Although the Subway sandwich shop chain launched well over 40 years ago, it’s taken the rest of the fast food world a long time to catch up with the distinctive serving style that has made the chain a success over the past four decades. Choice is at its heart, along with the immediate gratification of seeing ingredients right in front of you that you can combine in myriad ways with no one judging your culinary peculiarities.
The problem with restaurants modeled on Subway’s cafeteria-line formula is that when the ingredients are the stars, the ingredients must be spectacular. Subway’s solution for this is its fresh-baked bread, a novelty that still carries some weight today and manages to counteract the chain’s less-impressive veggies and meats.
Just a few weeks ago, I sampled the Subway trope applied to sushi at Rollbotto in St. Pete. The result was satisfying enough — and priced right — but the ingredients were disappointing. Maybe that’s a necessary trade-off for the speed, convenience and price needed to compete with traditional fast food.
Or maybe not, if Your Pie has anything to say about it.
With just a dozen outlets scattered across the southeast — most in the restaurant’s home base of Georgia — this chain has refined the Subway formula and applied it to pizza with little lost in the process, giving diners a delicate balance of choice, price and quality that has made Your Pizza a popular spot.
You can see its popularity on almost any night of the week, as families line up to order, keeping the staff behind the counter as busy as iPhone factory workers. In the months since Your Pie Tampa first opened, the staff has turned the dinner rush into a seamlessly choreographed dance of spinning dough, schmearing sauce, layering toppings and circulating pies in the brick-covered pizza oven.
You start with a simple choice: the dough — traditional, whole wheat or gluten-free — each 10 inches wide and a half-inch thick. Things start to get complicated with sauces, eight in total ranging from simple red or EVOO to spicy Thai or Ranchy Marinara. Then the cheese, featuring three different types of mozz (fresh, shredded, low-fat), feta, Gorgonzola, cheddar and vegan “cheese.”
The rest of the toppings, three dozen or so, can cause the assembly line to break down sometimes, more because of the customers than the staff. Salami or capicola, or both? Does cilantro and jalapeno make more sense than olives and pepperoni if I chose Thai sauce and Gorgonzola? Do dried cranberries and sausage work with ranchy marinara?
Your Pie can help with the surfeit of choice with its pre-determined menu of pizza creations, from typical pizzas like The Great White to the loaded Lineage to concoctions that try to make use of the restaurant’s more esoteric offerings. Choosing one of these is a fine option if you struggle with commitment, but where’s the fun in that?
But be careful — at Your Pie it’s your responsibility to make sure your meal is good, because the restaurant does such a competent job with all of its responsibilities.
That dough? Surprisingly good, and after five minutes in the blazing pizza oven it comes out crisp on the bottom, each bite with some snap and chew and a touch of salt to keep you eating all the way down to the blistered edges. The gluten-free is even snappier, although the flavor is duller, while the whole wheat has a softer chew. All three are worth a try, no matter your dietary needs.
The toppings themselves are fresh and tasty, especially if you tread lightly when it comes to the fast-food silliness of some of the sauces. And, as if trying to save the customers from themselves, the assembly-line staff is careful not to overload the pies with too much of a good thing, unless you insist on cramming a dozen items on a single pie.
With dough like this, thin and almost worth eating plain, too much of a good thing can ruin a pizza. Choose wisely, however, and you’ll end up feeling responsible for an excellent pie that rivals some of the best in town.
Or you can pick those same ingredients and cram them into thin, oily focaccia that’s heated in a press, stuff a calzone, or create a salad that’s served in a clever bowl made of baked pizza dough. All are tasty enough — and add a lot of variety to the menu without stepping out of the assembly-line formula — but none are as good as the main attraction.
There’s also decent gelato, a few fruity sorbets and one of those newfangled soda dispensers that allow you to combine Coca-Cola products with flavored syrups until there are 125 or so different possibilities. Huh, more choice.
The food is good, the staff is efficient and the sheer amount of personal choice is sublime at Your Pie, but what really kicks this chain into the realm of greatness are the prices: Nothing on the menu, from pizza to salad, breaks the $8 mark. Pizzas clock in at $6.49, unless you start adding premium ingredients (all the meats, along with a few other items). Even then, though, you’re talking a mere $.50 a pop.
Your Pie may not be destination enough to keep you from the convenience of your neighborhood pizzeria, but it will likely create a faithful group of devotees who love the idea of playing a role in the creation of their pies.
Scratch that. Visit the dining room on most nights, noisy and chaotic, with televisions for the kids and constantly circulating people, and you’ll find the devotees already there.