Is This DiGiorno?
Several years ago, when I arrived back in Memphis after a nearly ten-year stint in the Air Force (which included about four years in Italy), I didn't know about any of the popular places in town where people socialize. Initially, I spent a lot of time in Overton Square, hanging out mostly at T.G.I. Fridays (which is now closed). However, I also tried a few other restaurants in the area, including Memphis Pizza Cafe (MPC). From what I could remember then, my recollection was that the pizza slices I had (can't remember exactly what I ate) didn't impress me. The crust was too thin and overly crisp, almost to the point that it was burnt. The toppings, as far as I could remember, didn't win me over, either. My first impression of MPC's pizza was "meh," for it didn't give me a reason to go back, although I once had lunch at MPC's East Memphis location about a couple of years later. Now, ever since I've been a frequent contributor to Urbanspoon and similar websites, I have discovered that Memphis Pizza Cafe is one the most popular pizza joints in town (the Midtown location was rated #1 on Urbanspoon). Upon discovering this, I wondered if the MPC had drastically improved in the several years since my initial visit, or if this was all a bunch of hype.
Recently, I got around to making my third visit to Memphis Pizza Cafe, which wasn't planned but came about at the spur of the moment when I was looking for place to have lunch while my car was being repaired. I arrived a little after 11:00 AM, the time when the restaurant opens, so obviously the place was nearly empty. I initially decided to choose two pizza slices, with one being Italian sausage and the other with pepperoni. It took well over twenty minutes before my order came out, so I assumed that whatever they served would be fresh. Even though that was probably true, the slices I received tasted like frozen pizza made by brands such as DiGiorno, Tombstone, Red Baron or Totino's. If I were to put the MPC pizza slices in a blind taste test against the aforementioned pizza brands, I don't think the MPC would fare well. The tomato sauce tasted like something bought from the supermarket (very bland), the pepperoni was mediocre and the Italian sausage, while spicy, wasn't any different from what I've found in most frozen pizzas. I would be cool with the quality if the MPC were charging CiCi's Pizza-type prices ($5 for a large one-topping pizza), but for $2.60 a slice (not including tax) I expected better.
Because I had time to kill, I decided to get another slice of pizza. This time, I went with one of Memphis Pizza Cafe's specialties, the Cafe Supreme, which is similar to Pizza Hut's Supreme pizza. Compared to the other pizza slices, this one was meaty and cheesy with toppings similar to "Supreme" pizzas offered by other restaurants. As such, I would've liked to have had the choice of another type of crust. Like the other pizza slices, the Cafe Supreme's crust was a bit too wafer-thin for me. Of course, this is a personal preference, but I like thick, fluffy crust that is chewy and meshes well with the tomato sauce and toppings. Unfortunately, the MPC only offers the thin crust and that doesn't do it for me. Aside from the crust, the Cafe Supreme was the best of the three slices that I had.
Based on this recent experience, I've concluded that the Memphis Pizza Cafe is one of the most overrated restaurants in town. It boggles my mind that a pizza parlor can put out low-quality pizzas and be rated so highly on Urbanspoon (the highest rank on Yelp was #13 for the East Memphis location). It would be cool if the MPC offered CiCi's Pizza prices for its pies, but I can't justify spending any more than that for a pizza whose quality is on par with what grocery stores offer for much less. This is not to say that the pizza is terrible, just not nearly as good as it's hyped up to be. I hope the restaurant's other menu items are better than the pizza, because I would need other choices if I ever were to dine there again.
By the way, for anyone looking for good, quality pizza in Memphis, there are a lot of places to choose from. For those living in Midtown, I recommend a personal favorite, Broadway Pizza House. In addition, down the street from the Midtown MPC is Boscos Squared, an excellent restaurant that serves great pizzas. Of course, there are a lot of other choices, and nearly all of them (even Little Caesars) is better than the Memphis Pizza Cafe.