There’s a welcome trend happening right now in fast food: Big chains are starting to take a shot at spicy flavors. At first it seemed hopelessly limited to all things chicken, but there are glimpses at some new horizons. Arby’s recently released the Diablo Dare as both a chicken and brisket option, and the sandwich ended up not only bringing a decent level of heat, but with it, more complex flavors. Shake Shack is taking a mild swing at things with a buffalo chicken and buffalo fry offering to respectable results, just in time for the Super Bowl.
After spicy sandwiches and spicy nuggets—hell, even a spicy doughnut—it only seems natural that spicy pizza should follow. Pizza Hut, which seems like it’s churning out attention-grabbing limited-time-offerings like clockwork, has come out with its own spicy offering: the Spicy Lover’s Pizza.
There’s something about the combination of dough, sharp and tangy tomato sauce, and creamy, stretchy cheese that lends itself to being dressed with heat. Pizza’s a great showcase for nearly any flavor, but spice is a no-brainer. There’s a reason so many pizzerias provide crushed red pepper on every table.
You can get three versions of the Spicy Lover’s pizza; there’s a Spicy Double Pepperoni, a Spicy Hawaiian Chicken (chicken, pineapple), and a Spicy Veggie (green bell peppers, red onions, mushrooms). All of them come with a spicy marinara sauce, sliced red chili peppers, and a new seasoning mix called Fiery Flakes. You can choose from any of Pizza Hut’s crust types.
Pizza Hut sent me a Spicy Lover’s Pizza (the Double Pepperoni) to taste for myself. It’s called Double Pepperoni since it’s got two types: a flat standard pepperoni and a cupping pepperoni that curls up as it bakes. It came with all the above mentioned spicy components, and the first thing I noticed right away was that it smelled great. You can smell the crushed red pepper once you open the box, which is better than a generic fast food pizza scent.
The pizza, I’m happy to say, is pretty good. Having made pizza in a restaurant for many years, I’m not judging it based off of, say, the merits of its dough, how it’s baked, or the qualities of its toppings. I’m judging it by the overall effect, the feeling it leaves you with. People get really surprised when I tell them I have a soft spot for frozen pizza (Home Run Inn, baby!) and fast food pizza. We all know fast food pizza isn’t the same as the local delicacy, so let’s get that out of the way right now and move on.
The reason the Spicy Lover’s Pizza is better than a regular Pizza Hut pie isn’t necessarily because of the spice level, which is the kind of heat that builds gradually as you eat. I’d say overall, it’s reasonably spicy, but not intolerably so, and not as spicy as the Diablo Dare sandwich from Arby’s.
The real reason the Spicy Lover’s Pizza is good is because of the extra flavor afforded by the spicy marinara and Fiery Flakes seasoning. Not only does the seasoning have a tolerable amount of heat, it also has dehydrated garlic and herbs added, which makes an otherwise inoffensive base pizza more fragrant and more distinct. You’ve all had fast food pizza; you know it’s not exactly known for bombshell amounts of flavor.
I wish the sliced red chilis—which are just red jalapeños—were a permanent menu option, since they add a slightly fruitier quality than your run-of-the-mill pickled green jalapeño. No pizza chains ever seem to offer red jalapeños. Why not? They really should.
Now, is a Spicy Lover’s Pizza worth going out of your way to get? No, not really. It’s still a fast food pizza. There’s nothing new here, no novel flavors; it’s not wildly spicy or anything. In fact, you could essentially doctor up any chain pizza with a hefty dose of spicy, herby seasoning and that would achieve the same thing. But if you’re already ordering from Pizza Hut, I’d definitely go for the Spicy Lover’s option. Because, let’s face it, when it comes to fast food, any added seasoning makes it taste better, which is really the direction I hope all these chains are headed in with their limited-time offerings.