Sweet on top of sweet, smothered with cloyingly sweet; that's what Cinnabon means to millions of people around the world. But the company that made its name by delivering over-sized spirals of doughy depression to the masses has developed a taste for the savory, and with the new Pizzabon, its hoping you will too.
The Pizzabon takes the same massive bread swirl used in Cinnabon's signature product, replaces the cinnamon with tomato sauce, the gooey glaze with cheese, and lines its rolls with pepperoni. The end result? Something your mouth is definitely not expecting to come out of a Cinnabon carton.
Currently available exclusively at the company's flagship store in Atlanta's Cumberland Mall, the Pizzabon is sadly out-of-reach to many of the world's top snackologists. As they petitioned their outlets for travel expenses, I drove down the street and tried out a Pizzabon or three.
Following my review of the 'bon proper earlier this year, I was bombarded with accusations of Cinnabon hate. With the company's corporate headquarters located right down the street from my home in Sandy Springs, Georgia, perhaps I was too close — maybe I harbored some sort of grudge.
Truth be told, I could never hate the Cinnabon — that sweet-smelling siren of a sack is a passion sponge, making it impossible for any extreme emotion to exist in its presence. No one loves the Cinnabon. No one hates it. The closest thing to a passionate response to eating a Cinnabon is mild regret mixed with a tiny bit of self-loathing.
When the Atlanta Journal-Constitution made the big reveal last week, however, I was excited. Here was a company willing to turn its product lineup upside-down in order to solicit some sort of reaction from the public. Cinnabon wants us to feel passionate, and what could be more passionate than pizza?
So the company walked up to the world's window in the dark of night and raised this baby high as Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" played out of invisible speakers (they couldn't afford "In Your Eyes", this is still Cinnabon we're talking about).
Isn't that gorgeous? A golden tower topped with bubbling cheese, shimmering sauce and shredded pieces of pepperoni.
Unfortunately that's just how Cinnabon sees the Pizzabon. The reality...
As I opened up the cardboard container in the food court of Cumberland, Atlanta's most depressing mall, my heart sank. That fiery passion I felt upon first hearing about this new paradigm in 'bon-based food products cooled considerably. Peter Gabriel stopped in mid-"Sledgehammer" and began discussing his groundbreaking work with Amnesty International, requests for him to at least hum the chorus from "Shock the Monkey" falling on deaf ears.
I looked closer.
And please click to enlarge that image. I didn't smuggle my camera into photo-unfriendly Cumberland Mall to snap high resolution shots for nothing.
What little cheese that hadn't hardened into a scaly dairy shell was, at least bubbling. The thin layer of sauce featured tomato seeds, indicating that an actual fruit was used in the Pizzabon's construction. The pepperoni on top had taken on a bacon-like texture, but that wasn't unexpected.
The problem, of course, is that Pizzabons not being photographed for advertisement purposes are baked in batches of eight. Those perfect sides seen on the product shot are nothing you will ever encounter in the wild. It looks more like strawberry shortcake with meat on top than any faux-Italian cuisine.
I would eat that. But instead, I must eat this.
Pulling apart the outer ring of the Pizzabon revealed secret circles of pepperoni hiding behind the bread, a delightful surprise for someone used to peeling back dough to find even more dough. Though soft from being smothered inside a yeasty prison, the meat discs provided enough of a bite to break the monotony and make the eating experience much more dynamic than fighting through a standard Cinnabon with knife and fork.
Without the creamy sugar glaze to complicate things, the Pizzabon is very finger-friendly, though avoiding the cheese atop a freshly-baked unit is recommended for those that like their skin in a single, uninterrupted layer. The flaky outer shell had a taste not unlike that of just-cooked pizza crust, before it cools into a tough and chewy mass. The experience wasn't unlike biting into an oddly-shaped bread stick.
Once I reached the core of the Pizzabon the real fun began. The doughy inner mass that robs the cinnamon bun eater of their will to chew becomes something wonderful and exciting with the application of savory meat and cheese-product. It's comforting and warm in the way the Cinnabon proper likes to imagine itself to be. It's a kindly Italian mother urging you to eat up, you look so skinny to the Cinnabon's frail old woman wringing her hands with worry and wondering if she'll have to bury her own child.
It's pretty tasty.
At first I thought there might be some sweetness to the bread, but upon further investigation (and two more Pizzabons brought home and eaten cold) I realized that the sweetness I was catching came from the tomato sauce. That hint of sweet with the bite of the pepperoni and the mild tang of the cheese merged with the dough to create a harmony of flavor and texture that can normally only be recreated by microwaving a frozen pizza even through the instructions expressly forbid you to do so.
The only downside to this joyful departure?
It's just a bit on the greasy side. That's what you get when you let your heart win.
The Pizzabon is not for everyone. My wife-creature, seen in the video above, still considerers it a horrible abomination, a bastardization of pizza that skimps on the sauce and cheese and whose limp pepperoni fails to satisfy in any sense of the word.
But for me? Peter Gabriel is singing again. He's skipped "In Your Eyes" and moved straight on to "Solsbury Hill", the feel-good anthem for both Cinnabon's breaking free of sticky sweetness to brave new ground, and my accepting the company back into my life with open mouth.