The Crown Crust pizza, a ridiculous beef-topped pie offered only at Pizza Hut in the Middle East, is almost certainly more popular in the U.S. than it is in the United Arab Emirates, where it was recently introduced.
The fusion of cheeseburger and pizza became such a hit with the American media that College Humor sent a correspondent to Dubai in April simply to try the thing. Serious Eats wrote that it "was a pizza experiment that had clearly gone completely, and horribly, wrong." Time rhetorically asked "Isn't this what the Mayans warned us about?"
NPR was slightly more restrained: Ted Burnham pointed out that the Crown Crust is just one in a long line of bizarre pizzas tailored to local tastes around the world.
The idea in Dubai, then, wasn't to make a pizza, it was to create an edible simulacrum of America on a plate or, more accurately, inside an easy-to-carry-out cardboard box.
I recently flew to Dubai so I could catch a connecting flight through what will by 2016 become the world's busiest airport. During my layover, I headed for the Dubai Mall, which counts among its attractions a hotel, an aquarium, an Olympic-sized ice rink and a water fountain show that puts the Bellagio's to shame.
There are also stores.
The mall's food court is full of international chains, many of which have exactly the same menu items you'd see at home. This includes Johnny Rockets, where the neon advertises "Chili, Malts, Fries." The most exotic offering was the Pars Express, an Iranian takeaway that would likely face political hurdles to success in U.S. malls.
Since I was solo, I ordered a medium Crown Crust with cheeseburgers for 34 dirhams, about $9.25; a large is 48 dirhams. The cashier handed me a numbered pager like you'd get at a the host stand of a Buffalo Wild Wings and I waited for my pizza to come out of the oven. For a moment, I considered also ordering the "chicken fillet" or "cream cheese" versions of the Crown Crust for comparison's sake but decided that burgers, and their intrinsic link to Fourth of July parades through flag-flying, picket-fence towns, offered the purest expression of pizza-crust Americana.
Pizza finally in hand, I cracked the lid on my lunch. How... small. For something implicitly American, my Crown Crust looked tiny. It was ultimately more than I could eat, but if there's one thing my home country is good for, it's restaurants that heap on the helpings. On the plus side, the fresh tomato and iceberg toppings were incredibly fresh, and the burgers themselves looked, if not fantastic, better than I expected from a pizza parlor in a mall.
Two slices in, I'd had enough of the cloying "special sauce" that permeated every bite and tasted suspiciously like the stuff slicked on the signature big burger of another international fast food chain. I tossed the rest of my pie and set out to walk off the strange experience in the air-conditioned comfort of the polished mall. I bought some postcards of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, which sits right around the corner from the food court where I had lunch.
Later, after my short layover in Dubai, I wrote in my notebook,"So elaborate as to be disgusting." I meant the pizza.