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Sunday, April 05, 2009

Annual State of the Chicago Pizza Club Meeting / Frozen Pizza Extravaganza [Meeting #77]

Frozen pizzas invaded the CPC on 4/4/09.

Review submitted by El Presidente.

This meeting had a dual purpose. It was primarily a meeting to discuss the future of the Chicago Pizza Club and how to improve it for you, our devoted readers. But it also gave us a reason to trash Dan's house and cook 10 frozen pizzas. These were all bought at Dominick's except for the Lou Malnati's pizza which I picked up from one of their pizzerias (Malnati's is not available in supermarkets). The total cost for these pizzas came out to $71. We cooked all of the pizzas as close to their indicated temperatures as we could, but a few were off by 25 degrees due to time and oven space constraints.

Here is the lineup:

Let's begin with the deep-dish pizzas. Going into the evening, I thought that these pizzas would be easier to replicate at home than thin crust pizzas. Deep dish pizzas cook for longer periods of time and the crust isn't necessarily as prominent as in a thin crust. The ice crystals that gather on a thin crust would lead me to believe those crusts will be soggy and that a deep dish can better accommodate the extra moisture. The Lou Malnati's had a ton of cheese. In fact, that was pretty much all I could taste. The dough was kind of chewy, perhaps due to slight undercooking on our part. The sauce, which was essentially tomato chunks, was just boring. To be fair to Lou, I should note that the instructions recommend thawing the Lou's for a few hours prior to cooking, but we just baked it right out of the freezer.

I thought the Gino's East pizza was terrible. It was just bland, which is NOT the case at the restaurant. The sauce was comparatively good and was a good counterpoint to the cornmeal crust. The Reggio's was a cheese pizza and this was a good thing. I found it to be so salty that any meat would have made it inedible for me. Lou Malnati's, Gino's East, and Reggio's are local Chicago restaurants that offer frozen versions of their products. I have only been to Lou's and Gino's and their frozen pizzas pale in comparison to the offerings at the restaurants, and I think it's an easy assumption that the same holds true for Reggio's. I thought they were all disappointing. The cook times for these three were 40 minutes, 35 minutes, and 30 minutes respectively.

Perhaps my favorite pizza of the night was a new product from Newman's Own (12 minutes). They have recently entered the frozen pizza business and they seem to know what they're doing. The crust was crisp, the cheese and sauce had a strong garlic component and a good distribution of toppings, including some really sorry-looking pepperoni. Say what you will about what most places offer at their restaurant, but this pepperoni (and all the other ones we had tonight) was chewy, too salty, and should not be put on any pizza. Palermo's pizza (20 minutes) is put out by the Milwaukee chain of the same name. This six cheese pizza had a great flavor - I thought it was the best topping of the night. I'm used to seeing 4 cheese pizzas, but these guys are clearly going for the glory with 6 cheeses. I felt the crust was too thick and spongy, but this was still one of the better pizzas. The DiGiorno pizza (12 minutes) had excellent toppings as well. The mushrooms tasted better than a lot of mushrooms you get at good pizzerias. I really thought the creme fraiche was unnecessary and just added a layer of flavorless glob underneath the great mushrooms. This was in the flatbread style and the crust was appropriately thin and crisp.

The biggest disappointment of the night for me was the Home Run Inn pizza (20 minutes). I am a big fan of their restaurant product and had fond memories of a few frozen pizzas in my childhood. Those memories are dashed thanks to a sauce that is so artificial I could taste the metal can it came in, cheap, rubbery meats, and a bland crust. Tombstone (17 minutes) needs no introduction. We've all had it, either at kitchenless bars, dorm rooms, or on lonely Saturday nights. This Wisconsin product had a great set of commercials a few decades ago and is probably the best-known frozen pizza. The deluxe had the worst meat of the night. It was just gross. The only positive I can say is that the crust was crisp and didn't let the toppings spill all over me. I was able to salvage it with lots of Tabasco sauce, but that's because all I could taste was the hot sauce. I'll at least commend them for being consistent. This pizza hasn't changed.

Even before this meeting, I already knew that I would hate California Pizza Kitchen (11 minutes). I hate it from every angle: I hate their stupid toppings, I hate their attempts at making pizza healthy, I hate California, and I hate people who tell me it's the greatest pizza they have ever had. This white pizza had chunks of spinach that were visually unappetizing because they were clumped and soggy. It was also very salty, but not in a good way. I think Phred may have ended up with the last bite of my piece. Freschetta (19 minutes) was in a tough spot. The 6-cheese pizza from before set the bar high and this 4-cheese Freschetta pizza was no comparison. It had a lot of sauce, but this was actually terrible since it made it hard for me to get the cheese combination flavors. The crust was light and fluffy with some decent chew, but it was drowned in the sea of terrible sauce.

The lesson here? When possible, go to the restaurant to eat pizza or at least get delivery - the frozen product does not compare. There were a few that put more attention into the quality of ingredients and this was evident. I would be happy to have those as a late night snack, but they're still nowhere near as good as any decent restaurant.


  1. For our state of the pizza club meeting we did something new and rated the various frozen pizza's available to us a the local grocery stores in the Chicago area. We had a great turnout and were all able to sample each of 10 (yes, ten) popular frozen pizzas. As someone who loves pizza and eats a frozen pizza at least once a week, I was very pleased with the idea of this meeting. Pizza is pizza afterall. I don't have any numbers to back me but I would say 20% of all pizza consumed are of the frozen variety. Why choose a frozen pizza in a metropolis such as Chicago where you can have pizza delvered to your door or you can go out with friends and congregate over a great pie? Well from my point of view, I am not a big fan of delivery because it often times is dissapointing when compared to eating at the facility. The main reason for this in the past has been the pizza shows up ass cold. This in turn turns me off to this facility and a find myself not even going there again based off a bad delivery. Though with a frozen pizza I get to control the exact time the pie is delivered to my face. ANother reason I enjoy frozen pizza (and then I will get to my review, I promise) is at times you get home and do not feel like going out and being social. Your frozen pizza will not judge. It has no clue you are tired and want to stay in and wathch a Bulls game in your underwear and scarf down some decent pizza. Again I am bypassing some of the more obvious reasons for having frozen pizzas stocked in your freezer (low cost, easy to make while drunk, too late to get delivery ect, ect.). On to the review itself...
    We sampled 10 really popular frozen pizzas. Some have been known to me since childhood (Tombstone) and a few I never knew existed (Paul Newman made pizza???). I tried to clear my mind of any preconceived notions I had about these pizzas before trying each one and I can say I was pleasantly suprised. I though the very thin crust and crispy Paul Newman Pizza with decent peperroni was prety good. As someone who eats frozen pizzas alone and will typically eat the whole damn thing this was a good size for one person who is really hungry and has no time to work out. It looked pretty healthy (paul Newman looked like he ws in good shape to his last day) an was probably less than 1000 calories for the whole pie. I love cheese and the Rustic 6 cheese was really good. It was a thicker crust with pretty decent sauce. I would cetainly get this pizza again if I am on a vegitarian kick. The Home Run Inn Pizza was one that surprised me. I have gotten once before several years ago on the suggestion of a friend and I thought it stunk to high hell back then. At the meeting though it shockingly had soem good sausage on it and though a bit oily was quite good. I loved Home Run Inn the pizza parlor and thus I was afraid my previous experience with this frozen pizza would taint that memory. I am glad to say it did not. I must say it was pretty oily though. The Lou Malnatis frozen pizza (bought at Lou's) was the shocker of the group. I grew up on Lou Mal's as I lived about 5 blocks from the original restaurant in Lincolnwood (see review from 2006). This pizza was cooked at the suggested temp and still came out tasting like crap. The crust tasted like sour gum. I would not sugest getting this frozen pizza if ever at Lou's where apparently it is the only place sold. I think you may even send this pizza via mail frozen. I would also not suggest this unless sending it to enemies. The thin and crispy mushroom white Pizza by DiGiornos was good. I do but DiGiornos often but I had never seen this variety. It was good but I am not a fan of cream sause. Though the mushrooms tasted better than some mushrooms we have had a various pizza parlors. I did not even know DiGiornos had a thin and crispy crust.
    The next one was tombstone Pizza. This was the worst pizza selected. We would get this as kids at the freezer isle in the late 80s when I do not think we had the choices available to us now in terms of frozen pizzas. It was also the reason my family would regularly go our for pizza. The sausage on it looked and tasted like goat poop.
    The next pizza was California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). I have never eaten at the restaurant but do regularly get these pizzas as they come in individual size and are on the healthier side. We got the white pizza with spinach. It was good but CPK makes a better meat lovers pizza called the Sicilian which I would recommend over this one. It seemed to be a hit with our vegitarian friends though.
    Gino's pizza is another one of my favorite place to visit. The frozen version though did not have as good quality of sausage. It did have that famous cornmeal crust which I could not stop picking at after the meeting was long over. THis is still a better place to visit than get a the grocery store.
    Freschetta 4 cheese is another personal favorite of mine. I get this one pretty regularly (though in the crispy crust ultra thin version). It has tons of cheese on it and pretty good sauce for a frozen pizza.
    Finally was Regios. I though this was a a good pizza with a decent ammount of cheese and good sauce. Overall I give this meeting a 7.5/10 as the good quality of Newman's Rustic, and the surprise of Home Run Inn greatly outweighed the stinkers of Tombstone and the disappointing Lou Mals. Mostly I was glad to be eating pizza with friends and having a good time.

  2. Kelly sent me a 4 pack of Lou Malnati's frozen and I don't think I got it right until the third one. I think oven temps vary and if you undercook it it's not good. A good idea but a bit risky as a gift unless you're sending more than one since there's a good chance they will screw it up.

    My current frozen pizza favorites are the Target Archer Farms Chicken Caesar, Archer Farms Margherita, DiGiorno Spicy Chicken, and DiGiorno Special.

  3. Other than a couple from Trader Joe's about two years ago, it had been at least a decade since I ate a frozen pizza before this party. Having now tried 10 of them, I am pretty sure it will be at least another decade before I try another one. That's not to say they were all terrible. A couple of them were fine, but just not worth eating when getting a good pizza is so easy and there are so many things that I can make at home that are just as easy to make and taste much better and are healthier.

    That said, here's my brief take on each pizza. I thought the Newman's had a good, crisp crust and the sauce was very well-seasoned. The pizza did not taste artificial to me at all, which stood in sharp contrast to most of the pizzas of the evening.

    The Palermo's was a mixed bag for me. The cheese, as Francisco said in his review, was quite good. The asiago and parmesan added a nice tanginess that I thought really came through. Unfortunately, the crust was a disappointment. The thick crust had a bottom that was too crisp while the middle was too doughy.

    The Home Run Inn pizza was the biggest disappointment of the night. Home Run Inn claims that they cook their frozen pizzas the same way they make the ones they sell at their pizzerias and then flash freeze them. After eating the frozen pizza, I don't see how that's possible. I tasted more oregano in the sauce than tomato. I was happy to find that the sausage was pretty good quality.

    The Lou Malnati's cannot fairly be judged. The crust was shockingly bad, which was surprising because Malnati's has excellent crust and this was bought directly from a pizzeria. I think Francisco has to take the blame for this one since he did not follow the instructions on the package.

    The California Pizza Kitchen was not good, and I say this without any of the reviewer's admitted irrational biases. The garlic flavor was nice, and the spinach (which was aesthetically unappealing) was fine for frozen spinach. The crust had an odd grainy texture and the cheese tasted a little off (sorry, I couldn't really put my finger on what was funny about it). The pizza left a bad aftertaste that I did not appreciate at all.

    I thought the mushrooms on the DiGiorno was incredibly bland. Like the CPK pizza, I thought it had a good garlic flavor. I didn't realize there was creme fraiche on it until I read the review. The crust was nice and crisp - one of the best of the night.

    The Freshetta 4 cheese had bland cheese. If you're going to market a cheese specialty pizza, the cheese should not suck. The puffy crust was not good at all and was way too mushy. I did like sauce - I thought it had some good seasoning as compared to the others we tried.

    The Tombstone pizza sucked. I took one bite and gave the rest to Fred, but not before first throwing out some of the toppings. That's right, the Tombstone pizza, as constructed, was not good enough for my dog.

    Reggio's seemed to try for an eggy crust. They failed. Well, it was eggy, but it was bad eggy. The sauce had moderate seasoning, and I didn't think it was terrible. I thought the cheese was, texturally, the best of the night; it actually resembled fresh melted mozzarella on par with mediocre to above average pizzerias.

    My favorite crust of the night came from Gino's East. It had the same cornmeal crumbly taste and texture that the pizzas in the restaurant have (well, it was somewhat close anyhow). The sauce was also good. Unfortunately, the sausage was awful, almost as bad as the wet turds that were on the Tombstone pizza.

    All in all, a successful meeting that should remind us all what a treat it is to go out and eat fresh pizza as often as possible.

  4. Just like any type of food, fresher pizza is usually better pizza. It is not exactly fair to compare freshly baked pizza to pizza that was flash frozen, shipped, marketed, and then baked several weeks later. There are many challenges in making a frozen pizza. For example, in a pizzeria, a chef will "proof" the dough. This isn't poissible to do in frozen form. I think it's quite a technological feat that one can start their oven and 20 minutes later have a pizza that is even in the same league as pizzeria pizza... without leaving your house or having to cook... There are plenty of bad frozen and pizzas and there are plenty of bad pizzeria pizzas. I have much less tolerance for bad pizzeria pizza. Now for several brief reviews:

    Home run inn: uninspired
    newman own: crispy crust, good seasoning
    palermo: good aroma, tangy sauce
    Lous: cheesy
    digoriano: excellent mushrooms, salty but in a good way... bold
    tombstone: doughy, soggy crust, tastes frozen. horrible
    california pizza kitchen: soggy crust, bland spinach
    freschetta: good crust. not enough cheese. sauce tasted like a can of tomatos.
    regios: lots of cheese. too much salt

  5. I've come to see frozen pizzas as less of a guilty pleasure and more of an occasional, necessary evil. They're "good" when you absolutely must feed yourself and only have the energy (or coherence) to fire up the stove for 20 minutes or so. At best, they barely pass as edible, and often only that when drowned in sriracha. Therefore, judging the frozen pizzas was difficult; I had to just compare them to each other, in the field of frozen pizzas, and not to the real thing.

    Tombstone Deluxe -- This looked too gross to eat, and I'm not even referring to the simile to animal feces made by another reviewer -- I'm used to meat looking like that. Everything about it looked unappetizing and after seeing other members' responses, I decided I had too much respect for myself, and took a pass. (That said, I am guilty of the occasional cheese Tombstone, bathed in sriracha, while drunky drunk.)

    Palermo Rustica 6 Cheese -- I guess the bread it was on was okay, making it sorta like frozen garlic bread, but there was something stale-tasting in its ingredients that made it not as good.

    Newman's Own Pepperoni -- This one was okay, I guess. I kinda liked the flavor of the crust; it certainly didn't totally suck. I thought the pepperoni tasted like cardboard -- and I don't mean the absence of taste -- I mean the actual flavor of cardboard. The seasonings, (or was it the sauce?), I think had some kick, a bit of spice; and, that was nice.

    Home Run -- In comparison to the rest of the pizzas, this wasn't too bad! I thought the cheese was good, nice and stretchy. The bread had a decent yeasty taste, the sauce a nice sweetness not expected with frozen, for sure. I think this is going to replace cheese Tombstones as my go-to lazy, desperate frozen pizza. It's probably awesome dipped in ranch and hot sauce.

    Lou Malnatis -- I was expecting more of this pizza. When I was younger, I used to really enjoy frozen pizza from Uno, and so was expecting at least that level of quality, especially since Lou's has such a f'ing awesome pizza in the restaurant. And, it's not even that the toppings weren't good; on the contrary, the pepperoni had good flavor, (holy shit, especially compared to the others), the sauce very fresh and tomatoey, but man, the crust was BAD. I thought that it had been established that we cooked it correctly, but now reading the other reviews, I know that the disappointment might be partially our own fault. It was gummy, lacked the Lou's flavor that we are all used to, and was in general just a huge let down.

    DiGiorno Spinach -- I'm such a sucker for advertising, but somehow have never had DiGiorno, even though the TV has told me to for like a decade now. I thought this one had a good garlic flavor. What stood out in this one, (and was missing in all others), was that the mushrooms were actually tasty. They tasted good and fresh! WOW! The crust was boring, but really, isn't all frozen crust boring?

    CPK Spinach -- It seems redundant to point out that the spinach tasted like it had been frozen, but there you have it. However, it wasn't bad, and the crust was really crispy -- not a bad thing!

    Gino's -- Good crust, actually flavorful and buttery. The sauce was good, the cheese nice and stringy, but the sausage was bland. Can't win everything. Overall, this was one of my favorites, along with the Home Run.

    Freschetta 4-Cheese -- The most notable thing was the bad aftertaste of the crust. Not natural!

    Reggio's -- At this point I was really stuffed and didn't want to try any more, but I did anyways, and from what I remember, I think I liked it okay, but not enough to remember more than its just not grossing me out.

    Frozen pizza blows, but some blow more than others. Thank you, El Presidente, for not making us rate this one.

  6. The State of the Pizza Club meeting keeps getting better--big turnout, frozen pizza tasting menu, libations and good hosting by Dan and Phred.

    The Tombstone pizza was heavenly. Okay, don't have a heart attack, I'm kidding. The sausage is weirdly spongy and I suspect lots of preservatives in the vegetables that gives them a unique rubbery-ness. I also prefer the Tombstone supreme with pepperoni. However, I've had this pizza since I was a kid and with Tabasco it's a decent last resort or a trip down memory lane.

    The real best pizzas of the night were the Palermo, DiGiorno flatbread, Home Run Inn, Gino's East and Freschetta.

    The Palermo had a decent crust that wasn't full-on cardboard. I thought all those cheeses blended fairly well and the seasoning made it seem legit.

    DiGiorno flatbread had surprisingly good mushrooms for a frozen. The cheese wasn't too bad either, but in general I'm not too excited about frozen pizzas that don't have pepperoni.

    Home Run Inn had the best sausage of the frozens. The cheese was decent and the crust was tolerable, though a bit thick-cardboardy. However, it was quite oily. All together, one of the best frozens out there.

    Gino's wins the points for the cornmeal crust which, while not as good as the restaurant, are distinctive enough. The sausages weren't as good as the restaurant either, but overall had higher satisfaction compared to other frozens.

    I thought the Freschetta was kind of like the poor step-brother of the Palermo's, and with my low expectations for frozens, this barely passed.

    The big disappointment was the Lou Malnati's. Super-tart/tangy sauce, poor cheese, forgetable crust. I hear there may have been a problem in preparation, so I'll hold off judgement. However, I don't see how that sauce would become less tart. It was strange.

    The Newman's Own I don't quite remember for some reason. The wine was kicking in.

    California Pizza Kitchen was forgettable. Same with Reggios. I didn't care for them, nor do I remember much other than they had the basic bad frozen pizza qualities. Oh, I do remember thinking Reggios crust was too stiff and thick, but that's about it.

    Frozen pizza technology has marginally improved. I don't mind the crappiness, in fact I just consider it a part of the experience. Tabasco is key in sprucing up the flavor. If anything, frozen pizzas will give you a good memory and a reminder to get out of the house!

  7. Frozen pizzas aren't all bad. They're convenient, cheap, and you can choose whether to cook them long enough for the cheese to bubble and turn brown or not. My staple is the Trader Joe's Pizza Margherita.

    On Saturday, we tried ten pizzas. I scored each of them, but since this review doesn't call for numbers, I'll list mine from best to worst. Here they are:

    Newman's Own / crisp, really thin, flavorful
    California Pizza Kitchen / extremely thin, spinach tastes great, nice and crispy crust
    Palermo's / very chewy, lots of dough, crisp on bottom
    DiGiourno Flatbread / rich, crispy, creamy
    Homerun Inn / buttery, flaky crust
    Gino's / lots of sauce on top, very cheesy, bready, soft crust
    Reggio's / very cheesy, salty, bready crust, kind of dry, flaky. didn't really taste the sauce.
    Freshetta / very bready, kind of spicy sauce, dry crust
    Tombstone / somewhat bready, poor sausage
    Lou Malnatti's / very sour, not sure why..., doughy and cheesy

    So there it is. None of these pizzas were inedible, except for Lou Malnatti's. Even if this was due to incorrect preparation / cooking, I would still stay clear of this brand because frozen pizzas aren't supposed to be hard to make.

  8. Wow... people are giving these pizzas much more thought than they probably deserve. Of course these pizzas are going to be bad... honestly it's probably best to not even think of them as pizzas. That being said, I have to say that there were a few suprises... I have been known on occasion to pick up certain brands in a pinch for a quick meal, and in comparison to some of the other brands I tried the other night I can definitely say that some of my frozen "pizza" shopping habits will be changing.

    For starters... Newman's Own! Wow, where have you been all my life? Apparantly Paul Newman has cracked the frozen pizza code from beyond the grave because I can honestly say that this was the best thing I ate the whole night.

    Slight honorable mentions—very slight—go to the following frozen brands; Home Run Inn (not great, but passable), Freschetta (always liked their crust), Reggio's (pretty basic, no glaring faults).

    In the "No, just no" category we have the following; Tombstone, California Pizza Kitchen and Lou's...

    So I guess the moral of the story is that I'll be looking for Paul Newman's smiling face and deep blue eyes the next time I wipe the condensation off of the frozen food display door looking for a frozen pizza.

  9. So as you can tell by my review, only a few of these were worth the time. I will only make a few points in this section.

    As far as the cooking of the Lou's, yes, I did not follow the directions. But, they clearly state that it may be cooked from frozen but they RECOMMEND thawing it first. much like many frozen pizza eaters, we were rushed and cooked it from frozen. i suspect most of their customers do the same. and as mawatras pointed out above, frozen pizza should be easy. if i'm taking the time to wait 3 hours to eat a frozen pizza, i would just as soon get it from the restaurant. maybe this is more applicable in places where lou's does not have multiple franchises, but i don't live in those sad places.

    i also wanted to commend the Newman's Own once more. No, it wasn't amazing. But a few of us felt it was the best frozen pizza of the night and I thought it was the best frozen pizza I've ever had. Way to go. It's like winning the gold medal in the Spec - oh wait, can't say that. Um...it's like winning the NFC West the last few seasons.

    I regret we weren't able to try a few others out there, but that was a lot of bad pizza for one night. We did yeoman's work in pushing those down.

  10. It has been a long time between my frozen pizza eating youth and college days to today. Although none of these pizzas could hold a candle to the restaurant stuff, frozen pizza has come a long way.

    When I tried the Tombstone I had a sensory flashback to the days when everything on a pizza tasted the same and was only identifiable by it color and shape. The mono-flavor toppings were layered over a crust that was hard and doughy at the same time. It reminded me of the McCain's pizzas of my Canadian youth. It was evident that it had been flash frozen to -40 to withstand long distance transport. I am really glad it was chosen for the review. This pizza offered a good baseline to compare the newer offerings.

    There are a few major areas where frozen home pizzas fail due to their need for mass market appeal. One big one is spicing and seasoning. In an effort to not offend anyone I am sure some of them were watered down by the corporate committee's that approved them for sale. The Tombstone, California Pizza Kitchen and Freschetta fell into this category. The California Pizza Kitchen, along with bland flavoring didn't really have anything else to make it stand out. The crust was also sub par. The Freschetta suffered from a canned sauce that drowned out the rest of the flavor although they did an admirable job trying to replicate a soft crust.

    That brings us to the one area that will admittedly separate the home pizza experience from the restaurant for many years to come, the ability to execute the frozen crust. The Gino's pizza had a good balance of flavor but the crust bordered on soggy. The other deep dish pizzas had different pluses and minuses but the deep dish crust is tough to replicate. The Reggio's had the best cheese of the lot. The Malnati's had a sharper sauce that I liked but overall it was not as good as Reggios. The Homerun Inn also had good sauce but suffered from a cardboard crust. The chemist that can simulate a fresh crust from the freezer will be a very wealthy man...and I am sure it will take advanced chemistry.

    The remaining two pizzas that I tried did not suffer any of major pitfalls like the rest. The Rustico was well herbed and all the other characteristics were at least on par with its peers. However, the DiGiorno had the flakiest crust and was salty but not too much so. I think overall it best suites the palette of the post bar 4 AM hunger fix.

    While none of these is restaurant quality it is important to keep in mind what they really compete against, the other freezer burnt stuff in your fridge that can be cooked in 30 min or less. When viewed in this light I think some of them stand up pretty well. I will keep a DiGiorno in the back of my freezer for the next time I think I am hungry at 4 AM.

  11. I haven't attended meetings in a while, but I'm glad to have returned with this one.

    At first I thought, why waste my time? But you've got to know the worst before you can understand excellence.

    There was a nice selection, including some gourmet brands which turned out to be my favorites. CPK and Newman's, even D'Giorgno's was not bad.

    My only warning is to try and stay away from frozen deep dish pizza. If you're buying a frozen pizza you're probably too lazy to do it right. Otherwise you'd go to any number of the deep dish pizza restaurants in Chicago. And if you're not from here, then visit.

    As for nostalgia's sake, Tombstone did nothing for me. In fact, it upset me to think that it was so bad and that so many Americans eat it.

    My final thoughts: don't eat frozen pizza. If you must, I'd stick with the more "gourmet" brands. But honestly, if I'm not getting real pizza, then I might as well make a boboli. It's just one step closer to fresh.

  12. Frozen pizza is definitely in its own category, but you could often find one in my freezer during my law school days. It can be a good quick, hot lunch when you don't want to go out or cook. I used to always get Amy's frozen pizzas, which for the record do not have enough sauce but are better than just about all those we tried at the CPC meeting. I was kind of shocked by the variety of frozen pizza brands in the freezers at Dominick's. We tried to get a good selection of popular brands, but there are many more out there.

    I am going to follow Mikel's lead and put them in order from best to worst:

    Newman's Own: perfectly crisp, very thin crust. none of the frozen pizza crusts had any flavor, so getting a nicely browned crispy crust is pretty much the pinnacle of frozen pizza success. It had a good level of spice, and I did not think the pepperoni was as bad as everyone else seems to say. Frozen pizza is not on my shopping list anymore, but I would try this again before all the others.

    Reggio's: this was the last one we tried, so it's possible that just having any flavor made it stand out after the onslaught of bland cardboard and flavorless stringy cheese. That said, I didn't find it as oversalted as others have, and I thought it was one of the best sauces and cheeses of the night, though the crust kind of failed.

    Lou Malnati's: I'm pulling this one up a bit based on my memory of having it once before when cooked according to the recommended instructions. It's nowhere near as good as the restaurant, but it is a half-step up from plain old frozen pizza.

    Palermo's: good cheese.

    California Pizza Kitchen: I did not think this pizza was so bad, because I happen to really like spinach. Like any vegetable, it's better fresh, but I also like it frozen and I cook with frozen spinach quite a bit. The piece I got had crisp enough crust, and though the cheese was bland and it certainly wasn't an attractive pie, the spinach won me over.

    Gino's East: not impressed overall, but the sauce was okay.

    Digiorno: blech. tried too hard to defy its frozen, preservative-ridden nature, leading to an over-herbed mess.

    Home Run Inn: nothing like the restaurant. the crust doesn't seem to cook right. cheese and sauce okay.

    Tombstone: purported to have many toppings, but they all tasted the same. so processed. i think the toppings were cheese food, green pepper food, onion food, sausage food, tomato food, and pepperoni food. if you're going to go the tombstone route, get a cheese pizza.

    Freschetta: I thought this crust was disgusting. super hard and browned on the bottom, fluffy mess on top, barely any cheese or other toppings.

    Overall, I think cheese pizza is the way to go with the frozen variety. And while I would choose just about any restaurant pizza over frozen pizza, the better frozen varieties still surpass the likes of Domino's and Little Caesar's.


  13. Because I don't have internet at my new place, I have to post this at work. So, I am going to keep it short given the recent "internet monitorings."

    I'd say my faves were the Newmans (nice crispy crust), the DiGiorno Crispy Flatbread (wonderful mushroom, onion, and garlic flavors), and although it was very unpopular at the meeting the Gino's. I think I just really liked the cornmeal crust and I thought the sauce was decent.

    Stay away from the Six-Chees Rustica. The crust is too chewy, and although I'm pretty flexible when it comes to a little bit of chew in a crust, this one was like Wonderbread. Also avoid the Tombstone. The sauce is just too sweet. Even though there were a lot of veggies on this one, you couldn't taste anything other than a super sugary sauce.

    The rest of the pizza were generally ho-hum in my opnion. I think a good rule of thumb is to stick frozen pizza altogether and make yourself a sandwich if you can't get to a real pizza place.

  14. Although I have a passion for pizza, frozen pies don’t usually factor into the equation. If I’m cooking a pie at home, it’s a true homemade pizza, not something shipped across the country on a piece of cardboard. From my frozen pizza days of the past, I do remember taking a liking to those from Home Run Inn. I took a frozen Malnati’s pie to my parents for Christmas so was anxious to try it out as well. The pizzas below are listed in order of favorite to least favorite.

    Home Run Inn – The Home Run Inn pizza was the one I was sure I’d enjoy. One thing I’ve always liked about Home Run Inn pizza is that it cooks up well (slightly browned cheese with a crust that is firm on the outside and tender inside). The pizza toppings are of decent quality and are actually better than those of many pizzeria pizzas I’ve eaten at. This is a reasonable facsimile of a proper pizza.

    Gino’s -- The first thing I noticed on this pizza was that it came with a pop-up thermometer (like a turkey would come with), a good idea considering the thickness. This pie had a watery pool forming on the top which combined with the excessive cheese made for quite a messy eat. The taste was much better than I expected, with the only letdown being the poor quality sausage. If this pie had a sausage patty instead of sausage droppings, I would consider purchasing one in a pinch. Good (for a frozen Chicago-style) and much better than the Lou’s pizza.

    Freschetta 4-Cheese – Who would have thought that a frozen cheese pizza would be this good? I’m not saying it’s a great pie, just good. The soft and puffy crust combined flavors of garlic provide a nice base for this pizza. The sauce has a sweet flavor, which I normally wouldn’t care for; but through a bunch of oregano and basil in it and I’m game.

    Palermo Rustica 6 Cheese – A 6-cheese pizza with light cheese! The saving grace of this pie was that it wasn’t slathered in cheese. If the crust wasn’t as doughy and flavorless at it was, this pie would have ranked higher than it did.

    DiGiorno – The DiGiorno is not something I ever would have purchased; lacking meat or tomato sauce I have a hard time seeing why they would even produce such a thing. The garlic and olive oil base left a heavy after-taste that was a bit unpleasant. The mushrooms had a surprisingly decent flavor that I would put up against even a pizzeria pizza. Overall it was decent but just not my style.

    Tombstone – The Tombstone pizza brought back a flood of memories from my childhood. I forgot that the roller-skating rink I went to growing up served this pizza until I took the first bite. Unfortunately it’s going to take me another 20 years to suppress the memories of this bad pie again. Watery vegetables, questionable sausage, bad crust and sauce make me wonder if it was this bad in my youth.

    CPK – California Pizza Kitchen makes a decent cracker crust. Any points gained by the crust though were lost with the plastic-like cheese that left me with a sticky gullet. When it’s time to thin the frozen pizza section at the grocery, I hope this pie steps forward.

    Reggio's – The only thing I can give Reggio’s pizza is that it had good cheese. Bad crust and sauce that taste like chef Boyardee don’t make for a good combination.

    Newman's Own Pepperoni – If Paul Newman owned a cardboard manufacturing company he could consolidate operations with his pizza venture and save some money.2nd worst pizza of the night.

    Lou Malnatis – I never would have thought that Lou’s pizza would be the bottom of the ratings but this was bad. A friend and I each gave one of these pies for Christmas presents and both recipients had the same complaint; they didn’t cook well. I’m confident that this could be a decent pie if you could figure out how to cook it properly (and don’t have 9 other pizzas to cook). The only redeeming thing I can say is that it did have the best pepperoni of the night.

  15. El Presidente, I tried writing a post on Monday morning. However, even with two cups of coffee rapidly sloshing through my empty GI tract, I could not find the words to adequately describe the sheer lack of competence and joy that I tasted on Saturday night.

    I will not rehash what has already been more artfully and thoughtfully said. In brief:

    (1) The best frozen: Home Run Inn. The pizza tasted like pizza. Crust was solid. Sauce was noticeable. Cheese tasted like cheese and the sausage tasted like sausage.

    (2) The worst frozen: The rest. Some general observations that can be applied to all remaining pizzas: poorly engineered sauces manifest in water separation from synthetic sauce blends at boiling point, rubber mistaken as cheese as a result of someone at the Lou Malnati's Pizza plant mistakenly ordering a ton of rubber from Brazil instead of mozzarella from Wisconsin, crust = water-drenched, lukewarm toast, etc... The observations continue.

    Don't buy frozen pizzas.

    I am looking forward to I Monelli's.


  16. Chicago Pizza Club,

    It appears that you are having some of the same issues that I am facing. I have been doing an extensive frozen pizza review over on my blog the past several months. My conclusions so far is that DiGiorno and Red Baron seem to be topping the list. Come give my sight a visit some time and feel free to comment as you see fit. The frozen pizza reviews are under the frozen pizza category on the left hand side.

    Blog Pizza

  17. This was before my time with CPC, but I feel compelled to say that I really like the Home Run Inn classic-style frozen pizzas. I'm not as big a fan of their sausage, and usually get either the only-pepperoni or cheese, but I find them to be much better than the other options in the grocer's freezer. Every time I've served this pizza to friends, they all comment on how great they thought it was.

    The rest of those are, for all pizza intents and pizza purposes, shit. But I still eat stuff like that, unbegrudgingly, I might add.

  18. I redact my above comment to exclude Gino's East, which is not too bad, and Newman's Own and Lou Malnati's, neither of which I've had (of course I've had Malnati's at the restaurant - just not frozen).