Archive for the ‘Pizza’ Category
I have so much admiration for people who start a restaurant with just a concept in mind and build a business from the ground up. It’s a really tough, competitive segment – the best statistics available recently show 60% of new restaurants fail within the first three years. Any start-up is tough, I know, because I’ve been involved in dozens.
I have ten times the admiration for people who start a restaurant as an independent operation in a segment that is rapidly growing and has some tough competitors already in place.
Undaunted by that notion, the brothers Kwok created “Olive Theory Pizzeria” in the Chicago western suburb of Downers Grove. They had done their research, dined at a number of the established concept outlets and contemplated and investigated acquiring one of the franchise operations instead of going it alone.
In the end, they believed the restrictions of the franchisors would inhibit the Kwoks creating their vision of the restaurant – one where they could offer the highest quality ingredients, as well as menu items that wouldn’t be permitted under any of the franchise operating guidelines.
All that is fortunate for Chicago area diners in search of high quality “made on demand” wood fired pizza.
They call it “Olive Theory” as a reference to a tale from Greek mythology, wherein the olive tree, a most bountiful gift, was created in a contest to please the King. It’s the Kwok’s goal to offer bounty to the community, while maintaining an operation based on sustainability.
It’s quick and easy to order – grab a menu card (pictured below) at the counter and describe the pie you want or order one of the house specials. For a (low) flat price, you can have as many toppings as you like atop a cracker thin crust, cooked to order in minutes. One thing that differentiates Olive Theory from similar operations is the restaurants commitment to “fresh- prepared in store,” and the highest quality ingredients they can source locally. Outlets of chain operations aren’t allowed the flexibility to chase either of those ideals.
The dough for the crust is made in-house daily, allowed to rest and raise as proper dough requires. The classic tomato sauce is made from what many chefs consider the finest tomatoes in the world, San Marzanos from a particular region of Italy. If you’re in the mood for something other than red sauce, you have six other choices to contemplate. There are five cheeses available, a host of meat and vegetable toppings, as well as “finishing touches” like garlic or truffle oil.
Looking for something a little different, try Olive Theory’s version of a calzone, the “Pie-Sandwich,” your choice of pizza ingredients in a folded over version of their dough, and baked til golden brown. Salads and a daily soup are also on the menu.
The Kwok brothers had invited our party of four in for a tasting, and we had a diverse selection at the table, including the house special pies of “Buddha’s Karma,” “Titan’s Unleashed,” and “Goldbergs Big Five;” each of these pies have a special combination of ingredients that are nearly musical in the way they come together. Truly. I’m a fan of Italian sausage and pepperoni in nearly any form, but Olive Theory’s are spectacular to me.
In addition to being a great place to grab a quick lunch or dinner, dining there or taking it home, it occurred to me that it’s a wonderful destination for families – the pricing is such that it provides a wonderful family outing at a really great value, and the kids will love the “build your own” concept, knowing they aren’t going to have to eat around whatever ingredients dad usually insists on.
Families concerned about the quality of what they eat and where it comes from can also take comfort in the offerings. I feel the ambience/atmosphere is also conducive to families and groups, with large tables, good lighting, and soft background music.
Olive Theory has a selection of beer, soft drinks, and iced tea to go with your meal, as well as some really great dessert offerings, including fresh baked cookies, hot from the oven.
I asked when and where location # 2 will show up, and they just smiled. They did say “no” to locating it my garage, even tho I thought that would be an outstanding site. You need to go to Olive Theory!
They are located in Downers Grove in a small strip mall on the north side of Butterfield Road, at 1400A, just east of I-355, and are open from 11AM -10PM every day. If you’re nearby and want to pick up, you can even order online. Phone is 630-519-5152. Catering services available. Click on menus to enlarge!
Olive Theory Pizzeria Review
Now I’m gonna stop right there for a sec and say personally, I don’t think Chicago pizzas should be called “deep dish,” as that term has been hijacked by pizza makers all over the country and almost always describes a pie with a very thick crust – lots of bread under the usual toppings.
“Chicago-style pizzas”(which you shall refer to them from this day forward) are DEEP, yes, but not because of a thick bready crust. They are DEEP because they are cooked in a deep pan, and have a HIGH but THIN crust. The depth hides all the deliciousness stuffed in, in the “Chicago order,” crust cheese, meat, tomato sauce. That’s right, sauce on TOP. Are we clear?
There’s more than a couple guys who say they invented this concept. I go with the Ike Sewell version, who cooked up the first one at Pizzeria Uno in
downtown Chicago in the early 1940s. Let’s leave it at that. Ike’s pies were so popular that soon he created a sister restaurant (Pizzeria Due, natch) and started franchising, with the license for the first four going to a group of businessmen in Boston.
When Sewell died, the Boston group bought out the original restaurants, name and recipes, and set off a go-go growing a chain of restaurants that bore a limited resemblance to the originals; the chain is called Uno Pizzeria and Grill.
They stuck with the original pizza offering, but have a very extensive menu in addition, like nearly any fast casual restaurant these days. They are in about 20 states, find one here.
Although a bit spendy, the Uno frozen pizza is about as good as it gets in this segment. It bakes up well (about 40 minutes), has a nice crisp outer crust, fresh chopped tomatoes in the thick sauce, ample cheese and flavorful sausage. (I had the sausage variety, there are others).
I have one beef…er pork…about the pie. The sausage bits in pretty small, and other “Chicago style” pies feature a slab of sausage covering the entire pie, crust to crust. As a sausage lover, I like that.
So the sausage bits on an Uno aren’t a deal killer for me.
The Uno frozen division also makes a more traditional round thinner crust. Their USDA inspected factory in Brockton MA is pictured below.
UNO Deep Dish Pizza Review
Up in the front of WalMart, near the deli counter is a supply of ‘fresh’ (not frozen) take and bake pizzas. WalMart has been expanding the choices in these pies, and all of them are a great value compared to most frozen pies and nearly any pizzeria. They now have a “flatbread” with pepperoni slices and chunks, as well as mini-balls of real mozzarella. As it’s not frozen, it doesn’t take long in the oven, 10-12 minutes.
Instructions call for putting it on a baking sheet, which works to the detriment of creating a crisp crust, but it’s an awkward size and shape, so I understand why they suggest this method.
I liked it, except for a not crisp crust which could be rectified. The “fresh” mozzarella is great and I think the manufacturer (Chicago area “Great Kitchens“) (subsidiary of a Swiss company) uses a different grade and type of pepperoni, it’s extremely flavorful.
It’s less than $4.
Also, up near the take and bakes, you’ll find these packs of pizza dough (below) for a buck, if you want to make one at home. Or you can throw the ball into a bread pan, let it rise a couple hours, bake 35 minutes at 350 and voila, fresh loaf. Easy. Nice. If you want to have a fun kids party, get several of the balls, divide into thirds each, let the kids pound out their own crusts and have bowls of healthy toppings for them to slap on their own pies!
WalMart Flatbread Review
Working on this site, there are two things I can consistently depend on Trader Joes and sister company ALDI for – and that’s a lack of information. Whenever I drop them a query about a particular product, to keep you informed, all I get is <crickets>.
One time I heard from one of the PR firms who dutifully didn’t answer a single question I had but sent me a puff piece on the company that actually had less information than there is on the company’s website. Sigh.
There’s some personal irony here, as once upon a time I was at a dinner party and seated next to one of the original founders for Trader Joes, and he was more than happy to answer any questions I posed.
Which brings us to today’s review:
Trader Joe’s Wood Fired Naples Style Uncured Pepperoni Pizza
I was motivated to try this because I have enjoyed a couple of other TJ’s pizzas in the past, which I wrote about here and here. Those I liked, because they were both imported, one from France, one from Italy, and I wondered aloud why US frozen pizzas couldn’t be as good? My second motivation was TJ’s ad for this pizza in its flyer, in which it states that they worked with their favorite Italian crust maker and had the crusts sent over to their favorite US toppings company for completion.
According to the USDA number on the package, the “toppings company” is Nation Pizza, a contract manufacturer in Schaumburg, IL, who also makes many of the frozen pies for ALDI. This only adds to my confusion as the actual product packaging doesn’t say anything about the crust being shipped over from Italy. Oh well.
It’s completely pre-baked, so it doesn’t take long in the oven, the 15 ouncer take about ten minutes at 450. The crust is thin, but not cracker thin, and “puffy” around the rim, with a nice flake for a period of time when consumed just after baking. Not so much on day 2. Good, ample cheese, and the sauce reflects a very pure tomato base.
I’ve never understood the appeal of “uncured” processed meats, except for people that think they are doing something healthy by skipping the usual preservatives. There is certainly no difference in the taste of TJs pepperoni and any other, you can trust me on this, I have probably consumed a couple of tons of pepperoni in my lifetime.
It’s a pretty good pie, but won’t be on my regular rotation list unless it is heavily discounted in the future.
Trader Joes Frozen Pizza Review
40 years ago, it was called “Bill’s,” and it was in the same location. Hasn’t changed much, same counter, same booths, now fairly worn, the faux leather brittle with age. The home-spun murals of scenes of Italy on the walls are fading.
But would the pizza hold up? Did we love it because it was great? Or because at the time, it was the only show in town?
My sophomore roommate was a guy from Chicago named Joe Szabo. Nice guy. Talented artist. Wanted to grow up to be a famous talented artist. Hope he made it.
Most college roommates experience the “either / or” phenomena, meaning that it’s pretty normal that one roommate has some money, and the other doesn’t. The cycle reverses on a regular basis.
In our dorm room, whoever had the money had the power to dictate toppings: Joe always got ground beef and diced onion; for me it was Italian sausage and sliced green olives. Neither of us minded the other’s selection.
There were a couple of great things about rooming with Joe. He had a car. And a very tasty morsel of a girlfriend. In a college dorm room, it’s hard not to become somewhat “familiar” with everything that goes on and Sara was, well (swoon).
One night Joe let me use his car (unheard of) so he and Sara could have a special “moment”. He flipped me a sawbuck, too, and said “go have a ‘za’, and take your time.
I started off down College Avenue, it was winter, there were patches of ice, I was very careful with Joe’s pride, a green Beetle. I stopped at the RR crossing for a slow moving freight, minding my own business, anticipating the ‘za, when WHAM! I got re-ended. As you probably know, the Beetle has the engine in the back, so a whack can cause serious damage.
No one was hurt, someone summoned the police, who informed me the drunk driver who just plowed into my roommate’s car was “so and so’s son”, and there was never, ever anything going to come of it.
And nothing did. I got a pizza all by myself, Joe and Sara had their special moment, and if Joe was ever pissed about the accident, he never let on.
So nearly 40 years later, I show up at Basil’s, order a medium of (my) sausage and green olive, and (Joe’s) ground beef and onion, to compare and contrast as it were, to see if this is great pizza, or just a glorified memory.
I did notice a couple things while the dude is making the pie, things that (for me) are critical for a good pie: 1) sliced cheese, not shredded, and 2) bulk sausage, pinched by hand, in nice sized pieces.
The old Baker’s Pride ovens had lost some oomph, it would take a full 15 minutes to bake, with the requisite occasional door opening, and paddle spin.
I took my hot pies back to my motel room. I tried one, then the other. Then the first, then the other. They were superb. Great melted cheese that clings to the crust, a cracker like crust, a big of tang to the sauce, and quality toppings.
Could I eat two mediums all by myself? Nah. But 40 years ago I could.
Basils Pizza Review
I’ve wondered aloud many times why US frozen pizza manufacturers can’t make a really great pie. I’ve had a few really good ones from smaller Chicago manufacturers, such as Vito & Nicks II, and Home Run Inn, but the big guys? Totinos? Red Baron? Tombstone?
Yechh. Fortunately, several years ago, I “discovered” the frozen pizzas at Trader Joes, all of which are imported from France or Italy and are f***ing great. There’s the Olympiad, with feta and olives, and the margherita that I’ve tried and been happy with.
Lo and behold, the other day I was in a “Fresh Thyme” market, and they have a pizza from Italy called Mandia Ciboitaliano, from a contract, private label manufacturer F.I.A.D. SRL. Not much information is available online about the manufacturer. This version is a margherita, with tomatos and cheese. Pretty hard actually to find a purer ingredient list: Wheat flour, water, tomatoots, mozzarella, grana padano cheese, egg whites, salt, EVOO, yeast. Wow.
It bakes up fast at 475, the box provides instructions for frozen or thawed, it just take a few moments if thawed, and less than ten if frozen. Doughy crust, REAL cheese, and sauce that tastes like……………….wait for it…………………TOMATOES!
AND IT’S A GREAT PIE.
I’ll do it again. Often. Don’t know if they make other varieties, but I’m find with this basic cheese version, and I can pile on processed pork pizza toppings if I am so inclined.
If you see these in your store, stock up. They may be available at Whole Foods, I’ve seen a reference to that, but cannot personally attest to the fact.
Mandia Ciboitaliano Frozen Pizza Review
They had peanuts on the table, and she got a huge kick out being able to throw the shells on the floor…. being messy on purpose!
I liked the thin crust pizza (OK, and the peanuts, too), the restaurant uses fresh made Italian sausage, and whole milk mozzarella, which gives the cheese a nice stretchiness quality. They had a smattering of herbs which I find pleasing, as well.
The original location was overlooking serene Lake Zurich, IL, but that location burned down in 2004. They moved up the road inside the arcade building at a mini golf, and I stopped in there once or twice over the years, but only for take out.
Finally they moved to their present location, on Highway 14 in Palatine, into s cozy building that was previously another pizzeria, which I can’t remember the name of. It’s smaller than the original location, but a warmer decor, and they offer their entire lengthy menu of pizza, sandwiches, and entrees, along with a full bar.
JJ Twigs is known for their unique “double decker” pizza, which is two fully topped thin crust pizzas, one atop the other, sealed together with a thick hand-turned outer crust. I’ve never tried it.
I had my “usual,” a thin crust sausage with green olive, and double cheese. And it was fabulous. Chased it down with an Italian beef, (and a shot of insulin) but took most of both home, of course. The pie is every bit as good as I remembered, and I’d stop by more often, but it’s quite a hike for me.
They have quite a few TVs as well as a separate room, JJ Twigs would be a fun place to have a small party or catch the game.
Seems that Milwaukee’s Palermo Pizza, which has been around forever, took a tip from the brewers, and have rolled out (I think) six new ‘brands’ over the past two years. I’ve tried a bunch of them, including their Classic, Sasquatch (available at WalMart only), P’Mos, and the Screamin’ Sicilian. I had mixed feelings about some of them, but I continue to buy Screamin’ Sicilian, because I like the amble toppings.
Urban Pie is their latest offering, and they come in four different varieties, “styled after” specific neighborhoods in the U.S. I chose the “Mission District,” which boasts Uncured Pepperoni. Chicken Sausage, Roasted Red Bell Pepper Sauce, Tomatoes, Basil, Green Peppers, Onions, Crimini Mushrooms. and a four cheese mix – Romano – Mozzarella – Parmesan – Provolone.
That’s a pile of ingredients for my personal tastes, I like a couple-three toppings at most, and my personal preference is a cracker thin crispy crust. But surprise, I liked this. The crust is about the thickness of what some shops call “hand-tossed,” but it’s flaky – almost like a matzoh flour, unique, I think, in the frozen pizza biz. Good show.
The “Little Italy” has pesto, fresh mozz, and tomatoes. “Lakeview” is chicken sausage, roasted yellow peppers and spinach. “Northend” is a mushroom and truffle pie, with a three cheese combination, including Asiago.
Urban Pie has a locator on the top, right hand side of their site. At the bottom of this post, you’ll find the ingredient panel from the package. That’s alotta stuff!
Urban Pie Pizza Review
Suzy Applebaum introduced me to the Green Mill; we were both employed at KSTP in Minneapolis- St. Paul, and I had asked her to go to lunch. She suggested the Green Mill. At the time, it was a small bar on Hamline Avenue in St. Paul that specialized in deep dish pizza. It had opened in the 30s as a soda fountain at the same location.
I had a monster crush on Suzy, who hailed from a local grocery store dynasty family; if I knew then I was going to spend the rest of my life obsessed with food, well, I might have wised up and pursued Suzy with vigor, but I knew I was outclassed from the get-go.
The legend of the local bar with great pizza grew, and today, there are 27 locations across the Midwest, serving a full menu in addition to their pizza.
There was one other significant event in my life that took place at a Green Mill, the rehearsal dinner for my wedding. It was at the Uptown location on South Hennepin in Minneapolis, and no, it wasn’t my selfish love of pizza that made that event happen there, but was rather my mother’s choice. My mother loved to go with me to places that were “on the wrong side of the tracks”, and it was “our thing” to explore someplace new every time she came to the Twin Cities when I was living there.
As with most successful pizzerias, Green Mill has launched a frozen pizza line, and they are being made and distributed by a Minnesota pizza manufacturer, Bernatellos. Minnesota somehow became the frozen pizza capital of the US, with a gaggle of brands being made across the state: Jeno’s, Totino’s, Roma, Red Baron, Freschetta, Tony’s, Giovannis, Kettle River….I’m sure I’m forgetting many, but you get the idea.
I purchased the “Thin and Crispy” style with three meats, sausage, pepperoni and bacon. It’s a 15 ounce affair and was priced at 2 / $11 or .73 per ounce, and that’s steep for a frozen pie.
The three pix below represent the box, note the “authentic restaurant-style flavors” (boy, that’s as vague as can be, isn’t it?); the unbaked pie is kind of a misrepresentation, I pushed all the included pepperoni to one side of the pie. The last picture represents the baked pie, 10 minutes at 425.
The picture of the cooked pizza kind of tells the whole story, when you note the “glistening” on the surface. This is a fairly greasy pizza, and the ‘cupping’ and slight char on the pepperoni indicates a high fat content (which would explain some of the oil). The pork sausage is realtively unseasoned. It’s a crispy crust, pleasant enough, nice herb treatment, including fennel. Tomato sauce on the sweet side.
The ingredients list doesn’t include a whole lot of preservatives, these are pretty pure ingredients. The flavor is simply not to my taste, but it might be perfect for you!
Frozen Pizza Review
One of my local grocery stores is huge. I get exhausted going there. But the upside is they have really deep selections of product, including frozen pizza – they have four 30 foot long coolers of different brands, and in a separate vertical cooler, organic, vegan, and gluten free offerings.
Any time I go in there, there are new brands, or at least ones I haven’t seen.
This week it was “Eastside Cafe,” from a small manufacturer outside of Chicago – it looks like they are primarily in the contract manufacturing business for groceries and other outlets – both fresh and frozen pies.
Their mission statement: “We are manufacturers of fresh frozen pizzas serving many retail and recreational bussinesses within the United States. Eastside Café was established in 1992, and we pride ourselves on providing customers with high-quality products and personal service. Our office is conveniently located in Warrenville, Illinois”
I picked up an individual size meat lovers, sausage, pepperoni and bacon.
Now these guys tried it and loved it.
Me? Not so much.
The cheese is good, note on the photo of the unbaked pie that the cheese is in ‘gobs’ instead of ‘shreds’ as most frozen pies come.That move apparently makes for a nicer melt, judging from the finished product.
The sauce was really pedantic. Ordinary. The crust was ok, from the thickness I would have thought it would have been crispier, but it was chewy, not crispy. Pepperoni, good flavor and texture. Sausage, no apparently seasoning. Bacon? Couldn’t really tell there was any on board.
So this one brand won’t be on my regular buy rotation. You, however, may find it’s your new favorite! You can check them out on Facebook.
The company is located in Warrenville, IL, in the office park pictured below.
Eastside Cafe Pizza Review