Illustration for article titled The Papa John’s Papadia is a commendable experiment in salt and sauce
Photo: Allison Robicelli

It’s been less than a year since Kazaam star Shaquille O’Neal joined Papa John’s board of directors, and I’m assuming the company’s latest innovation is at least partially inspired by the way a whole pizza looks when it’s held in Shaq’s hands. If you’ve ever dreamed about folding an entire pizza in half like a taco for giants so you could eat it while driving, then the Papadia is the breakthrough pizza technology you’ve been waiting for.

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Selling for a reasonable $6, the Papadia is Papa John’s first dedicated lunch offering and comes in four varieties: Meatball Pepperoni, Grilled BBQ Chicken and Bacon, Italian, and Philly Cheesesteak. I have never been much of a fan of Papa John’s, having only eaten it in situations where there exist no other options, and yet, there was a perverse enjoyment in eating these.

This startling new innovation in quesadilla-ization tastes like... a folded up slice of pizza. It’s essentially a pizza sandwich, which is fine, as long as you don’t remind yourself that you’re essentially eating an entire pizza by yourself—an act I normally feel no shame about, but at lunchtime is a bit much. What makes the Papadia the least offensive offering on Papa John’s menu is the crust: On a standard PJ’s pizza, the crust is lightly toasted at best and totally flaccid at its worst. In the Papadia, every bite of the crust is shatteringly crisp, which is a massive improvement. Here are the four Papadia flavors ranked from worst to best, plus tasting notes.

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Illustration for article titled The Papa John’s Papadia is a commendable experiment in salt and sauce
Photo: Allison Robicelli

Grilled BBQ Chicken and Bacon

Served with barbecue sauce

The inclusion of extra barbecue sauce is ridiculous; the Papadia itself tastes as if it’s 90% sickly sweet BBQ sauce. If it didn’t have chicken in its name, I wouldn’t have known it was there, and the faint flavor of bacon could easily be explained away as a few drops of liquid smoke stirred into a vat of ketchup, vinegar, sugar, brown sugar, molasses, and any other sweeteners that were readily available at the Papa John’s factory. I tried dipping this in the great savior that is the PJ’s garlic sauce, and even that couldn’t save this poor fella.

Philly Cheesesteak

Served with garlic sauce

A true Philly cheesesteak consists of unctuous curls of savory, paper-thin ribeye topped with ribbons of salty melted cheese and sweet sauteed onions—a masterpiece of cuisine. In comparison, commodity Philly cheesesteak foodstuffs like Hot Pockets, Lean Cuisines, and the Papa John’s Papadia are absolute garbage, but oh, what tasty garbage they are! Nobody is ordering from Papa John’s thinking they’re getting anything close to the best possible cheesesteak experience, and that is totally okay. And this is a totally okay Papadia! There’s not much in the way of steak flavor; this is really a bell pepper, cheese, and salt quesadilla, presented in a pizza-esque crust that’s been saturated by dubious beef grease. I didn’t feel great after eating this, but judging this as a very particular flavor of junk food meant to be consumed in very particular circumstances, the Philly cheesesteak Papadia is a winner.

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Meatball Pepperoni

Served with garlic sauce

The meatballs have a strong factory-made flavor, springy like a sponge fresh out of the wrapper, and ripe with the taste of powdered garlic and black pepper. That pepper flavor helps to balance the intense saltiness of both the pepperoni and the cheese. This Papadia comes with a side of Papa John’s famous hydrogenated vegetable product garlic sauce, which is a fine thing to have on hand when trying to salvage the taste of their often disappointing pizza, but it’s unnecessary here.

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Italian

Served with marinara sauce

The Italian Papadia feels more like a sandwich than a pizza, a Papa, or a quesadilla, and it’s the most enjoyable entry in this great Papa John’s experiment. This cheeseless concoction fills its warm, crunchy crust with thin-sliced salami, spicy Italian sausage, creamy alfredo sauce, and lots of sharp, vinegary sliced banana peppers. I’ve long felt that the complimentary pepper served with each Papa John’s pizza is the best thing on the entire menu, and if you agree with that sentiment, you’ll be very into this. The highest praise I can give this item is that if I hadn’t placed the order myself, I never would have suspected the Italian Papadia to be something that came from Papa John’s. It’s a solid version of a supermarket deli panini that’s made with pizza crust instead of that sad, grainy flatbread nobody actually likes.

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Allison Robicelli is The Takeout staff writer, a former professional chef, author of three books, and The People's Hot Pocket Princess. Questions about recipes/need cooking advice? Tweet @Robicellis.

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