Okay, we seem to be on some kind of mission of late, one that focuses on new restaurants opening up in places where others have failed.
There was the fantastic sushi joint on Campbell in a suck hole of proven defeat that we know is going to make it because their food is so darn delicious. Then there was the amazing sandwich depot on 4th Avenue in a nook known to swallow eateries whole but is so tasty and lively we have a real gut feeling it's gonna pull through the hot and unforgiving summers and beyond. Now a pizza place has recently opened up near the Tucson Mall in a corner juncture surrounded by other fast food options famous for making restaurants go bye-bye in less than a year.
But, just like the other two, we have a hunch this one just might survive because it has a budget, a focus and, most importantly, a surprisingly good product.
It's called MOD Pizza and at first we thought it was just a flashy local concept come to pass in the bleak rim near the corner of Wetmore and Oracle. The last one to come and go there was a Mongolian BBQ thingy that seemed to draw the crowds but seemingly not enough to keep the ovens on and employees paid. It sat lonely and empty for a spell after closing but then one day a jazzy marquee was set up and before you knew it the place was open for business.
At first we just rolled our eyes and were all, "Yeah, go ahead 'new pizza place'. With thousands of other similar restaurants in this town like you we bet you wont make it to Christmas. Good luck! Bah-hahahaha!"
(Okay, we didn't actually laugh like a sinister mad scientist, but...alright we kinda did.)
|The energetic staff making your pizzas to order|
Then one day, out of total curiosity, we decided to check out what this MOD Pizza was all about online. We typed in their name on a search engine and what we got was a bit of a shock.
Turns out, MOD Pizza is a chain, not a huge one but a chain none the less. But...we had never heard about it or them. Going to their website we were astonished to find that they had stores all across the country, over a hundred at this point. Wait, what? Who is this MOD Pizza you speak of? And where did you come from?
Checking out their page on restaurant review sites, we were even more floored to see that they averaged a 4-5 star rating, all across the board. 4-5 star rating? For a pizza chain we never even heard of?
Oh. Oh we got to try this one out...
|Saucin' it up in full fervor|
Apparently the concept for MOD started back in 2008 by a couple of Starbucks and Seattle Coffee Company refugees that wanted to do something fun and cool on their own. After hooking up with other corporate head cheeses (pun intended), the pizza concept started to grow and expand and, well...now we have one here in Tucson.
So on a breezy warm afternoon in late May, the Tucson Homeskillet walked in and this is the result:
|Clean, stocked and ready to rock|
Right off the bat we were impressed with the layout. It was spacious but not too overbearing. The space was clean, like a "oh, nice" kind of clean; not too sterile but you definitely felt safe eating there. Good table organization too. A few big tops and a smattering of 2-4 top tables, keeping it basic yet really organized.
MOD is a fast casual concept so basically you pick whatever you want on your pizza and they will make it as you wish right on the spot. They have a bunch of concocted options with names such as "Tristan", "Dominic" and "Jasper" (who we later found out were employees that created such genius creations that they named the pizzas after them) but according to the website and on-site menu itself it's apparent they want you to do as you please.
The line formation is easy too. The minute you walk in you are immediately instructed to turn right and a friendly server is there waiting to take your order at the register. MOD Pizza is obviously well thought out through trusted schematics and test runs from soft openings we gathered...but how is the food?
|Super hot oven makes for super fast pizza|
Unlike another fast casual pizza spread that we endured a while ago, the staff at MOD are really on top of it. Young and eager with a forward customer service attitude, the girls that helped us this day were awesome. Smiling, helpful, playful even (making fun of Metal Mark as he snapped photos...but in a good way), they answered all questions fluidly and with vigor as opposed to the usual "Umm..I dunno" of so many others of this style of eatery's ilk. So we ordered a couple of pizzas and a salad and waited for the outcome.
Alright. The restaurant design was on point. The movement of the patrons and the ease of ordering was good. And the service, the service!, was really what was setting us up to like this place.
Soon after the real test arrived. When they called out our name we grabbed the goods, sat down and started to chow down.
Let the silent judging as we chew and swallow begin!
|Huge Caesar salad...for cheap!|
We ordered a Caesar salad, sounds cliche but, c'mon, if a pizza joint can't get a staple salad down correct then why bother. It was very generous and served in a large steel bowl. Tossed with Parmesan cheese, herby croutons, diced tomatoes and fresh romaine lettuce, this thing was definitely shareable between two to four people. The dressing was impressive too; had a good tangy bite with a distinctive anchovy luster. Okay, cool, they can do a Caesar salad well...good job MOD!
Here was our one complaint about the salad: Sure it was tasty and there was a lot of it but we were confused on how to go about and actually, um...eat it. It didn't come with tongs or even a spoon to dish the stuff out and none was offered to us. See, with MOD everything is kind of up to you, which we liked, but this idea wasn't calculated well enough we thought.
You get your plastic utensils next to the soda and lemonade fountains and pretty much take care of your own business, which is great. But there wasn't a salad station where you can get little bowls or serving gadgets. Instead you are kind of forced to eat straight from the large steel bowl that teeters as you dig in. Once or twice we almost tipped the thing over attempting to get into the creamy veggie awesome and trying to scrape some of the salad onto the plate almost caused a lettuce and crouton avalanche.
That was our one complaint.
|If you're good with the basics, you just might make it|
Another uber staple of the pizza universe is the ubiquitous pepperoni option. Again, if you mess this one up, you're all washed up in the Tucson pizza business kid.
Nope. It was really tasty.
We ordered two "MOD" sized pizzas, which are roughly around 11 inches, a sort of larger version of a personal pizza. There's a smaller option at 6 inches and something called the "Mega MOD" which doubles up the crust (?) but we kept with the house specialty.
The best thing about the pepperoni pizza was the ratio of toppings. The red sauce was very flavorful and sharp but not over powering or dull. The mozzarella cheese wasn't over done or sloppy with just the correct amount to cover the whole thing and give for a full mouth bite. And you might think that they got a bit stingy with the pepperoni, using only about less than a dozen to swirl the top with, but, honestly, being a fan of New York style pizza, it was the perfect amount.
Sure you got a meaty nib with almost every bite but the mildly conservative placement of the meat didn't make for a greasy flermed pizza. Those coming in and expecting standard corporate ham fisted distribution of cured pork and beef sausage causing a symphony of glistening lips, drippy forearms and the onset of pimples due to its gut churning dole of little red circles contorted into mini pools of lard drip might be disappointed. We weren't. We were very down with the first pie we tried.
But, at MOD you can do what you want so go for the double meat there bucko. It's up to you.
|Next on this pizza...uh, one of each I guess|
Apparently each store across the US has a signature pie. Here at the one on Wetmore and Oracle, they have a featured one going by the name of "Cooper". This option came equipped with red sauce, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, roasted asparagus and red peppers, red onions, mild Italian sausage and finished with fresh basil. Unfortunately we caught them after a bit of a lunch rush and the girl assembling this pizza apologized and said they were out of basil. But then they offered me another option if we'd like. So we took the arugula route which honestly we would have preferred in the first place.
Sure there was a lot going on here but, again, it was quite lovely to eat. The combo of the dollops of ricotta and the sausage brought it all together and the rest just made it feel as if you were sort of being "healthy" about it. We know a lot of people out there would find a pizza like this almost offensive but, sorry, this stuff was good. See, if you let yourself juggle your tastebuds a bit between traditional and experimental now and then you might be surprised to find you actually enjoy unconventional toppings on your pie.
Except olives. Olives suck.
Wow, what can we say? MOD Pizza is pretty darn great. The food is yummy and fresh, the establishment is clean and inviting, the service staff is attentive and delightful...overall we'd say that hinge between Total Wine and Home Depot just might be occupied for a few seasons we predict. Even with all of the other fast casual options in that range of retail and tight parking, MOD Pizza gives us a nicely deliberated product that we know will go over well with those on a tight budget and schedule.
The lemonade was good too. As was the music. Turns out they have their own radio station that you can stream at anytime. As we ate and analyzed we were treated to some classic rock, obscure New Wave, old school garage ska and I think we caught the tail end of Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me".
Not too sure. Maybe it was just a dream...
|Decent slice for a decent price|
Okay MOD Pizza...it's on. The good people of Tucson are now ready to give you guys a shot. You seem to be making it in other parts of the states now it's our turn to see if you got what it takes to make it here, the first city in America to go all UNESCO on all y'all other busters.
We at the Tucson Homeskillet liked them. Yeah, we'll be back. Will you?
Oh did I mention we barely finished all our food and for two pizzas and a huge salad it barely broke the $20 mark? Did we mention that?
I think we did.
No. We did.
Camera, Typing and Eating
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A Few Days Before Memorial Day, 2016