Dat sauce: Papa John’s Double Cheeseburger Pizza

I need you to know a few things before this recommendation commences. One, I haven’t eaten Papa John’s pizza in several years. Unless you live in a town of literally 300 people and it’s the only option, why would you even?

Two, my wife and I are kind of junk food connoisseurs. My wife is much more into organic and healthful food than I am, but when she is in the right (wrong?) mood, she indulges in some of the world’s most decadent, ridiculous and delicious junk foods with me.

Three, great junk food can come from almost anywhere. Sure, everyone trashes McDonald’s as a horrible place to eat, but have you HAD the new habanero bacon Quarter Pounder? Unless you’re vegan or something, you can’t deny that thing is kind of stupid good. They have billions of dollars in burger research technology at their disposal, of course they’re going to at least occasionally be able to blow your mind with some of their garbage food. Just admit it. Yes, your indie greasy spoon bistro nobody has ever heard of makes the best hot dog ever, AND ALSO this Papa John’s pizza over here is kind of incredible.

I am a bit of a pizza snob, so this revelation is not easy for me. My wife and I received the weekly Papa John’s coupon flier in the mail last week and gazed upon it with a melange of curiosity and tentative revulsion: A Double Cheeseburger pizza with pickles and clearly-Big-Mac-inspired “burger sauce” and tomatoes. Just $12.99 for a large, it told us, and we took note.

Tonight, at the end of what has been a long and stressful week for the both of us, we broke down. More accurately, my organic-everything, anti-GMO wife broke down. We should get one of these goddamn cheeseburger pizzas, she said. And it wasn’t like a resigned thing; she was fully excited by the idea. And so was I.

It was the perfect storm. She was tired and achy, I was tired and hungry. I called the closest of two Papa John’s stores in our fair town and placed the order. Within 25 minutes, I’d be carting the pizza home in my car, which quickly filled with a very convincing burger smell.

My wife’s first bite was followed by these words: “How is this so good?” And then another bite and “This is everything I hoped it would be.” Another: “They really missed out by not putting sesame seeds on this crust.”

Indeed, that’s about the only demerit in the burger accuracy department for this pizza. The rest is, somehow, flawless. Pickles on a pizza just work, despite my fears about them being the spoiler in this equation. The tomatoes are fine and bring a little of the traditional pizza palate back into play in an otherwise almost pizza-less pizza. The burger bits were well-cooked and seasoned and tasted like a burger and not like sausage, and weren’t incredibly bland like some other pizzas with “hamburger” have been in my experience.

And can we talk for a minute about this sauce? I’m generally a fan of the Big Mac, I think it’s a fine flagship burger and it amazes me how the Thousand Island dressing-based sauce has become so universally accepted as a burger topping. It’s an extremely unorthodox choice and yet it’s a classic, bestselling burger. The sauce on this pizza beats the holy hell out of the Big Mac sauce. This sauce is super tangy, bright and zesty, somehow tasting almost fresh despite almost certainly not being anywhere close to fresh in any way. And how does this work on a burger, let alone a pizza? When was the last time you even had Thousand Island on a salad? It’s insane. It ties the whole thing together. It was such an enjoyable pizza experience. What am I even saying right now?

I recognize that your mileage on this recommendation may vary. Pizza joints, even chain pizza joints, can waggle wildly on the quality scale. We may have just hit the Papa John’s lottery and had the best-assembled, best-baked, best-composed Double Cheeseburger pizza any Papa John’s will ever make. I don’t know.

What I do know is these components work together, even on Papa John’s famously nondescript dough. Mozzarella, pickles, tomatoes, hamburger and the burger sauce: That’s it. Kudos to Papa John’s for making this weird, amazing junk food delight, even though most of the rest of their pizzas are garbage.

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