John's Incredible Pizza Co. - Buena Park
John's Incredible Pizza Company, to quote Austin Powers, usually "ain't my bag baby." By inference and transitive property, neither is Chuck E. Cheese, nor its adult version, Dave & Buster's.
But John's Incredible Pizza Co. is more than that (or less, depending on your angle), since it is also an all-you-can-eat, stuff-everything-into-your-gaping-maw-to-get-your-nine-dollars-worth buffet. Had I not been starving, I would have had a more blistering critique of it. Unfortunately for you haters, it was the exact right moment in time for me to form a semi-positive opinion of the place.
Before I get into the food, I need to talk about a few other details.
The property reclaims 60,000 square feet of what used to be the entire lower level of the old Buena Park Mall, which under its new name of Buena Park Downtown is still suffering through the same sour-economy doldrums before they made the upgrade. The expansive digs fits what I imagine must be a Dodger Stadium's worth of customers -- the same customers the mall developers are hoping would boost the prospects of the rest of the complex.
Through John's doors, I saw hundreds of people entering, but only a scant few exiting. It was like a clown car in reverse. Or a buffet black hole that seemed to violate the first law of thermodynamics.
To get in there yourself, you must pass through a maze of metal bars, weaving around dizzying S's until you reach the cheese...I mean, the cashier. I've seen similar enclosures in cattle pens, prisons, and yeah, Disneyland.
While waiting in the queue I remembered the few comments made on a post I wrote announcing its opening (which was a week ago). Most noted the class of clientele. "They're hillbillies," one poster warned. Expecting to see a denim overall and a corncob pipe convention, I kept a lookout. But what I found were people. Yep, people. Just people. Like me. Like you. Like your next door neighbor.
But since I was intent on finding a hillbilly in the crowd, I actually did locate one. I couldn't help it. He was a few paces ahead of me in line, and I could do nothing else but look when I saw him: a living, breathing doppelganger of Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel from the Simpsons with a trucker's cap and a goofy grin revealing a surplus of gum and a few missing teeth.
Though immediately after I made the association, I felt bad. Who am I to judge? What do I look like to these people? I shudder to know what they'd think of me.
Once we cleared the queue, it was off to pick one of five themed rooms to sit in. Cletus went into the sports-themed room. We beelined into one dubbed "Toon Time Theater" since we had a five-year old in tow. In this room, projectors looped Warner Bros. toons onto a canvas screen. Cartoon posters from every studio hung on the walls and made it a non-denominational place of toon worship.
Okay get on with it, you say. How's the food already?
Well, it ain't Mozza or Pizzeria Ortica. Surprised? If so, I need to also inform you that straight-to-video movies don't win Oscars.
The crust is like the kind one would expect from any number of chain pizza stores -- spongy, over-leavened, absent of crackle and more inclined to become a breadstick than a proper pie.
To put it simply, the pizzas are designed to be loved by their target audience: kids of a certain age who would rather eat paste than brussel sprouts. Case in point: there's a peanut butter pizza, which, true to its name, had a thick, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth layer of it substituting for marinara. To me, it was vile; a crazy Nickelodeon experiment gone wrong. But to some 8-year-old, it might as well be Thomas Keller.
A spicy pasta fagioli contained enough beans to make for a fragrant rest-of-the-night -- a decent soup to be sure, but for the sake of my passengers, I didn't get seconds. I ran into Cletus again at the baked potato bar, where he was struggling to unstick whipped butter off the ice cream scoop and onto his potato. I had the same problem with it, as it turns out. Me and Cletus, we're the same. Though the baked potato was just a baked potato.
Pesto garlic pizza was a sort of revelation -- it had a pronounced herby flavor as advertised. And though I first recoiled at the thought of the nacho pizza, it worked! I took another slice to confirm that I liked it, and I did.
Perhaps the only thing that trumped those two last slices of pie were the donuts produced by a machine/conveyor belt that spat out batter at one end, slightly-crispy golden-brown loops at the other. I took a few, piped some soft-serve on top, a spoonful of rainbow sprinkles, and went back to eat it in the cartoon room. I was not completely unaware of the irony.
Then after all that, we went into the game area, where kids weaned from baby formula to fast food would become addicted to gambling by way of carnival games, noise, and flashy lights. Las Vegas, I present to you your future customers in training.
John's Incredible Pizza Co.
8601 On the Mall
Buena Park, CA 90620-3233
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