pizza-time

Pizza Time

Pizza Time on UrbanspoonJillian grew up in Southern Connecticut, on the shoreline; a mecca for Italian immigrants, who brought high-temperature, Neapolitan-style pizzas in heavy brick ovens over on boats, and set up shop in New Haven. As a result, she has strong childhood memories of eating really, really good pizza, each and every single Friday night, without fail. It was a family tradition, a night off from cooking for Jillian’s mother, and an evening of easy, casual eating around the family dinner table.

I grew up in Midcoast Maine, where the closest thing to a family eating tradition was Saturday night bean suppers, where bright red-cased hot dogs swam in giant, sweet pools of baked beans that had been cooking all day. The closest pizza was 20 miles away in Rockland, at either the Pizza Hut, or an independent pizza place in the (then) very dodgy South end, or warming (kind of) in a rotating case in a gas station. Pizza in Midcoast Maine, at least in the early 1980s, was a very un-evolved beast, with heaps of lousy ingredients piled on dough rounds that could be measured in pounds, not inches.

Pizza Time proudly carries on this kind of ham-fisted pizza making tradition, and shows a real commitment to an awful style of local pizza that I thought had been all but erased by the likes of Flatbread Company and Otto Pizzeria.

Our first indication that something was amiss was the rash of coupons available on the website, which collectively bring the cost of your meal down to alarming levels. The “wacky” toppings were also a red flag; one of the specials included a “Nacho Supreme” pizza (comes with salsa!), as though combining two things that you don’t do very well into something new could possibly be the recipe for success. Finally, we were wary of the amount of menu space devoted to non-pizza offerings. The focus on fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and brownies brings to mind enormous steam trays full of dried-out, exhausted food, waiting to be bagged up for unsuspecting customers.

To keep things simple, we opted for the “Pizza and Wings” special, which includes a large, one-topping pizza, and ten “buffalo-style hot wings,” for $14.99. Over an hour later, our delivery arrived, and we scurried off into the kitchen to open the box and dive in.

Bowling alley pizza. Chef Boyardee pizza dinner kit. Hospital ward pizza. Pizza, as rendered by an animator for “The Simpsons.” Eighth grade rollerskate party pizza. After opening the box, we struggled to find the right words for what were looking at. Our pizza was huge, with an inverted plastic cup in the middle, presumably to keep the lid of the box from crushing the cheese. And oh, there were pounds, and pounds of cheese; utterly flavorless, heavily salted, half an inch thick, and just beginning to congeal into a solid mass. The cheese covered an almost comically thick, but surprisingly airy crust, with the texture of a damp sponge. There was a layer of child-friendly, lowest-common-denominator sweet tomato sauce, and dots of very thinly sliced, bland, bright red pepperoni. There was a thick roll of dough around the outside edge, reminiscent of undercooked Pillsbury breadsticks. On the bottom, light orange grease sheened across the entire underside of the pizza, making each bite unpleasantly moist.

The wings weren’t enough to salvage our dinner. Deep-fried and then clearly left to sit around for a while, the chicken wings packed a pleasantly spicy, vinegary sauce, which was wasted on limp, soggy chicken wings, lukewarm in their wet Styrofoam box.

The entire experience was a throwback to an era in Maine pizza-making that I thought had ended long ago, when pizza was almost exclusively the domain of gas stations and convenience stores, when pounds of poor-quality toppings were pulled from giant, garbage-bag-sized plastic containers, piled on thick dough cushions, and cooked in anemic, lukewarm ovens. It’s a relic, a remainder, a leftover, and the fact that pizza like this continues to exist at all does the entire pizza-making industry an incredible disservice, as it conceivably trains whole new generations that this is what to expect from pizza. It’s easy to see why many Mainers don’t have warm memories of sitting on craggy coastlines, near scenic lighthouses, munching on pizza. If this was the first kind of pizza you ever tried, and if you grew up thinking this was what all pizza was like, you wouldn’t ever want to eat it, either.

*Edit: A reader just pointed out via our Facebook page that Pizza Time bakes their wings, rather than fries them. This explains their sogginess, but if anything, makes me like them even less.

Comments

  1. Diane says

    Pizza Time is not that bad, you must be very picky. Everone has different preferences. I personally don’t care for Flatbread and Ottos, Otto’s uuually over cooks their pizzas and Flatbread is to bland for my taste. Some people like heavy cheesy and gressy style pizzas!!

    • Malcolm says

      Yes, we are pretty picky about the things we eat. With so many delicious options in the world, it doesn’t seem like too much time or too many calories should be wasted on careless, sub-standard food. I will give you that, as compared to, say, the filling inside of a Hot Pocket, or the pizza you might eat out of a steamy plastic bag on a Continental flight from San Diego to Orlando, or a pizza-flavored Pringle that you took the time to soak in a puddle and then microwave, Pizza Time is not that bad. Even if you like “heavy cheesy and gressy style pizzas,” though, there are at least a dozen other places in town that I would recommend over Pizza Time.

    • Henry says

      “Some people like heavy cheesy and gressy style pizzas!!”

      Yes. They are called, “People who don’t like pizza.”

      Otto’s isn’t overcooked. That’s what you get when you use an 800 degree oven, like you’re supposed to, rather than a heatlamp.

      Sorry for being a jerk. But holy crap, pizza. With Otto in town, we have to stop fooling ourselves about what’s pizza, southern maine, and what’s spongy oily porkbread.

  2. Sandy says

    Ate at Pizza time-once, and only once. Won’t waste my time, money or appetite on it again. There is pizza everywhere and plenty of places make it so much better.
    If you want cheap food, here it is. If you want good food, go someplace else.

    • Malcolm says

      I absolutely agree. Even if you are in the mood for junk pizza (which we admittedly, sometimes are), there are plenty of places doing it much, much better.

  3. Larry Baker says

    I don’t know…the pictures look appealing to me. Probably great compared to what we get around here.

    • Malcolm says

      Yes. Compared to pizza in Mexico, it was amazing, but that is the only possible metric by which it could be measured as a success. We were just talking about Pizza Messina the other day. That’s some weird stuff.

  4. stu says

    Love Flatbread, Ottos and Ricettas. (not to mention slabs at Micucci’s)
    Life is too short to eat bad food, but there is no bad pizza. A card board box with ketchup and saran wrap could qualify as pizza and not taste too bad.

  5. Dominic says

    Alright, I have to put my two cents in. I’ll come out and say that I work at and am part of the first pizza restaurant of Maine. Hint, there’s two left and I’m at the one in Westbrook. Begins with A, ends in ‘s. Started 1947.

    I think you can bash Pizza Villa without jumping to the “Oh my god what did Maine do before Otto’s” sentiment. I personally love Otto’s and I usually grab a slice on Sundays, the one day I’m not eating my own pizza. That said, they aren’t perfect either and you could very well get a clunker of a slice or a pie every now and then. I agree with you that they aren’t burnt, it’s the way it’s supposed to be for that style.

    As far as us, we are hated or unknown by all the bloggers in Maine. We also still have a huge following and serve nothing but pizza and don’t deliver or take credit cards. There’s nothing wrong with the “old” ways that some family places do things. Sure a lot of people love the nostalgia but you still have to put out something somebody will pay for. As you can tell by the places left in southern Maine, it’s very very hard to get an eatery to the third generation of family and almost impossible to get it to the fourth. By that point it’s usually gone so far downhill that it’s really just living off nostalgia and a name.

    I’m not going to speak for the Portland location but as far as us, there is never a time when you could come in and not have a family member working. Shockingly enough we don’t have anybody that smokes either, which is my number one pet peeve grossout when I go to restaurants and see characters outside the side doors. It’s also impossible to change anything with the recipe at this point. You make what you’ve been making for over 60 years and you try your best to make it the way people remembered. Sure it’s simple, it’s not new york style, it’s not new haven, it is what it is. I think with all the food hype with portland, people are afraid to say something is good when it’s just good. A cheeseburger is not a filet but sometimes it’s exactly what you crave (as long as you aren’t paying the price for a filet).

    Anyway, this was not some sort of advertising. We’ve never advertised anyway. I think it’s just a tad of frustration I’ve seen in Portland over the time we’ve become so popular on Travel channel, new york times, and all these other outlets. We can be judgemental without being elitist. Pizza Time isn’t good because Pizza Time isn’t good. It’s not the old way lingering around, it’s just not good. Otto’s is good not because it’s hipster cool with tatted up dudes with weezer glasses whipping out pizzas, it’s just good.

    You have a great blog here. Look forward to more reviews.

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Dominic. If you read back through our archives a bit, I think you’ll see that we’re far from elitist in our eating habits, and I didn’t mean to come off that way in my evaluation of Pizza Time.

      You’re right: it is bad because it is bad, and I perhaps became a little too carried away in my stroll down Maine Pizza Memory Lane, in my efforts to sort out my feelings on the subject. My biggest reaction to my pizza from Pizza Time was that I hadn’t seen anything quite like it since I was a little kid, living in Maine, and I couldn’t help but think about how much the “pizza scene” has evolved since then.

      Otto is not good because it’s new, or because of the hipster element (in fact, it’s not even our favorite pizza in town). It’s good because it shows a certain intelligence and due respect to the form, and cranks out pizza with (generally) a consistency in care and attention. Otto is good because it knows the difference between “making pizza” and “melting cheese on bread,” and that is why it has the solid reputation that it has.

      Thanks again for the comment.

    • LisaK says

      Dominic, I want to try your pizza. How long would a delivery to Idaho take? I love good food made by people who actually care.

    • Erin says

      As a former Westbrook/Portland resident, I have to say Dominic we enjoyed your pizza the best. Having grown up in Brooklyn, NY, I admit to being a bit of a pizza snob, but once we discovered your pizza, I was sold. I was sad the day we moved to Northern Maine and would be giving up your pizza! LOL! Even now whenever we have to come to the Portland area for anything ,we make sure we go back to Westbrook and get a pie or two…oh hell…maybe 3! LOL!! Keep doing what you are doing…you didn’t get to be here for 60+ years for nothing – it’s damn good pizza made by people who actually care!

  6. Dominic says

    It wasn’t as much about your blog but the tendencies of all the ones we have these days. You’re right about Otto, they do every little step right. lol, I know enough delivery drivers and health inspectors and I could have told you not to eat at a certain place but it’s sometimes better to discover the hard way. At least you had a coupon!

    But like I said, it’s hard getting judged against places like Otto because you can only do what you’ve done when you’re a place that’s been around as long as we have. I still put as much care into each dough I make and pizza I put out and hope that people still enjoy it not just because their granparents took them there as a kid.

    I’m only 36 and I’ve eaten somewhere around 5 to 7 thousand 9 inch pizzas. You can live off of pizza, don’t let anybody tell you different. *clutches chest*

    • Malcolm says

      That was a point from your first post that I didn’t mean to overlook: I think the places that have been around for 60 years have no choice but to continue doing things the way they always have, or risk hearing nothing from their customer base (and their parents…and their grandparents) but how good the place “used to be.”

      We haven’t yet tried the place you work…but are now even more anxious to do so. I’ve often wondered about the South Portland location, all grown over with weeds…

    • Dominic says

      Thanks Erin for the kind words.

      As far as the South Portland location, my aunt got a great deal from a bank who wanted the land. She was planning on retiring in a few years anyway so it just bumped it up and now she has a couple homes in Florida and is enjoying her time between the two states. A few years from now my other aunt in Portland will probably do the same thing so it will just be us in da brook where we never have any intention of slowing down.

      My grandfather had an italian eatery on Veranda street in portland after coming back from WWII and many of the soldiers spoke of pizza they tried while stationed overseas. He added it to the menu and soon just sold that. He then opened up the big Monument square location which was THE place to be if you talk to any people old enough. Pat Farnsworth came down and learned to make pizza from my grandfather and of course later opened Pat’s.

      Anyway, it’s not fancy pizza, I’m not gonna lie. I think it’s way better eaten there than taken home. I’m also starting to think our large our better than our mediums and smalls.

      Otto’s is basically the only pizza I will pay for and that says something for them. I like that we have different styles of pizza in the area that are good like Otto, Flatbread, Micucci’s, Bonobo, etc. I had the “I’m a new yorker” guy in the other day. Was a real jerk and never ordered cause we weren’t new york pizza. Why would you want to travel states away and eat the exact same thing you get at home?

      Just a little fun history and I won’t bring it up again since I like discussing restaurants around town.

  7. says

    I’m sorry, that pizza looks awful, compounded by your vivid description of it. And can you do a write-up of New Haven pizza? I hear so much about, but have never had any, and want to know what’s so great!

  8. Clara says

    That’s probably why I have such a soft spot for the Greek style. Growing up in Liberty the only pizza besides the local gas station pie was Alexia’s in Belfast, great Greek style pizza.

    • Malcolm says

      It does seem to be true that whatever your first exposure to pizza was, is the version you spend the rest of your life trying to chase…

  9. Christine says

    I, too, grew up on New Haven-style apizza before moving to Maine. Dropped into the food ghetto of Lewiston/Auburn, I couldn’t find anything even approaching real pizza. It breaks my heart that people just don’t understand the difference and think I’m a horrible snob.

    • Malcolm says

      You’re right, there seems to be a very broad definition of what pizza is. It’s not snobbery; it’s just knowing the difference. Thanks for commenting!

  10. says

    I live right next to PizzaTime and I will eat the heck out of it after the bars close. Open late, does the job. Surprisingly, their mac and cheese with crispy topping is pretty good! And of course online, you will find a coupon. I get a two topping, (chicken and bacon after MUCH trial and error) and a free mac and cheese with their online special. About 14 bucks. This is the only review I have ever seen for the place. Pretty spot on. Thanks.

  11. Rascal says

    Bill: You are a colossal dipshit.
    Malcolm: sorry, but you are wrong, Pizza Messina’s is not that bad. But if I see you on the street I won’t force you to do anything…

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