Dining With Denise Neil

Review: Wichita’s new Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza begs the question – what’s the rush?

If you ever visited Pie Five, the restaurant chain that opened its first store in Wichita in 2014, quickly expanded to three locations then quickly closed two of them, you’ll know what you’re getting at the new Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, which opened in September in the new Greenwich Place shopping area.

Though the cavernous new Blaze, part of a California-based chain, is bigger and flashier than Pie Five was, the concept is the same. Customers travel down a line of mouthwatering and colorful pizza toppings, and – a la Chipotle – point to exactly what they want. Then, they marvel as their thin-crust pizza enters and exits the wood-burning oven in a flash. In Blaze’s case, it’s three minutes at 800 degrees.

As I prepared to write this review, I got a vague sense of deja vu and decided to look up my review of Pie Five from 2014. And as I read it, it said nearly everything I want to say about Blaze, too.

It’s fun to design your own pizza, avoid the ingredients you dislike and double up on the ingredients you love. But maybe pizzas aren’t meant to be fired so fast. The end result feels skimpy, not-so gourmet, and in the case of Blaze, not all that hot, temperature-wise.

▪ On the menu: Blaze invites customers to build their own 11-inch pizzas from the restaurant’s layout of fresh and pretty ingredients, including all the regulars plus extras like goat cheese, whole meatballs, roasted red peppers, zucchini and whole roasted garlic cloves.

The same ingredients are used to construct several prepared salads, including Caesar and a tomato mozzarella salad with big chunks of Buffalo mozzarella. It also has a few desserts and some unique drinks, including sparkling fruit beverages in the soda machine and signature lemonades (including its famous blood orange lemonade) in separate dispensers.

▪ Don’t-miss dishes: Brave Blazers can build their own pizzas by choosing a crust (regular thin or a thicker or gluten-free crust for a $2 upcharge). They also can choose sauce type (red, white, garlic pesto, etc.) then point to veggies and cheeses until the pie is loaded how they want it. The less brave can choose from the restaurant’s pre-imagined list of specialty pizzas and are free to make little adjustments along the way.

I chose the White Top from the specialty menu, whose ingredients included all the things I like: white cream sauce, mozzarella, applewood bacon, chopped garlic, oregano and a topping of fresh arugula. I made only one adjustment, asking for the addition of the lovely brown roasted garlic cloves that caught my eye. As the employee built my pizza, though, I had an urge to ask him to add more of this or put on a little extra of that. The amount of each just didn’t seem like it would be enough. And I was right. If I had to do it over again, I’d urge the person making my pizza to add just a little more of everything because the result was uninspired and pretty dry. The person who delivered my pizza suggested a side of Ranch, which I accepted, and that enlivened the proceedings in the way Ranch dressing tends to do. But I was still not that excited.

My husband’s plain pepperoni pizza was better. It had enough red sauce to prevent dryness, and the pepperoni had a nice kick. But something was still missing. I think the thin crust is the problem. Even though the restaurant’s signage reminds you repeatedly that it’s never been frozen, the crust had the chewy texture and flavor of a frozen pizza from the grocery store — not the crispy artisan crust I’d hoped for. If I were to do it over again, I’d urge the pizza chef to keep going on the toppings I really like, even though that can start to feel awkward.

The biggest problem was that all of our pizzas were lukewarm by the time we were settled enough to dig into them. Maybe three minutes is long enough to melt but not long enough to thoroughly heat a pizza. Or maybe there just wasn’t enough sauce and cheese on the pies to keep the heat trapped in. I’m not sure what caused the temperature problem, but it was consistent at our table.

We also tried two of Blaze’s salads. Mine was the tomato and mozzarella salad, made with baby arugula, romaine, grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers and big, chewy bites of fresh Buffalo mozzarella. It came with a pesto vinaigrette on the side, but it wasn’t well seasoned. I had to ask an employee to dig up some salt packets to give it the life it deserved, though the veggies were fresh and the Mozzarella nuggets were like little treasures I kept discovering. My daughter’s side Caesar fared better, with big crunchy croutons and lots of Parmesan.

We did love the desserts, and we tried all three: a rich and chewy “olive oil” brownie, a salted chocolate chip cookie loaded with chips, and a tasty take on a S’more made with British-style McVitie’s biscuits, marshmallow and chocolate.

▪ Ambience: Blaze is big and bright with extra tall ceilings, exposed duct-work cement floors and a huge mural encouraging customers to embrace nonconformity and “cause a scene every day.” The big space is scattered with wooden tables and chairs – some high-top, some low-top, and some booths. The pizzas come on little metal trays lined with paper that is printed with the order and the customer’s name. All the salads come in plastic containers, and customers help themselves to drinks and plastic utensils. The staff will shout your name when your pizza’s three minutes in the oven are up. You can see the cooking process happening, though, and it’s fun to watch.

▪ Price range: Specialty and build-your-own pizzas are $8.25, no matter how you top them. A one-topping pizza is $6.65, and a simple pie with mozsarella, Parmesana nd red saufde is $5.45. Side salads are $4.25, and entree salads are $7.25. Desserts are $2.25 apiece. Wine and beer also are available.

▪ Service: The servers were plentiful, and the one who greeted us cheerfully walked us through the process of building a pizza, which is a tad confusing at first. One nice touch: The restaurant has huge piles of cute to-go boxes sitting out at the ready, so it’s not a struggle to get one from behind the counter.

If you would like to nominate a restaurant to be reviewed, call 316-268-6327.

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

Blaze Pizza

Where: 2692 N. Greenwich Court, 316-395-9106

Type of food: Pizza, salad

Alcohol: Beer and wine

Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Website: http://www.blazepizza.com/

Related stories from Wichita Eagle