September 4, 2010

Back in the saddle at CiCi's Pizza

Welcome back, foodies! I'm delighted to report that after nearly two months of impromptu summer vacation, the food critique is back with new reviews. I spent time away from the blog to recharge my chewing muscles and empty my stomach, so I'm once again ready to shoulder the heavy burden of eating for your enlightenment.

My hollow stomach didn't last long -- the first of our new reviews focuses on CiCi's Pizza, an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of pizza, pasta, soup and salad. I visited the restaurant for the first time last night, and as of this moment I still feel full.

You may have heard of CiCi's. The chain, which currently has branches in 35 states, frequented television airwaves for a while with advertisements claiming endless pizza, pasta, salad and dessert for "under five bucks."

Inflation seems to have reared its head since that ad barrage first reached the East Coast, because CiCi's now promotes itself as a buffet for "five bucks and change." I paid a still-bargain-priced $5.49 for the buffet at CiCi's Syracuse location, plus an additional $1.49 for a drink.

You can chip in a few extra cents for a jumbo-sized drink if you'd like, but that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. The beverage fountain was self-serve, and no visible signs prohibited refills. Therefore, the only reason to buy the bigger cup is to avoid walking to refill your drink. And since you're probably getting up for return trips to the buffet, an aversion to walking at CiCi's is oxymoronic.

The buffet itself covers an impressive variety of pizza: Cheese, pepperoni, Alfredo, spinach Alfredo, sausage, pepperoni jalapeno, Mexican, Hawaiian, buffalo chicken, barbecue and veggie pizzas all made appearances during my time at the restaurant. There's also pasta in tomato sauce, soup, salad, bread sticks, dessert pizza and brownies.

All the variety aside, CiCi's is worth visiting for the bread sticks and brownies alone. The bread sticks, while not of gourmet quality, were wonderfully pliant and avoided the nefarious pitfall of gnaw-till-exhaustion chewiness. They were topped with a tasty Parmesan cheese and had a nice, moist consistency -- although I don't want to think about how much oil was doused on them.

Speaking of moist, the gooey brownies stole the show. This came as a bit of a surprise, considering I only bit into a brownie after several gut-busting trips to the buffet for main-course items. Even so my first bite of brownie made me want to hollow out some space in my leg for an extra round of dessert.

The center of the brownie was delightfully gooey and contained that sweet-but-not-too-rich chocolate flavor that best ends a good buffet dinner. Powdered sugar smothered the top, serving more to provide a textural balance to the moist innards than to add any actual flavor.

Oh yeah, there was pizza, too. As I mentioned, the range of pizzas is laudable. Unfortunately, CiCi's much-ballyhooed macaroni-and-cheese pizza didn't make an appearance on the buffet. Some patrons were special-ordering it by the slice, which is a nice option, but I'd like to have seen it under the heat lamps.

The buffet pizzas were of the 12-inch variety, which produced small slices perfect for sampling. CiCi's got it right. Buffet pizza shouldn't have giant, belly-filling slices, which make it too hard to jump between different varieties.

For the vegetable eaters out there, the salad bar was basic but workable. Iceberg lettuce, red onions, banana peppers, croutons, bacon bits, carrots and a standard array of dressings were all offered. It's really just a nice way to accompany your bread sticks, though.

The strength of the bread sticks and brownies help propel CiCi's to a rating of four sporks out of five. The restaurant's strengths are easy to spot: good variety, great dessert and spectacular pricing. You'd be hard-pressed to find a similar array of food for seven bucks.

Still, there's room for improvement. More accessible macaroni-and-cheese pizza and a pumped-up salad bar would be the icing on CiCi's cake -- or the powdered sugar on the brownies.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:29 PM

    This is not what I would feed to a dog. Nasty food. Can not call it pizza. Parents should be put in prison feeding their children this crap. There should be a law. Terrible terrible terrible.