And the Chipotle-ization of America continues.
Pizza is the latest food item to get the assembly-line, build-your-own treatment and Tarrant County is already home to the concept with the likes of Pie Five and Pizza Snob.
Now, California-based market leader Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza — which boasts LeBron James as an investor and was recently declared the fastest-growing restaurant chain in the country in the Technomic Top 500 Chain Restaurant Report — has landed in Arlington, its first foray into the western side of DFW after opening a spot in Frisco last year (a southwest Fort Worth location is due in June).
Fortunately, Blaze — which was founded less than three years ago and now has 124 locations — has more going for it than celebrity backing and explosive growth. Three recent stops by the Arlington store found a fun, convivial atmosphere — including a table of patrons breaking into spontaneous renditions of Shake It Off and Love Yourself with an employee joining in. (If you want to enjoy your pizza in absolute peace and quiet, Blaze probably isn’t the best place.)
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But it’s the pizza — all 11-inch individual pies — that’s worth singing about. First of all, it’s relatively inexpensive — $5 for a Simple Pie (mozzarella, Parmesan, red sauce), $6.25 for a 1 Top Pizza, and $7.95 for a Signature Pizza with set toppings or a Build Your Own where you choose your ingredients.
The price point is not the only plus. Pizza starts with the dough, and Blaze’s is made from scratch and then fermented for 24 hours. The result is a flavorful crust that doesn’t feel like just a necessity on which to load up the toppings as it does at some chain operations.
Those who must eat gluten-free will be pleased to know that not only does Blaze offer a gluten-free crust (made with brown rice flour, filtered water, extra-virgin olive oil, tapioca flour, yeast, sea salt and xanthan gum) but that this option is surprisingly satisfying. It’s slightly thinner and crispier than the standard wheat crust but it proves not to be detrimental to the pizza overall.
Of the pizzas tried, the winner is the Green Stripe (chicken, red peppers, garlic, mozzarella and arugula drizzled with a pesto sauce) with its bright blend of piquancy and sweetness. There’s also the BBQ Chkn (chicken, mozzarella, red onion, banana peppers, Gorgonzola, a drizzle of barbecue sauce), which is also quite good, but the pesto flavor makes the Green Stripe a standout.
The one complaint is that there could have been a bit more chicken on the Green Stripe. However, since you can watch them put the pie together on the line, you might be able to coax them into giving you more.
Similarly, the Meat Eater (pepperoni, meatballs, red onion, mozzarella, red sauce) might be disappointing to those looking for some crazy, carnivore experience.
For the meat-free, the Veg Out (zucchini, mushrooms, red onion, mozzarella, Gorgonzola, red sauce), which we tried with the gluten-free crust, is a solid alternative. With this one especially, the freshness of Blaze’s ingredients comes into play.
The only dessert option is a s’more ($2) made with two McVitie’s graham cookies. It fills the bill but seems like an afterthought.
Two of the best parts of eating at Blaze have little to do with the pizza itself. One is how quickly the pizzas are ready — thanks to their high-heat (up to 900 degrees) ovens — and the other is that, even if you’re dining in, your pizza is served in an eco-friendly box.
That means, if you have leftovers, you have a ready-made to-go carton without having to ask someone to bring you one. But there’s a good chance you won’t need it.