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David Lissner
for restaurants

What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve eaten lately?

Here’s mine:

Macaroni and cheese pizza, CiCi’s Pizza Buffet, Downers Grove. (Photo ©Leah A. Zeldes.)

Macaroni and cheese pizza, CiCi’s Pizza Buffet, Downers Grove. (Photo by Leah A. Zeldes.)

Yes, that’s a pizza with macaroni on it.

I’m not a snob about chain restaurants. I’ve been known to defend McDonald’s — for more than just its clean restrooms. I have eaten happily at mid-priced national chains, like the Cheesecake Factory and Maggiano’s.

But I wouldn’t have been tempted by CiCi’s Pizza Buffet if I weren’t booked to speak about things to do in Chicago at a meeting at a nearby venue. I know there’ll be questions about where to eat, and I also know this audience’s tastes run to big portions and low prices. So when I ran across this Texas-based chain offering all-you-can-eat pizza, I had to try it.

I admit to a certain puzzlement about the economics of chain restaurants, which appear to make it more feasible to pay franchise fees to open a chain shop serving tasteless sandwiches rather than an independent devoting those funds to better ingredients. But I understand what’s behind CiCi’s Pizza Buffet. The chain, which has a handful of outlets around Chicagoland — including a new one in Niles — is targeting the cheap and the broke. At $4.99 for all the pizza, pasta, salad and dessert you can stuff in, they’ll attract customers no matter what they put on the pizza.

On the other hand, locations in Carpentersville, Des Plaines and Wheaton have closed. Which says encouraging things about local taste.