Archive for the ‘Pizza’ Category
Arguably at the top of growth chain for the fast casual dining segment, the relatively new “made on demand” concept pizza places appeal to customers on three points: value pricing, quality ingredients, and fast service.
There are quite a few entrants into the category already, including Blaze, MOD, and Pie Five, which was started and isowned by the same group that owns the successful chain, Pizza Inn (I like their buffets). I think that gives them a leg up on the competition.
It works kind of like Chipotle or Subway, you walk through a line, pick one of the specialty pies, or design your own, choosing your crust (including a gluten free option), sauce, cheese, and toppings, all for one price. The pie is popped into a scorching hot oven and one in just a few minutes, as opposed to the quarter hour a conventional pizza deck or conveyor oven take to go through the same process.
I tried out two today, at a pre opening fete. The “Athenian” comes with a thin crust, olive oil, herbs, chicken, garlic, olives, onion, peppers, feta, mozzarella/provolone blend, fresh basil, and sun dried tomato puree.
The “High Five” is their version of an all meat pie, on a pan crust, with marinara, pepperoni, Italian sausage, bacon, ham, and a cheddar, mozz, provolone blend.
The “assembly line” is fast and furious, as is the oven time. At the end, they will ask you “for here or to go” and whether you want additional Parmesan or pepper flakes; if you’re eating in, those add-ons are also on the table. Pie Five has the ‘magic’ coke dispensers, when you can crank out one or a combo of a hundred beverages, and also three kinds of ice tea, as well as some bottled drinks.
The 9 ” pizzas were excellent, I preferred the thin crust, bubbly and charred, to the pan personally. High quality and kudos for the processed pork toppings.
You can find Pie Five locations here, and take a gander at the menu (also below)to see what’s in store for you. (pizza, salads, desserts). The company has about fifty units open, and are aiming for five hundred, coast to coast. Wanna own one? Inquire.
Pie Five people? Great job. Great pizza.
Pie Five Pizza Review
I wonder if they thought of the name “Chicken Ranch” but had to discard it due to an unsavory association with a Nevada business of the same name? The only reason I am wondering about this, is while the pizza is good at Pizza Ranch, the fried chicken is the star of the show. In fact, their “sub slogan” is “the best chicken in the country.”
Now I’ve had fried chicken in every corner of the USA, including in small town, backwater soul food kitchens in the deep south, seemingly at the heart of fried chicken country. I’ve had fried chicken made by a 100 year old woman who’s been cooking chicken in the same single cast iron skillet for her four table restaurant. If Pizza Ranch doesn’t make the best fried chicken in the country, I don’t know who does. It’s certainly the best I’ve ever had.
Pizza Ranch started in small town Iowa and has grown to nearly 200 locations in a dozen states. It is a set price buffet restaurant, with pizza, fried chicken, mashed potatoes/gravy, potato wedges, vegetables, a salad and dessert bar.
I visited the outpost in Wisconsin Dells, and service, food, presentation and cleanliness were all over the top. The experience far exceeded my expectations.
The price seems to vary somewhat from restaurant to restaurant, but it is generally in the range of $7-$10, less for kids, sometimes there are two fer coupons, and some locations include a beverage, some charge extra. One nice note on the hospitality scale, when you pay (on your way in), they ask you what your favorite pizza toppings are, and they rush to make it, deliver the first hot slices to you, and place the pie on the buffet….which, incidentally, presents 12-16 pizzas at a time and is constantly refreshed. So different than some pizza buffets I have been to, like Cici’s, Shakey’s or Round Table.
The pizza is clearly levels above Pizza Hut, Dominos, Little Caesars, Papa Johns and the like. In many ways, it reminds me of the way Godfather’s prepares theit pies, a little thicker crust, a sauce that leans towards sweet and ample cheese, nicely melted.
But as you might have guessed, I buried myself in fried chicken. Hot, crispy, nice breading, very juicy birds, and amply sized. They are certainly not buying diminutive chickens like Popeye’s and KFC.
Pizza Ranch is worth a stop, especially for families. I’d go again. Here are their locations., and a further description of the buffet.
If I have one hint, and it’s not a critique….. I did peek into the kitchen, and there were a lot of canned goods. So don’t expect ‘ultra fresh, made in house’ in every chafing dish. This is never troubling to me, but I realize it is to some diners. Just an FYI. They also deliver, and have a drive through.
No alcohol, BTW.
Culinary Circle is a house brand for SuperValu stores, which include a gaggle of brands: Jewel, Albertsons, Cub, Bristol Farms, Save A Lot and more. It’s based in Minneapolis and is the 3rd largest grocery company, after Kroger and Safeway. Super Valu’s total outlets number over 2500, and they are the primary supplier to over 2,000 other stores.
This pie was on sale today, 2 / $7, which is an attractive price. The “ultra thin’ crust was cracker like, which I enjoy, and toppings, including cheese, were adequate. The sauce leans towards the sweet side, but I thought the diced tomato bits had kind of peculiar taste to them.
This pizza was manufactured by Richelieu Foods of Beaver Dam, WI, a contract manufacturer, and I wrote a bit about them before because they also make the Aldi take and bake pies, which I really like and are a terrific value.
Culinary Circle Ultra Thin Crust Spicy Italian Sausage Pizza Review
His name was John Spallaci, and he moved to Minneapolis from Italy, bringing his special family pizza recipe with him. In 1953, he opened Spallaci’s Pizza (pictured left) in North Minneapolis, and in 1961, sold the business and recipe to Eddie and Mamie Peck. Cranking out quality pies was a high priority for the new owners, so they ground their own sausage and mixed their own sauce in house, as well as making fresh dough daily. Those processes won them a lot of loyal customers, so when the new Interstate 94 came plowing through the neighborhood in the early 70s, Eddie and Mamie stayed on the north side of the city and set up their new operation overlooking the Mississippi, in the heart of the old railroad yards, and the customers followed in droves.
In an homage to the history of the neighborhood, the Peck’s new restaurant took on a railroad theme, including seating in box cars.
In the early 70s, the first time I lived in the Twin Cities, the original location of Broadway was one of my ‘go-to’ places. Today they have more than a dozen locations, are opening more corporate stores and franchising.
In addition to pizza, they have wings, sandwiches and plate dinners, and they still make the sausage, sauce and dough in house. Our Minnesota reporter Kawika stopped in the Champlain, Minnesota location, for a sausage/pepperoni, half olive/half mushroom recently, and said it was (to his delight) one of the thinnest cracker crusts he’d ever encountered, and Minnesota is bereft with thin crust choices.
He took a feigned exception to the advertised special of an Hawaiian pizza, having lived in the 50th state for years; apparently to the authentically inclined, the ‘real’ Hawaiian has to have peanut butter as one of the toppings, and certainly not “jalapeno bacon.” No damage done, hower.
The bar portion of the restaurant was hopping at 11 P on a Saturday nite, and most locations serve food til late.
Broadway Pizza Review
Classically trained chefs open burger restaurants. As sign of the times, one suspects, and capitalizing on an “American craze” the past few years. I don’t know what started the current infatuation with burgers, tho I thought personally it was a reflection of the economic downturn – people still wanted to go out for beef, but steaks had become a little dear on menus.
In any regard, chef Crisitano Bassani, of the classic Italian Bapi Restaurant in suburban Chicago, got bit by the burger bug and opened “Big Chef” in Schaumburg. It’s kind of tough to spot, set back in a strip mall, but if you’re heading east on Alqonquin and you hit Meachem, you’ve just missed it.
I was on my way somewhere else and the sign caught the corner of my eye, I made a quick uey into the parking lot and walked in. Mid afternoon, Sunday, and the (perhaps) 60 seat eatery had one other table of four occupied, and a table of about ten young men who were just finishing up.
Unlike most new fangled burger restaurants these days, Big Chef has table service and linens. A server brought a large bottle of water, a tall glass of ice, and the menu (how did they know about me and the water thing?).
The menu offers a number of interesting combination burgers (around $12 with one side), brick oven pizzas, and huge salads. There is a full bar, with about ten stools in front of it, and an open kitchen design with a bar and stools facing it, as well.
Every day there is a special deal for extended hours, whereas any burger, salad, or pizza is $8.99.
I went with the bacon burger, which comes with lettuce, tomato, onion, mayo, and a well-melted spicy cheddar (don’t you hate it when there’s a slice of cold, unmelted cheese slapped on a burger – I sure do!). You have choice of buns from white, pretzel, onion, or wheat. Patties are a half pound of fresh ground hormone free angus. Side choices are fries, sweet potato fries, house made chips, rings, mashed or slaw.
The meat came as ordered (medium rare) accompanied by massive onion rings, with a light “panko-like/herb) coating, very crispy. I opted for the pretzel roll, which is almost always my favorite, but the results can be good or bad, depending on the recipe. Some pretzel roll doughs are laden with molasses, and it’s too sweet a bun for a savory burger, in my opinion.
The patty itself was very flavorful, and the vegetables fresh and crisp. I didn’t feel the need to salt either the meat or rings, which is unusual for me.
I recommend your try Big Chef. Desserts and ice cream concoctions also available. Full menu.
We’ve previously taken a look at the burgers at the Spot Bar inside Incline Station in Duluth. The sports bar/bowling complex offers indoor recreatin as well as typical pub fare.
A group pizza party sampled a buffet of pizzas, with nice stretchy cheese, flavorful pepperoni and sauce. The crusts seem to have the texture of pre-mades, but were enjoyed overall by all in attendance.
Incline Station Review
Jimano’s is a mini-chain based out of suburban Chicago; they started in 1997, have about a dozen locations and have started franchising. Their first Denver, CO location was named the best pizza in the city by a local television station after only four months of operation. They have the requisite Chicago accompaniments on the menu, including Italian beef and other sandwiches, hot appetizers, salads, ribs, and pasta. They offer both dine in and delivery, catering, and most locations offer online ordering. They have their own app to facility your order.
They state that they have a commitment to using the highest quality ingredients. They offer a daily special which is quite economical – for instance on Monday you can get a 16″ pie with up to five toppings for $16.99, and that can result in a savings of 25% or more.
I took advantage of the Monday special, stopped in a store, ordered, and waited 10 minutes or so for the pie to be done. The store employs a ‘carousel’ type oven, which I had heard of, but not seen. With multiple decks revolving like a ferris wheel, running off gas or electricity, carousels let you pack a whole lot of baking capacity into a small footprint.
Jimano’s thin crust pie was great. The cracker thin crust has a hint of cornmeal, the pork sausage was very flavorful, the sauce was not overpowering, and the cheese in a unique blend. A heavy dose of herbs finishes off the pie.
If I lived in the Chicago area, Jimano’s would be one of my regular go-to pizzas, for sure. Locator. Menu below (click on for larger image).
Lou Malnati, and his father Rudy, managed Pizzeria Uno, one of the first outlets for “Chicago Deep Dish” pizza. Although Uno (now Uno Chicago Grill) claims to have invented the pie, local food historians give the credit to Rudy.
Lou and his wife Jean opened the first Lou Malnati’s in 1971, in the Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood. The rest is history, and the company now boasts 40 shops in the Chicago area and ships frozen pizzas nationwide.
The main difference between “Chicago deep dish” and similar pies in other parts of the country, is that in Chicago, the tomato sauce goes on top; many restaurants that offer a deep dish sausage pack the bottom of the crust with a blanket of cheese, then the sausage (or whatever you choose) and then the sauce.
I reviewed Gino’s frozen a couple years ago, and another Chicago deep dish, Edwardos, so a follow up with Malnati’s seems like a good idea. Baking instructions call for 425 and 35-40 minutes for the sausage pie. There’s a slight variance in the directions than you (we) are probably use to: “remove pizza from pan, wipe off any condensation that has formed, lightly oil pan (I used spray) and return pie to pan prior to placing in oven.”
After 40 minutes, I took this beauty out. In appearance, it closely resembles its restaurant cousin. It’s about 1 1/2″ deep, 9″ across, and weighs 24 ounces. I paid $12.99, ( @ .54 ounce) which is probably more that you will see it most groceries, I was in an “up market” store. At a Malnati’s restaurant, the same pie will set you back about the same amount. A large sausage goes for $20.25 at the time of this posting.
I’m really pleased with the end result; this is one of the more flavorful frozen pizzas I have encountered. Many people don’t understand that a “Chicago deep dish” is a THIN crust pizza, and is deep due to the ingredients. The crust was appropriately crispy, the cheese has really nice “pull,” the pie is wall to wall with the sausage, and the (chunky) tomato ‘sauce’ just pops with flavor.
When you look at the ingredient list, there aren’t any of those words you can’t pronounce or have no idea what they are. Example, the sausage is pork, salt, and spices. I’d do it again.
According to the packaging, these pies are made at USDA factory number 18498, at 3054 S. Kildare Ave., Chicago, which is apparently owned and operated by Home Run Inn pizza for their frozen pie operation. (factory pics below) HRI makes one of my favorite frozen thin crust pizzas.
If you’re rolling into Chicagoland, and want to hit a Malnati’s restaurant, you’ll find them here (note, some locations are carryout/delivery only).
Lou Malnatis Frozen Pizza Review
Yet another Upper Midwest frozen “tavern pizza,” Halftime was launched out of a popular rural bar an hour NW of Chicago. If you’re a regular reader here, you know how much I admire small business owners, and guys like this, trying to enter a very crowded field, with (presumably) a marketing budget that can’t possibly compete in the space, well you have to give them an “E” for effort, and wish them the best of luck.
The package boasts include “made by hand” and “The Official Pizza of Brookfield Zoo.” (If you’ve never been to Brookfield, it’s worth a trip). Ingredients are pretty straightforward, except there’s that dreaded corn syrup derivative, which I hate seeing in any product.
Instructions call for middle shelf, 450, 12-15 minutes. On a cookie sheet if you prefer a softer crust.
I checked at the 12 minute mark, and opted for another minute. On the plus side, I liked the larger chunks of hand-pulled Italian sausage, and the very thin crust is cracker crunchy. The sausage could use more flavor (for my taste, only), and the sauce is very strongly flavored. Cheese is adequate, but more would be nice.
The pies sell for $12 + at the bar, have a suggested retail price of $10 at the grocer, I paid $7.99 on sale. At a $10 price point, these guys are competing in the upper range of frozen pizzas, and they are in for a tough fight. As a smaller manufacturer, lacking the economies of scale, purchasing, and automation, their price probably reflects the minimum number to make a profit.
But for me, the taste, texture and ingredients are more reminiscent of a pie in the ‘value range’ of frozen pizzas, competing with brands like Tony’s, Tombstone and the like, but of course, those brands pricing is considerably less.
The pies are made in McHenry, IL at USDA est 51161, located at 4025 W. Main Street, and pictured below, if Google maps is accurate. Locator.
Halftime Pizza Review