When I proposed to visit this regional pizza chain for The Takeout, this was one of the first comments I received. And strangely enough, I’d heard the sentiment before. Toppers was all the rage back in college, partially due to the fact that it was situated less than a football field’s length from the dorms.
In the ensuing decade, these franchises sprouted up like vape shops around college campuses throughout the Midwest, offering a wide menu of saucy, tangy, and sweet flavors. And when you pair a 3 a.m. closing time with the proximity to higher education, well, it’s not hard to see the reason behind Toppers’ success.
But despite the fond memories, most of my adult friends have less than savory things to say about Toppers. Why is that, I wondered? Heck, even in the middle of the day, its pizza is on par with, or better than, most of the big-name competition.
But see, the pizza isn’t actually the star here. It’s the Topperstix, thick-cut cheese fries piled high with butter, garlic, and mozzarella cheese. And it was this iconic treat that, in spite of the naysayers, brought me back into the fold.
Okay, that Henry IV riff doesn’t quite work. But true to form, my Topperstix were as rich as any sonnet from English Lit. Just look at that dough: It’s soft and pillowy, with a strong rise and great chew. The Original version was exactly as I remembered, down to the brightness of the marinara sauce.
The Nachostix were excellent as well, topped with ground beef, tomatoes, and jalapenos, served with nacho cheese for dipping. And though I didn’t include them in this order, certain friends of mine still swear by the Baconstix or Pepperonistix.
But Toppers hasn’t been content to rest on its laurels. The 3-Cheese Garlicstix weren’t present at my last visit, and the Veganstix (“made with dairy free mozzarella [and] our homemade vegan friendly garlic sauce”) are a wonderfully inclusive addition to the menu.
Plus, Toppers offers dessert options—Raspberry or Apple Streusel Kringlestix? Birthday Stix? My blood sugar pines and perishes.
The Stix are the can’t-miss item at Toppers, but the pizza doesn’t suck—it deserves a bit more credit than that. Or at least, the thin crust does. That’s what I opted for on my visit, though I have pleasant (if greasy) memories of the regular hand-tossed. My medium sausage and Canadian bacon pie was perfectly sauced, and the crust was snappy and cracker-crisp. The edges of the meats were nicely charred. As far as chain-style pizza goes, this compared very, very favorably to your average pie from Domino’s or Pizza Hut. There’s a cauliflower crust option as well, which I’d be curious to try.
Toppers’ wing game is likewise pretty strong. Normally I’m a “bone-in” guy, but since my location was out of them, I settled for boneless. They’re not much to look at, and the flavor of the chicken is pretty much what you’d expect. Still, the chunks are certainly large enough, and the “Hot Buffalo” sauce has a pleasant heat to it. Well, pleasant for the eater, at least. Here’s a tip, college bros: Be sure to rinse it out of your facial hair before you go smooching your sweetheart. No, I won’t tell you how I know this.
All in all, this return trip to a college pizza haven turned out pretty well. I could go the rest of my life without eating another slice of Domino’s, but Toppers? I think there’s something there. The menu has evolved, with new offerings and specialty pizzas, while preserving (and expanding) the entrée that made it great: good old Topperstix.
Now, if only Toppers would bring back that pizza-sized chicken quesadilla it used to sell. At 2 a.m. on a Sunday, there’s simply nothing better.