I will never hide my enthusiasm for Pizza Hut. Of all the delivery pizzas our family grew up patronizing, Pizza Hut was the chain that held our most loyal allegiance. Our fandom could be traced to its original pan pizza, which would be the image that’d appear in the dictionary if it had an entry for “golden crispy.” Some would say its pizzas are more like fried breadsticks covered with cheese, sauce, and meat, and I wouldn’t disagree with that description. The pizza’s underside resembled crunchy focaccia, as if in was baked in a pan in a half-inch of olive oil. And though I’m certain no butter was used, “buttery” was how I felt that crust tasted like. With bad pizzas, sometimes I’d eat the meat-and-cheese covered parts and leave the crusts on the plate. With Pizza Hut, the crust was what I most looked forward to.
But in May, the unthinkable happened: Pizza Hut announced it was tweaking the recipe to its original pan pizza for the first time in 40 years. Among the changes was a crispier crust and chewier interior thanks to a “newly engineered pan.” The cheese and tomato sauce were being tweaked, too.
I cannot pretend to notice the subtle differences in the new cheese blend and sauce formulation, but that’s almost beside the point. Pizza Hut’s pan pizza lives and dies on that crust, and, this new one is a paler version—if still edible and perfectly adequate—of the recipe it used for four decades.
To be sure, it is not bad. But I’m comparing this pizza relative to my taste memory, and based on what I remember, this new pie has a breadier texture, a more airy interior crumb structure. It’s less golden and less crunchy (for the record, 15 minutes elapsed between picking up my carryout order and taking a bite at home). I see some of the cheese had crept its way to the crust, which browned and bubbled and added some added texture to the perimeter. But I can’t help but think this pizza is, by comparison, more bland.
I’m not one of those luddites who resists change—I don’t call for a boycott to Twitter or Facebook if it goes through a redesign. But food is different, and my fear is that this is a New Coke situation. Pizza Hut is changing the one thing that brings certain joy to Pizza Hut customers: the taste of childhood, a nostalgic flashback, even if it’s not the greatest pie on planet Earth. With certain foods, “newer and better” is negated by “different.” And as much as I kept an open mind, this reengineered pan pizza is no substitute to the original. Change isn’t always better.