A $20 Pizza Hut gift card has been stashed in the armrest of James’ car for probably the past two years. Just in case, you know? Really, it’s only a gift in the way that buying things for yourself while Christmas shopping can be considered gifts.
Unlike the cards for Olive Garden and Cheesecake Factory, also languishing in their cache between the front seats, I’ve hoped that James would forget that he bought it. Pizza Hut, like Sizzler, feels second-tier, someplace old and tired that I’ve known my whole life. Not necessarily the source of good nostalgia.
Yet during a rain storm, hungry yet hours earlier than normal dinner time you might see Pizza Hut advertised on a sign on I-87 while approaching Saratoga Springs from Montreal. This is no occasion for glitzy trappings or voluminous menus. And maybe it’s a sit-down? Standalone Pizza Huts are a rare breed, at least around NYC. We struck-out with the first location we found on the GPS. It was just a strip mall takeout version like the one I worked at in the summer of 1990. But the counter woman was nicer than I was during my stint and directed us to a full-service one just a block-and-a-half down the street. Why Saratoga Springs is so saturated with Pizza Huts is another issue.
The faded, family-friendly style that I’d been thinking of as dreary turned out to be charming in its refusal to modernize like an uppity Red Lobster. This photo could’ve been taken decades ago: '70s suburban church italics, '80s checkerboard tiles, three-bean salad. The menu wasn’t laminated and photo-driven, but simply a Xeroxed piece of paper listing the basics. There is a small salad bar and pizzas you can order half-and-half—or Hawaiian with no shame.
I picked hand-tossed crust because I couldn’t handle the breadiness of pan, and not thin crust because I remember hating having to make it since it was the only style you had to roll through a machine out on demand. This is childhood pizza, sweetish sauce encased in mozzarella, completely inoffensive. The pepperoni had the perfect singed ends and pools of oil. The odd thing, and I hope it’s not a case of my palate maturing, was how bland the ham and pineapple was. Maybe it was always this way.
The most shocking part of the experience was that after paying, we still had 88 cents left on the gift card. I practically spent as much on a lobster roll and naturally sweetened blueberry soda for lunch last week. No wonder Pizza Hut is such a family favorite (with the exception of the tottering elderly couple drinking white wine and Molson in the primo corner booth, the diners were all parents and children). You might not be treated to a bubbly coal oven pie adorned with mozzarella di bufala, and who would expect to for $11.99?
Pizza Hut * 22 Congress St., Saratoga Springs, NY