Pizza is, naturally, a perfect choice. Easy to eat while watching the TV. Plus it can feed a lot of people (or provide a lot of leftovers) and it's pretty cheap, perfect for all you armchair quarterbacks still in college.
But guys, this is the Super Bowl. You need a pizza fit for champions. So one joyous Friday night, Compare and Contrast ordered up large half-pep, half-sausage pies on hand-tossed crust from the big three national pizza chains -- Domino's, Papa John's and Pizza Hut -- to find the best-tasting pizza for the price. It's not as good as making your own pizza at home, but it's a lot easier.
Now we wanted a fair match, and with the local Domino's so much closer to our house than the other two, we opted for pick-up here and measured prep time, as opposed to delivery time. Trust me, on Super Bowl Sunday, the pizza chains are going to be swamped, so that's the option you're going to want to go with anyway. Note, too, that all prices are valid as of Jan. 7 and applied to Chicago-area locations. Prices below are strictly for the pizzas, not tax, and are subject to change.
Pizza Chain: Domino's
Number of U.S. Locations: Just over 5,000
Sampled preparation time: Just 17 minutes, the quickest prep of the night.
Taste: Domino has made a big deal about how it revamped its pizza. It's certainly an improvement (not a hard accomplishment, considering we traditionally dismissed Domino's as the worst pizza maker in America), but the spruced up pie didn't blow us away. It'll definitely please cheese lovers; the abundance of gooey greatness was the best thing that the pie had going for it. That said, the taste of cheese overwhelmed the zest of the sauce and the spice of the pepperoni and the sausage. The garlicky crust contributed a little kick.
Available toppings: 24 (including three different cheese varieties, nine meat, 12 veggie)
Other options: New York-style crust, special white sauce and barbecue sauce.
Pizza Chain: Papa John's
U.S. Locations: 2,834
Sampled preparation time: A whopping 53 minutes.
Taste: Better ingredients, better pizza? We don't think so. The pie we had was the definition of bland. The sauce was nothing special and not as cheesy as Domino's. While the pepperoni was just fine, the sausage is a cardinal sin--a crumbly product that tastes like Jimmy Dean's. (Good for omelets, not pizzas.) They do have spicy Italian sausage available, but that should be the de facto sausage topping. As for its other qualities: There was a tinge of garlic in the crust, and freebies include pepperoncinis and a garlic dipping sauce, for whatever they're worth. (Not enough to compensate for a disappointing 'za.)
Price: $10, a special price for large pizzas (up to seven toppings and specialty pies) through Feb. 6. Typically, a large costs $13.63.
Available toppings: 19 (including three different cheese varieties, eight meats and eight veggies)
Other options: The Spinach Alfredo has alfredo sauce subbing for tomato; the BBQ Chicken Bacon and Hawaiian BBQ Chicken come with barbecue sauce.
Pizza Chain: Pizza Hut
U.S. Locations: About 6,200
Sampled preparation time: Told it would take 15 minutes but actually was 23.
Taste: Domino's has Pizza Hut licked when it comes to cheese, but Hut's slightly sweet sauce is the standout among the competition, and its topping quota was the most generous. The crust is nothing fancy but it's thicker, sturdier and fluffier than Domino's and Papa John's floppy varieties, and pretty tasty in its own right. Like Domino's, we weren't blown away, but we were mighty satisfied.
Available toppings: 15 (seven meat, seven veggie, cheese)
Other options: Big Dipper (extra large square pizza with rectangular slices includes four cups of marinara sauce); Stuffed Crust (cheese in the crust)
What we think: Papa John's has a pretty sweet deal going for it right now, but it's the most expensive pizza of the three, and the worst-tasting too. Pizza Hut's large pizzas, for up to three toppings, are $10 all the time, and it's a far tastier pizza. It's cheaper than Domino's, which has its merits, particularly if you love cheese and want the largest variety of toppings and crusts. But like the Super Bowl, there can be only one winner here at Compare and Contrast, and we're giving the prize to Pizza Hut for being the best-tasting pizza and for having the lowest price.
Piet Levy's Compare and Contrast breaks down the prices and perks for products and services that college kids want, and posts them on WalletPop's Money College page. Send suggestions, including items or services that you want written about, to firstname.lastname@example.org.