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Archive for the ‘Pizza’ Category

Cento Pizza Sauce Review

Cento Pizza Sauce ReviewI’m always scouring the grocery shelves for pizza ingredients I haven’t tried before;  this week it is Cento brand.  I have previously tried a number of competitors, including Pastorelli, Mutti, and one of my usuals, Contadina in a squeeze bottle.

Cento was founded in 1963 in the city of brotherly love, initially as an importer of Italian products.  If you’ve never cruised the old-timey Italian restaurants in Philly, you’ve missed out.  About 20 years later, they started putting out products under their own name.  They have a very deep line of tomato products, whole, crushed, seasoned, paste and so on.

On the website, they tout their tomato products are fresh picked from the vine, and some are the highly regarded San Marzanos from Italy, but there is no reference to whether this includes the pizza sauce.  The ingredients on the sauce label are straightforward: water, tomato concentrate, olive oil, salt, basil, black pepper, garlic powder.

I like it for two reasons, it has a slight acidic taste (which is natural for tomatoes), is not cloyingly sweet like many competitors who add sweeteners to their recipe, and it has a heft/thickness that appeals to me for putting on my pies.  More appealing than the watery  sauces.  Objection?  It’s a 15 oz can, which is way more than one needs for a single pizza, maybe they could do the squeeze bottle thing like Contadina?  Then I’d be a regular.

Cento pizza sauce review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cento Pizza Sauce Review

Sals Pizza Coupons

Sal’s Pizza Coupons

Here are some Sal’s Pizza Coupons from Algonquin, IL.   I love Sal’s.   The coupons were a mail item, but they do not say whether or not they accept anything but originals.  Should be ok.  If they are not, it’s not my fault. LOL . Click on image for full size.  Sal’s Review.  Sal’s Menu.

Sals Pizza Coupons Algonquin

GrubHub Review

GrubHub ReviewGrub Hub, a restaurant delivery service, started in Chicago in 2004, and through a series of acquisitions, has become the nation’s premier restaurant delivery company, representing eateries in 800 US cities and London, England.

They own a few other sites, seamless.com, allmenus.com and menupages.com.

About 30,000 restaurants are represented in their online and mobile apps. Peruse the choices available in your area, order food, pay, wait for delivery.

The operation hires car and bicycle delivery persons, who use their own vehicles and are compensated from delivery fees (paid to GrubHub by restaurant ‘partners’), with a minimum guarantee.  I wonder how their income compares to Uber and Lyft drivers?  Will services like GrubHub be hurt if Uber goes big into delivery?

There are a lot of competitors in this segment, I’ve used a number of them, with Delivered Dish being the one I have the most experience with (and absolutely no complaints).

The other day, I tried GrubHub for the first time, I have looked at it before, but in the area I am ordering from, they didn’t have a very deep selection of restaurants, and they ones they do have, I could just as easily call direct and save a few bucks. Though I do prefer ordering online, as there seems to be less mistakes made in orders, in my experience.

How it happened that I did try GrubHub was that I was sitting around, bored to tears, playing with my phone and looked at their phone app.

Low and people, and totally weird, there were different restaurants offered on the app than I had seen on the website. My first thought was they had added these restaurants, but checking the website, the ‘new’ ones still weren’t listed.

Intrigued, I ordered a pizza through the phone app, paid, received an estimated delivery time about an hour ahead, and waited for the delivery dude or dudette, who, in reality, showed up ahead of the scheduled time.

My ‘feigned consternation’ about the different listings motivated me to inquire (via Twitter) to GrubHub and ask “what the deal was?”

Which led to a series of D.M.s that didn’t produce a satisfactory answer, the end result of which was that the listings should be the same on both sites.

One clue was produced, however, as to why the difference may occur. Apparently, their algorithms treat searches differently, depending on whether or not you enter your address for a search, or allow your geolocation software take over. Not sure why.  If there’s a problem here, it might be because we have all experienced the inaccuracies of online mapping at one time or another.

So woe be to the restaurant owner which might actually be closer to you than one the software picks.

As part of the relationship, GrubHub provides research to restaurants, information that they glean from their customers ordering habits, including food trends, time of day, price point averages and so on. Pretty valuable info, actually.

In theory, GrubHub’s ad budget should increase local restaurant sales, and their in-house technology should improve restaurant operations. They don’t seem to have a very high turnover of restaurant customers, so most must be satisfied with the service.

As was I.

I’d use them again, but I would hope there would be more restaurant choices in my area in the future, and synchronization of the listings between the site and app. I also noticed they list at least one restaurant in my area that has been out of business for some time, which indicates there might not be enough follow up between the sales staff and partner restaurants.

Of course, since GrubHub deals with thousands of restaurants and as many delivery people, your results may vary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GrubHub Review

Pizza Hut China Recollection

pizza-hut-01When I was living and working in Guangzhou, (Canton) China, Pizza Hut and KFC were some of the first western food outlets to open in the city.

My Chinese colleagues regularly enjoyed taking me to their own local favorite restaurants and squealing in delight as they’d make me sample traditional fare – including bugs, rodents,  snakes, dog, cat, offal, blood, bile, camel, bear, monkey and more.

“Revenge” seemed the order of the day, so knowing that the Chinese (or at least Cantonese) had no palate for cheese, I would, on occasion, take them to the Sunday buffet at one of the local 5 star western style hotels, where “we’d” have great fun with the dessert cheese platters, featuring fine Roqueforts, Stilton, Limburger and more.

After the first bite, my colleagues almost felt they were being punished for some wicked infraction, as their faces curled up, followed by an occasional tear or two at the mere taste of these fine imported dairy products.

Yum Brands apparently knew about the cheese aversion, because the first Pizza Hut menus referred to “Melted Topping” on the pizzas. This is pizza hut3apparently not the case any more, as noted with this clip from a current Chinese menu.

Apparently gone are the days when the “American special pizza,” across Europe and Asia, meant a sprinkling of sweet corn kernel on the pie.

(Not as bad as the first “American” pizza I had in Shenzhen, China, which was bits of seafood with thousand island instead of tomato sauce. Ugh.)

Location or language aside, my Chinese employees loved going to Pizza Hut for the entirely new thing of the “salad bar,” which to them, presented not an option for a meal starter or addendum, but rather a challenge as to their architectural and construction skills, in seeing how high they could pile a plate with just one trip.

The local manager put a stop to this by positioning a soldier near the bar, happy to issue a stink eye at any offenders. And more likely, it was actually a relative in military uniform.

It was a fun and interesting time to be a westerner in China, there weren’t many of us, and we worked, played, lived and loved with a passion and curiosity unsurpassed since.

 

Salad Bar Tower

Salad Bar Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza Hut China

Los Angeles, CA – Melody Pizza

Melody Pizza Review

(Editor’s Note): I was contacted by the owners of a new place, Melody’s Pizza,  near LAX in Los Angeles, a new venture for a couple that owns a hot night spot down the street, the Melody Bar and Grill. I was invited to come by, couldn’t make it, so Los Angeles Burger Bureau Chief Larry gathered up his crew and hit up the Melody recently.

Does the Water really make NY Pizza taste better than it’s west coast cousin The LA Slice?

Hell yeah!  And Melody’s Pizza near LAX Airport tries hard to replicate that taste and texture.  Especially in its traditional round (as they refer to it), just saucy enough and not too cheesy, a wonder baked in a Marsal & Sons deck oven imported from New York.  But that alone couldn’t do it.  It takes a Pizza-monger, a man (or woman as the case may be) to master the years it takes of dough making and dough throwing and sauce making and tasting, to get it right.

Melody’s seems to have found that guy. The chef (and expert pizza maker) is a Brooklyn transplant who goes by the name of “Ronnie”. And it’s a “Ronnie” with all the real stuff going for him.  Years of working at premiere pizza joints in and out of the city.  No, not LA City. The Big Apple one.  The accent, the tattoos and the hands and mouth to taste (and throw out NY stories to boot) makes our memories and the melody of Melody’s sing New York, New York, loud and clear.  A near authentic NY style pie in our midst.

Ronnie uses their own Brooklyn Water system including reverse osmosis water treatment along with other secret things the owners just refused to cough up at our meeting at their restaurant one evening recently –  to make the water more like NY water for NY dough for NY pizza.  I was very, very skeptical.

Melody Pizza Review

Marsal & Sons Pizza Decks

It seems to work.

Excellent texture to the dough.  Yet a nice crispiness to the bottom of the pizza.  And traditional taste.

We had a taste of at least 10 pies. But please understand: if you’re ever going to work your way up to being even a beginning pizza critic, clearly, the first thing you must do when tasting a pie that restaurateurs proclaim is NY style… you’ve gotta start with a slice a PLAIN cheese pizza with their tomato sauce. End of story.  Or if that restaurateur is proclaiming that they’ve got the next best thing to a true Italian pie… from the homeland… you’ve gotta start with a small Pizza Margarita. Nothing else on them. Nothing else to screw them up. And clearly NO California Pizza B.S. with adding the kitchen sink to your pie.

Just start slowly. And plain.  And work your way in.  It’s like a Ballet.

So, needless to say, I was very nervous at the thought of discovering a NY slice from my homeland in LA-LA land.

So, I brought my family to taste.  The wife and kids.  Wanted to make sure I wasn’t being fooled.  And my kids have grown up on NY Pizza so they should know it from a mile away.  My wife on the other hand is a different cookie.  She grew up in Great Neck, Long Island so you never know what she’s gonna think real NY Pizza is supposed to taste like (Just Kidding. I have a thing about the Island. Can’t get over it).

The Setting: Small place, a few tables and chairs (for a real coziness) but with a long bar area for Pizza prep viewing and sitting to dine (with at least a dozen such comfortable bar chairs with a granite tabletop).

Melody Pizza ReviewPIZZAs we sampled:

The traditional Round as they call it.  We all had slices and they were really fabulous.  Made me miss home.

Then, we had the Chicken Parmigiana Pizza.  Excellent Sauce. Chicken was very moist. Too often that topping will dry out when recooked in the pizza oven. Not here. Ronnie cooks the Parmigiana on the stove top – right next to his gi-normous pot of his nonna’s recipe marinara – just enough so that the next baking in their Marsal & Son ovens  gives the pizza just what it needs. Beautiful. A particular winner for my kids.

Then came a Gorgonzola and Poached Pear Pie. Pizza Pie, that is. A winner.  With Mama’s original crust. Kind of a cross between a Sicilian crust and a homemade Mama Mia pan pizza crust from the old lady’s oven in her Roma pensione.  Really a highlight at this place.

That same crust is used in the premiere Mama’s pizza, an excellent Pizza Caprese on their Mama’s crust, with an elegant balsamic vinegar glace (a little sweet and not too vinegary) under beautiful hunky slices of mozzarella and fresh cut vine ripened local farmers market tomatoes… with, of course, basil leaves atop each Caprese tower… makes for a wonderful pie.  Not anything I remember out of NYC however.  Much more like something out of the old country of Italia.

Bugogi Pizza (yes, Bugogi. You heard me right) with homemade Kimchi was fab. We only thought that the Kimchi could have been a bit spicier.  Not a NYC dish at all. In fact, would go great if this Pizza Joint were transplanted into Koreatown LA instead of near the airport terminals. This is the Pizza they should have served at Sony’s opening night Hollywood premiere party for The Interview. Oh well, I’d recommend ordering it for home delivery and watching the flick ONLINE instead. Definitely makes the top of list for North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.

Melody’s is just across the street from In ‘N Out Burger, a Pie’s throw away. Ample street parking and even some parking in back. They also have their sister restaurant three doors down called Melody’s Bar & Grill, and there’s ample parking beyond it as well if you’re bring in your 767.  In fact, Melody’s Pizza menu can be ordered down the street at their Bar & Grill.  The waitress’ will run over and get your pizza and run back into the Bar & Grill with enough time to serve you up your drink and a karaoke tune as well.

The owners, Christian and Jen, a wonderful husband and wife restauranteur team manage their businesses with love and good taste. They’ve clearly chosen a winner in Ronnie the Pizza Guy who in his off time is a professional online gamer extraordinaire. Yep, NYC pizza and online gaming seem to go well together. You know you’ve got a winner when you pick up your slice and can hold it like a real New Yorker… the famous fold. And boy, it works here at Melody’s.

My favorite: The traditional Round.

Negatives: I miss the noise of the taxis of the NYC streets outside.  It just isn’t the same thing hearing or seeing Uber-mobiles transporting Angelenos to their respective airline terminals outside on Sepulveda. That makes me wanna get on a plane and go to the Big Apple for a slice at one of a dozen joints. But until then, I’ll sing the song of Melody’s.

Melody’s does a brisk biz in delivery too. A great neighborhood to do so in.  The local homeowners and renters and well as local businesses bring their need for pie to this establishment.  But just as important is the fact that this place delivers to all the Hotels in the area near LAX and along Century Blvd. as well as to the hard working LAX staff, flight attendants and TSA workers waiting around for a near perfect pie. It’s even close enough to the airport you could run over and grab a slice if you were hanging out between a plane change!


Melody Pizza has a fairly wide delivery area, if you’re in your jammies and don’t feel like going out. Check out their menu and order online or by calling (424) 227-7686. Open daily from lunch til late at 9146 Sepulveda and they cater, too!

(Editor’s note:  food samples were comped during this visit).

 

Melody Pizza Review

Christian and Ronnie

Melody Pizza Review

Caprese Salad Pizza

 

IMG_4503

Dishing Up Some Meaty Goodness

 

Melody Pizza on Urbanspoon

 

New Orleans, LA – R & O Restaurant

Back in the day, a part of the Lake (Ponchartrain) front in New Orleans was called “Bucktown.” I’ll leave it to you to find out why. Bucktown had bars, restaurants, businesses that catered to the fishing fleet parked on the shore. Today, Bucktown is mostly made up of the Corps of Engineers Levee (now, new and improved!), and a few restaurants have survived.

About the only one with a sense of longevity and continuity, is the R&O, which says on the front of the building “Restaurant and Catering” and says on the menu “Pizza Restaurant.”

Identity crisis? In fact “no,” and most people go to R&O for boiled and fried seafood platters, piled high with local goodness – oysters, crawfish, shrimp, crabs, fish.

Used to be the restaurants here would take the seafood right out of the Lake, but these days, product comes from around the local region.

In addition to the seafood, R&O has a complete Italian dinner menu, sandwiches and pizzas, so it’s pretty high on the family dining list, with something to please most every one. And since it’s an oyster outlet (down here we say “er-ster”, tho), there is always an ample supply of saltines on the table to shut up those rugrats ankle biters.

But I go for the pizza. To my tastes, it’s one of the best in New Orleans, which is not exactly pizza heaven, despite the large influence of Italians in the region, and a great many excellent Italian restaurants.

In fact “pizza” and “dearth” go together here, in my mind.

R&O’s has a great thin crust, bubbly/chewy on the rim, crispy inside, cooked on a standard gas two-decker, like Blodgett or Baker’s Pride (I didn’t peek).

New Orleans is a great town to get Italian sausage, and the hand-pulled chunks on R&O’s pizza are no exception. Excellent texture, seasonings, and cooked to perfection. Real cheese and a mild red sauce (here we call it “red gravy”) bind it all together. The cheese melds together so well, that if you attempt to remove a slice immediately after the pizza has been served, that cheese is going to pull away. Wait a minute! The whole experience will go better.

During the seven years I lived here, I searched uptown, downtown, all around for a good pizza, and R&O became my consistent choice.


View Larger Map


R & O's Pizza Place on Urbanspoon

New Orleans Pizza

Heggies Pizza Review

Heggies Pizza ReviewIf you look at the history of frozen pizza in the U.S., many of the largest brands started out as “bar pizzas” in Minnesota and Wisconsin.  Small manufacturers  made frozen pies, sold them to bars, to which they furnished a counter top oven free of charge.  (There used to be laws that a certain percentage of sales at a bar came from food).

Manufacturers in the two states today sell hundreds of millions of dollars worth of pizzas per year, from many of your favorite brands.  I’m written about quite a few of them, these are the Minnesota ones:  Totino’s Party Pizza and Jeno’s Crisp ’n Tasty Pizza, Red Baron, Tonys, Freschetta, BernatellosBellatoria, Orvs, Roma, Brew Pub,  Green Mill, and literally dozens of single brand independents, like Kettle River, and pizzerias that make frozen pies to sell in-house.

Today’s sample is a regional favorite, in mid-Minnesota, which was spawned out of an Anoka restaurant, before hitting the bar and club circuit with frozen pies. Heggie’s Pizza is heavy on ingredients and mystery.  Started in a garage, but now operating out of a newish plant in the middle of the state, an hour north of Minneapolis, the family run operation doesn’t talk about it’s ingredients or methods.

I don’t know if you can find them in a lot of local grocers, but I did see them in quite a few gas stations in the Twin Cities.  They are a little spendy compared to most local frozen pies  ($6 – $10).

They make a dozen varieties, and I started out with the “Six Pack,” which has sausage, pepperoni, bacon, Canadian bacon, cheddar and mozzarella cheese in ample quantities. (It’s their best seller).

In my opinion (the only one that counts here)  Heggies makes one of the very, very few frozen pizzas that equalss a pizzeria pie, in flavor and texture. Good sauce, good crust, great cheese, good toppings.

I only have two minor gripes about the Six Pack;  even tho everybody loves bacon, the bacon “flavor” is the overwhelming one on the Six Pack. It is very similar to the taste and aroma of “bacon flavored” items.  Also, for me, the sausage doesn’t have enough texture. It is reminiscent of institutional food service, pre-cooked sausage crumbles that some pizza shops use.

The gas station clerk that sold me the pie said she was an expert at cooking them, and baking them at a lower temp for longer than the directions would bring the best result;  but I followed the package directions and it was just swell.

Neither of these are deal killers.  If these pies were sold in my area, they would be my regular go-to frozen pie.  No question.

Pies are made in Milaca, Minnesota at USDA est. M15816-P15816.  Pic below.

Heggies Pizza Review

 

Heggies Pizza Review

Heggies Pizza Review

 

 

 

 

 

Heggies Pizza Review

Kwik Trip Update

Kwik Trip ReviewIn my previous posts about Kwik Trip, I reminisced about their roots, when I used to do some business with them and they only had a couple stores in LaCrosse, WI.  Today, there are over 400 stores, and 12,000 employees.  If you live in the Upper Midwest, there’s a store near you.  What makes Kwik Trip unique and a master of its segment is that it has developed its own brand names over the years, and thus is able to assure quality and keep prices low.  It’s a business maneuver 7-Eleven has started to copy recently with their own in-house brands.

KwikTrip was also one of the first to include healthy options in their take away food choices (also now being copied by 7-Eleven), and their ‘morning bar’ for variety of coffee and pastries is unequaled in the industry.

One thing new I noticed on my recent trip was the installation of a counter dedicated to fresh, vacuum packed meats – there is a small selection of roasts, steaks, dinner sausages and hot dogs, some from some of Wisconsin’s leading brands, like Klement’s, and some with a Kwik Trip label.  For instance, they had a package of eight natural casing wieners for $2.99, and that’s about 40% less than other brands in grocery stores.  Kwik Trip (packaged) wieners are make by Bakalars Sausage in LaCrosse (plant picture below);  the reason I distinguished the description with “packaged” is because their hot sausage/dog roller grill feature products from Johnsonville, Ball Park, and others.

I understand the company treats employees well, too.   Great products, prices, and management.  Kwik Trip gets my c-store dollar when I’m in the area.

Kwik Trip Fresh Meat

Fresh Meat Display

 

Kwik Trip Review

Bakalars Sausage LaCrosse WI

Jacks Pizza Review

jacks-pizzaJack’s is one of those former little brands, started as the food equivalent of a garage band, in Little Chute, Wisconsin (outside of Appleton.  Near Neenah.  Kinda by Menasha. Before you get to Green Bay).  Started in 1960.  Grew around the state, then the region, bought by Kraft when they were rolling up frozen pizza brands, and then Kraft spun off their pizza division to Nestle.  I can’t say why.   (Jack’s, DiGiorno, California Pizza Kitchen, and Tombstone are all part of this group.)

Jack’s sits in the ‘value category’, you’re probably not going to pay more than $4, and often they are on sale at 3 or 4 for $10.

Jack’s doesn’t list the ingredients on their website, but there is a mess of them, including my least favorite “….mechanically separated….. bird of some kind.”   The company says one of their points of pride is ‘real Wisconsin cheese.’  I would think the Swiss owners would have something to say about that, but I guess not.  Nutritional info says a serving size is 1/4 of the pie, for 380 calories, 160 of them from fat, and 37 grams of carbs. Seems low, but it is an ultra-thin crust.

The brand is kind enough to have the warning “do not eat without cooking.”

Directions call for 11 – 13 minutes at 425, center shelf.  The pie curled in the oven.  Not sure why some frozen pizzas do that and others do not.

Verdict:

Crust:  ultra thin, cracker like

Sauce:  a little towards the sweet side, but ample

Cheese:  a fair amount, good flavor, nice “pull”

Pepperoni:   not bad

Sausage:  very small bits, no flavor at all. I’d prefer larger pieces and a little fennel and/or garlic.

Verdict:  To my unsophisticated palate, most of the brands in the ‘value pricing category’ taste about the same. With the exception of the “ultra-value” like Totino’s or Jeno’s,which you can sometimes find for 10 / $10 – and they are truly awful. Would I buy this one again? I’d probably keep a few around if I ran into another 3 or 4 for $10 deal.   Product locator.

After a year of extensive study (there are a lot of frozen pizza reviews on the site), my favorites remain Chicago’s Vito and Nicks II, and the Screamin’ Sicilian Brand from Milwaukee manufacturer, Palermo.

We’ve talked about value and ultra value here;  I think there needs to be an ultra premium category of frozen pizza.  Probably in the $12 – $15 range.

Below is the publicity photo from Jack’s website, and my photo of the pie just out of the oven.  Waddya think?  Do they look the same?

Jack's  Pizza Review

Prior to baking

Jack's  Pizza Review

Promotional Photo

Jack's  Pizza Review

Just out of my oven

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacks Pizza Review

Portland, OR – Caro Amico Reprise

I’d always meant to get to Caro Amico with Mrs. Burgerdogboy for a romantic dinner;   we thought it might be great because we had enjoyed their food via Delivered Dish (www.d-dish.com)  and its position, on a hillside overlooking the river, might have made for some dreamy views.

We never got there as a couple, but I was spot on about my feelings with regards to all the rest, as evidenced by this report from a recent visit.

Cara Amico Portland“We loved the place, liked the big windows, the view and fantastic atmosphere; the service was great, the waiter friendly.

We started with the Caesar with prawns, which was romaine lightly dressed with olive oil, rather than a typical Caesar dressing, and the prawns were warm with a hint of garlic flavor.  The entire salad was generously dusted with Parmesan and finely chopped croutons.

For our mains, he went with Chicken Parmesan, one of his favorite meals, which was a large plump breast, very juicy, served with a colorful array of sautéed veggies, and penne with marinara.    The breading on the chicken was light, not overbearing, and the breast may have been brined ahead of time for extra flavor.

Cara Amico

Chicken Parmesan

She opted for the Canzano Calzone, stuffed with chicken, bacon, green peppers and pepperoncini.   The crust was thin and crisp, and the marinara was some of the finest she had ever consumed.  She would have liked a bowl of it all on its own, she said.

For dessert, we went with the dense and delicious cheesecake, topped with whipped crème and a raspberry sauce so yummy she wanted to lick the plate clean.

Often overlooked by locals, even though it was Portland’s first Italian restaurant, it continues to please on every level.”

Previous review.

 

Cara Amico

Caesar with Shrimp

Caro Amico Italian Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

Caro Amico Portland

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