I set out today having skipped breakfast, ready to find a cheap, filling lunch from a non-chain location. My price target was $5. I stopped by a couple of places near a dry cleaners where I was already picking up some dress shirts. While one was a complete bust (a taqueria inside a gas station, but the gas station smelled like a port-o-let as soon as I walked in the door), and two chinese restaurants that had nothing for under $6.25, and an Indian place that had nothing under $10. I decided to head over to a Chinese restaurant a few miles away where we used to order delivery. They had a $4.99 special, Broccoli Chicken with an egg roll (apparently it changes daily), but I don’t like broccoli, and the waitress told me that leaving out the broccoli wouldn’t leave much to eat.
So I was thinking that I might have to break the “no chain” rule and get a couple of hotdogs from QuikTrip (I needed gas for the car anyway), when I noticed Riverside Pizza a few doors away.
Riverside Pizza has been in the same Riverside Exchange Shopping Center location, 2100 Riverside Parkway, in Lawrenceville, for a long time. Before that it was a Little Caesars Pizza, so I always equated the pizza they were offering with Little Caesars, a cheap option, but not particularly tasty in my experience. While they are a small local chain with 6 locations, they are a family business that started in this location in 1999, 18 years ago.
It was coming down to this Riverside Pizza, or a couple of QuikTrip hot-dogs, so I figured I would throw out my preconceived notions, stop in, and see what they had to offer.
As I walked up I saw a metal patio table and 4 metal chairs on the sidewalk outside. On entering there were a couple of coolers to the left, one with drinks, and another with desserts and miscellaneous items. To the far right was a menu board. Directly facing me was a counter for ordering food, and a view into the kitchen on the other side of the counter (your prototypical carryout pizza floor plan). There were 6 padded chairs just inside of the door, in the waiting area.
Prominent on the menu was a $5.99 large (14-inch) pizza, that came with either cheese only or pepperoni and cheese. The usual pizza-shop extra toppings could be added for $1.50 each. They also offered “premium pizzas” for $11 for the first pizza, and $10 for each additional pizza. A large 1-topping pizza for $6.99 was also offered. And you could also get a 10-inch Gluten Free pizza for $8.99. Riverside’s offerings included bread items, including Bread Sticks, Cheese Bread, and Pepperoni Cheese Bread for $2-5. Soft drinks (20-ounce Coke products) were available for $1.79 each, and dessert selections included slices of Sea Salt Caramel ($3.99), Key Lime Pie ($3.99), or 3-Layer Chocolate Cake ($4.99).
Since I was eating alone, any of those choices was too much for my $5 budget (unless I wanted to have dessert only for lunch). If I were feeding 2 people or more for under $5 each, the $5.99 Pepperoni and Cheese 14-inch pizza would have been my likely choice. But something near the bottom of the menu caught my eye: 8″ Individual Pizzas for $2.99 each, available as either Cheese-only or Pepperoni & Cheese. Extra toppings could be added for 50-cents each. (Edit-The next day my wife and I had the $5.99 Pepperoni & Cheese 14-inch pizza ($6.35 including tax), and it was every bit as good as the 8-inch pizza that I had yesterday. This is the best value as you get 3 times as much pizza for twice the cost of an 8-inch pizza)
BINGO! I slowly walked up to the counter like a big spender, and ordered the 8-inch Pepperoni & Cheese, which the very pleasant cashier referred to as their “personal pan” pizza. I paid the $3.17 (includes 6% tax) and started thinking about what I would do for something to drink. Rather than blow my $5 budget by getting the 20-ounce Dasani water bottle for $1.79 plus tax at Riverside Pizza, I walked the 50 yards up the sidewalk to Kroger grocery and bought a 16.9 ounce bottle of Kroger-brand “purified water” for 79 cents plus tax (81 cents total), then headed back to Riverside Pizza, pleased that I stayed within budget and hoping that the pizza was not going to be disappointing. (edit – when putting this post together, I checked on the website and saw that they offer a $4 lunch special that includes an 1-topping 8-inch personal pizza and a 20-ounce drink for $4, or a side salad and drink or breadsticks for $4, so there are additional “under $5” options without walking to Kroger for a bottle of water)
After a total time of about 12 minutes after placing the order, my pizza was ready. It was handed to me in a small pizza box. I asked for and received 2 nice quality paper napkins, and went outside to eat at the sidewalk patio table outside, overlooking the parking lot.
As I opened the box, the pizza was cut into 4 slices, hot and fresh, with good portions of pepperoni and abundant, nicely browned cheese. I lifted the edge of the pizza to take a look underneath at the bottom crust, which was a light golden color and perfectly browned.
I pulled a slice away from the rest, carefully picked it up (it was quite hot!), and took a bite.
SUCCESS! The first impression, besides it being almost too hot to eat, was that the sauce was properly seasoned and tasty, The pepperoni had just the right amount of bite to it, and the mozzarella cheese created strings as I pulled the pizza away from my mouth after taking a bite. The crust was perfectly cooked and had good flavor, unlike the tasteless “cardboard” that I remembered from my experience at Little Caesars years ago. This was good quality pizza, at a great price.
As I continued eating the pizza, a pickup truck with a couple of window-washers pulled up and began cleaning the windows behind me. One of them looked to be in his mid 60s, and the other told me that he was 78 years old (and in good shape, I would have guessed him to be in his 60s as well). As I talked to them, they said that they had started their window-washing business 38 years ago, and had 480 customers. Their only advertising had been business cards, and they were now on their 11th box of 1,000 business cards. Buckets of soapy water, clean water, hand squeegees, terrycloth rags, and a sponge looked to be all of the tools that they needed. I mentally filed this away as a potential low-cost business to go into if I ever want to semi-retire or need to earn extra cash.
As I finished up my budget meal, I realized that I was quite satisfied, and would definitely return should I be in the mood for cheap eats in the Atlanta-Lawrenceville area.
As I prepared to make this post, my analytical side was wondering about the value of this pizza versus a “create your own” and “by-the slice” pizza joint within a couple of miles that I intend to try soon. They offer $1.60 slices of cheese pizza, 1/8 of a 14″ pizza, for $1.60, and toppings cost 30 cents a slice. So a pepperoni & cheese slice would be $1.90 plus tax, versus the $2.99 plus tax for my “personal pan” pizza at Riverside Pizza. Good information, but I needed to more info to arrive at a value comparison. Drawing on recollections from my Geometry class many years ago, I remembered that the area of a circle is pi times the radius squared. So a 14-inch pizza would be 3.14 x 7 x 7 square inches, or about 154 square inches. A slice that is 1/8 of the pizza would be just over 19 square inches. For my 8″ personal pan pizza, I’m looking at 3.14 x 4 x 4 square inches, or just over 50 square inches of pizza. Winner, Riverside Pizza!
Verdict: This was a very good budget pizza meal for $3.98, and under my $5 budget target.
I was so pleased that I stopped by another budget-friendly business, Coughlin’s Creamery (which I’ll post about separately soon), and got a single scoop cone of butter pecan ice cream for 95 cents plus tax, a total of $1.01.
Even with this splurge, I had a filling lunch, drink, and dessert, and still came in under the $5 wire, at $4.99, and without eating at a national chain. Perfect!
Getting There: Like most of the Atlanta suburbs, the only practical way to get to this location is to drive to it. However, if you REALLY want to get there and have no car, you can get there from Atlanta via public transit by taking Marta rail gold line to the Doraville station, taking the 10 bus (10A or 10B) to the Gwinnett Transit Center, then transferring to the 40 bus to get to the Riverside Parkway at Old Norcross Rd. bus stop. From there you’ll walk about 1.3 miles up Riverside Parkway to River Exchange Plaza. From the time you exit Marta at the Doraville Station, to the time you get to the counter at Riverside Pizza, will be just under 2 hours, assuming that the buses are running on schedule and that you don’t miss any connections. The trip will cost you $2 each way if you use the Breeze card. It’s good, budget pizza but I don’t think I’d spend $4 in transit costs and 4 hours in transit time to give it a try. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.