Quick, name a city known for its pizza!
Chicago! New York! Naples! Rome! ... Edmonton? Surely not!
Apparently, yes. Edmonton made a recent splash in the headlines when it was named one of the top cities in the world for pizza. It's reader-voted so it's definitely a subjective list. Far from scientifically accurate I'm afraid. I'm almost 99.9% certain that the author of the article wanted to establish some hipster street cred by adding a token, unheard of city from Canada. And Edmonton seems to fit that bill perfectly.
Despite all the flack our city receives, one thing is true: Edmontonians are picky about their pizza. There's definitely a lot of choice. You got your take-out joints, old-school pizzerias, local chains (ie. Famoso), and even some newer, hipper contenders (ie. LOVEPIZZA). Joining their ranks is Blaze Pizza, an American pizza chain based out of Pasadena, California. With over 100 locations across the US, Blaze Pizza is starting to infiltrate the Canadian market with locations already open in Toronto, Calgary, and now Edmonton.
Blaze Pizza is considered a fast-casual restaurant and interestingly shares the same founders as Wetzel's Pretzel's. Their concept is modeled after Chipotle (another American chain making its way to Edmonton!), as a customizable, made-to-order, assembly line type of place.
You'll find Blaze Pizza nestled in the same parking lot as Lowe's in Manning Town Centre, a growing retail development in the city's northeast. They held their grand opening on Thursday, but celebrated by giving out free pizza the following day. The word on social media was that their pizza party was a success, as it was super busy with line-ups out the door. I suppose nothing gets folks out of their houses quite like the words "free" and "pizza" in the same sentence.
We actually visited them today (a Sunday), after shopping at the nearby stores. It was an odd hour, so the place was pretty quiet for the amount of staff they had on hand. Despite that, the nature of the ordering process is super fast in its own right, so I foresee it being a popular dinner option for those wanting something quick before catching a movie at the Cineplex.
Walking in, you're greeted with a large black and white mural of Edmonton's downtown scape. The rest of the decor is contemporary and modern, with plenty of low and high seating situated around the ordering counter.
All of the staff we talked to were smiley and friendly. They made a point of grabbing your name and having everyone greeting you. It's definitely personable service, but also a tiny bit awkward and forced. A quick run-down from one of the girls is that there's nine signature pizzas to choose from, or if you're up to it, a build-your-own option with unlimited toppings. Pizzas are personal-sized, around 11 inches or so, but I found it could easily feed two. With more than 40 toppings, including 6 different sauces and 7 different cheeses, you can build yourself a pretty hefty pie. The best part? All of the pizzas are $10.45 no matter what you choose! If you have kids, or maybe your tastes are a little bit more basic, the simple pie ($7.25) and any one-topping pizza ($7.95) is cheaper by a few bucks. Gluten-free crust and vegan cheese is also available, though I'm not sure if there's an upcharge for that.
You can tell Blaze Pizza is an American chain, because they also list calorie information beside each menu item. It's welcome information, but also a bit scary. And definitely guilt-inducing.
We took our pizzas to-go, so they came in nifty boxes, but truth be told, they'd be much better if you eat them hot and fresh in the restaurant.
LT went with the build-your-own option and chose classic red sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni, Italian sausage, green peppers, red onions, and mushrooms ($10.45). They weren't too stingy with the toppings which was nice, and LT really liked the Italian sausage which came in quite big chunks.
I decided to go for one of their signature pizzas, which was the White Top ($10.45) with white cream sauce, mozzarella, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano, and fresh arugula (which appear wilted because of the heat). I thought the topping combination tasted kind of plain, so I'd probably add something to it in the future or go with another pizza altogether. Despite that, I thought the crust was great. It was thin and crisp, with a tiny bit of chew.
Obligatory shot of the upskirt for the pizza aficionados out there.
Ignoring the growing calorie count as this point, I also got Blaze's only dessert option, the s'more pie ($3.00). The s'more pies are pre-made, but they're warmed up quickly in the hot oven. Basically two graham cracker cookies sandwiched with toasted marshmallows and melted chocolate.
Um, yes please.
Throughout the process, I couldn't help but feel reminded of LOVEPIZZA. From the ordering concept to parts of the decor, their similarities lead me to believe that LOVEPIZZA was perhaps inspired by Blaze, and in more ways than one. Though I think I prefer the toppings over at LOVEPIZZA, the winner of the crust category is definitely Blaze. Plus, I'm swayed by the fact that it's cheaper and much more closer to home (for me, at least).
Since the build-your-own pizza concept has already proved successful in this city, Blaze Pizza will definitely do well. There's already talks of more franchises opening up across Edmonton, so keep an eye out for those opening up near you!