Friday, April 24, 2020

Kroger Private Selection Cuban Inspired Ham & Swiss Pizza

This may surprise you, as I am the web's foremost expert on frozen pizza*, but I actually know far more about sandwiches. I am a renaissance man of sorts.

And I can count on one hand the number of sandwiches** I consider better than a Cuban sandwich, a grilled beauty of a thing that includes ham, roasted pork, pickles, Swiss cheese, and mustard, all on grilled Cuban bread.

How would that translate to pizza?

Let's be honest: probably not great. In addition to the wonderful flavors, the greatness of the Cuban sandwich lies in the contrast between the warm, gooey insides and the crispy, buttered roll. It would not work if cooked from frozen; I can't see how this will work.

But let's give it a try.

It's got a LOT going on. As you may see on the box: ham, Swiss, bacon, pickles, and several sauces.

420ΒΊ? Well, okay.

Have you ever seen directions for a frozen pizza whose instructed temperature does not end in 00ΒΊ, 25ΒΊ, or 50ΒΊ?

Me either.

Okay, they're just fucking with us, right? "Serve whole on a plate in classic restaurant style"?

In my entire life, I have only once been served a pizza that was not cut. I was one of the pretentious, lazily-made pizzas with a disc of cheese in the center that covered less than 1/3 of each slice. The rest of the pizza was bread. (I laughed and sent it back.)

It smelled really good out of the oven. 

It was much better than I expected.

There was a generous amount of ham and bacon and the rich, gooey cheese was a very nice contrast to the salty toppings.

I could not taste any mustard and there were not enough pickles; these two things prevented the pizza from truly tasting like a Cuban sandwich. 

The crust was inoffensive. It did not taste "artisan stone fired," but it did not taste, not by any means.

I did not think there was any chance I would enjoy the pizza this much.

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•

*This is probably not true
** Even if that hand only has three fingers: it's banh mi, shrimp po' boy, and lobster roll

Thursday, April 23, 2020

On Missing Photos

If you look through the past entries, you will notice lots of photos are missing. This is a Blogger (Google) issue. I did not delete any of them. I am going to go through and try to repair some manually but hopefully Google will find a way to fix it automatically.

Friday, April 17, 2020

Trader Joe's BBQ Recipe Chicken Pizza

It was a summer day in the early 90s. I wasn't even yet a teenager. It was a family vacation back when family vacations were still incredibly exciting, in those pre-internet days when you had little idea what to expect when you visited a new destination. We were on our way home from somewhere in Northern California, stopping for one last night of vacation in Santa Barbara.

We came upon a restaurant called California Pizza Kitchen. None of us had ever heard of it, though we were all big pizza eaters. As far I was concerned, there was only one kind of pizza: pepperoni. (I guess cheese would suffice if pepperoni were not available.)

So the CPK menu was a revelation: Goat cheese pizza? Teriyaki chicken pizza? Shrimp... on a pizza?

But I ordered the BBQ chicken pizza. I loved barbecue chicken then, as I do now, and besides, this restaurant was actually claiming to have invented the barbecue chicken pizza in 1985. How could I not?

Thus began my love affair with barbecue chicken pizza, one that has not faded one bit in almost three decades.

(Within a year, a CPK would open in my hometown and it became and almost weekly stop for my family. On Friday nights in high school, after basketball or baseball games, we would all go out to dinner at CPK and I would eat not one but two pizzas - the BBQ Chicken and the Teriyaki Chicken- and a large salad.)

But... it's a hard pizza to pull off in frozen variety. For starters, a great BBQ chicken pizza almost always includes cilantro and red onion, two things that lose most of their flavor when frozen. Second, the best BBQ chicken pizzas utilize Gouda, which is an expensive cheese. Though many frozen pizzas have gone upscale in the last few years, with the price tags that accompany such a move, for the most part, frozen pies eschew Gouda in favor of less expensive cheeses.

I don't even remember the first time I saw a frozen BBQ chicken pizza. It might not have been until the beginning of the century.

As with the Trader Joe's pizza about which I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I wish the toppings on this extended further towards the edge.

It had been many years since I had eaten one of these. It was a major disappointment. The chicken was not tender (as I had remembered it), the red onions were flavorless, and, though the cheese was good, there wasn't nearly enough.

The barbecue sauce was outstanding, however. Still... when the sauce is the best thing about a frozen pizza, that's not a great thing.

I added some fresh cilantro to a couple of slices. Which helped, but only barely.

I will try another one of these eventually and see if this pizza was an aberration, or if they're just not as good as the used to be. I'm guessing it's the later; here is a photo of a Trader Joe's barbecue chicken pizza I ate almost a decade ago:

Everything about it looks much better than this recent one.


Friday, April 10, 2020

Home Run Inn Margherita with Sausage

When you spend as much time reading about food as I do - and it's a shitload for someone who has never worked in the trade professionally (unless you count a few weeks working in the downstairs fry kitchen of a bar when I was 21, though I only did that because I had a crush on a girl who worked there) - you inevitably read rave reviews about products you have not tried.

One such product is Home Run Inn pizza. Any message board thread, or blog post on a popular website, about frozen pizza and its inherent crappiness is bound to elicit a comment from a reader that commands the writer to "try Home Run Inn."

Home Run Inn is a restaurant chain in the Chicago area. Despite having spent a large part of my life traveling around America, I have only been to Chicago once, where I ate at the legendary Pizzeria Uno and found it good but not nearly as good as its reputation.

(In the years since, I have repeated this anecdote to Chicago natives and every single one, without exception, called Pizzeria Uno overrated and "where the tourists go," which certainly described me. I should also point out that it was St. Patrick's Day and I did not feel like exploring too much of the city, as I have literally never seen such extreme public drunkenness - not even at Mardi Gras.)

In the 80s, Home Run Inn started selling frozen pizzas. I imagine in the Midwest you can buy them at all manner of stores, although the only place I have ever seen them in the West is at Sprouts. For this week's pizza, I selected the Margherita with sausage.

On one hand, the sausage looks better than you normally find on frozen pizza. On the other hand, it is curiously ringed around the edge of the pizza; there did not appear to be any in the center.

Instructions recommend cooking for 25-30 minutes, which is definitely on the high side. But not a terribly long time to wait if the pizza is going to be high quality.

The toppings are very good. The sausage is good, the cheese is very good (for frozen, of course), and the flavorful sauce features pieces of tomato. While this is common when you order a freshly-made Margherita pizza in a restaurant or pizza parlor, it is extremely rare when it comes to frozen Margherita pizzas.

The problem - and it is a big problem - is the crust. It is flavorless, which is the rule rather than exception with frozen pizza, but the main offense is that it is as dense as any frozen pizza crust I have ever tasted. In order to get to those tasty toppings, you have to bite through a crust that for a moment you fear might break a tooth.

Perhaps the long cooking time makes this crust too hard. Or perhaps their recipe just isn't good.

Home Run Inn offers a variety of "Ultra Thin" frozen pizzas, and I would love to try one. (These toppings on a thin or pliable crust would be a shoo-in for four stars, possibly flirting with five.) But, as I have never seen the Ultra Thin pizzas at Sprouts, I have never seen them anywhere, and a product locator on their website reveals none are available within 100 miles, so I won't get my hopes up.

Home Run Inn nailed the hard part. All they had to do was come up with a crust that didn't suck, and they failed. It's still better than most frozen pizza, but that's a low bar to clear.

THE RATING:  πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•

Friday, April 3, 2020


Trader Joe's offers both a three-cheese and a four-cheese pizza. This amuses me. Are there people who say "Woah, four cheese pizza? That's too much! Give me the three-cheese."

Of course, it's possible the pizzas have completely different cheeses and flavors. (I have tried the three-cheese before, but do not remember.)

This is a minor complaint for a frozen pizza that costs just over four bucks, but I wish the toppings extended closer to the edge of the crust. I mean, I still buy the pizza from time to time, so it's not a deal breaker. But every one looks like this. It doesn't seem like it would be difficult for them to extend the toppings another inch.

As with all Trader Joe's pizzas, this one cooks in a very short time.

This reminded me of cheese & crackers. That's not really an insult, as I love cheese & crackers. But it's not really a compliment, either. I couldn't taste any sauce and the whole thing was rather bland.

I bet this would be a lot better if you added some fresh herbs and cheese. That's true of all frozen pizzas, but especially this one.

It's not bad. It's just not very good. But... it's a good price. And right now, I much prefer going to Trader Joe's than any other store.

(Next week, however, I am going to Sprouts, as there is a pizza I particularly want to write about and that's the only place I can acquire it in my town.)

THE RATING: πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•