8020 Transit Rd, Williamsville, NY 14221
Web: Pizza Plant
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Amherst Clarence Pizza Salads Sandwiches
"On the right day, your meal will come out piping hot... Another day, you may watch a server leave your food under heat lamps as he flirts with someone behind the counter."
In 2002, Puff Daddy claimed to have invented the remix. Back in 1980, an Amherst restaurant called Pizza Plant actually invented the "pod," a variant on the calzone that transformed a slice or five of pizza into a football-shaped pocket of stuffed dough. While the chain is best known for this innovation, which can be customized in thousands of different permutations, Pizza Plant also offers a variety of other traditional and untraditional pizzas, pastas, salads and sandwiches, all of which are fine to good, but none of which light our fire like the pods. Nice soft drink, beer and wine menus are offset by a short list of competent desserts, including a forgettable version of bread pudding ($5) but omitting a once amazing cannoli, which the restaurant used to serve in overflowing ice cream cones to the delight of patrons.
The Story: Originally found in the Northtown Plaza in Amherst, Pizza Plant later expanded to include locations on Main Street, in the Walker Center leading into Williamsville, and Transit Road in Clarence. The small chain made a name for itself with extremely weird but occasionally amusing newspaper advertisements, filled with little in-jokes that also made their way into the frequently updated menus. Over time, the menus stabilized, as did business; the original location closed down and was replaced by a substantially vegetable-focused shop called My Tomato Pie. However, the other two locations have remained busy for years, and the Transit location even hosts live music once per week in the evenings. Today, one gets the sense that the locations are coasting rather than pushing to reinvent themselves, but they still do a pretty good job.
Highs: Pizza Plant's Pods, which are offered in around 20 pre-configured versions and two sizes, are the star of the show. Whereas the original mini Pod was equivalent to a slice and a half of pizza, the current menu starts with the two and a half slice Major Pod ($5 plain) and ends with the five-slice Mega ($9 plain), the former enough to feed one person, the second two. If one of the menu's versions - a Sicilian Steak Pod (Major, $8.50), a Chicken Souvlaki Pod (Major, $9), a Meatball Pod (Major, $8) or a White (Italian) Pod (Major, $8) - sounds appetizing, you can give it a try, but we're far more partial to the do-it-yourself version, which gives you the choice of roughly 50 ingredients and doughs to choose from at around $1-2 each. We love the garlic dough, mozzerella, pepperoni, onion and ham version, which combines the best of a traditional pizza with the benefits of the pod shape and cooking; other people swear by non-traditional ingredients such as sunflower seeds, sprouts, tofu, or raisins.
Lows: Outside of the pods, Pizza Plant's other menu options range from fine to good. Stuffed and flat pizzas start at $6 and won't displace the best alternatives found at other local restaurants, but will do for those who don't find the pods exciting. The French Onion Soup ($4.50) is decent, not memorable, and the desserts - cookies ($1.50), pies ($5), and ice cream sundaes ($2-$6) - seem as if they've been selected for their ease of assembly rather than anything else.
Depending on the chef and server you get, a Pizza Plant meal can fall from "great" to "good but annoying." On the right day, your meal will come out piping hot with plenty of liquid refreshments. Another day, you may watch as a server leaves your food under heat lamps for 10 minutes as he flirts with someone else behind the counter, or you'll get a pod that's a little watery on the inside. And beware: some pods sound better than they taste. We've never seen someone love the chicken wing-inspired Wingy Dingy Pod (Major, $9) for instance; you might well be better off picking your own ingredients.
Verdict: At one point in its past, Pizza Plant would easily have been a 3-star or better restaurant, but today, the major reason to dine here rather than at any of the area's other great pizza shops is the pod - an item we find ourselves craving once every month or two. Rated solely on that item, Pizza Plant might be great, but service inconsistencies and other menu items can make meals a little too iffy for our tastes. In any case, this place is worth at least one try, and if you're satisfied the first time, you may well find yourself dreaming of subsequent visits.