Cici’s Pizza Embodies “You Get What You Pay For” (April 2011)

28 11 2011

Laura Marshall
April 11, 2011
Barnes, AJRL 475
Assignment: Restaurant review
____________________________

You’ve probably seen the commercial for “the endless pizza, pasta, salad and dessert buffet,” Cici’s Pizza. They have eager looking diners and an endorsement voiceover from a knock-off Don LaFontaine.

The simple food doesn’t exactly leap off the TV screen, but there is something about the concept of mac ’n cheese pizza that would give any poor, hungry, possibly inebriated college student cause for consideration. The prospect of an all you can eat buffet that won’t give you the runs like the dining hall is in itself worth the $5 tab. For apartment students like myself, spending $5 is a reasonable trade off from having to do dishes on any given night.

My dining companions, Amy and Sean ¾ students whose wallets are as empty as their bellies at this point in the semester ¾ were cautiously optimistic about our venture over to the Wolf Road Shoppers Park, where a Cici’s restaurant opened last July.

We discussed the possibility of executing a Cici’s experience, to which friends shrieked with joy that “They do exist!” as the Texas-based franchise is known for advertising in cities they don’t necessarily occupy.

As I write this, I am struck by the fact that hours later I am more impressed by the staff and overall facility of Cici’s than with anything I ate. The Colonie pizza cafeteria, “pizzateria” if you will, was incredibly clean ¾ save for some soda drippings down one aisle from an overzealous, corpulent seven year old ¾ and the every staffer we encountered was polite and friendly.

There are about eight four-by-five foot, black and white photos of smiling children hung around the restaurant ¾ doing little to break up the merry haze created by yellow walls, yellow plates and yellow “Wet Floor” markers.

Upon sitting at one of the 36 tables in Cici’s we mused of the small slices’ striking similarity, in look and taste, to the pizza served in the Chartwells operated on-campus dining halls. The staple of any pizza place has to be the classic cheese pie. Cici’s looks good, has appropriate parts cheese to sauce. The crust is thin, not overly crispy, not entirely memorable. The sauce is flat, it has no discernable herbs or fresh flavors ¾ it was kind of ketchupy.

Make no mistake, Cici’s does not purport to serve pies authentic to anywhere within a thousand miles of Italia. Their mission, since the first buffet opened in 1985, has been to “exceed each guest’s expectation in food, service and cleanliness at an affordable price.”

Well, if a $4.99 and $1.69 bottomless fountain drink sound like budget-busters, it should be noted that Cici’s offers a $1-off Student Discount, and you might just be lucky enough to have someone in line near you offer up a “Buy One Get One Adult Dining” coupon.

My total bill for three people, plus “add a drink” and tax, was $8.62.

The buffet curves around from the register; salad bar, soup and pasta, then pizza and dessert. No surprises.
Salad is salad. Cici’s is no different. Little cubicles of toppings ¾ baby carrots, croutons, huge slices of onion, magenta bacon bits ¾ sit next to the basin of iceberg and red cabbage shards. The ranch dressing had hints of dill, which was an odd but not off-putting experience.

The soup, chicken noodle, is unimpressive. A can of Progresso would be more satisfying. There is a full bodied broth, which alone misleads as to the effect of the dish. Oversized cavatappi pasta (that corkscrew lookin’ noodle), shreds of carrot, diced red pepper, and celery overshadow the “chicken” part of this soup ¾ the poultry product, is found sparingly throughout my bowl, is in pieces smaller than the eraser on the end of the pencil I wrote with.

The “endless pasta” described in ads is in fact finite. One kind (second use of cavatappi), one square serving dish, one topping ¾ the same disappointing, flat sauce they use on the pizzas. Sean, always hungry and seldom picky, says that the frozen Banquet spaghetti he ate for lunch was more satisfying.

There were between 12 and 15 kinds of pizza laid out to choose from, with bakers constantly refreshing and swapping trays. Several whites (spinach alfredo, bruschetta and a garlic-sauced disappointment), various veggies, meats (chicken, ham, pepperoni and something that might have been steak) ¾ Cici’s definitely needs to label their serving station, as the guessing game really held up the line.

Cici’s was packed. Whole families filled tables and booths, kids free to roam between the buffet and arcade at the back, which housed a quarter claw machine and two car racing games. Cici’s is the kind of place, located between Afrim’s Sports and Colonie Mall, where you can stop on your way home from a busy day of errands, soccer game or shuttling the kids to a birthday party.

The dessert options are less diverse than the main dish choices. Miniature cinnamon buns, undercooked and over iced, sat next to “apple pie,” a streuselly concoction with apple nibblets and cinnamon goo. It must be noted that Amy had more to say about the dessert pizza, obviously enjoying it better than the dinner pizza. The only other treat at the end of the counter were confectionary sugar-dusted brownies. The pastry looked to be freshly-baked, darker on the edges and glimmering under the incandescent bulbs of the display cover. Unfortunately, they tasted little cocoa-dusted matchboxes.

On the way to the car we decided that only the low, low price of Cici’s would lure us back. We would also opt to take advantage of the “waiter service” and order an entire pie instead of sampling from the buffet. That would limit the odds of Sean conceiving another food baby, as his five trips back into the dining line resulted in hours-long abdomen distention and indigestion.

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