My love-hate (or is that hate-hate?) relationship with Domino’s Pizza

I’m not sure how I feel about Domino’s Pizza. It would be easy to say I hate it, but then, if I really hated it so much, why do I keep getting pizza there?

Domino’s made waves a few months ago with a risky ad campaign promoting their completely revamped pizza recipe. Publicly acknowledging that your old crust tasted like “cardboard” and your old sauce like “ketchup” and your old cheese like… well… I’m not sure what, but it wasn’t cheese, that’s a big risk for a major chain like Domino’s. Millions of dollars in revenue were at stake. And if you’re willing to acknowledge that you’ve been delivering a decidedly sub-par product to your customers for decades, why should we trust you to make it better?

And yet, I still order Domino’s. It’s not like my pizza palate lacks sophistication: there’s an excellent local pizza joint (in the vaguely New York style that dominates most of the country) just a couple blocks farther from my house than the nearest Domino’s (which is close enough that I shouldn’t be able to justify not walking to pick up my pizza); I’ve relished the authentic Neapolitan-style pizzas from Pizza Biga and Punch; and I enjoy the contemporary American reinterpretation of what pizza can be (albeit in a homogenized, chain restaurant fashion) from California Pizza Kitchen. And then of course there’s Davanni’s.

And yet, even after all of that, I still order Domino’s.

I think it has more than a little to do with the fact that I hate ordering pizza over the phone. I don’t like having to have the person on the other end rattle off the specials; I feel like I’m missing something. I like ordering online, because I’m a web geek, it feels like a video game, and more practically, because it lays out all of my options before me, and I can experiment at my leisure until I have exactly what I want, at the best price available. If my neighborhood pizza place had online ordering, I would never get pizza anywhere else. But as it is, my choices are Domino’s (bad) or Pizza Hut (worse). So, Domino’s it is.

Last night we ordered a pair of medium Domino’s pizzas, trying both the new thin crust and the new hand-tossed crust. The pizzas were not great. Visually they were fine, and structurally they were OK — the crusts were actually pretty good. But the flavors were so intense, so recklessly assembled, that the overall impression was just a pure taste assault. Unfortunately, that pure taste assault has been carefully tweaked and optimized to trigger all of the proper pleasure centers in the human brain (or at least the American human brain), so even though I didn’t really enjoy the pizza — it was something to devour, not to savor — I just couldn’t stop myself from eating more and more and more.


Domino’s Pizza isn’t food; it’s a drug. And I think I’m hooked.

Taco Town

This is a couple years old now (I think… seems like it, anyway), but it’s one of my SNL favorites. You can’t beat the line, “Pizza! Now that’s what I call a taco!”

I also just wanted to see how well embedding videos from Hulu works.

I wish these video sites would start including wmode="transparent" in their embed code so I wouldn’t have to type it every time. (It needs to be there for the video to go behind my navigation bar when you scroll the page.)

Stick on a Stick

I recently attended the Minnesota State Fair. Thrice in a fortnight, no less! OK, it was actually thrice in a week, and the fair only lasts for 12 days anyway, but if you’re going to use a word like “thrice,” it feels necessary to complement it with another like “fortnight.”

There are many (potentially) appealing things about the fair: the midway rides, the sheep barn, machinery hill, the swarming throngs, the concert performances by musicians whose popularity peaked during the Carter administration. But I think the defining element of the fair, the thing that makes the fair The Fair, is the astonishingly vast array of foodstuffs available in a singular form: impaled on a stick, doused in corn batter, and deep fried.

Yes, you can get just about anything on a stick. Corn dogs — a.k.a. pronto pups, although apparently there is a distinction (which I happen to know, genius that I am, but I’ll leave it to you to research that matter on your own) — started it all, innocently enough. And in retrospect, the corn dog seems an almost obvious invention. At least, that is, when compared to the things you can find on a stick these days.

Along the road leading to machinery hill, just across from the obnoxiously expensive Rainbow Play Systems (although I suppose if you’re buying a large prefab structure for your kids to play on in the back yard, you want to know from the price tag that it’s well-constructed), you’ll find a little place called “J.D.’s Eating Establishment,” which proudly announces the availability of “Definitely nothin’ on a stick!” But J.D.’s is decisively in the minority.

Last year I was simultaneously impressed and frightened by the sight of a “Spaghetti and Meatballs Dinner on a Stick.” This year, it was a Swedish booth (although I think “Swedish-American” is more accurate, as this is a purely Scandisotan [a word, incidentally and double-parenthetically, that Google confirms I did not coin] concoction) selling “Hotdish [sic… it is one word, you know] on a Stick.” I was tempted to try it, but as with most items whose names end in “…on a stick,” it was dipped in corn batter and, from the outside, indistinguishable from the sickeningly large corn dog I had just consumed.

Getting in on the “on a stick” gag, we have Tim Pawlenty’s Governor on a Stick, which is a hand fan emblazoned with a photo of the governor. Seems a bit self-defeating, however, given the conceptual similarity of “Governor on a Stick” to “Governor’s Head on a Pike.” (Hey, I’m just sayin’….)

Of course, the granddaddy of them all, the item that put the Minnesota State Fair on the map for those seeking instant coronary distress, is the “Deep Fried Candy Bar.” Apparently the concept was invented in Scotland, and I seem to recall seeing it on an episode of A Cook’s Tour on Food Network; it was the same episode where Tony Bourdain boldly ventured into the world of haggis… and made it seem almost palatable.

But there’s one thing that was always missing from the Scottish delight (the deep fried candy bar, that is… although I’m sure haggis could find a comfortable home at a grease-drenched food booth at the Minnesota State Fair): the stick.

Never fear, though. Where Scotland fails, Minnesota succeeds. (Don’t quote me on that. When World War III starts, I want Sean Connery and Groundskeeper Willie on my side.)

I saw the deep fried candy bars being made at the fair. I saw someone eating one. I even walked through the dense cloud of grease vapor hanging in the air surrounding the booth. But nothing… nothing could make me try one. Even if it is the highest-calorie food item at the entire fair. Which it is, although I think that’s relative. Maybe as an individual item it’s the most calories, but I think the available (to use that word in the car commercial sense) 64-ounce buckets of either french fries or Sweet Martha’s chocolate chip cookies, if consumed by one person, must contain more.

All of this stuff-on-a-stick gave me an idea though. It seems you really could sell just about anything as a food item at the Minnesota State Fair as long as it’s on a stick, dipped in batter, and deep fried. My wife and I joked about a “Stick on a Stick” concept. But understanding the true nature of fair food as only a native of this great state can, I think one slight modification may be necessary. And with that, I present to you the final concept for the ultimate fair food item. I encourage any would-be entrepreneurs to take this idea and run with it; just give me a little recognition when you make your first million (which, apparently, is not unheard of for a successful food booth in the 12 days of the fair):

Stick of Butter on a Stick.

Mmmmmmm… stick.

Learn How to Use Your Chopsticks

Now, before we get started, I just want to say, China has a rich cultural heritage and is full of intelligent, creative people. China had gunpowder when Europeans were still hitting each other over the heads with sticks. China had paper when the Greeks were still drawing geometric shapes in the sand… with sticks. But long after Europeans started eating with forks and knives, the Chinese were… well, still using sticks.

But I’m not even here to make fun of chopsticks. I like eating Chinese and Japanese food with chopsticks. It makes the experience more authentic, and it is humbling to see how incompetent I am with these, while someone like Daniel LaRusso can catch a fly with them.

Anyway, as I said, I like to try my “nice Chinese food with chopsticks.” I think you see where I’m going with this.

For years, one of the delights of going to a Chinese restaurant has been that unmistakable red chopsticks pack with the incomprehensibly mangled English instructions. This perennial favorite is dying off, sadly. Most of the time now, you either get chopsticks wrapped in plastic, or in the updated, white-paper version of this, with (mostly) proper spelling and grammar.

So it was with much delight last December that I asked for a set of chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and received the classic red wrapper. I saved it, and here it is…

Now let’s have a look at the details:

I have no idea what the Chinese characters on the front of the package say, but if they are in fact a pictographic depiction of something, it appears that in the first frame, a man is gingerly approaching some kind of dragon/serpent creature. Next, he leans in for a kiss. The two get into a tussle (is the dragon giving him a spanking?), and in the end the dragon has donned a sombrero and is patting the guy on the bum as he walks away.

I like how this starts off. It seems to suggest that every Chinese restaurant is simply called “Chinese Restaurant.” And then the misspellings begin. “Glonous”? Well, it’s fairly obvious what’s happened here: Someone apparently gave the typesetter some handwritten text, and the typesetter, unfamiliar with the Roman alphabet, sometimes mistook letter combinations for other letters. Either that, or they were just relying on some early OCR software.

OK… now where did I leave my thurnb? And how do I tuk and hcld something under it?

This is the definitive step… these words are so deeply ingrained in my subconscious that I almost call these devices “chcosticks” when I ask for them in a restaurant.

Yes indeed, with the tirst and second chopsticks in place, now you can pick up anything… used Kleenex, condoms, Michael Jackson’s prosthetic nose… what is that, anyway?

By the way, the restaurant in Stevens Point is called Chef Chu’s. It’s attached to the Best Western Royale hotel, and I give it very high marks! I didn’t have much hope for quality at a Chinese restaurant in central Wisconsin, attached to a Best Western and newly opened in a former Country Kitchen-esque restaurant space, but the food was actually quite good… a very nice hot-and-sour soup, excellent potstickers, and a very tasty moo goo gai pan with big pieces of fresh vegetables and tender chicken.

Oh yeah, and vintage chopsticks!