The Distinguished Gourmand: Blaze Pizza
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Sometimes even moving to a different part of town can’t keep me from attending one of those free, exclusive tasting events I’m invited to from time to time. So last night as I carted several boxes of records from my old domicile to my new one, I raced home and showered and sped across town to The Grove. That’s where Blaze Pizza is located (actually its in that little strip mall just north of the Grove, north of Farmer’s Market Pl. off Fairfax). The concept is so simple I’m shocked it took this long to happen: fast-casual build your own pizza. There’s a short menu with about 8 “signature” pies, but beyond that it’s pretty much build your own. Meats, vegetables, cheeses and sauces are all available for mixing and matching. I guess I arrived a bit late (even though I was told any time between 8 and 8:45 was acceptable) so I was given a glass of Pinot Noir (thanks to Pali Wine Co.) and rushed through the pizza building process.
I constructed a pie with pepperoni, meatballs, red onion and jalapeņos with a spicy red sauce, and a pinch of sea salt and oregano. My pie was fired and ready (with a considerable char and a crispy crust) in just 3-5 minutes. The result was a cracker-thin pie with generous toppings that made for a yummy, easy-to-consume meal.
To be honest, I would think about the pizza at Blaze how I would a burrito from Chipotle. If I want pizza there are places I would sooner go to satiate my thirst, but it’s by no means a last resort. The toppings were all very fresh, the “spicy” red sauce had more zest than most, and the cracker-thin crust held said toppings without much mess. If there was a Blaze in my hometown would I opt for that over the mom and pop places? Probably not. If there was one around the corner and I needed a quick bite or had a short lunch break spot that wasn’t, you know, McDonalds? Absolutely. Just because it’s fast food (or fast casual, or whatever you want to call it) doesn’t mean it should be negatively pre-judged.
After speaking with Executive Chef Brad Kent (who perfected his dough recipe after years of practice down the street at Olio) it was evident why Blaze operates so smoothly. He was shockingly well-informed, eloquent and knowledgeable, answering my questions about oven density/temperature and ingredient sourcing. In our brief chat I learned all about the standards for quality that are implemented across all Blaze locations (including the crazy amount of surprise visits and inspections each location has to endure to stay up to the company’s code), and the lengths to which Brad and the rest of the company will go to ensure consistence and excellence when it comes to the standard Blaze dining experience. In our all-too-brief conversation I was offered a refreshing look into the inner workings of an up-and-coming chain with a great amount of potential to change the way we think about chain pizza joints.
After the meal he walked us through an olive oil tasting, dishing up plates of the dough used in all Blaze pies and small cups of their locally-sourced olive oil. It was quite the learning experience, and a nice way to cap a fun tasting event. I even received a book all about olive oil to take home with me after the meal (along with a free coupon for a pie, which I’ll certainly be using in the coming weeks). Thanks again, chef Brad and Blaze!
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