Much like Papa Murphy's, Nick-N-Willy's is a "take and bake" pizza place. You order, they give you a raw pizza, and you cook it at home. The pros to this are that you obviously end up with a piping hot pizza no matter how long your drive home is, and you control how brown the crust and cheese get. Personally, I love this style. My grandparents actually owned a take and bake pizza joint back when it was still a fairly new concept around here. I love going to Papa Murphy's and seeing everything laid out like a sandwich counter at Subway, so you can see how fresh the ingredients are and how much of everything is going into your pizza.
Things are a little different at Nick-N-Willy's. It's not very brightly lit inside, and the layout isn't very conducive to giving the customers a free show of the assembling of their dinner. Immediately on your left is a list of reasons why you should buy their cooking stones and pizza peels in order to get the best possible experience out of your pizza. I was a little intrigued, but there were no stones left. Approaching the counter, there were no less than two signs directed at the Groupon users reminding them that it's proper etiquette to tip based on the pre-discounted amount of your bill. To be honest, this really irked me. A decent waiter/waitress is supposed to get 15-20% (and I've tipped as much as 50% for truly stellar service in the past). A delivery driver is supposed to get 10%. This is a raw pizza we're talking about. You're not cooking my food, you're not delivering or serving the food to me, you're not clearing my table or fetching refills of my drink, so what exactly is fair here? Add to that multiple signs coercing me to tip generously, and I feel a little insulted. I ordered the Five Cheese Pizza. A large one of those will run you roughly $18, so at this point I'm already three dollars over the value of my voucher. A two liter bottle of Pepsi added another two and a half bucks, and only because it takes a buck off the price when purchased with a pizza, I got a giant chocolate chip cookie (also uncooked) for us to share after dinner for an additional three dollars. At this point, we're already talking about a $25 meal after tax. In case you're wondering now, I tipped two dollars. Yeah, it's only eight percent, but with the prices they're charging for food, I figure they can afford to pay their employees a little more. Remember, Papa Murphy's always has very generous coupons, Pizza Perfection is always buy one get one free, and even Flying Pie will knock 50% off a second pizza if you're ordering two medium or large pies.
|Fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella, cheddar, provolone, fontina, parmesan, fresh basil and oregano|
Okay, I'm going to try to stop ranting long enough to talk about the food. An interesting side note: apparently my roommate likes to sample raw pizzas. She says she always swipes a little cheese and sauce from Papa Murphy's pizzas on the drive home. I don't know why this strikes me as odd, it's not like the sauce wasn't cooked previously and eating raw cheese is nothing new, but it still amuses me.
|Nope, wasn't kidding. That's a definite finger swipe.|
Based on the instructions stickered to the plastic wrap covering my pizza, I preheated the oven and the set the pizza on the middle rack. Checking it three minutes later, I noticed that the paper tray the pizza was resting on was smoking. After moving it up a rack, I waited another five minutes before checking again. At this point, the crust was getting pretty browned and the cheese was all melted, so after turning on the broiler for a few seconds to melt the cheese really well, dinner was ready.
|The finished product|
This is where things get interesting. The kids loved the pizza (then again, they also love McDonald's and Taco Bell). Even my roommate really dug it, and made several comments about the freshness of the tomato sauce. Myself, I'd place it somewhere between Red Baron frozen pizza from the grocery store and Pizza Hut. And no, I don't really care for either of those things.
The tomato sauce does have a very fresh taste to it, I'll concede that. But it's more like an under-seasoned spaghetti sauce. It's great that they keep it from being too acidic or sweet, but what about a little spice and seasoning? The fresh basil and oregano on top help, but it's not the same as having a sauce infused with flavors. The crust has a good flavor, but was too dense and chewy for my tastes. As for the cheese, either they're using mild-flavored ones or they're not applying them in the best amounts, because that component was sorely lacking in flavor too. I tasted mostly cheddar and mozzarella, and got only hints of the provolone and parmesan. The fontina didn't stand out at all. Conversely, the three cheese pizza from Flying Pie packs a ton of flavor in both cheese and sauce, and for less money.
|Giant cookie dough|
After eating two pieces of pizza and still not being able to decide how I really felt about it, I decided it was time to get the cookie in the oven. Even on the top rack and at a lower temperature than the pizza it was soon getting pretty brown around the edges, and I ended up taking it out before the center was cooked to my liking. Trying to find the right balance between letting it sit long enough to firm up a bit and not letting it get too cold (warm chocolate chip cookies are the best, right?), I ended up cutting it into sections that unfortunately fell apart when you tried to pick them up.
|Yup, that's a big cookie|
As for the finished product, the best I can say is that it was okay. It was cakey and soft with big chunks of chocolate, and I tend to favor cookies that are a little crisp on the outside and gooey on the inside. Once again though, I was kind of the odd one out on this. It took me several days to really put together how I feel about the place and their food, and what it boils down to is this. First of all, they're overpriced. Secondly, their general customer service could use a little work. But of course the most important thing is the food, and on that subject I'd say that it's fresh, filling and family-safe, but the flavors are definitely a bit on the mild side. At least heartburn should be unlikely, right? The roommate says she wants to try their Aegean pizza (olive oil glaze, mozzarella, fresh garlic, spinach, marinated sun-dried tomatoes, feta, oregano), but I won't be paying their asking prices or making any special trips. If I have a REALLY good coupon and just happen to be in the area though, I guess you never can tell...
Final Grade: C-
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