much the same restaurant concept (Subway of pizza). Having tried Pieology, I think the clear differentiator is that the crust at Blaze Pizza is superior in both texture and flavor. I also thought that the ingredients at Blaze were higher quality.
Aside from the build-your-own-pizza option, they also had their own creations. My favorite was the “Green Stripe,” which consisted of pesto drizzled over grilled chicken, red peppers, chopped garlic, mozzarella, arugula. My second Favorite was the “Red Vine” as sauceless pizza that included sliced tomatoes, perlini mozzarella, parmesan, basil, chopped garlic, olive oil drizzle. This pizza is the one that has an uncanny resemblance to my Roman holiday. If I didn’t know better, I would guess Chef Brad Kent stole the recipe from an small pizzeria in Italy.
Aside from pizzas, you can also get a custom made salad using the same pizza toppings, or try one of their creations. I personally made my own salad — their heirlooms cherry tomatoes, sea salt and arugula set this salad off right.
Be sure to try their house-made smores! They take English tea cookies (which are actually imported from England) and flash-baked marshmallow. I ate both my cookie and the one belonging to my wife. I slept on the sofa that night.
My Final Thoughts The location I tried was in Irvine, catering to the UC Irvine student population. With a price point of only $6.95 a pizza, a college student can easily enjoy a gourmet pizza with a drink for under $10 and in under 5 minutes. The Irvine location is expected to open August 6th and a second location in Pasadena will open soon after. Their goal is to become a national chain to rival other high-end quick service restaurants. I think they have the right blend of price and quality. Mark my words, I think this chain will blow up and you will see it at shopping centers around the United States by next year. I had a hard time remembering that I was at a quick service restaurant!
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