This edition of Cosmic America sees us jumping forward into the mid-90s, focusing on the album Grace by Jeff Buckley. A critical darling when it came out, the album was the only full artistic statement from Buckley before his untimely drowning shortly afterwards. Does it hold up 20 years later? Does the “Hallelujah” cover force the album into transcendence? Lots of questions about this one. Take a listen. And check out “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and “Lilac Wine” while you’re at it.
For this episode of Cosmic America, we check out the touring outfit of Joe Cocker (and Leon Russell), which traveled across the United States in 1970 under the group name Mad Dogs and Englishmen. This live album stands as a document to that series of shows, and while it’s certainly an interesting listen in a number of places, it falls short of the sort of all-time status that the aura of the band might seem to demand. Standout tracks include Space Captain, Delta Lady, and the cover of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire.
The purpose of this article is to give residents, visitors, and students of Bloomington, IN a comparative analysis of the pizza options in town, based on the listed prices from the major pizza-slinging restaurants as of the start of the new year. I’ve been toying around with this for about two years now, and finally decided to finish the spreadsheet and unveil the numbers.
Why does this document need to exist? Well, first of all, there are a lot of good pizza options in town, and I think it’s important to have a centralized database of their price structures. Everyone’s got their favorite pizza place, but it’s good to have a list that you can refer back to and see how other places compare.
Second, there are a lot of differences in the way that different pizza places in town size their pizzas. Of the non-brick oven places in town, the smallest available pizza size is 6 inches, and the largest is 20 inches — a 14 inch difference, with several different sizes in between. How do those size differences affect the value proposition for each pizza order?
Before we begin, there are some exceptions and caveats that you should keep in mind:
- Major chain pizza places are not included. This includes Pizza Hut, Papa John’s, Domino’s, Little Caesar’s, Papa Murphy’s, and Luca Pizza. The list focuses entirely on local or regional pizza places within Bloomington city limits. I don’t think any of these places produce pizza that tastes particularly good, and I’m not interested in evaluating them as purchasing options.
- Brick-Oven pizza places are not included. This includes King Dough, Finch’s, Malibu Grill, The Tap, Grazie, and Get Some Pizza!. This is a category I might include in future analyses, but as of now the data hasn’t been assembled to make the proper calculations.
- Prices are based on publicly available menus as of January 1, 2017.
- For toppings prices, I used “Traditional” or “Regular” toppings, and avoided “Premium” toppings, which generally run about $1 more than the traditional ones. DeAngelo’s charges more for meat toppings than veggie toppings, and since people generally like meat toppings more, I’ve used all meat toppings for the pizzas from this restaurant in this analysis.
- Specials are not included. This was intended to be an apples-to-apples comparison, and since most of the specials in town are packaged with other food items (breadsticks, drinks, etc), it’s hard to say what the actual cost of the pizza is within that special. So you might swear by the Crazy 8 or the Big X bargain, but they won’t be reflected in this particular analysis.
- Delivery charge is not included. I’m assuming you’re either ordering in the restaurant or picking it up yourself.
- There’s no accounting for pizza quality in these charts — it’s all based on costs and numbers. Always try the pizza first before making an overall value judgment.
Each of the charts below has five columns, which indicate the following:
BRAND: The restaurant which makes the pizza
SIZE: The size of the pizza, in inches
TSQI: Total square inches of that particular pizza
COST: The price, based on the menu and the decisions highlighted above, for that particular type of pizza
CPSQI: Cost per square inch, in cents. This is the closest we can get to a direct comparison between pizza sizes. This does not account for how much of the surface area is devoted to crust.
Each column is sortable, and you should be able to display each chart in full by changing the “number of items displayed” figure.
For this analysis, I did calculations on three pizza orders: Two-topping orders, one-topping orders, and cheese-only orders. Here’s the results for each.
Sizes and Costs for Two-Topping Pizza Orders
Best OVERALL two-topping value: Rockit’s 20-inch pizza (.06/sqi)
Worst OVERALL two-topping value: Nick’s 7-inch pizza (.25/sqi)
Best mid-sized two-topping value: Swing-In 14-inch pizza (.08/sqi)
Sizes and Costs for One-Topping Pizza Orders
Best OVERALL one-topping value: Rockit’s 20-inch pizza (.05/sqi)
Worst OVERALL one-topping value: Nick’s 7-inch pizza (.21/sqi)
Best mid-sized one-topping value: Monroe County Pizza Department 14-inch pizza (.07/sqi)
Sizes and Costs for Cheese-Only Pizza Orders
Best OVERALL cheese-only value: Butch’s 18-inch pizza (.05/sqi)
Worst OVERALL cheese-only value: Nick’s 7-inch pizza (.18/sqi)
Best mid-sized cheese-only value: Monroe County Pizza Department 14-inch pizza (.06/sqi)
- There are six primary sizing categories in this town — “Extra Small” encompasses the 6-8 inch pizzas, “Small” is the 10-inch varieties, “Medium” is the 12-inch pizzas, “Large” is the 14-inch selections, “Extra Large” is the 16-inch ones, and then “Jumbo” for the 18-inch and 20-inch varieties.
- Even though they didn’t get a “best mid-sized” award in any category, Baldy’s Pizza really ranks highly in overall value, regardless of pizza size.
- Of the well-known restaurants in town, Nick’s and Lennie’s are both pretty darn overpriced compared to the market.
- DeAngelo’s would look better in this analysis if you substituted vegetable toppings for meat, since the meat toppings are $1 more each.
- If you want to have pizza for lunch or dinner, don’t just order an Extra Small for yourself. Find a friend and order a Medium or Large (or bigger) — you’re paying double (or more) per square inch of pizza with the smallest size category.
This piece will continue to be updated with additional analysis and numbers as the year goes along. Let me know what you think — comments are open and welcome.
UPDATE 1: Okay, I keep getting asked on social media for my own personal pizza rankings. I have no problem giving that information, but I wanted it to be separate from the cost-based analysis above. I’ve also decided to add in some of the local pizza places that aren’t in the cost analysis. Here we go:
NO RATING: Grazie, Get Some Pizza! (I haven’t had these yet)
19. Pizza Pantry: It tastes pretty much exactly like you’d expect pizza from Ellettsville to taste. Nothing about it is distinctive or impressive.
18. Nick’s: In the dark recesses of my brain, I seem to remember a time when Nick’s pizza tasted good. But these days, it may be the worst pizza in Bloomington — overpriced, cardboardy crust, cheese that doesn’t melt properly, flavorless toppings, and a puzzling tendency to become cold as ice within 10 minutes of being served. If there is a place in Bloomington that desperately needs a pizza makeover, it’s Nick’s.
17. Monroe County Pizza Department: This is cheap pizza that is designed to be cheap pizza and tastes like cheap pizza. It’s not bad as much as it’s just inoffensive and bland.
16. Butch’s Delicatessen: Basically a Luca Pizza franchise on 7th Street. A couple of the specialty pizzas are not terrible.
15. Swing In Pizza: This is a tough one for me, because I love the concept (and the prices) of Swing In, and I used to live just down the road from it. But it’s impossible to eat Swing In without noticing that there’s an intangible flavor that’s missing from the pizza. It’s 80% of the way to being great pizza, but never gets any further, and that makes it frustrating.
14. Lennie’s: Lennie’s is a very “Old Bloomington” phenomenon — a popular place with a lot of food options, all of which don’t really have much flavor. Their pizza used to be an exception, but it has slowly gravitated towards the same sad fate that a lot of other entrees have met. It’s still fairly good, but what knocks it down my ratings is how out-of-whack the pricing on it is. It’s got a very high CPSQI rating, which is not good.
13. Trailhead Pizza: It’s fine. Sometimes it’s good. But it doesn’t ring the bell for me.
12. DeAngelo’s: Again, this pizza is perfectly fine. But it rarely pushes through to “good”, and it’s pricey for what you get.
11. Aver’s: I’m fully aware that this will be a controversial placement for Aver’s, and I’m fine with that. Aver’s has never quite done it for my palate, and their tendency towards foofy pizza topping combinations doesn’t help. Their cheese also tends to solidify too quickly, which doesn’t give you a lot of time to enjoy it during peak eating range.
10. Malibu Grill: They’re the least impressive of the wood oven places, but they still do a good job with it. Worth trying if you get tired of the 8,000 other options on the Malibu menu.
9. Pizza X: I still want to call it Pizza Express, so I will for the duration of this paragraph. Pizza Express is a solid pizza that does a good job of delivering value. It’s neither the worst pizza in Bloomington nor the best, but it’s probably the easiest pizza to talk yourself into getting. Most people get used to the one-topping tyranny of the Big Ten Bargain (or Big X, whatever), but the flavor profile of Pizza Express increases quite a bit when you start including additional toppings.
8. The Tap: It was truly a hidden gem of the Bloomington pizza scene when they first started serving it. It’s not quite as good now as it was then, but it’s still pretty tasty. Try the pulled pork bbq pizza.
7. Buccetto’s: Surprisingly good flavors in the toppings help to push Buccetto’s up the list. The sauce is a little too sweet, but the rest of the ensemble generally makes up for that. If you get the Razorback, sub in italian sausage for the summer sausage and it suddenly becomes a dominant pizza.
6. Rockit’s: It has a very narrow range where you can eat it and it tastes good. Cold Rockit’s will make you cry. But two slices of hot Rockit’s pepperoni pizza is hard for most places to match.
5. King Dough: Pricey! Like the craft beer of Bloomington pizza. But really good, like the craft beer of Bloomington. One of the few places where you can get really good pizza dough, complete with the burnt edges that make wood fired oven pizza the best.
4. Mother Bear’s: This is most people’s favorite, and I understand why. I have to drop it down a few spots in my rankings because the cheese they use has always given me a terrible headache. It’s a shame, because the flavors in this pizza are excellent — they may have the best sauce/cheese tandem in town. Crust is a bit thick for my tastes, but that’s not a problem for most people in the midwest.
3. Baldy’s: This is the delicious and cheap pizza that you desperately want but don’t know exists. A tiny outpost on the far south side of Bloomington, Baldy’s slips under most people’s radars, but you shouldn’t let it. Probably the best overall value for pizza in town, and flavorful to boot.
2. Finch’s: Robust flavors here, both due to the wood fired oven and the excellent ingredients that they use for toppings. I’ve never once regretted getting pizza at Finch’s.
1. Cafe Pizzaria: This has long been the stealth choice for most people who live Bloomington that aren’t Mother Bear’s devotees. It’s also the closest thing to Pizza King-style pizza, which is what originally drew me to it since that’s the big deal where I come from. The combination of the thin crust, crumble sausage, and cheese/sauce combo is my pound-for-pound favorite in town.
Happy 2017! We ring in the new year at Cosmic America with a review of the The Band’s Northern Lights, Southern Cross, a somewhat forgotten gem from 1975. Viewed by many as the last “proper” studio release by The Band, this album doesn’t have quite the same lyrical spark as the group’s late 60’s efforts but still manages to paint an enjoyable and rootsy tapestry. Standout songs include It Makes No Difference and Acadian Driftwood, both linked in the blog post.
New Cosmic America! We check in on rock critic touchstone The Stone Roses, one of the more fully realized one-hit wonder albums of the modern era of music. Lost in the shuffle of late-80’s hair metal and power balladry, this album ended up acting as the missing link between 70’s soundscape rock and the alternative ethos of the 90’s. Songs you should definitely listen to include Waterfall, I Wanna Be Adored, and I Am The Resurrection, all of which we have helpfully linked for you in the show text.
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This episode of Cosmic America takes a listen to an album that never really was — at least, not in its original form. The Smile Sessions, released a few years ago after a few decades of strife and mystery, represent the reconstruction of the original “Smile” album as conceived by Brian Wilson and performed by The Beach Boys. Recording problems, nervous breakdowns, and band politics ended up putting the kibosh on an album that might have been a watershed pop moment from the Summer of Love. We work our way through the album, talking about the flow of each section and the centerpiece songs (Heroes and Villains / Cabinessence / Surf’s Up / Good Vibrations) (linked in this post for ease of listening).
We step forward into 2004 (or 2003, depending on how you want to approach it) for the next Cosmic America episode, and revisit Ryan Adams and his seminal gloom rock album Love is Hell. Originally refused by his record label and released as two EPs, the reconstituted album later saw the light of day, and stands as one of the highlights of Adams’ career. Heavily influenced by the Manchester sound of the 80s, the album (and its seven-song bonus EP), it went largely unnoticed outside of rock criticism circles — but that’s why we’re here, 12 years later, to talk about it in more depth.
Cosmic America is back for the holiday week, as we discover an unexpected mutual love for the Black Crowes’ sophomore effort, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. The Stones-influenced Black Crowes take a measured step into Free/Humble Pie/gospel tradition here, emerging with probably their finest and most consistent collection of songs. Underappreciated at the time of its release due to the sudden onslaught of grunge, we try to bring it back to the masses.
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A new Cosmic America drops and everyone gets excited. Here’s Galen and Alex talking about a seminal guitar album from the 70’s — Television’s Marquee Moon. Lots of talk about the sonic construction of the album, as well as where it sits in the developmental track of rock and roll (and punk..I guess…). If you like guitars, or abstract lyrics, or angular solos, this is definitely an album you should check out.