Dining with Denise: A Wichita gas station pizza tour
When I’m craving pizza, which is always, it’s hard for me to choose between all my Wichita favorites.
A giant slice from Picasso’s? A rectangular pie from Ziggy’s? Light-and-airy from Piatto? Classic and proven from DeFazio’s, Angelo’s or Marchello’s?
My pizza list has never, however, included ready-and-warming slices from QuikTrip, Kwik Shop or any gas station-type business.
Apparently, I was in the minority.
Recently, while talking about restaurants on my Wichita Eagle colleague Bob Lutz’s radio show, he announced proudly that he’d discovered Wichita’s best pepperoni pizza, and it came in a rectangular-shaped box from QuikTrip.
The phones immediately lit up with calls from listeners wanting to weigh in on which local gas station pizza was the best. Apparently, it’s a thing. And here I thought gas stations were only good for hotdogs and bags of Bugles.
So I decided to find out for myself if any of this quick pizza was worthy of my precious pizza calorie allowance.
I spent a couple of hours over lunch earlier this week driving to four of Wichita’s better-known gas station pizza purveyors to bring you this report. I’m ranking the slices in order from my favorite to my least favorite.
THE BEST: Casey’s General Store: I’ve heard the most about Casey’s General Store pizza, and not just because of the chain’s thorough ad campaign promoting its pizza supremacy. People say they love Casey’s pizza, and they like that the chain provides not only individual slices but also whole pies. A large single topping is $11.99, and Casey’s even has specialty pizzas like taco, buffalo chicken and spinach, artichoke and chicken. A specialty is $15.99 for a large.
When we arrived at Casey’s at K-96 and Woodlawn, it was a little past the traditional lunch hour, and only two lonely slices of pepperoni were sitting in the case. They’d been there long enough that some of the cheese had adhered to the cardboard holder, and I wasn’t hopeful. But I took what they had, and a single slice was $2.49.
Despite its somewhat lackluster appearance, there was something about that slice that was sublime. First, it had a thin crust that was still bready and did not taste like it’d ever been frozen. Thin crust is my favorite. Second, it was covered with just the right amount of cheese to make it almost chewy, and a generous amount of tomato sauce was lurking just under the crust. It was the only slice I tried that day that made me want to finish the whole thing.
I’m also told that Casey’s offers a killer breakfast pizza made with sausage or bacon. You have to work a little harder to find a Casey’s in our QuikTrip town, but it’s worth the effort if you need a slice in a hurry.
Wichita’s Casey’s stores are at 3540 S. Meridian, 11931 W. Central and 3520 N. Woodlawn. There are also Casey’s in Haysville, Derby, Andover, Clearwater, Valley Center and Rose Hill.
SECOND BEST: QuikTrip: So I tried the pizza that Lutz loves, and it wasn’t bad. QuikTrip seriously expanded its food offerings two years ago, when the Tulsa-based chain added QuikTrip Kitchens to all its locations. Now, in addition to hotdogs and taquitos on roller grills, hungry people on the go also can get hot sandwiches, smoothies and even whole pizzas. They also can get slices that are always waiting in a grab-and-go warmer.
A slice comes in a triangular-shaped box with a little window so you can see what you’re getting. I stopped at the mega QuikTrip at Hillside and Kellogg and grabbed two slices – a pepperoni and a three-meat.
The crust was thick but not greasy and fortunately didn’t resemble frozen pizza at all. The toppings also were plentiful. The pizza was a tad dried-out from sitting in the warmer, but not beyond redemption. I’d eat a slice in a pinch, though I’d say it’s a full step below Pizza Hut in quality and flavor. Sorry, Bob.
Full-sized pizzas must be ordered at the kitchen and range from $10.99 for a cheese pizza to $14.99 for a supreme or breakfast pizza. QuikTrip also has personal-sized pizzas for $4.99.
QuikTrip stores, as you know, are on nearly every corner in Wichita.
THIRD BEST: Hunts Brothers Pizza: Hunts Brothers is a pizza chain that operates out of convenience stores across the country, and there are a few vendors in Wichita. I finally found some in a Valero store on South West Street around 2 p.m. on the day of my pizza investigation. Outside the gas station was a sketch of an Italian man tossing pizza crust, and in the parking lot, a construction worker hungrily devoured a slice in his truck.
The pizza we found was past its prime, but the store smartly discounts its food by half after 2 p.m., so I paid only $1.50 a slice. The slices are waiting in a grab-and-go warmer case, and the cardboard boxes they come in advertise that they are 1/4 of a pizza pie.
Hunts Brothers pizzas come with a variety of toppings, though not all are available at all times. They also offer a few specialty slices, like lotsa meat, breakfast pizza and loaded.
The crust was thick and browned, and the toppings and sauce, I could tell, had likely been perfectly acceptable a few hours earlier. And I loved the containers, which were printed with humorous observations comparing pizzas to hugs and other warm fuzzies.
Hunts Brothers Pizza can be found in Wichita at the Cenex at 1231 E. 29th St. North., in the Convenience Mart at 7101 E. Lincoln, at the Jump Start Store at 1535 E. Pawnee, at the Valero at 1622 S. West St. and at the Gotta Stop at 5600 W. MacArthur Road.
FOURTH BEST: Kwik Shop: To be fair, Kwik Shop doesn’t claim to be a purveyor of fine pizza. And you can usually only find slices in the bigger stores that have delis. We found ours at the Kwik Shop at 2424 W. 37th St. North. The multilevel, rotating pizza warmer was giant and interesting – it stopped turning when I opened the door, then resumed when I closed it. And the store had a big selection when I visited. I tried both a slice of pepperoni and a slice of the monthly special, the Philly Cheesesteak pizza. Two slices were $3.99, or customers can get one for $2.40. A 14-incher is $10.99.
Sadly, the pizza had the same somewhat cardboard quality you’d get after letting your boxed frozen pizza sit on the stove for a while after it comes out of the oven. On the plus side, buying the slices got me Dillons fuel points, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Wichita also has several Kwik Shop locations.
What’s your take on gas station pizza?
Let me know which slice you prefer by visiting the Dining with Denise Facebook page and looking for my post on gas station pizza.