Friday, April 30, 2021

CPK BBQ Recipe Chicken (Crispy Thin Crust)

If you're under the age of 35, you probably think of California Pizza Kitchen as the Chili's or Cheesecake Factory of pizza restaurants: a large chain with a massive, disparate menu of items, most of which many arrive at the restaurant frozen or precooked. 

And you are not wrong.

But, once upon a time, CPK was actually a delicious place. When I was a kid, there were only about 20 locations, all in California. The dough was made in-house, the vegetables and cheese were fresh, and it actually felt like you were in a pizza restaurant. The menu did not contain roasted salmon, asian dumplings, or multiple pastas 

There were a bunch of different pizzas, a few salads, and that was about it. I loved the place. 

Then Pepsi bought the chain, dramatically increased expansion, and started making the dough in a central location and shipping it frozen to the restaurants. Other items were no longer prepared fresh, but rather stocked frozen and reheated to order. 

A few years later, a private equity firm acquired the restaurant (it would not be the last time this happened) and my visits dropped from a-couple-of-times-per-month to about once per year. Often less. (Tomorrow will be May 2021; my last visit to a CPK was in August of 2012.) 

In a move that came as no surprise to anyone who knows the slightest thing about restaurant chains, CPK licensed their name to Kraft at the beginning of the century, who in turn started selling frozen pizzas bearing the CPK name. Just like Chili's, PF Chang's, TGIFriday's, and all the other chains that CPK has now become. 

And the frozen pizzas weren't bad. They weren't exactly good, of course, but, since CPK had been using frozen-and-defrosted dough in their restaurant kitchens for years, the new frozen line wasn't that different from the restaurant pizzas of the late 20th century. (Obviously, the frozen pizzas were nowhere near as good as the restaurant had been in its early days.)

It looks attractive, no doubt about that. Almost like a take-and-bake pizza, not something that has been frozen for weeks. 

Unfortunately, everything is done half-ass. 

With the exception of the crust. That wasn't half-ass. 

That was total ass. 

The crust was quite thin but without any flavor at all. I would have much preferred a tortilla. 

The sauce was kind of sweet, but not really. The chicken was kind of good, but not really. 

The red onions were of decent size, but, as with almost all frozen red onions, without flavor. 

If this pizza were priced around 4 or 5 dollars, I would give it three stars. It's not bad; it's just not good. 

But.. and this is a big but... CPK's frozen pizzas are some of the most expensive you will find. At Walmart, they're usually 8 bucks. At my local market - admittedly a relatively rural market that is literally the only market within 10 miles - they cost 10 bucks. 

That's just way too much for a frozen pizza unless it's great. And this ain't great. 

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•

Friday, April 16, 2021

Road Trip

Happy Friday. 

I'm off to a different state today to see old friends, buy beer, and pick up a few frozen pizzas that I can't get around my neighborhood.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Kroger French Bread Pizza Supreme

 
A few months back, I told you of these Kroger pizzas that are perpetually on sale for $1 each. It wasn't particularly flavorful, but I found it to be decent, especially for that price. 

Today, I decided to try the "Supreme" version. 

I cooked it in the microwave for one minute, then the air fryer for three. 

You may think I'm BSing you here, but I assure you, I am not: it was some of the very best pizza sauce I have ever had on a pizza. 

I swear. 

It had the deep roasted-red-pepper flavor of Tombstone's pizza sauce, which I absolutely love and is the sole reason I ever eat Tombstone pizza, as their crust is absolutely terrible. 

The toppings were nothing special, though I do not believe anyone is expecting them to be at this price. 

But this sauce. Damn. I'm hesitant to buy another one because I doubt it will be as good. 

Oh, but if it is... 

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•

Friday, March 26, 2021

Trader Joe's Organic 3 Cheese Pizza

I wasn't terribly impressed with Trader Joe's take on a four-cheese pizza. 

So what are the odds that I will like the three-cheese version? 

There's only one way to find out. 

It looks the same as the four-cheese. 

It tasted... well, how should i put this... it tasted fine. 

But something was missing. 

(And no, not a fourth cheese.)

I kept expecting more flavor in each bite, and it just wasn't there. It reminded me of a decent Italian restaurant's breadsticks. Yeah, it's nice to snack on, but I don't want to eat it as a main course. 

It was satisfying, and on those occasions when a big snowstorm is coming and I load up on Trader Joe's frozen pizzas, I will still buy this one. It is an excellent platform for adding hot sauce, which is something I enjoy doing to cheese pizzas. 

But I don't understand why the carry both this pizza and a four-cheese version. It's redundant. 

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•

Friday, March 12, 2021

Sam's Choice Thin Crust Philly Cheese Steak Pizza


There are almost no foods in the entire world better than a truly great cheesesteak. 

Unfortunately, there are almost no foods worse than a crappy cheesesteak. 

Ordinarily, I would not expect a cheesesteak to translate well to pizza. However... I said the exact same thing about a Cuban sandwich, and Kroger's take on the Cuban sandwich was one of the best pizzas to feature on this blog.

So... why not?

The frozen steak looked unappetizing. I mean, I'm not sure I have ever seen frozen steak that looked anything other than unappetizing, but still. 

The combination of the mozzarella and "creamy cheese sauce" was delicious. It reminded me of the beautiful grease bomb quality of a good cheesesteak. 

But that was the only good part about it. 

The green peppers were flavorless, as frozen peppers usually are. 

The steak was crappy but then again I have never had good steak on a pizza. In fact... I'm not sure if I have ever had any steak on a pizza before. Maybe flank steak at some point. But obviously it wasn't that memorable. 

If you're craving a cheesesteak, seek out a good one in your town. Don't get this pizza. I won't be getting it again. 

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•

Friday, March 5, 2021

Foster Farms Smart Crust Uncured Pepperoni

Pizza is not a healthy food. There is pretty much nothing you can do about that. It's bread topped with melted cheese and often other meats. 

That is also, it probably goes without saying, why it is one of the most delicious things in the world. Cheese and gluten taste really, really good. 

What happens if you don't use bread as the base of your pizza?

That's the point of these new Foster Farms pizzas. 

Instead of a traditional pizza crust, they use one made of chicken breast, egg whites, and cheese. 

Understand, this does not make it a healthy pizza. It still is extremely high in calories and fat. 

Especially when you consider how small it is. (I photographed it on top of a Trader Joe's pizza for perspective.)

But in matters of frozen pizza, I don't care about anything except taste. 

There are foods where I will sacrifice flavor for nutrition. Pizza is not one of them. When I eat pizza, be it fresh or frozen, I do not care about health, cost, or convenience. All I care about is how it tastes. 

And how did this one taste?

It was the worst frozen pizza I have ever had. 

The "crust" tasted exactly like an omelet. I could not taste the sauce, nor the cheese on top, nor could I even taste the pepperoni. 

All I could think with each bite was: I'm eating an omelet

Now, if that sounds good to you, by all means, give this pizza a try. If you love pizza but cannot eat carbs, maybe you will like this. 

But you could accomplish the same thing by scrambling some eggs and topping them with cheese and pepperoni. 

(If you are simply trying to avoid gluten, there are much better options for gluten-free frozen pizza.)

I really can't remember the last time I hated a food as much as I did this. 

THE RATING: πŸ•

Friday, February 26, 2021

Urban Pie Uncured Pepperoni with Creamy Rosa Sauce


Okay, we're back. 

My computer was so screwed up that it would have literally cost more to repair than purchase a new one, so I did the latter. 

It sucks, but that's the last 11 months for you, right?

I've had my eye on this pizza for quite a while. Urban Pie has what is probably the most attractive packaging (to my eye, of course) of any frozen pizza brand. And the one pie of theirs that I did try was decent. And in the world of frozen pizza, decent is often much better than average. 

It had been so many weeks that I forgot to take a photo of the pizza before I popped it in the oven, as I usually do. My bad. 

The best part of the pizza? The pepperoni. It tasted just like the pepperoni you get in a great pizzeria. Full of flavor, slightly charred around the edges, and small pools of fat residing in each cup. 

It was also the saltiest pepperoni I have ever tasted on a frozen pizza. No doubt about that. 

The creamy rosa sauce was tasty but, instead of offering a nice foil to the pepperoni, it was almost completely drowned out by the saltiness of the meat. In other words, it wasn't necessary. This sauce would have been better utilized on another pizza. 

The crust was your generic crispy, flavorless crust. With a softer and tastiest crust, this would have been four slices, no question. I'm tempted to make it four slices in spite of that crappy crust... but I just can't. It's a solid three-and-half slices, but, since I do not use a half-slice rating... 

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•

Friday, January 29, 2021

A Brief Intermission

My computer crashed and my pizza photos are unavailable at the moment. Hopefully I’ll be back next Friday. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust

Trader Joe's has certainly earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to frozen pizzas. I cannot remember the last time they offered a new one that I was not at least willing to try. 

(I'm not the biggest fan of pesto, but I do not hate it or anything, however - if this had been another brand, I probably would have passed.)

Also, "deep fried crust".... hell yes. 

I'm not entirely sure what is meant by "Naples style crust." I was in Naples once but I was a teenager. And drunk most of the time. I remember eating pizza; I do not remember what it tasted like. 

As with all Trader Joe's pizzas of late, there was a LOT of crust. However, at least they let you know that up front: the photo on the box is accurane.

It was... good. I can't be any more effusive. The flavors were not bad. It's just that they were so bland. 

This is my main complaint with pesto sauce. It's a good complement to pasta on occasion but it's not flavorful enough to be used as a base for a pizza. Unless you're going to add bold flavors, don't use pesto. 

However, that gave me an idea. 

I reduced balsamic vinegar. 

And drizzled it over the pizza, This made it MUCH better. 

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•

(THE RATING WITH A BALSAMIC VINEGAR REDUCTION: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•)

Friday, January 15, 2021

Whole Foods 365 Thin Crust Margherita

Do you remember the first Whole Foods pizza I tried? It was barbecue chicken back in October and I was shocked at how much I liked it. 

So I bought several more. And hated the next two I tried - rising crust pepperoni and thin crust supreme. 

This Margherita is the last of them about which I will write. 

Ever. 

I did not hate this one like the previous two... but it wasn't very good. 

So I guess the BBQ chicken pizza was the outlier. 

Here's the deal: This Margherita pizza had a decent crust - it was one of the most buttery crusts I have ever had on a frozen pizza. And the sauce was very tomato-forward; unlike the last two 365 pizzas, this actually had good flavors. 

I wish there had been more pronounced garlic flavor, but then again I saw that about almost everything I eat that contains garlic. (In my mid-20s, I had a coworker who was half-Mexican, half-Salvadoran, and that dude could eat spicier foods and more garlic than anyone I have ever met. One day, the two of us decided to order a pizza for lunch and requested TRIPLE garlic on it. It was the only pizza of my life where I shrugged and said "Okay, yeah, that was too much garlic." Jose agreed.)

But overall, this thing was just too boring. 

So I have now eaten four Whole Foods pizzas. One was delicious, two were not good, and this one was completely middle-of-the-road.

I don't use half-slice ratings, but if I did, this one would be the exact definition of two-and-a-half. The reason I'm going to bump it up to three is that this pie's blandness served as a perfect vehicle for adding hot sauce. 

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•

Friday, January 8, 2021

WisePies Hatch Green Chile Four Cheese

 
I'll give it to WisePies - their packaging is cool. The box invokes memories of many of the great pizzerias I have visited on vacations in New York City over the years, to say nothing of the 18 months that I lived in Brooklyn. The red and white striping, the cool hat in the logo... I had hopes that this pizza would be good. 

Spoiler alert: The packaging is the best part of the pizza. By far. 

First of all, WisPies is based in Albuquerque. So I don't know why they chose their name. 

(There is also a pizza place in Albuquerque called Goodfellas, which just happens to be the name of my favorite movie... and it was one of the three worst pizzas I have ever tried.) 

Second... the company did not originate as a classic pizzeria, but rather a fast food business, and it's now closed. Does that inspire good feelings? 

Hatch green chiles are delicious. It was disappointing to find such a meager amount. 

Oh boy. 

Where to begin. 

Let's start with the crust. 

When people say they hate frozen pizza crust, this is exactly of what they are speaking. Flavorless and tasting stale even when baked. 

I roll my eyes when someone says a crust tastes "like cardboard." First of all, it is perhaps the biggest clichΓ© in food, but more importantly... who the fuck has ever eaten cardboard? How do you know what cardboard tastes like? Can't you find any other way to put down a crust?

That being said, if I ever did take a bite of cardboard, I would not be shocked to find it tastes like this. 

The Hatch chiles were some of the worst I have ever had. A great Hatch chile - and freshly-roasted Hatch chiles are one of the great foods in the world - contains a depth of earthy flavors and spices that make you wonder why you don't put Hatch chiles on everything you eat. 

These had no flavor and no spice whatsoever. They might as well have been bell peppers.

The pizza sauce was the lone highlight of the pie: it tasted like roasted tomatos and fresh herbs. I wish they had put any of the effort that went into making the sauce into the rest of the pizza, too. 

WisePies offers other flavors but this was such a staggering disappointment that there is no way I will ever try any of them. 

THE RATING: πŸ•