Ringgold Pizza Hut back in belly-filling business

Ringgold Pizza Hut back in belly-filling business

November 4th, 2011 by Ellis Smith in Chattnow Dining

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Photos on the wall were taken April 28, the day after Ringgold lost its Pizza Hut.

One shows a pile of rubble. Another, a headline with the word "tornado." Another shows the community picking up the pieces.

It's been more than six months since that day, and business is cooking again at the new Pizza Hut restaurant on Alabama Highway.

On a recent weekday, about three dozen customers packed into the central dining room for lunch, and a never-ending stream of cars pulled alongside the drive-through carryout window.

The restaurant doesn't offer just pizza -- it's also in the business of chicken, with the addition of Wing Street to the menu.

Everything about this Pizza Hut is new, except the food -- thankfully -- because Pizza Hut pizza is delicious.

The smell of stuffed-crust pizza and wings wafted out into the parking lot, much to the consternation of workers who are trying to rebuild the Hardee's next door.

Pizza Hut's menu is a wellspring of comfortable, buttery food, though weight watchers may want to seek sustenance elsewhere. None of this is good for you.

But it sure tastes amazing.

THE MENU

Where: Pizza Hut, 5454 Alabama Highway, Ringgold, Ga.

Phone: 706-965-6400.

Website: www.pizzahut.com.

Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday.

Price range: $5 (spaghetti with marinara sauce)-$12 (large stuffed-crust pizza); $5.99 lunch buffet.

Directions: From Chattanooga, take I-75 South to Exit 348. Take a left onto Alabama Highway, and look for Pizza Hut on the left across from McDonald's.

It's not hard to figure out what to order. You're at Pizza Hut, so order pizza.

I sampled several offerings off the generous buffet, including both thin- and thick-crust pizza, as well as pasta. I also ordered wings, a salad and several cinnamon apple pies -- all delicious.

This company virtually invented the modern pizza business, growing like gangbusters for much of the 20th century and securing an iconic place in American culture through savvy marketing of scrumptious inventions such as the stuffed-crust pizza ($12 for one topping).

And they didn't stop there. In addition to the pizza, bread sticks, salad and pasta available at the standard buffet, Pizza Hut has a huge special-order menu. And they're not half-baked sideshows. Everything is of the quality one would expect.

The wings ($7 for eight wings) are delicious, second only to those served by specialty restaurant Buffalo Wild Wings, according to one customer. The "Burning Hot" wings have won numerous awards for both spice and taste, the restaurant claims on its menu.

However, celery sticks and ranch cost $1 extra, an unexpected charge when most wing joints bring them for free.

Pizza Hut also offers mouthwatering toasted sandwiches ($7) with flavors that suck you in such as Buffalo Chicken and Honey BBQ in addition to the usuals such as turkey or ham.

The spaghetti choice is interesting. It comes in its traditional pasta guise, more or less the way mom made it, but is also offered baked.

The baked spaghetti sets new records for tasty pasta, with layers of meat, cheese and other goodies layered on top. But it takes what could be a healthy pizza alternative and mucks it up, losing the essence of the pasta in a sea of grease and dairy.

The salads are better than expected, with a fresh chicken Caesar going for $7 or generous side salads available for just $2.

There's more.

Cinnamon apple pies ($4) are made fresh to order in the kitchen. And you can wash the whole meal down with a Pepsi product -- Pizza Hut is owned by Yum! Brands, a spinoff from PepsiCo -- or a cold Budweiser.

THE SERVICE

Menu items can take 30 minutes, 45 minutes or even an hour to arrive during the lunch rush, so bring a few conversation topics with you.

Cheerful and gracious servers help make the long wait for special-order food a bit more bearable as they go above and beyond to retrieve even the smallest items for customers.

One friendly waitress searched the stockroom for more than five minutes to locate packets of Sweet'N Low after the store ran out. She came back beaming: mission successful.

But servers failed to perform some basic tasks: Empty plates were never cleared from the table. Drinks went unfilled. And when the meal was over, leaving the restaurant required waiting in line to pay at the poorly positioned cash register, where servers and customers were forced to squeeze through the line.

Most diners, however, will hardly notice these failings, because the wait staff sets the bar to a new high when it comes to making diners feel welcome.

THE SPACE

New, comfortable construction materials in the Ringgold location tell you this is a sit-down restaurant with a local attitude, and the decorating emphasis is on local high schools rather than flat-screen TVs.

Ringgold High School and Heritage High jerseys hang next to decades-old photos of locals.

Pennants and banners celebrating both teams and the restaurant itself top the decorating. Much of the restaurant is walled in dark wood and outfitted with brushed metal chairs and comfortable cushions.

Fun, stainless-steel lights hang from the dropped ceiling, and even the water glasses are finished with a dimpled, golf-ball-esque finish.

The ever-popular lunch buffet ($5.99) attracts customers from all walks of life. Ringgold is a blue-collar town, and the clientele reflects that. No one's here to be seen; they're here for the pizza.

THE VERDICT

No matter how you slice it, the pizza is the star of Pizza Hut's show. Thin crust or thick, cheese or supreme, personal pan or stuffed crust -- they make it all, and they do it well.

It's not fine dining, but it somehow feels like coming home, no matter how long you've been away.

The warm atmosphere, the beckoning comfort food and the local touches almost make one forget it's a chain restaurant with thousands of locations worldwide.

What's important is the place feels local, and the food tastes fresh.

And if the crowds are any indication, Ringgold is glad Pizza Hut came back to town.