We Taste-Tested the Papadia, the One Papa John’s Item More of a Monster Than Papa John Himself

Is it an ode to the quesadilla? Merely a slice of pizza folded in half? A half-assed calzone? An unholy fast-food attempt at culinary fusion? We allowed it into our mouths (and stomachs) to find out.

There’s not much to say about how a Papadia tastes — it’s like someone took every drunk pizza you’ve ever inhaled and smooshed them into one overly sweet, yet also heinously salty, perfectly-acceptable-for-4 a.m.-while-shitfaced food substitute.

And then folded it in half.

Really, it’s that latter detail that left me, more than queasy, full or disgusted, just thoroughly depressed. Because it really is just a pizza folded in half: Some of my colleagues argued that the base was somewhat thinner than a regular Papa John’s pizza, and that this was therefore a slightly different offering to their usual fare, but that’s besides the point: This is still, ultimately, just a pizza folded in half. 

The legendary Scottish stand-up Billy Connolly used to have a bit about how all Tex-Mex food is the same one dish over and over again, just folded in a different way. And it’s true, but there is, at least, a form of art to that: A burrito is actually a magnificent achievement, a perfect, watertight swaddling of multiple ingredients of varying temperatures and viscosities. It’s something that registers in the back of your brain when you bite into it: This food is filth, but it’s a highly specialized, innovative piece of filth, and I both applaud and respect it for that. 

A Papadia is none of these things. It’s absolutely nothing more than a standard pizza, folded in half once. It isn’t expertly tucked and folded like a burrito, it isn’t even stuffed and sealed, like its closest living (albeit many times removed) relative, the calzone. It’s just a pizza folded in half.

 

Think about that for a second. Think about the upward-failing, lizard-brained, impossibly cynical piece of shit that came up with the idea — not of folding a pizza in half (that is how most people already eat pizza, albeit lengthwise, one slice at a time, not the entire pizza folded over itself, because, as if it needs saying, that is incredibly stupid), but rather of selling the conceit of a folded pizza. The hours of meetings with food scientists, advertising departments, logo designers and budget and pricing experts, the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on marketing. All because some guy, so enamored with his own genius, decided that his idea to fold a pizza in half was so good, so monumental, so undeniably deserving of acclaim, that he forced hundreds of people to convince thousands of other people to spend their hard-earned dollars on it.

There is a special place in Hell for the inventor of the Papadia. Somewhere between the third circle containing the gluttonous and the fourth, which houses the avaricious (and perhaps with a tight, stalactite-lined tunnel connecting it to the eighth, for the frauds), this man will be forced to eat infinite permutations of folded foods — lasagnas pointlessly doubled over on themselves, entire half-upside down trifles collapsing under their own weight — and scream in endless horror at the futility of his own existence. We will hear him from our own circles, and we will take a moment’s comfort in knowing that, even though we’re shortly scheduled for our regular 4 p.m. disemboweling and feeding to leopards, nothing will ever feel as bad as knowing that you were so deeply, starkly without soul or decency as to have invented the Papadia.

But I am, of course, just one man. And mine is just a single opinion. I’m also capable of being wrong (though very, very, very rarely). Thus, don’t take it only from me — allow my fellow MEL staffers to sway you the other way, or fill your mouth with that much more vomit.

Go Big, or Go Home

Alana Hope Levinson, Deputy Editor: It’s important you understand my approach to life before we get into my review of the Papadia. I hate rollercoasters more than anything so on a recent staff off-site to Six Flags I decided I’d go on just one ride, but I was sure to pick the scariest option in the entire park. My thinking goes that if I’m going to do something destructive, uncomfortable or insane, I might as well go all out and get the full experience. 

When it comes to shitty food, I’m exactly the same way. If I’m going to eat something harmful to my body, why not push it to the edge of collapse? 

And so, when I was asked which Papadia I wanted to order, I picked the most atrocious one: the Philly cheesesteak. It makes zero sense that this would be on the menu, so naturally, I had to have it.

Apparently, I was the only person on staff brave enough to think Papa John’s could pull off a regional specialty, though they’d later beg me for bites because it was clearly superior to all the rest. The Philly cheesesteak Papadia is meaty, cheesy deliciousness — basically a white pizza with steak on it — which when dipped into their weird “garlic sauce” (i.e., chemicals) could loosen up someone who has been constipated for 20 years. How could I resist?

I No Longer Know What’s Real Anymore

Quinn Myers, Staff Writer: I like Papa John’s. There, I said it. In fact, I rank it far above all other fast-food pizza places. I was especially excited for the Papadia, and utilizing it to do this special thing I like to do with leftover Papa John’s slices — put two pieces on top of each other in a George Foreman grill to make a lil’ pizza-nini. 

So today was supposed to be my day. Today was the day I’d get the chance to defend the shitty cardboard pizza that’s held a special place in my heart since they somehow monopolized sporting events at my high school. But alas, I cannot defend the Papadia™. The Italian is just grease and meat, folded together. I mean, look at this:

In fairness, I did finish both the Italian and BBQ chicken, but only after dousing every bite in Papa’s famous garlic butter and cheese sauce. I felt like absolute garbage afterward, but with the sauces, the Papadia abominations tasted like the Papa I know and love. Which makes me wonder: Does this mean Papa John’s is actually bad? I haven’t eaten it sober in a while, and I definitely haven’t eaten it without dipping every single bite into cheese sauce or garlic butter. Oh Papa, my Papa, have I been living a lie? 

The Virtue of Low Expectations 

Andrew Fiouzi, Staff Writer: Some context — last year, we ordered the world’s largest deliverable pizza. It was the first time I’d taken a bite of pizza and thought, Nope, I’d rather eat cardboard. It was cold, undercooked and the cheese had the same consistency as a cuticle. The good thing, though, is that once you’ve eaten something that bad, it gives you perspective and recalibrates the tastes-like-dog-shit notch on your palatability scale. 

Which, of course, brings me to the Papadia. As Nick said, it’s nothing more than a pizza folded in half, literally, and so I’ll treat it as such. I should also note that as deliverable pizzas come, Papa John’s consistently ranks as IRS (I’d rather starve). What I’m trying to get at here is that my expectations were such that if I was compelled to take a second bite of the Papadia, I’d be inclined to deem this non-invention to be a grand success. 

And yet, there I was — taking a second bite. 

Then a third. Then a fourth. Then I stopped to realize that the sole reason why this Papadia tasted sort of good is because that while it’s nothing more than a pizza folded in half, it isn’t a Papa John’s pizza folded in half. Instead, the dough is thinner, a bit crispier and the overall flavor is less sweet since the Italian I tasted came sans Papa John’s infamously sucrose-infused marinara sludge. My hat is off to the folks at Papa John’s food laboratory. You guys set your sights on developing something people would take more than a few bites of before realizing they’re making a horrible mistake and totally delivered. Bravo. 

Above-Average Stoner Food 

Brian Smith, Sr. Features Writer: For me, the packaging was maybe the most pleasurable part of the experience. Rather than wait in line to peck at a pizza, Papadias are served in individual cardboard briefcases, which also serve as the meal’s plate. Outstanding packaging or not, though, this is straight-up, glorious stoner food. Plus, anyone like me who folds their pizza will find the Papadia experience to be reminiscent of any decent pie, its deliciousness wholly dependent on your level of hunger. Mine was particularly high, as I didn’t eat breakfast in anticipation of this meal. Thus, I was rewarded with an A+ dopamine dump. 

Mash It, Bend It, Fold It: If It Tastes Good, I Don’t Care What Shape It Is

Ian Lecklitner, Staff Writer: I was perplexed by the Papadia from the beginning. The photo on their website makes it look like a folded slice of pizza — nothing more, nothing less. But right next to the photo, they call it “part sandwich,” which is reasonable, I suppose: Several courts of law have declared that, if you cram stuff between anything even remotely bread-like, you can call it a sandwich. (This is all very, very important information, by the way.)

So, ready for some pizza — erhm, sandwiches — I called my nearest Papa John’s, which is 22 miles away, mind you, and they told me that delivery was off the table. Despondent, my reply was something along the lines of, “Fine then. I see how it is. Two Papadias for pickup — one grilled BBQ chicken and bacon, and one Italian.” The BBQ chicken was for me, and the Italian was for my girlfriend, who, fortunately, works near Papa John’s and was able to pick up the Papadias so I could avert a Papadia pilgrimage.

After 22 miles of car travel, though, our Papadias were, well, less than warm, so we did what some Papa John’s employee had almost certainly already done with them: We zapped them in the microwave for a minute. Then, after watching my girlfriend take her first bite, I asked how it was. She shrugged and then replied, “It’s just basically a big, folded piece of pizza.”

I agreed after demolishing my own Papadia, but I also think there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. I’ve always held that, if something tastes good, you can fold or mash it into any shape, and it’ll still be good — and that applies here, too. Sure, I’m not a pizza connoisseur, but it was a decent pizza (sandwich), and the value was great: It cost $13.05 for two Papadias, and each one was essentially a personal pizza, folded in half.

I could have used more barbecue sauce, though.

A ‘Hard Fine’ Is Good, Right?

Lauren Vinopal, Staff Writer: For something made out of all the shit lying around at Subway that no one wanted — Alfredo sauce, spicy Italian sausage, salami, mozzarella cheese and banana peppers — I’d give the Italian Papadia a hard fine. It tasted like the time I made my Sicilian grandparents go to Olive Garden — not good, not bad, just wrong. While that’s generally how I like my food, my biggest gripe about the Papadia is that it wasn’t gross enough. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat the entire thing, or because I didn’t dip it in the garlic sauce, or because I’ve destroyed my palate with so much processed cheese dust that I sound like the 40-year-old virgin talking about sex when I try to describe food, but when I bit into the Papadia, I felt nothing. And like with most food, if it doesn’t kill me, I’ll probably eat it again.

I Loved the Papadia, and Now I Want It All the Time

Tim Grierson, Contributing Editor: About the only thing I don’t like about the Papadia are the Papa John’s commercials I see about once an hour on television.

Other than the guy’s annoying voice, what’s nauseating about these spots is that they make the Papadia seem big, gooey and gross. This is, in fact, not what a Papadia looks like IRL. It’s actually a rather reasonably-sized heaping of toppings inside a folded-over pizza. It’s like a calzone, which I love, except you don’t have to go through three bites of pure dough to get to the meaty delight.

My Papadia experience was greatly enhanced by my delivery driver, who happily handed me my two sandwiches by saying, “Here are your goodies!” I don’t think anyone has ever been more excited for me to eat something. Soon, I figured out why: The meatball pepperoni is basically perfect. Just the right amount of cheese, meat and sauce — so much so that I didn’t even really need the extra marinara sauce that was included. (Reader: I used it anyway; it made the sandwich even better.) The grilled BBQ chicken and bacon wasn’t quite as amazing — fast-food BBQ chicken always tastes like fake, California Pizza Kitchen-style garbage — but the flavor combinations were nonetheless still pretty great. (Stay away, though, from the barbecue sauce, which tasted processed and carcinogenic; as for the garlic sauce, I just threw it in the trash — the mere smell of it made me want to retch.)

One reason I loved the Papadia is that this is how I actually eat pizza. I almost always fold it before putting it in my mouth. (“It’s like having twice as many toppings at once,” I rationalize, like a misunderstood genius.) With a regular slice of pizza, the toppings are just, well, on top. If you fold it, though, then the toppings seem to be wrapped around in an exciting, unpredictable way. (Clearly, I’m easily delighted by pizza.) And unlike a lot of the fast-food taste-testing we’ve done, I didn’t feel any after-effect regret (read: diarrhea) from downing the two sandwiches. They’re not so monstrously big that it’s a challenge to eat them. In fact, they’re practically bite-sized — and I’ve been dying for one ever since.

Especially when I see the commercials over and over and over again.