Taste Test: Australia's First Little Caesars Pizzeria

After 56 years of trading in the US, Little Caesars is finally coming to Australia. (Better late than never, eh?) The famously monikered pizzeria is quite different to Domino's and Pizza Hut — it specialises in Detroit-style "deep dish" pizzas and relies on drive-through instead of home delivery. Yesterday, we visited its first Aussie store to put its "Hot-N-Ready" menu to the test.

What is it?

Little Caesars is a big deal in the US. Established back in 1959, it has slowly risen to become the third biggest pizza chain in the country (behind Pizza Hut and Domino's). Such is its pull, that a lot of you have probably heard its "Pizza! Pizza!" catchphrase despite the total absence of local marketing.

At the end of last year, the company opened its first Australian store in Casula, NSW. At present, this is the only place to get Little Caesars pizzas in Australia, although there are plans to expand all over the country if the manager I spoke to is to be believed.

Little Caesars in Casula, NSW.

As in the US, Little Caesars Australia is focusing on a "carry-out" distribution model as opposed to home delivery, which puts it more in line with McDonald's and KFC than its pizza-based rivals. Instead of ordering from home, customers are required to visit the store in person. The upside is that pizzas are ready-made with no waiting times. There's also a drive-through service which is expected to be a fixture at most stores.

I'm not sure how successful this approach will be in Australia: most people are happy to pay a premium for home-delivered pizza. The money you save by picking it up yourself generally isn't worth the time and effort. On the other hand, it definitely helps to have a point of differentiation in the overcrowded pizza market.

Menu

Little Caesars seems to be going for a "less is more" approach with its menu. The majority of its pizzas come with just two or three toppings and there are a grand total of six pizzas on the official menu.

While it's possible to customise your pizza, there are only 11 toppings to choose from: pepperoni, capsicum, onion, Italian sausage, ham, beef topping, black olives, jalapeno peppers, bacon, mushrooms, and pineapple. By contrast, Domino's offers close to 40 toppings on its design-a-pizza menu.

The pizza flavours aren't anything out-of-the-box: there's peperoni, plain cheese, supreme, Hawaiian, vegetarian and "3 Meat Treat". Otherwise, the star of the menu is its deep dish offering dubbed the Deep!Deep! Dish Pizza. There are also a handful of interesting sides, including oven-roasted chicken wings, "Crazy" bread sticks (they're just bread sticks) and Italian cheese bread. There are no desserts, however.

Caesar Wings

Like Pizza Hut, Little Caesars sticks to Pepsi for its soft drink range which is absolutely fine by us. For whatever reason, Pepsi seems to pair better with cheap, takeaway pizza despite being inferior to Coke in every other scenario. Some scientists should secure a grant to investigate this phenomena.

Price

In the US, Little Caesars pitches itself as a cheaper alternative to rival pizza chains – it's "Pizza Pizza" catchphrase originally referred to the fact that you could get two pizzas for roughly the same price as a single pizza from rival stores.

In Australia, the difference isn't as pronounced. A single Hot-N-Ready pepperoni pizza will set you back $7.95. This is actually slightly more expensive than the cheapest pick-up options from Domino's and Pizza Hut.

However, you also get substantially more pizza — a single $7.95 pizza from Little Caesars measures 14 inches while an equivalent pizza from Pizza Hut and Domino's measures 11 inches. This is a size-bump of around 62 per cent.

Premium pizzas are more expensive, with a Deep!Deep! Dish Pizza and Ultimate Supreme costing $12.95 apiece. There are also a handful of combo deals available including a lunch-only deep pan pizza and soft drink for $7.95. Extra toppings, meanwhile, carry a surcharge of $2 each.

Nutrition

This is American pizza through-and-through — which is to say it's gloriously, dangerously unhealthy. A single Hot-N-Ready pepperoni pizza packs in a whopping 9210 kilojoules. This is 3003kJ more than a pepperoni pizza from Pizza Hut and 4026kJ more than a pepperoni pizza from Domino's. Wow.

You can really taste the fat.

A Deep!Deep! Dish pizza is even worse at 13,200kJ. Add a Crazy Bread sticks and chicken wings to the mix, and you're looking at a total of 17,285kJ. Just to remind everybody, your recommended daily energy intake is 8700kJ. Just wow.

As you'd probably expect, Little Caesar pizzas aren't intended for a single person. However, there are no small or single-serve options on the menu. If you're eating solo and don't like wasting food, you're essentially forced to go full-tilt boogie.

Taste

To put Little Caesars to the test, I plumped for a Hot-N-Ready pepperoni pizza paired with Caesar Wings smothered in hot buffalo sauce and an order of Crazy bread sticks. This came to a total of $17.95. While this might sound steep, I estimate there was enough food to feed three normal people.

Interestingly, the "ready-when-you-are" service model turned out to be a bit of a fizzer – during our visit, around half of the customers were forced to wait between five and ten minutes for their non-customised orders. (To be fair, this was at 3pm when there were presumably fewer pizzas on standby.)

In terms of appearance, the pizza was nothing to write home about: the toppings were pretty sparse and the cheese had that greasy dull sheen that is typical of fast food pizza chains. On the plus side, it was piping hot and bloody massive.

The bread sticks and buffalo wings are a damn sight better looking. It's still unmistakably fast food, but it could almost pass for Nando's fare. More importantly, they both tasted great. When it comes to sides, Little Caesars has definitely done a good job.

The first thing you notice when biting into the pizza is the sauce: it's significantly more flavoursome than Pizza Hut or Domino's and seems to have more in common with a rich pasta sauce than a standard tomato paste. The company is aware of where its strength lies: the dipping sauce that comes with the bread seemed to consist of the same stuff.

The cheese is a mix of Mozzarella and Muenster which is a semi-soft cheese from the United States noted for its subtle taste and soft texture. There's also a dusting of parmesan cheese across the crust.

Otherwise, this is pretty standard fare for a pizza franchise. It's salty, greasy and falls anywhere between "delicious" and "awful", depending on how much or a food snob you are.

Personally, I thought it was perfectly reasonable for the asking price – there's lots of flavour and it certainly fills you up. In fact, I felt pretty bloated after just two slices.

Microwave test!

As any takeaway aficionado knows, a great-tasting pizza also needs to pass the microwaved leftovers test. I took a slice of my Hot-N-Ready pepperoni pizza home for a late-night snack. It tasted pretty good! Because the cheese and base are rather soft to begin with, it handles nuking quite well. Hurrah!

Verdict: 7/10


Comments

    It's disappointing that you provide no images of the deep dish pizza, which is really the only standout difference from other stores. I understand getting the pepperoni for sake of comparison.. but come on.

    Also, Domino's sells Coke not Pepsi. At least, that is the case at every store I have ever visited.

    Last edited 08/01/15 12:26 pm

      Right you are. I meant Pizza Hut.

      We went with the Hot-N-Ready option for comparative purposes. Depending on interest, we may feature the deep dish option on Takeaway Truth instead.

        Consider this the registration of my interest!

        Consider this me being interested purely so I can see how gross it is.

      Exactly, I kept reading mention of this deep deep dish, but no pics!

    littlecaesarspizzeria.com.au

    I know it's not the brand referenced in the article above... Rather it sells a superiour product and has been around in Western Australia for years.

    Chris,

    I would argue that Little Caesars Pizzeria has been in Australia for nearly 20 years. It certainly isn't the same as the american franchise mob that you've reviewed.

    I wonder if there'll be any name rights dispute or because they're separate states it doesn't matter.

    http://littlecaesarspizzeria.com.au/

    If you're ever in Perth, they're worth dining out at. The dessert pizzas are amazing.

      I suspect it might come down to a court battle.

      Of course the reason we have hungry jacks instead of burger king is because there was already a small burger joint called burger king in QLD when Burger King opened their first store in WA.

      +1 for WA's Little Caesar's Pizzaria - Theo Kalogeracos has won awards worldwide for his pizzas and is a huge step above this crappy american chain of the same name. All of their pizzas are awesome and there's always a crowd at their Mundaring store.

    Disappointing to see the density of pepperoni on their pepperoni pizza. Maybe I was spoiled by Pizza Hut as a kid, but the pepperoni in a pepperoni pizza should overlap. At least twice the density shown in the picture should be normal, since you're not paying for any other toppings.

    Microwave? A dry frying pan is indisputably the best way to reheat pizza, especially greasy fast food pizza.

      I must confess I've not tried this. Does the top get heated enough?

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ys6BkhVJ-gk

        If you do it on a low heat, and the pan starts out cold, then the top should be warmed through by the time the bottom is crispy. Depends on your stove (I wouldn't want to try it on electric), but about 5 minutes is all it takes.

        A sandwich press also does a good job, and takes care of simultaneously heating the toppings. If the press doesn't have the ability to set the height of the top plate, you can chock it open with a piece of wood or similar.

      Incorrect, a café style sandwich press, with the top set JUST above the top of the pizza is the best way to reheat. More even heat distribution throughout, and re-melted cheese to perfection, with a crispy base.

    I think I like the look of the food from the Western Aussie Little Caesars more. If you ever visit Perth for some reason definitely check it out.

    I got a chance to try a little caesars pizza on one of previous trips to the US I cannot say I was overly impressed by it. Very bland and to me was not worth to price I paid. These days I would prefer to pay more from a gourmet pizza place than buy from the chain stores.

    ssooo that's Little Caesars.... all i knew about this place is they burnt one down during the riots in America

    As you mention Chris, this chain's pizza have a bigger area, 154 square inches compared to 95 for Pizza Hut and Dominos.

    "This is a size-bump of around 62 per cent"

    Extrapolating the math to look at the kilojoules....

    Little Caesar's: 9210 kJ / 154 square inches = 59.8kJ/Square Inch.
    Pizza Hut: 6207 kJ / 95 square inches = 65.3kJ/Square Inch.
    Domino's: = 5184 kJ / 95 square inches = 54.6kJ/square Inch.

    To me, it looks like Pizza Hut is the worst offender, if you eat a set amount instead of trying to pig out on a whole pizza by yourself.

    I'll keep going to the REAL Little Ceasars, either at Hillary's Boat Harbour or in the Perth hills. They'll have to use a different name, I think — hopefully the name is protected in Australia.

    I love American bugers, I love American wings, I love American chilli, but I cannot stand that cardboard filth they call pizza. That said I have never eaten as many Domino's pepperoni pizzas as I have this year - They are real stooges with the cheese, and I love that.

    Going by the photo's , it looks absolutely disgusting.

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