"What’s the matter with you kids? It’s frozen pizza!”
I couldn’t believe it — my own children picking at the cheese on top and regarding me with mournful eyes. And me trying to get out the door to go see a movie with Patrick. “Time for a taste test,” he said to me. “With the kids.”
I called my friends to help narrow down the test subjects — frozen pizza gets its own section in the frozen-food aisle — only to discover that several of them didn’t ever eat the stuff. My best lead concerned the Albertsons brand of frozen pizzas — friend Stephanie let me know that they were 20 percent off on Fridays. “Dinner for $4,” she beamed.
My friend Lissa laughed when she heard about my strikeouts. “Our family considers frozen pizza its own food group. The kids eat cheese and pepperoni, and I’ll sometimes get one with vegetables on it. I know it’s not that healthy — the sauce is full of salt and preservatives, and Lord knows what’s in the pepperoni — but we still eat a lot of it.”
“Well, this pepperoni is uncured,” I said, handing her a slice of Wolfgang Puck pizza (13.5 oz., $7.29 at Albertsons). “Oooh,” she murmured. “This pepperoni has got a smoky bite to go with the spicy kick. The sauce is a touch salty, but there’s a wonderful, toasted, nutty taste to the cheese.”
The Puck crust was thin. The next crust — undergirding a five-cheese pizza from Albertsons Culinary Circle brand (1 lb. 13 oz., $5.49) — was not. “Thick crusts can get doughy,” observed Patrick, “but this one is pillowy-soft. And I like that there’s plenty of sauce and plenty of oregano in the sauce. It goes well with all that cheese.” (And all our kids asked for seconds! Perhaps Friday night can be movie night!)
The kids also went after the Bella Napoli Bambino Pizza Pepperoni (16 oz., $3.99 at Trader Joe’s), another winner in the crust department. “It’s al dente,” said Patrick. “Crisp on the edge,” I added, “with a touch of sweetness that’s nice against the salty pepperoni.” Not so the crust on the Trader Joe’s Pizza Margherita (14.83 oz., $3.99). Both Lissa and Patrick compared it to wet cardboard. I wondered if a baking stone under the crust might have helped to crisp it up. The Trader Joe’s Three-Cheese (13.4 oz, $4.29) didn’t fare much better — though the cheeses were tip-top. “I’m just picking off the cheese,” griped Lissa. “This is not a pizza-eating experience.”
“Is that licorice in the sauce?” she asked, screwing up her face after a bite of Tombstone Original Cheese Pizza (20.5 oz., $7.19 at Vons). “Mmm…a thick blanket of cheese on a bed of licorice sauce,” laughed Patrick. “Maybe it’s an herb?” I ventured, but Patrick disagreed. “I doubt the good people at Tombstone are spicing things up with anise on pizza.”
Nobody cared for the Celeste Original Cheese (5.58 oz., $1.99 at Vons). “A bitter sauce and a useless crust,” I complained. “I usually get it with peppers and onions, which makes it tolerable,” countered Lissa.
Jeno’s Pepperoni (6.8 oz., $1.50 at Vons) was up next, and it stirred happy memories for Lissa. “Sometimes my husband will come home from work and see that desperate look in my eyes — the kids have been fed oatmeal because I couldn’t even get it together enough to cook a frozen pizza. He’ll send me to rest and show up 15 minutes later with one of these. I love the sweetness of the sauce, and I love to pick off the chunks” — not slices — “of pepperoni. A baking stone helps crisp the crust, and when they’re on sale, you can get them for $1.”
Patrick was unmoved. “Pepperoni should be round,” he argued.
“But the shape makes it into a chewy treat!” answered Lissa.
“Would you top your pizza with Slim Jims, too?”
Just then, Lissa’s husband Scott trundled in from work. I hauled out his favorite, Stouffer’s French Bread Pepperoni Pizza (11.5 oz, $4.49 at Vons). “Stouffer’s crushes all!” he exclaimed before noting that “French bread pizza holds its heat really well and will burn the bejeebers out of your mouth if you’re not careful. And some of the pepperoni falls off into the freezer bag, and you must be careful to put it back on the pizza before cooking.” Everybody agreed that the sauce was pleasantly savory and the French bread nicely crunchy-chewy, but Lissa smiled at Scott and reminded him of the little ones. “They’re too difficult for little kids to eat — the crust hurts their little mouths. And besides, it’s too expensive for an entire family. It’s definitely an adult pizza.”