POSTED ON JANUARY 16, 2013:
Have It Your Way
Building your own pizza makes for a good lunch
At UTW, we review relatively few chain or franchcise restaurants, concentrating instead on purely local establishments. That shouldn't be surprising: we are a locally-owned paper dedicated to building up Tulsa. We emphatically don't want Tulsa to be just like every other mid-sized, Midwestern city. We want it to be our thing.
But there's another reason we usually review local places. We are a high risk, high reward paper. We militate against mediocrity in all its forms. Unlike eating at a mega-chain every week, where we know roughly how the food will turn out before we arrive, we choose local because our experience is more likely to be very good or very bad. I've eaten some of the best food I've ever had at locally-owned restaurants in Tulsa. I've also watched my wife spit into a napkin and chug water to get the taste out of her mouth.
Every once in a while, though, a chain or franchise is so good that it merits inclusion in our primarily local list. Top That Pizza is one such place. With about ten restaurants in Oklahoma, Texas, and Colorado, Top That has four locations in Tulsa and Broken Arrow. If the others are anything like the 5347 E. 41st St., Top That is definitely worth a visit.
The concept at Top That is that you build your own pizza. With a choice of eight sauces, ten cheeses, and nearly three dozen toppings, you can put as many or as few on as you want on your choice of three crusts.
In many ways, Top That is like a Subway. You choose your crust, your sauce(s), and then tell the clerk which toppings you prefer. In fact, in that sense, it's exactly like Subway.
After the clerk assembles your toppings, your pizza is baked for two or three minutes and then you're good to go!
Unlike most pizza places, you pay by the size of the pizza instead of the number of toppings. A 10" pizza is $6.99, while a 6" pizza is $4.99.
If you can't decide which toppings to have, Top That has a number of selections that can be made using the same fresh ingredients.
On my recent lunch visit, I felt a 6" pizza would be more of a snack. So I got a 10" Thai Breaker, which has Thai peanut sauce along with cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, and is topped with chicken, peanuts, scallions, julienne carrots, roasted garlic, and caramelized onions.
I'm a fan of Thai food, which is both sweet and spicy. The Thai Breaker pizza isn't at all spicy, but it captures the essence of the sweetness of Thai food. In a word, it was good. I particularly enjoyed the peanuts. My pizza was light and completely sufficient for a lunch on a workday.
Getting a sweet tooth, I tried one of Top That's desserts: an Oreo ice cream cake. Unlike the pizzas, these are premade. Still, they were good and small enough to eat at lunch without much guilt.
To be honest, the atmosphere is a bit bland. Perhaps because it is a franchise restaurant, there is no memorabilia or anything that would make you think that you are at a restaurant in Tulsa instead of Denton, Tex. or Colorado Springs.
However, the restaurant was clean and well appointed. The bright colors drove home how clean the place was. It was a good place to relax for a few minutes on my lunch hour.
Despite the relative featurelessness, Top That takes a couple of steps to spice up the atmosphere. First -- and most amusingly -- are the witty, semi-sexual quips on t-shirts the clerks wear. One former Top That employee I know wore his shirt -- reading "I Can Top That" -- to Tulsa Pride last summer. Another reads, "I do it my way." I found the shirts funny -- and you can buy similar shirts at the store.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention one other aspect of the atmosphere -- the soda machine. Imagine an old-timey Coke machine ... in Star Wars. Despite the classic appearance, the soda machine sports a touch screen giving you access to about 150 different types and flavors of soft drink. It's pretty cool -- even if you're just goofing around with it.
Top That doesn't have a wait staff: it has clerks who prepare your pizza. You're responsible for your own clean-up, drink refills, and so forth. It's therefore difficult to judge Top That's service as such.
Still, general friendliness goes a long way, and that's what I experienced. Because I ate lunch at Top That at 11am on a Tuesday, there was only one clerk. He asked if I'd ever eaten at Top That before; when I told him I hadn't, he explained the process. He made a crust recommendation for the type of pizza I wanted and didn't try to sell me extras. (We both geeked out about the soda machine a little bit.) I liked him.
The only negative thing I would say about the service was at a level of corporate policy rather than customer service. A sign on the door mentioned that Top That would not take responsibility for any contact a customer might have with food allergies. As the parent of children with food allergies, I understand that it's rarely possible for a restaurant to take as many precautions as are sometimes necessary. Still, it was jarring to see an announcement that the company wouldn't even try.
All the same, the tasty food and friendly service are reason enough to return to Top That. I will be there for lunches in the future.
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