Jonesing for Pie in All the Wrong Places – Part One: Sbarro

Sometimes it happens: You start thinking about pizza and you suddenly have an insatiable appetite for that delightful tomato sauce, cheese and oregano combo. The taste gets on your tongue and you just can’t pass one up. This temptation could be the result of seeing or smelling pizza from a food court in the airport or shopping mall. Most likely, your only choice is Sbarro or Famous Famiglia, two pizza chain franchise operations that have a knack for locating in prime real estate. I, too, fall prey to this trap even though I have learned that:

(1) They generally offer a subpar product made with substandard ingredients;

(2) There is great inconsistency between locations. No two slices are ever alike—perhaps a result of employee turnover and/or inconsistent training? (As noted in “Naming Your Pizza Joint”, nothing compares to the owner of the joint cooking your pie.); and

(3) They may satisfy your taste buds short-term, but you will soon regret your action.

Sbarro bills itself to be the world’s #1 quick service Italian restaurant with close to 1,000 locations in 30 countries. Their ever-presence has made them rather iconic.  (Watch here to find out The Office’s Michael Scotts’ favorite New York pizza!) Famous Famiglia, who I will pick on later, is a similar operation that despite having only a few hundred locations, many in movie theaters, boasts prime spots such as Yankee Stadium and Times Square.

Sbarro Downtown - RESIZE

While I have had Sbarro experiences nationwide, I recently became victim to the one in Nashville’s Second Avenue downtown tourist district. This trip was to grab a quick bite before seeing the brilliant musical pairing of David Byrne and St. Vincent at Music City Mike‘s favorite music venue, the legendary Ryman Auditorium.

Sbarro counter - RESIZE

Sbarro’s wares are displayed right below the glass counter where you order. There have been times when I simply didn’t like what I saw and passed on sight alone. This time, however, I wasn’t scared away and ordered two cheese slices—a tad pricey at $3.49 a piece. Sbarro has quality pizza ovens, and they must instruct to always reheat and toast their slices since they do that well.

I found the sauce and cheese tasty; however, the light color indicated that the slices were short on sauce and long on cheese. Likewise, the dough was heavy losing the classic crisp and crunchy crust that I long for. This experience was like others–my taste buds got titillated, but I didn’t want any more even though I was still hungry. While Sbarro slices capture the look and taste of a NY-slice, they are simply not that satisfying.

Sbarro Mall - RESIZE

Sometime later, while Mrs. Pie had me out shopping at the Cool Springs Galleria Mall in Franklin, TN, I noticed the Sbarro counter while passing through the food court.  I wasn’t hungry, so I ignored the pale and waxy look of the cheese slices and passed.  See pictured below.

Sbarro - Mall Pass - RESIZE

Sbarro Sign - RESIZE

On a follow-up “good husband” shopping trip, I was tempted at said location when I eyed the banner advertising their “new” New York slice. Asking what was new, the friendly clerk told me that they have changed their sauce and cheese. After Mrs. Pie and I tried the free taster, I was lured into buying a couple of slices which ended in our mutual disappointment. It wasn’t as good as the tasters and really did not taste that different from their old product. Sbarro still makes a slice that satisfies your taste buds on first bite but eventually loses you with its sorry-tasting cheese and doughy crust.

Here are some Sbarro “old” (on the left) and “new” (on the right) shots.

Sbarro OLD - RESIZESbarro Mall NEW - RESIZEThe Pizza Snob can’t fault you for grabbing a quick slice at Sbarro while flying or shopping. But limit yourself to one and get back to supporting your local pizza joint as soon as you can.

PIZZA SNOB RATING     **1/2 Not a Total Waste



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