Friday, April 30, 2021

CPK BBQ Recipe Chicken (Crispy Thin Crust)

If you're under the age of 35, you probably think of California Pizza Kitchen as the Chili's or Cheesecake Factory of pizza restaurants: a large chain with a massive, disparate menu of items, most of which many arrive at the restaurant frozen or precooked. 

And you are not wrong.

But, once upon a time, CPK was actually a delicious place. When I was a kid, there were only about 20 locations, all in California. The dough was made in-house, the vegetables and cheese were fresh, and it actually felt like you were in a pizza restaurant. The menu did not contain roasted salmon, asian dumplings, or multiple pastas 

There were a bunch of different pizzas, a few salads, and that was about it. I loved the place. 

Then Pepsi bought the chain, dramatically increased expansion, and started making the dough in a central location and shipping it frozen to the restaurants. Other items were no longer prepared fresh, but rather stocked frozen and reheated to order. 

A few years later, a private equity firm acquired the restaurant (it would not be the last time this happened) and my visits dropped from a-couple-of-times-per-month to about once per year. Often less. (Tomorrow will be May 2021; my last visit to a CPK was in August of 2012.) 

In a move that came as no surprise to anyone who knows the slightest thing about restaurant chains, CPK licensed their name to Kraft at the beginning of the century, who in turn started selling frozen pizzas bearing the CPK name. Just like Chili's, PF Chang's, TGIFriday's, and all the other chains that CPK has now become. 

And the frozen pizzas weren't bad. They weren't exactly good, of course, but, since CPK had been using frozen-and-defrosted dough in their restaurant kitchens for years, the new frozen line wasn't that different from the restaurant pizzas of the late 20th century. (Obviously, the frozen pizzas were nowhere near as good as the restaurant had been in its early days.)

It looks attractive, no doubt about that. Almost like a take-and-bake pizza, not something that has been frozen for weeks. 

Unfortunately, everything is done half-ass. 

With the exception of the crust. That wasn't half-ass. 

That was total ass. 

The crust was quite thin but without any flavor at all. I would have much preferred a tortilla. 

The sauce was kind of sweet, but not really. The chicken was kind of good, but not really. 

The red onions were of decent size, but, as with almost all frozen red onions, without flavor. 

If this pizza were priced around 4 or 5 dollars, I would give it three stars. It's not bad; it's just not good. 

But.. and this is a big but... CPK's frozen pizzas are some of the most expensive you will find. At Walmart, they're usually 8 bucks. At my local market - admittedly a relatively rural market that is literally the only market within 10 miles - they cost 10 bucks. 

That's just way too much for a frozen pizza unless it's great. And this ain't great. 


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