Monday, August 9, 2010

Tazino's vs. CiCi's: Pizza Buffet Wars

Last week, I wrote about the "dining experience" that my wife and I had when we tried CiCi's Pizza Buffet. My findings were that it was not the greatest thing since sliced pepperoni.

In the comment thread of that post, my friend Jay Bullock recommended that we try Tazino's:
Dude, you need to try Tazinos. Local organic ingredients, great salad selection. Much better than you've described CiCi's to be.
This was followed up by a comment from Bryan Belmer, Director of Brand Marketing for Tazino's, who put forth quite the impressive spiel:
Hello, Capper:

I wish to invite you and your wife to visit one of our Tazinos® Pizza & Salad Bistro locations. We are an emerging brand committed to offering our valued customers the highest quality dining experience, featuring delicious oven-fresh pizzas, savory pastas and freshly made salads, an excellent price point (especially for all you can eat)and an inviting, family-friendly environment.

Tazinos® offers over 15 delicious pizza varieties daily as well as an excellent ‘Pizza Of The Week’ selection featured each week. We also offer fresh focaccia breadsticks, hot pasta selections, cold pasta salads and assorted cold salads all made fresh daily in our a full salad bar for you to create your own masterpiece! Finally, your meal includes free, unlimited Coca-Cola® beverages and dessert, including rich chocolate brownies, warm Cinna-Pillows® and our incredible new Apple Piezino® dessert pizza.

It’s also important to note that Tazinos® pizza, pasta and salad selections are made with better-for-you ingredients wherever possible. For example, we use only unbleached/unbromated flour, 100% natural real Wisconsin cheeses and sauce made from field-packed tomatoes (not from concentrate). Equally important is what we do NOT use in our recipes, such as no high fructose corn syrup, no MSG and no trans fats. As we say, "Better-for-you never tasted so good!"

Priced at just $6.99 weekdays 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. (kids 10 & under $3.99) and $7.99 weekday evenings (after 4 p.m.) and all day on weekends (kids 10 & under $4.99)...including a free beverage and dessert...Tazinos® is an excellent value!

There are three area Tazinos® locations: Oak Creek, Menomonee Falls and Kenosha...with more on the way. Please visit our web site at for our exact locations and hours.

Capper, our team is excited for you and your wife to experience Tazinos® soon. Please know that I personally welcome your feedback at any time.


Bryan Belmer
Director, Brand Marketing
Tazinos®, Inc.
Normally, I don't allow spam to go through, but seeing as that Mr. Belmer took the time and effort to personalize his spiel, I chose not only to let the comment through, but to take him up on his offer to try one of his restaurants.

Today, in keeping with our tradition of quietly celebrating my birthday, my father, my wife and I went to try Tazino's. According to their website, they have three local locations. We chose to try the one in Menominee Falls, since it was the closest and had the least amount of construction obstruction to deal with.

When we walked in, we were cheerfully greeted by a young lady (Claudia according to her name tag) who welcomed us and asked if we had ever been to their restaurant before. Telling her that this was indeed our first visit there, she went on to explain how their buffet worked, where to find the plates, silverware, condiment, etc.

It is worth noting that in her introduction, there was one thing different than the norm, which is that Tazino's requests that the customers bus their own tables when they go up for extra helpings. It is a small request, since they have it set up rather simply and conveniently, and probably helps to keep the costs down.

We claimed a table and helped my father get situated. The first thing I noticed was that there was no game room. Instead, they had a black wall in the middle of the dining area with a bucket of chalk. Kids were not only allowed, but encouraged, to draw or write on the wall. I thought it to be an original and pleasant way to keep the kids busy without having all the distracting noise and lights that come with arcades.

We went in back and took a look at the buffet, which was set in a semi-circle counter. Within seconds, I could see that Tazino's was going to send CiCi's running with their pizza cutters tucked between their legs.

First was a wonderfully complete salad bar. There were two or three kinds of lettuce and a full array of sides that you don't often see at salad bars anymore. They had the staples of cucumbers, tomatoes, and croutons. They also had shredded cheese, peas, chopped hard-boiled eggs, chickpeas (!), onions, and more than I can remember. They also had six kinds of salad dressing (although the Thousand Island looked kind of watery).

Next to this was there were six or seven types of pre-made cold salads, mostly of a pasta variety. I tried the sour cream cucumbers. It had a delicate flavor, but made a good side to the more powerful flavors of the pizza. Plus on a hot day like today, it's coolness hit the spot.

Next up was the warm pastas. They had a cheesy spiral noodle and a butter and herb bow tie. To point out how good they were, my wife went up for an unprecedented fourth helping of each. Their bread, or was it focaccia, left a little to be desired, being very blase and lost among all the other food.

They had about six to eight pizzas up at any given time. There was the traditional favorites of cheese and sausage, pepperoni, Hawaiian, and the works. They also had BBQ Chicken, Cheesy Chicken and a couple of others that weren't identified or identifiable. Their pizza of the week was one that had four types of cheeses on it.

Their pizza, like the rest of the experience, was much better than CiCi's. The pepperoni tasted like pepperoni. The sauce, while still on the bland side, was at least more than the ketchup used at CiCi's.

To really put the topping on the pizza, they had a wide variety of flavoring accents that you could put on your food. They included, but in no way limited to, red pepper flakes, black pepper, basil, garlic, sea salt, Parmesan, oregano, and a slew of others.

The desserts were as advertised. They had their Apple Piezino, Cinna-Pillows and brownies. The apple pie pizza was alright, but could have used more cinnamon and some soft serve ice-cream. The cinnamon puffs were good, but only if you got one of the bigger pieces, and while it was real fresh.

Overall, we found it to be much better than CiCi's. That said, there were some areas where there was room for improvement:
  • Put some sort of identifiers on your food. Some had it, like the BBQ chicken, but it was not consistent. People like to know what they're eating.
  • Do something with the focaccia bread. Its blandness stood out from the rest of the good food.
  • Soft serve ice cream for the apple pizza, please. Who doesn't like pie a la mode? Plus you could turn it into a whole new area for people who like to have something a little lighter for dessert.
  • One from my dad, is that the former pizza place, Shakey's also had fried chicken. He said repeatedly that was the only thing missing. As for me, I was happy enough with what was there.
  • More locations!! I do believe the former Shakey's restaurant on 96th and National Ave is still open.
We will be going back there, which I guess is the best kind of recommendation. However, if and when they decide to increase their presence in the Milwaukee area, we may be going back more frequently. Right now, the drive is a little much just for pizza and pasta, at least on a regular basis. I mean, it's good, but just not that good. Bring it closer, and I would think that you will have a lot more people.


  1. Glad to hear it. We get down to the Oak Creek Tazino's every couple of months. Last December, they were selling $50 gift cards for $40, and we bought a couple. For us, not as gifts. :)

    Also, you didn't try the brownies? I have a hard time not stuffing myself with them first.

  2. Got any of those cards left? It is my birthday, you know.

    Unfortunately, I didn't get that far. I was too busy gorging myself on the salad and pizza that I barely could fit down enough cinnamon rolls, for the sake of investigative reporting, to be sure.

  3. Hello, again, Capper:

    Thank you for your thoughtful consideration in reviewing Tazinos® Pizza & Salad Bistro on ‘Cognitive Dissidence.’

    Our team is pleased to learn that you and your family had a great dining experience on your initial trip to our Menomonee Falls location. Moreover, we appreciate and value your encouraging feedback and constructive suggestions. One such suggestion that rings so true is our need to more effectively label our various food selections. In fact, new labels are being implemented this week (I regret that they were not already in place during your recent visit).

    Also, your point is very well-taken that Tazinos® must grow in order to spread our influence in the area community. I can assure you that we are working diligently toward getting more Tazinos® locations open in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, we genuinely look forward to having you (your wife, your father et al.) back as our valued customers soon!

    With my very best wishes for your continued blogging success,

    Sincerely, I am

    Bryan Belmer
    Director, Brand Marketing
    Tazinos® Pizza & Salad Bistro

  4. Just so you know, we can't serve ice cream. The food we serve doesn't have high fructose corn syrup.