Here I'm going to lay out my argument why you should almost always frequent your friendly neighborhood pizza joint. Not only because you should support non-corporately owned business and support your neighbors who own local restaurants, but because they're simply better most of the time.
I don't begrudge big pizza franchises since they have their place in American culture. There are times when you want a pizza that's EXACTLY like the last one you had. Same goes for frozen pizza - you want something that's quick and easy and you're willing to sacrifice taste for convenience.
When I mean "you," I don't mean all of us in the general-nonspecific. I really mean you, meaning not me. Because when I want a pizza, I want something that's a little spontaneous - something that was just as good as before and has the same flavors but there's something just a wee-bit different from the last time. That's how I like all of my food and drink - satisfy me while at the same time stir my soul and stimulate my other senses.
This might sound contradictory to what I've said already, but I want every bite of pizza to also remind me of home and the memories associated with the other pizza's I've had from my favorite places.
I also want the pizza to come from a place that has some of the "Cheers Factor," meaning it's a place where people know your name. The place that serves pizza should not only taste great but also maintain the local flavor. Pizza from my home town should taste like pizza that comes from my home town, not something that some corporate wag thinks a home town pizza should taste like. A white collar executive with his pristine pressed shirt knows little about why yeast makes dough rise and that a few sprinkles from a plastic bottle labeled "Italian Seasoning" has about as much soul as an empty metal bowl.
There's a subtlety to what makes a pizza great - the perfect balance between something new and exciting while at the same time being comfort food that's reliable and crave-able. Pizza Haven performs this balance act wonderfully...
Those are the reasons why I like The Panopoulos' - not just as the owners of my favorite pizza place but because of the type of people they are.
This is a NEIGHBORHOOD restaurant. The owners live in the area. If you've read my "Dishwasher Confidential" column then you'll know one of my first rules of picking some place to eat by answering the question: "Where are the owners." Unless there's some Earth shattering cataclysm, the Panopoulos are there every night working shoulder to shoulder with their employees. You place an order and it's a safe bet they're either answering the phone or making the food. They'll greet you from behind the counter as you come through the door with a genuine smile with a warmth that's rivaled only by the pizza ovens.
If you've been there more than three times they know you and what you like to order. They're the genuine article, the real deal.
They treat their customers like local celebrities while their product speaks for itself. When your slogan is "Pizza With Attitude," and your logo could double as a crescent moon that conjures up images of mystics and magic then you better deliver the goods. And they do.
Perfect example of this is when my wife and I ordered our first Chicken Pesto Pizza with onions and mushrooms. It's exactly like it sounds - replace the tradition tomato sauce with pesto and you essentially have the idea. If there's only two of you, don't order the large unless you haven't eaten for days because you can and will eat the whole thing. My own battle of the bulge is fought (and lost) thanks to them!
We also like to order their supreme that has some combination of onions, peppers, black olives, mushrooms and sausage. I'm not a huge fan of pepperoni, and the sausage they serve here has some extra spice and kick that makes the absence of the pepperoni for everyone else a distant thought - you don't even miss it. There's also enough spice in the tomato sauce along with a smokey flavor that's hard place but is welcome non-the-less.
Editor's note: Their Hawaiian pizza is awesome, too. It can be made with regular ham, Canadian bacon or bacon. All are wonderful. We add onions, green peppers and mushrooms to the ham and pineapple. Mmmmm!
The backbone of any pizza is the crust. This doughy concoction can either make or break a pie. Never have I received a bad crust from these people, and it's always come off as freshly made.
As an aside - a really BAD pizza usually has a lot of oil on the top which eventually seeps through to the bottom of the crust and then finally through the cardboard box the pizza is delivered in. This usually means that the pizza was cooked long enough for the cheese to separate. With the exception of the Pesto Pizza that has olive oil as one of it's major ingredients - there is hardly ever any oil at the bottom of the box when you get a Pizza Haven Pizza...
If you're in Southern New Hampshire, you going to have to frequent Pizza Haven simply because they're the best in the region.