In the pizza niche of the nationwide restaurant market, there is a constant tension between the national chains and the local and regional independent operators. It wasn’t always that way. Before Pizza Hut and Little Caesar’s grew like weeds across the nation’s landscape, pizza was largely a local product, distinctive regionally and quite varied.

Now with the growth of the quick-pizza industry modeled on Chipotle, we’re seeing the same dynamic played out. You have local pioneers like Boss Pizza (two locations now) going up against Blaze, Pieology and who knows how many other chains before it all shakes out.

Usually chains are default choices for diners, though a few do inspire passionate devotees (as Chili’s has enjoyed in Bakersfield). Pieology is apparently one of those; readers, stoked about the chain’s expansion into Bakersfield after first sampling its wares at the restaurant near the Tejon Outlets, have sent me emails. I was pretty enthusiastic, too, especially about the way you can design the perfect salad to fit your odd personal whims, such as spinach mixed with spring greens. The freedom and flexibility, putting the customer in total control of their meal, is the secret of this type of restaurant’s success, as well as the speed of the pizza preparation. The crust quality? It can’t compare to what Frugatti’s turns out, but what can you expect when you’re in a hurry.

This spring the first Pieology in Bakersfield proper opened on Panama Lane in the shopping center anchored by WinCo. It looks pretty much like the other we visited, with the inspirational quotes along the wall where you line up to give your order, the clean metal industrial look to the atmosphere and the swift cafeteria service. I ordered one of their seasonal specials, a chicken chile verde pizza ($7.95), while my companion selected a "create your own" salad ($8.25). She designed a beauty, with the field greens and spinach mix I mentioned above, cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, banana peppers, shredded carrots, garbanzo beans, cranberries, fresh walnuts, shredded Parmesan cheese and crumbled bacon, with vinaigrette on the side. Something you could whip together at home, but probably not with the same freshness of the ingredients

. I wouldn’t order the chile verde pizza again, instead sticking with the personally designed versions I’ve enjoyed in the past. Love chicken chile verde, but here the ingredients are distant from each other, as if meeting for the first time on the top of the pizza and not really blending much in the three-minute sentence in the intensely hot oven: olive oil, mild green peppers, red onions, roasted red peppers, chicken breast chunks, a verde sauce, mozzarella, fresh cilantro. Nothing to compare to the great verde pizzas I’ve enjoyed at locally-owned places like Tony’s.

But it was better than the dessert pizza we tried, a chocolate churro ($1.99) that featured a bit of cinnamon and tiny high-quality Ghirardelli chocolate chips on top, very little sugar glaze. Didn’t appear to have been made with a sweet dough, and needs a lot more cinnamon and sugar to come close to resembling any churro we’ve ever had. The version in the picture had a lot more of the white frosting.

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