The participants in this pizza throw down included Palace Pizza, Blackthorn Pizza & Pub, Midtown Pizza Kitchen, and Ye Olde King Pizza.
Blackthorn has been a mainstay over on Joplin Street for quite some time. Mainly known as a bar, their pizza menu has often been overlooked. Listening to his patrons, owner Roger Hannifin made the establishment non-smoking, and as a result, has helped bring in more food sales business.
Palace Pizza sits in the 100 block of South Main, and has been open for a few years. Recently, Jon Buck, of JB's fame, purchased the business and did a complete rebranding. I had not tried Palace since the purchase, but have heard great things about the pizza.
Midtown Pizza Kitchen, a joint venture between Karma & Eagle innovator Jason Miller and food service veteran Duke Walter, has been on the scene since around May. They set up shop in midtown Joplin, in the former Kitchen Pass venue. The midtown region really needed to have an identity, and not try to latch onto the downtown scene. I feel Midtown really assists in that process.
Ye Olde King Pizza arrived back to Joplin with much anticipation and expectation. The iconic Pizza By Stout restaurant had originally been a franchise of the Ye Olde King brand. Lots of Joplin natives banked on the return of Ye Olde King being a rebirth of Stout's, as touted by the owners. I almost feel as if they were using the Stout appeal to bring people in. As time to open came closer, they began to say "inspired" by Stout's recipes, rather than saying it is basically the same pizza. Before the challenge, I had not tried Ye Olde King Pizza, either, and have heard mixed reviews. It seems people either love it and think it is just like Pizza By Stout, or they really dislike it and the service.
So, there are our four competitors!
The basis of the challenge is to compare apples to apples. That is, I purchased one pepperoni pizza from each place, and one "supreme". Supreme is in quotes because I knew it would vary from restaurant to restaurant. That would make it unique for that part of the tasting challenge.
We created and printed score sheets with a 1 through 10 scale on four criteria: crust, sauce, toppings, and overall. There was also space provided for notes, which the 12 tasters were urged to write.
I wanted to remove bias by making it a blind tasting. Each restaurant was assigned a plate color: red, blue, yellow, or green. That would be the same in both pizza tastings. Only the person plating the pizza (my wife) would know, for certain, which was which. I will note that some tasters could figure out which pizza was from which restaurant based on appearance (ie: size of the pepperonis). I even requested to the square-cut establishments to have it cut radially, into pie wedges.
We tasted each pepperoni pizza first. Then, a short break, and continued into the supreme category. At the end, while enjoying some delicious craft beers, I entered the scores into a spreadsheet I had created, and came up with average numbers in each category and criteria.
Ready to hear results, yet???
Before we get to the answers you are all waiting to hear, I want to touch a bit on what we found.
First off, there were NO bad pizzas in the lot! Seriously, guys... the scores were so close, no one ran away with either the pepperoni challenge or the supreme challenge. Every pizza had positive and negative criticisms to them. For example, the pizza everyone thought was the best in the supreme division was often criticized for an overly sweet sauce. But with all things totaled, it was considered the best.
Secondly, I didn't do this as a serious, definitive "THIS IS THE BEST DAMN PIZZA IN JOPLIN" award. I wanted to have some fun with it, and hopefully the pizzeria owners see it as that.
Thirdly, we tasted only two types of pizza. Honestly, when I go to Blackthorn or Midtown, you will NEVER see me eating a pepperoni, or supreme, or sausage, etc. I go there and I order some of their specialties. I take the opportunity to have something new, unique, different. So, even if one place has the "best" pepperoni, that says nothing about their specialty pies!
Fourthly, the pizzas were not HOT and FRESH. They did sit for a little bit while we set up the tasting. We realize that this may really change the dynamic of the crust, toppings, etc. But, if you were to pick up any of these pizzas to take home, it may fall under similar conditions.
Alright, let's get into this...
In the pepperoni category, the best crust was Palace Pizza, with Ye Olde King right behind. The comments on the Blackthorn crust is that it was a bit too bland, and seemed like a frozen, premade crust. The main criticism of Midtown crust was it was a bit tough. The tasters agree that it would be much better if it was hot and fresher.
The sauce winner in the pepperoni category was Palace, barely ahead of Blackthorn. The sauce on Palace was just *almost* too sweet for some tasters, but seemed most flavorful. Most comments on the sauce had to do with the LACK of sauce. Ye Olde King was so scant, most tasters couldn't really rate it.
Toppings for the pepperoni category was a tough call. Palace slightly edged out Midtown as they pulled away from the other two. Both Palace and Midtown had fantastic flavor. The thing that may have pushed Palace out front, according to the commentary, could be the sprinkling of herbs, Parmesan, and garlic they seemed to dust the pizza with.
And for overall best pepperoni pizza for night... *drumroll*... Palace Pizza!
Midtown Pizza Kitchen trailed very closely.
As for the supreme category...
The average scores really tightened up in the supreme category. For crust, Palace barely edged out Ye Olde King and Midtown, with Blackthorn lagging. Basically the same comments applied as in the pepperoni group.
As far as sauce goes, Palace led the way slightly, as the other three options were tied just behind. Many comments focused around the lack of sauce on the runner ups.
Toppings were a huge criteria, obviously, for the supreme group. Palace and Midtown really pulled away in this area. The amount, quality, and flavor of toppings on those two samples really stood out. Several tasters were not in favor of the larger cubes of ham on the Blackthorn pizza. Also, tasters did have some criticism of the Midtown and Palace slices: even olive fans thought perhaps the density of olives on their pizzas nearly overpowered all other toppings. On the Ye Olde King Pizza, the amount of cheese brought up issues. Usually, I would say there is no such thing as too much cheese. However, the cheese created such a large blanket over the pizza, it was tough to bite through, and often would completely strip the pizza crust of all the toppings in one bite.
And now... for the best supreme pizza of the evening... *drumroll* ... Palace Pizza!
Midtown Pizza was incredibly close behind.
The Main Street Pizza Challenge was a fun exercise, forcing people to take a more comprehensive look at what they are eating. It was great to see some of the comments, and see how people could critique what they were tasting.
As stated before, this is not the be-all and end-all of pizza in Joplin. It was just a blind tasting to see how the different Main Street pizzerias fared against each other.
Take the opportunity to try them all for yourself! Like I said, I know the specialty pizzas at these joints are amazing. So, go in with a few friends, get a smaller size in several varieties, and give them all a try!
Here is where you can find each participant on the internet, just click the name:
Midtown Pizza Kitchen
Blackthorn Pizza & Pub
Ye Olde King Pizza