A perceived favorite prior to the tastings, Papa John's tied for second place. None of our tasters dished up firmly critical comments, but reviews were mixed overall.
In our Papa John's review, part of a four-way blind tasting, the country's No. 3 pizza chain was a solid runner-up, trailing Pizza Hut, tying with Domino's Pizza, and besting Little Caesars. It garnered three votes for best pepperoni pie and three for best veggie toppings (green pepper and onion) from the 11 judges. Papa John's cheese offering snagged nary a supporter, partly because several sniffed at the paltry amount of sauce. The price was by far the highest of all the chains, at $13.00. Add more than one topping, and the cost for each will be around $1.50.
The judges who liked the Papa John's pizza really liked it. One panelist described the products' virtues: "The pepperoni has a good flavor, the sauce is on the sweeter side and not too powerful, and the cheese is a good complement to it all." Another judge admired how the sweet sauce and crust balanced out the spicy pepperoni. Papa John's fans asserted that the vegetable toppings added just the right touch, with one concluding that "the onions are sweet, perfectly cooked, and not too overpowering." The overall flavor of the three pizza varieties appealed to several tasters, but others pushed back and asserted that the sauce and "very bready crust" veered toward the bland side.
In a contest conducted by Serious Eats, Papa John's claimed victory over Pizza Hut and Domino's Pizza. The food site gave Papa John's points for delivering appealing pies with plentiful toppings. Then again, editors at Epicurious placed the chain dead last among the four in our comparison, panning the sweet sauce and dearth of cheese.
Nutrition fanatics may be interested to know that a slice from the large cheese pizza we sampled provides 290 calories and 10 grams of fat. A pepperoni slice ups the intake to 320 calories and 13 grams of fat. A slice of the vegetable pizza we ordered weighs in at 280 calories and 8 grams of fat.
The pizza chain, which generates more than $3 billion in sales from 5,000-plus locations worldwide, offers a large selection of traditional and specialty pizzas in addition to breadsticks, cheese sticks, wings, poppers, and dessert. Fans who join Papa Rewards can earn points towards various menu items, and they’ll get a little birthday bonus, too. Papa John's does a mostly carryout/delivery business, and for our review in Columbus, Ohio we chose to evaluate the delivery service. The estimated wait was 35 minutes and our pizzas showed up promptly in less than half that time.
Prior to our blind taste test, most of the judges assumed they would favor Papa John's pizza over the rest. Many were shocked to learn that, when stacked one-to-one against the competition, their preferences shifted. Although the panelists' taste buds were impressed with the Papa John's fare, the pies' mild manners relegated them to a supporting role.