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Archive for the ‘Food Business’ Category

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review – An Aldi Product

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Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review“Mama Cozzi” is Aldi’s brand name for pizzas and related products. They come in a very wide variety of styles, both frozen and take and bake, and are value-priced like most all of Aldi’s products.  I’ve reviewed quite a few of them in the past, read some of them here.

I’m a pizza snob, but I find most of them a tick above “satisfactory.” They are certainly better than Dominos, Caesars, Pizza Hut and 755 of the frozen pizzas on the market.

They had a new one this week, “Tavern Inn” – in the frozen counter, and it appealed to me right away because the package bragged about “one half pound of real Wisconsin cheese,” and you could see the cheese was cut in thick shreds instead of the finely diced method most frozen pies use.  In my personal experience, I have found the former method of chees-ing on frozen pizzas makes for a better, and more even melt.

I thought this pie looked awfully familiar, and since Aldi employs a lot of brand name manufacturers to make their private label products, I would have been willing to bet this was made by Palermo’s in Milwaukee.  It resembles their “P’Mo’s” brand pizza.

But when I looked up the factory number, I found they are actually made by Minnesota pizza company Bernatellos, who labels include Bellatoria, Roma, Orv’s,  Real ‘Za, and “Brew Pub” and that’s the pie that Aldi’s Tavern Inn most closely resembles in appearance. Bernatellos plant is located in a distant northwestern exurb of Minneapolis, Maple Lake, pic below.

So popped this one in the oven, had picked out a combo sausage and pepperoni style, don’t know if there are others, didn’t look. It was done sooner than the package predicted for cook time, and I gotta say, I liked it.  Really.

It’s a cracker thin crust, in fact if you look at the bottom, there are bumps and docking marks that almost makes it look like a matzoh. About the same crunch as well. Ths sausage chunks are good-sized, important to me, and either the sausage or pepperoni had some nice heat to it, which I also like. The sauce leans a little sweet for my personal taste, but tolerable, and the “half pound of real Wisconsin mozzarella?”  Magnificent. Truly.

Aldi has been known to have some pizza styles that have come and gone, hope this isn’t one of them.

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Out of the box

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Out of the oven!

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Bernatellos Minnesota Factory

 

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

Mama Cozzis Tavern Style Pizza Review

 

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Buona Beef Grocery Review

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Buona Beef Grocery ReviewI’ve written a lot about Chicago’s Italian Beef sandwich. The easiest way to explain it to those not familiar is to say it’s a highly seasoned French Dip, but the “Dip” part is not on the side but involves dunking the entire sandwich in au jus (only if desired).  You can read my explanation of the origin if you like.

There are myriad restaurants that sell these marvels, many supplied by Chicago’s Vienna Beef Company, some shops that make their own. Used to be another big supplier, Scala, but I don’t see their product anymore, so don’t know if they are around or not. Devanco is another one, each of these probably does private label as well, and there are undoubtedly a number I don’t know about.

Many of these companies package for retail sale, you can find them at Chicago area grocery stores. I’ve tried and written about a lot of them, including Vienna and Mike Ditka’s for instance.

Enter Buona Beef, a mini-chain of Chicagoland restaurants specializing in Chicago foods – Beef, hot dogs, burgers, pizza.  I visited one for the first time a few weeks ago, and it’s quality, good food, efficient (counter) service.  They are supplied by a commissary/factory that they own, and they are also in the private label business, but lately, I’m seeing product in the stores under their own label. Italian Beef, Meatballs, and a couple other things in their line.

The product comes frozen solid in different weights. It is priced competitively, (but I think they are all too high, actually, I’d buy more if it cost less). I can tell you from experience (and the instructions on the package)  THAW FIRST. On an analog basis!  (Meaning in the frig overnight or on the counter for a few hours – not in the microwave!).  Then eat on a very gentle basis in a saucepan, select your bun/rol (in Chicago, Turano’s seems to be the preference).

Tong the meat into the bun if you want it “dry,”  add some jus to the bun if you want it “wet” or dunk the entire bun in jus for “wet.” Chicagoans often have the sandwich dressed with “giardiniera” a mixture of finely diced pickled vegetables, which can be hot or mild.  Melted mozzarella on top? That’s called a “cheezy beef.”  Wanna feel like a real insider?  Ask for a “Combo” which is an Italian Beef sandwich with an Italian sausage nestled in the beef (pictured).

Buona’s grocery product is good, very flavorful, nice slices of pure muscle beef, not a chopped, pressed, formed product like some companies. The ingredients list (pictured below) is straightforward and free of additives.  Up to this point in my life, as far as grocery store Italian Beef goes, Ditka’s was my favorite.  But now it’s a tie. So I’ll buy by price from here on out.

Haven’t tried Buona’s meatballs, will get around to that soon, I hope.  Buona does ship product, if you have a craving.

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Ingredient List

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Into the pan, prior to heating

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Italian Beef “Combo” “Dry”

 

 

Buona Beef Grocery Review

Buona Beef Grocery Review

 

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Odoms Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

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Odoms Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage ReviewI usually “make my own” breakfast sausage, and by that I mean I purchase ground pork, season it to my liking and fry it up.

After eggs, ground pork is usually the second least expensive protein in the store.

But I keep trying commercial preparations, and have reviewed a host of them, found here, including Bob Evans, Dollar Tree, Usingers, Grandma Pearl’s, Farmer John’s, Parkview (Aldi) and others.

This week, Odoms Tennessee Pride brand “Hot” (they also make “mild”)  was on sale, so I grabbed a chub.  Odom’s makes fresh sausage, pre-cooked sausage, breakfast sandwiches and sausage gravy. I’ve tried the frozen sausage gravy in the past. The company was started in 1943 in Tennessee and today is part of food giant Conagra. Conagra has a ton of food brands which you probably use regularly.

This particular chub of sausage was manufactured for Conagra at Abbyland Pork Pack in Curtiss, WI.

As to this sausage. I was quite pleased with it. Not a terribly fine grind, which gives it some texture. Handsome, authentic pork flavor, and just the right amount of heat for me. I can be a  wimp about hot foods sometimes. Not a whole lot of residual fat in the skillet after cooking, so that’s good too, it’s lean.

I’d buy it again, especially if was on sale, but even on sale, it’s still 30-40% more than fresh ground pork.

Odoms Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

Pan fried

 

Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

Tennessee Pride Hot Sausage Review

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Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review – An Aldi Branded Product

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Lunch Mate Cooked Ham ReviewI have reviewed quite a few products found at Aldi, a global grocery retailer that focuses on value-priced items.

They are able to achieve lower costs by largely staying away from big brand names, and instead, creating their own brands and contracting the manufacture and packaging of them to quality co-packers and producers.

This product is typically used for sandwiches and similar purposes and is thin-sliced in equally sized rectangles. It achieves this quality being sliced off a “loaf” of ham, which is created from mechanically separated pork parts, water and spices. An image of the ingredients appears below.

For this time, Aldi has turned to the ham manufacturing expertise of Plumrose, USA, a division of Europe’s largest pork processor, Denmark’s Danish Crown Company. In the U.S., both for it’s own label and other outlets, Plumrose produces bacon, ham, deli counter and canned meat items.

Last year, Plumrose USA was purchased by Brazilian food giant, JBS, the largest meat processor in the world, with 150 plants and 200,000 employees.  JBS owns several brands you are familiar with, including Swift & Company, which in turn has a couple dozen pork and beef brands,  and Pilgrim’s Pride Chickens. These hams are made at the Plumrose plant in Booneville, MS, 100 miles southeast of Memphis, TN.

Back to the subject.  This type of ham is created on a basis similar as to seen in this video:  trimmed pork is marinated, further chopped, pressed in to a shape for market, and then smoked.

The result is a flavorful ham product, and Aldi’s is as good as any lunch meat style ham, and of course, priced much less than big brands.  Structural integrity of texture is important to me, that it closely resembles the mastication experience of whole muscle meat, and this comes close enough.

 

Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review

 

Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review

 

Lunch Mate Cooked Ham Review

Plumrose Mississippi Plant

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Mama Cozzi’s French Bread Pizza Review – An Aldi Product

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Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza ReviewAnother Aldi product this week, actually did this one some time back, didn’t write it up. Mama Cozzi’s is the brand name the Aldi grocery chain has cooked up for their frozen and fresh (take and bake) pizzas.

I’ve tried a lot of them, including the one I wrote about directly below, and a “Mega Meat” thin crust previously. All of these are a terrific value, price wise and are mostly pretty good product.

Aldi contracts out all of their manufacturing, and this product is made by Better Baked Foods, out of North East, Pennsylvania, a burg parked between Cleveland and Buffalo.  They started in 1970 and have since built a large operation, which in addition to private label manufacturing, also has some of their own brands which was recently acquired by Minnesota pizza giant Schwans (Red Baron, Freschetta, Tonys). (Better Baked plant pictures below).

The French bread pizza comes in a two pack, different varieties, I chose pepperoni this time, and it’s not a microwave product. Given a choice with junk that gives you either option, I’m gonna pick a conventional oven every time, anyway.

The bread was crispy, the sauce benign, I liked the pepperoni, wished for more cheese, but overall, I was happy with it compared to “national brands.” It holds its own.

Like all Aldi products, it is value priced.  Aldi is currently on a tear in the US to have more fresh products in the store, remove product from cartons, and nicer lighting. The German chain currently has 10,000 stores worldwide.  There’s probably one or more near you.

Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza Review

Out of the box

Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza Review

Out of the oven

Mama Cozzi's French Bread Pizza Review

Pennsylvania Factory

 

 

Mama Cozzi’s French Bread Pizza Review

Mama Cozzi’s French Bread Pizza Review

 

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Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips Review – Home Cookin’

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Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips ReviewI’m not much for ‘heat and eat’ products, tho I do try them from time to time to see if they’ve improved. For the 40-50 years there has been frozen “crispy” food – chicken, fish, whatever, I’m quite surprised the industry hasn’t licked “crispy” yet. Apparently not a priority.

I especially don’t like microwaved (or reheated) chicken. I think the injected solution they put into processed chicken causes the muscle to break down when heated. The resulting texture is hard for me to stomach. Or chew.

But I thought I’d try a heat and eat meal this week and went for some Tyson’s Crispy Chicken Tenders and Ore-Ida microwave fries. The chicken turned out like I thought – the breading wasn’t crispy and the meat was a little “mushy” for lack of a better word.  I cooked three pieces, ate one, not sure what I’ll do with the rest. Maybe I can peel the breading and use the bird in soup.

The preparations for the Ore-Ida fries is quite elaborate. They have one of those “foil” coatings inside the box you use for cooking. Remove the top piece, spread out the fries in a single layer, place the top back in the box to it is resting ON TOP OF THE FRIES.  Microwave for four minutes. Let rest for a minute.

They aren’t bad. Don’t compare with the oven baked Ore-Ida (I am a guy who can’t pass up their tots or ‘crowns’) and in fact, at four minutes, they might be a little TOO crispy. So I’d try them again, depending on the price, and put them in for a little less time. It’s a single serving by the way.

That’s all I know about this.  I’ve driven around the country from time to time and gone on a “tenders smackdown.”  Here’s my report from the Southeastern U.S.

Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips Review

Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips Review

 

 

 

 

Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips Review

Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips Review

 

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Better Living Brands Review (In-house Safeway, Albertsons, et al)

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Better Living Brands Review I used to be SUCH a brand snob.  I wouldn’t even consider buying a store brand. And I’m old enough to remember when “generic” products first started showing up in store – do you?  Black and white boxes with plain block lettering?

Today’s “generic” (store) brands are considerably different and often made by the large brand name manufacturers, or at least by the same contract plants they use.

Better Living Brands is one of the in-house lines for Safeway, which is part of Albertsons, which is part of SuperValu. Other house brands at these stores include Signature Farms, Kitchen, Select, and Cafe’ Lucerne Dairy; and Refreshe. At WalMart, you’ll see a lot of products under the “Great Value” label. And Aldi creates their own brands for almost every product in the store, with some shelf/cooler space left for the local brand name products.

There have been an awful lot of grocery mergers and sell-offs lately, it’s hard to tell which brand is where, but all of these are mostly owned by Cerberus Capital, a private equity firm. Some of the grocery brands under management in this umbrella holding include Acme, Lucky, Jewel, Jewel-Osco, Savon, Sessels, Brunos, Buttrey, Smithys, Shaws, bristol Farms, Sav a Lot, Cub Foods, Hornbachers, Shop n Save, Rainbow, Country Market, Food Lion and others.  Among other investments, Cereberus have under management are Staples Office Supply, Avon products for women, and many others.

Knowing that most of the store products are manufactured by the largest manufacturers and processors, you can count on their quality, and more and more, you’ll find the store brand products on the shelf right next to the major brand names. The big difference is going to be price, and often you’ll find it to be substantial – 30%, 40%.

Bottom line, I’m no longer a brand snob. I am now  a value buyer.

I was motivated to write this piece by purchasing Better Living Brands Manzanilla Green Olives yesterday at my local Jewel Osco, a store I rarely go to even though it is the closest grocery. Prices are just too  high compared to other local markets. The olives are a product from Spain and they are perfect. And half price.

Better Living Brands Review

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Buona Beef Restaurants Review – Chicago area

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Buona Beef Restaurants ReviewAbout thirty years ago, Chicagoan Joe Buonavolanto Senior had a notion to open a restaurant serving Chicago specialties – Italian beef and sausages, hot dogs, ribs, sandwiches and pizza.

He took a 2nd mortgage out on his house to finance it, and did some of the initial construction with his own hands.

Today, the third generation is overseeing a company with nearly 20 Buona Beef restaurants, several full-service restaurants, two catering facilities, and a custom food manufacturer,  Authentic Brands, which makes a line of products that includes Italian beef and sausages for their own restaurants and private label, meatballs, sauces and other products.

Italian beef is a Chicago thing, lots of stories on the origin, but the main one seems to be families made the dish for weddings and reunions, it was a way of extending a little food for a large crowd.  A beef roast is marinated, slow cooked, and then simmered in its own sauce, thinly sliced and put on an Italian roll. Hot or sweet peppers are added as a personal preference.

Old hands know to order their Italian beef dry, wet or dipped, which are references to how wet you want the bun to end up from the beef’s gravy.  You can order your beef as one of three different sizes (5,7, or 10 inch) – call for a “combo” and they’ll nestle a hot Italian sausage right there on a bed of beef.  Getting fancy?  Have some mozz melted on top. In a no bread mood? Order it by the bowl, instead of as a sandwich. It’s allowed!

So wandering into one of their Buona’s newer locations, in Algonquin, IL, I ambled up to the counter and ordered my beef wet, with a side of house-made parmesan chips. The beef was ultra flavorful and tender, the chips ultra flavorful and crispy. Dinner hour on a weeknight and the joint was jammed as was the drive-through.

I have no idea how many places there are in Chicago that serve Italian beef – a thousand or more? Each claiming theirs is the best recipe. Count Buona’s claim as deserved.  I’ll be back.

Buona is set up to do party, office, or family catering and you can even place your catering orders online.  Find the nearest location of a restaurant, groceries where the products is available or order online at the restaurant’s website.

Buona Beef Restaurants Review

Italian Beef w/ Cheese

Buona Beef Restaurants Review

House-made Parmesan chips

 
Buona Beef Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Buona Beef Restaurants Review

Buona Beef Restaurants Review

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Great Value Beef Meatballs Review – WalMart Nationwide

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Great Value Beef Meatballs Review“Great Value” is one of  the in-house brands for many WalMart products. They aren’t actually manufacturered by WalMart, of course, they are contracted out to be made to Bentonville’s specifications.

I take great pride in my own meatballs, it’s a recipe that I have screwed around with for decades. When I make them, I do throw them in sauce to cook from a raw state, but I rarely, ok, never serve them with pasta. A waste of bodily capacity, if you ask me, sticking noodles in where more meat could go. But that’s just me. OK, and anybody I serve meatballs too.

But I keep looking for store bought ones to fill the gap, cause my homemade effort is a lot of work and doesn’t get done that often. I’ve found some great ones at Italian delis, but unfortunately, the two I have been to are easily an hour drive – in good traffic.

So I spotted these at WalMart, all beef, breadcrumbs, eggs, cheese, milk, spices. Relatively “pure” ingredients. They come frozen, but pre-cooked, so they are just a heat and eat product. If you had made a marinara, red gravy, spaghetti sauce, you could just toss them in the pot til they were heated through.

Verdict?  They’re ok.  Not as good as mine or the deli’s, but certainly less expensive. Handy for a harried household at least.  The flavor is fine, could be a little stronger, I  think, fennel and garlic if I was in charge, and I’d make the texture a little firmer, a little less on the bread crumb and milk mixture.

The balls are made for WalMart in Tracy, CA at American Custom Meats, a processor of meat products for retail and food service. It’s a sparkling new plant (pictured below).

Great Value Beef Meatballs Review

Hean and eat

Great Value Beef Meatballs Review

Dissected view

Great Value Beef Meatballs Review

Tracy California Meatball Plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Libby Gravy Review

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Libbys Gravy ReviewI like biscuits and gravy. (B&G).  Not enough to order it as a sole breakfast entree at restaurants, but if they offer diminutive sizes on the side dishes menu, I’ll give it a taste.

I also like it at home, but also not enough to make it from scratch. So I spotted a can of Libby’s Sausage Gravy at WalMart for a buck. Great Value brand is also available in the same price range, with a very similar ingredient list.

In my “salad days” (OK, I never had salad days) when I was younger, Libbys was a huge label in canned goods. Vegetables, fruit, juices, even meats.

Started in 1875 in Chicago Now owned by ConAgra, which holds dozens of brands you’d recognize like Laura Scudder, Armour, Beatrice, Butterball, Banquet, Ekrich,  Golden Flake, Hebrew National, Morton, Swift, and many more. Libbys accounts for the vast majority of canned pumpkin in the US, if you were wondering about that.

Anyway. Heat and eat gravy. Ingredients are pretty straight forward, water, pork sausage, flour, and less than 2% of the blah blah blah.

I heated in, poured it over some store bought biscuits and my “ho-made” breakfast sausage (I buy plain ground pork, it’s very cheap, and season it), and I liked it. I’ve even made repeat purchases.  It’s AOK.

Pic below of my plate, and of the plant where ConAgra makes the gravy in Trenton, MO.

Libbys Gravy Review

Libbys Gravy Review

Missouri ConAgra Plant

 

Libbys Gravy Review

Missouri ConAgra Plant

 

Libby Gravy Review

Libby Gravy Review

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