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Vito and Nicks Pizza Review, Chicago, IL

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Vito and Nicks Pizza ReviewArguably the oldest pizzeria in Chicago, Vito and Nicks started as a tavern only in the 30s, before adding pizza a few years later.

While most people in America associate “deep dish” pizza with Chicago, it didn’t really come along til a decade or more later. Til then, and even today, what we all “tavern style” pizza is the city’s favorite.

It’s a very thin “cracker” style crust, some would say “overcooked”, sliced into squares. If you’re lucky, you’ve landed at a place that is going to dot the top with fresh, mouth watering Italian sausage, like Vito and Nick’s does. It is really superb sausage. I wouldn’t mind bigger chunks, but it’s not a complaint.

I waited a long time to get there, and I planned an entire day in the city around the visit. Arrived at about 1:30P on a Saturday afternoon, and it was moderately busy, but there were still a few empty tables.

Not so by the time we left when the place was rocking and a crowd was crammed into a tiny space by the bar, waiting — overheard the waitress say it was an hour at the point – maybe 3 or 3:30.

Speaking of servers, we drew the lucky straw and get “Mary,” a veteran who greets you like you’re an old-timer, makes you feel like you’re the only customer even while she’s juggling a dozen tables. Noticing there was a set-up for a large group coming in, she suggested we get our order in pronto. Appreciated that.

Vito and Nicks Pizza Review


Large Sausage and Green Olive

I ordered a sausage and green olive, large pie, and it was perfect. I was delighted that the green olives were the kind I prefer on pizzas, I’ve heard proprietors refer to them as “Sicilian Style”, they are small, sliced, greens that have been marinating in a brine chock-a-block full of Italian style herbs. Some of them end up on the pie, of course, an additional layer of flavor.

Couldn’t finish it, of course. Ate some for dinner at night, and the rest was calling me at 3AM, and I polished it off while binging House of Cards on Netflix.

Vito and Nick’s is close to Midway Airport, a hike from downtown.  If you’re driving Route 66, it’s just a few miles south of Ogden, which is Route 66 out of the city, and it’s worth a detour.  PBR and Old Style on tap.

I shall return.

P.S. There are frozen Vito and Nick’s pizzas in area groceries. One of the best in the frozen segment.

Vito & Nick's Pizzeria Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Vito and Nicks Pizza Review
Vito and Nicks Pizza Review

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Outsiders Pizza Review – Nationwide Frozen Food Product

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Outsiders Pizza ReviewDo you remember when craft beer started to take off, to the surprise of the giant brewers?

So what did they do, they created spin-off “mini-companies” with new brews, and marketing them as such.  So we didn’t know that Miller (or whomever) was behind “Bob’s Garage Brew – the beer made with sink water from Bob’s house.”  Well, you get the idea.

So I stumble on this new frozen pie from “Outsider’s Pizza Company” someone I’ve never heard of, and according to the box, they are based in somewhere, Ohio.  “Interesting” I said to no one.

They had two pies in the frozen aisle, “Detroit style” and “Milwaukee style.”  I like Detroit style pizza, and to my knowledge, nobody in the segment is doing a frozen one.  None of the Detroit chains have expanded nationwide (like Buddy’s).  Little Caesars deep dish is a mass appeal version of the product, but not very true to the original.

A Detroit style pizza is rectangular, a thick crust which resembles focaccia bread, chewy, but extra crispy around the edges. This effect can come from one of two methods, running the cheese out to, past the edge of the pie and it drips down during baking making a caramelized edge. Or some places simply brush the crust with butter before baking.   Cheese.  Some apply a modest amount of sauce before baking, other insist on drizzling sauce after baking, not covering the entire surface, tho. Toppings are conventional.

IN ANY CASE, (geez, get to it, would you!!!??!)  the Outsider’s Pizza Company is like the giant beer companies microbrews – it’s actually part of the Nestle pizza line (which they acquired from Kraft) and includes DiGiornos, California Pizza Kitchen, Jacks, and Tombstone.

I’m gonna say Nestle’s frozen Detroit style pizza is a fairly good effort. Whoever comes into the market next will improve on the concept, undoubtedly.

The crust is ok, bread-like, and the edges have a modest caramelization, not complete.  I don’t care for the sauce which tastes, to me, awfully industrial, mass production. Cheese was adequate and the topping (salami) was flavorful.

Lo and behold, behold and low upon further examination, the pies are made in the same factory as DiGiornos, which isn’t even a Nestle factory, but a contract manufacturer down the street from me in Chicago.  Nation Pizza.

Here I wanted to actually be made by some “outsiders” so I could applaud their industry as a start-up.  Damn.

Outsiders Pizza Review

Baked pie, 27 minutes at 400.

Outsiders Pizza Review

Semi caramelized crust, note crust thickness

 

 

 

 

Outsiders  Pizza Review

Outsiders  Pizza Review

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Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review – Milwaukee, WI

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Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage ReviewToday I used some of their fresh Italian sausages for a home-made pizza. I only picked up two, of the “hot” not “sweet” variety, and they run about four ounces apiece at about a buck twenty per.

I have this quirk which there is no rhyme nor reason for. When I’m making a sausage pizza, I don’t buy bulk sausage, but links, strip off the casings and use hand-pulled pieces for my topping.

You don’t have to pre-cook it, but you can if you like. It cooks just fine on top of the pie in the regular baking cycle.

So I made my dough, laid on the sauce, some finely diced garlic and sliced cheeses (provolone and mozz – slices melt nicer than shreds, in my opinion).

Then I symmetrically laid out bits of sausage, a sprinkle of Italian herbs, and my personal “go-to” topping, diced green olives with pimentos.

Using fresh dough, it bakes up nicely at 500 for 10-12 minutes.

Glorioso’s hot sausage is a bit hot, it turns out. Most of the time when I select that type of sausage, “hot” means lots of fennel and Italian herbs. But this wasn’t objectional at all, had great flavor, proper about of fat and great texture.

I only bought two as I said.  I should have bought a couple dozen.

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

 

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

Gloriosos Fresh Italian Sausage Review

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7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review – Nationwide

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7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

A few years back, 7-Eleven made some rather dramatic decisions – to go into the hot, ready to eat food business and to replace many of the standard shelf offerings with house brand merchandise ( 7-Select).

Both moves appear to have been very successful.

With a history that dates back to the 1920s, and originally named the “Tote ‘m Stores,” the company which had started as an ice retailer, added items and stores until changing their name to 7-Eleven in 1946. Continued growth through the next few decades showed success but also added huge amounts of debt to the company, and in 1990, entered a pre-packaged bankruptcy during which 70% of the company was spun off to Japanese retail giant Ito-Yokado.

Today there are 64,000 stores in 18 countries.  Think there are a lot of them in your town?  Tokyo has 2,600!

The addition of the hot food came around 10 years ago (not including roller grill foods, which debuted earlier),  and it was a store-elective, as in order

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

Grab and go food counter

to be competitive, outlets were required to purchase Turbo Chef ovens (retail between $7-$10,000) which can cook a frozen pizza in 90 seconds. Pizza was followed by baked snack offerings like wings and tenders.

Pizzas are sold by the slice or whole and with promotional prices as low as $5 for an entire pie.

The pies are also available in the frozen foods cooler, competing with national brands. There are (that I have seen) three varieties, Supreme, Pepperoni, and Cheese.  These retail for between $5-6.

They are a “medium” thick crust pizza and are reminiscent of brands like Tony’s, and Red Baron, which shouldn’t be surprising, as the frozen pizzas are manufactured for 7-Eleven at a Schwan’s plant.  The plant (pictured below) is in Sydney, OH, about 60 miles NW of Columbus.

It’s a mass appeal product, nothing too extreme in flavors,  but if you’re paying around  $5, it’s a good value.

I’ve only had them a couple of times, in both incidences, I distinctly remember occurring because I was too lazy to go into a big grocery.  I guess that is one thing 7-Eleven is counting on.

Aoubt 15 minutes at 425 and they are ready to go.  Other house brand products I’ve tried in the past, include the meat snacks (their version of a Slim Jim), heat and eat burgers, and fresh sandwiches (which at least in the Pacific NW are made by Lufthansa’s catering division in Seattle).

If you’re outside of the U.S. in one of those 18 countries that 7-Eleven has stores, take a peek in one, they have some fun stuff. Particularly in Asia!  The Japanese parent has some marvelous department stores across Asia as well, operating under the names of Seibu and Sogo. (The Sogo in Hong Kong has an amazing food court/grocery on the lower level).

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

Packaging

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

Out of box

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

After baking (and re-arranging toppings!)

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

Sydney, Ohio Factory

 

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

7-Eleven Frozen Pizza Review

 

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Sal and Mookies Pizza Review – Biloxi, MS

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Sal and Mookies Pizza Review“John and Mitchy were getting kind of itchy…”   wait….. “Sal and Mookie were feeling kinda ooky..”  Sorry. Really obscure and I’m dating myself.

So apparently these two guys were in the restaurant business in Jackson, MS (a hotbed of dining lately, really) and they decided they wanted to go into the NY style pizza biz.

According to their own information, they worked on different recipes til they felt they had it down and THEN went to NY to see how their pies compared.  They were satisfied.

Restaurant opens. Success. Pizza, ice cream parlor, sports bar, adult area, all in one.

Met people who wanted to take the concept to the Gulf Coast. Made a deal. Opened. Successful.  Just off the coast highway, across from the Hard Rock in Biloxi.  Spitting distance from the Gulf.

So I wandered in about 7:30 or so on a weeknight, and there were perhaps six couples dining and a gaggle of uncleared tables, must have been kinda busy earlier.

Hostess is awol.  Chef in kitchen behind big glass window overlooking the hostess stand. Nada. Blank stares.

Seems like finally a light bulb goes off and he goes to look for someone.  In the meantime, I’ve located the bartender and he shows me to one of the few “clean” tables.  Cleaned as in “cleared,” when the server did show up, she felt compelled to give it a wipe down.

Drinks ordered, delivered after a little delay. (Was there an employee poker game going on in the back or something?)

Pizza ordered, 14″ “Classic New York” with sausage, mozzarella, and provolone.

Pizza delivered fairly quickly. (By this time, I was the only customer).  Sal and Mookie’s brochure states that they use the finest ingredients:  King Arthur Flour,  Kosher Salt, Filtered Water, Fleishman’s Yeast, EVOO, whole milk mozzarella and imported Italian plum tomatoes.  Admirable, but I doubt the average pizza eater can tell the difference. I mean, hell, Pizza Hut, Little Caesars,  and Dominos are the largest chains in the world, and people seem to be satisfied with the crap they put out.

So do I tell you my opinion about this as a pizza in general, or as a “New York style” pizza?

If I lived here, it wouldn’t be my ‘go to’ pizza, tho this isn’t a part of the country that lends itself to great pizza.  I lived in New Orleans for eight years and pizza there was mostly meh.  I understand they’re working on it.

On Sal and Mookie’s desire to make a New York style.  Crust is too thick, puffy doughy edges, reminiscent of one of the grocery store self-rising things. Sausage is sliced pieces of links, that’s very New York-ish. But the sausage selection isn’t very flavorful.  (There’s a small producer down the road in Chalmette, Marciante, you should go sample theirs).  I didn’t look close, but there was a lot of garlic on the pie, so I can’t say whether it’s in the sauce or was diced bits on top.  I’m ok with that, some people might now be.

I’d personally prefer more cheese, but then real NY pizza tends to be skimpy on cheese. Distribution was a little lop-sided for some reason.

If you’re an occasional reader, you know the true test (for me) is how tasty the pie is the following morning, after sitting out all night. This one passes that test.

Would I go again?  Don’t think so.  In addition to the reasons above, it’s a little spendy, but then it’s sitting right in tourism central.  Total time invested, 75 minutes, surrounding tables still weren’t cleared or cleaned.

I think it’d be a fun place if you’ve dragged your entire family and in-laws to the beach, and wanted a pizza and ice-cream party, with lots of room to spread out.  They also have salads and sandwiches, a few pasta dishes and a kid’s menu.  Full menu is right over here. Non-smoking.  They cater.

Sal and Mookies Pizza Review

Sal & Mookie's New York Style Pizza & Ice Cream Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Sal and Mookies Pizza Review
Sal and Mookies Pizza Review

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Pizza Sauces Compared – Home Cooking

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Pizza Sauces Compared

It literally took me decades to figure out how to make a great pizza at home. Now I prefer my own to nearly any pizzeria.

You have to pick and choose your ingredients, there are so many options in a standard pie, flour, sauce, cheese, meats, veggies.  I’m really picky about Italian sausage and pepperoni brands.

I started making crusts at home, it’s very easy, here’s the ingredients:

  • 2 t yeast (jars work better for me than packets)
  • 4 t sugar
  • 1 T salt
  • 4 C flour (the best is designated as “00” which is used in Italy. Find it at good food stores. King Arthur sells a version, too) but almost any white flour will do.
  • 1 C + more, water water, warmer than your finger
  • 1/2 C EVOO

Eight minutes in the Kitchenaid, a  couple of rising periods, voila!  But you know what? Here’s a shortcut.  BUY THE DOUGH!  Most big groceries and WalMart have it for sale now, around a buck.

For quite a while, (when I don’t make my own from garden tomatos) I was using Contadina, which comes in a squeeze bottle, very convenient, and no waste, because it keeps.

I’ve previously tried Cento, which was satisfactory, pure, simple ingredients and it’s not annoyingly sweet (just a personal preference).  Pastorelli, a local Chicago brand, is outstanding. Also not “sweet” it’s a little thicker, heartier than most brands. I tried one from Italy, Mutti brand, that was very pure and very thick.

This week I was on to Dei Fratelli, made by the Herzel Family Farms in Northwest Ohio.  They’ve been in the biz since the 1920s.  Again, a thicker one, kinda of sweet.  Upside of both Pastorelli and Dei Fratelli is they offer a smaller size, perfect for one large pie. (Mine are rectangular, the size of a large cookie sheet).

Do I have a favorite? Well, I like to support hometown companies, and all things being equal, I’ll go with Pastorelli every time.

Pizza Sauces Compared

My pie

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Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review – West Dundee, IL

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Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review Dominicks Pizza and Restaurante in a 20+ year old dual-purpose establishment in the Chicago suburb of West Dundee, IL

I say “dual-purpose” as it has two adjacent storefronts in the strip mall on the east side of Illinois 31, just north of I-94. On the right side, you’ll find the entrance to the dine-in restaurant, a smallish eatery serving traditional Italian appetizers and entrees.

There are three rows of tables, maybe 15 in all. Maybe more.  The ambiance is nice. Subdued lighting, tablecloths, linen napkins, abundant cutlery.

A friend suggested it, offered to take me, it was a “special menu” night, but apparently, the regulars knew that they could order from the regular menu, as well, and some did.  I have no complaints about what I ate, but I might have made a different choice from the larger, regular menu. Just sayin’.

I don’t usually go out for pasta. Just not dazzling enough, and I’m at the age where I think everything is expensive, and restaurant pasta would surely fall on that list. I can think of three outstanding, memorable restaurant pasta. The Cafe DeNapoli in downtown Minneapolis, which was open for 65-70 years, now gone. A restaurant in Soho in London. And some no-name place in Bratislava.  Oh. One more. Hong Kong.  Oh, and the Italian Village downtown Chicago is “OK” but getting kinda tired.

But that’s it. I’ve been to Olive Garden once, over thirty years ago, wouldn’t think of going again, chain restaurants are just heating up the equivalent of TV dinners these days, made in some commissary a thousand miles away.

Anyway. Dinners at Dominick’s include soup or salad and fresh bread. Entrees run from $15 – $22 more or less. If you’re going for a tomato sauce, you can choose plain marinara or a red meat sauce.  Both are thick and on the sweet side.  (Tomato sweet, not sugar sweet).

I went with simple, spaghetti with meat sauce. I inquired about meatballs (I like to try them everywhere) and yes, they could add them. At the conclusion of the meal, I found they were $5 for two (in sauce), so I’m at $22 for (generously)  $3 worth of food ingredients.

I did like the meatballs (pix below).  They are large and very dense.  In the cross-section you’ll note some herbs, I’m going to guess these are beef and pork, not highly seasoned, but because of their density, I’m going to guess very little bread crumbs or egg for binders.

In all menu choices, the servings are large and most everybody I noticed took something home (me included, that’s why you have the pic of the meatball). I didn’t take pix in the restaurant, the tables are close, didn’t want to disturb anybody who might be trying to get laid, or telling their spouses they wanted a divorce or were going to jail or whatever couples talk about in quiet restaurants these days.

I didn’t try the pizza, and I’d like to. Prices for that looked competitive with other joints in the area, about $25 for a 16 incher. And I’d buy some ala carte meatballs if they offered them. The takeout menu is fairly large and includes many of the dinners from the dine-in side, but at a considerably lower price. They do not include salad, and perhaps the portions are smaller. Pretty sure everything there is made in-house.

And that’s what I know about Dominick’s. Dine-in menuTake-out menuOrder online for pick up or delivery (limited area, of course)

Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

Meatball, as big as a tennis ball.

 

Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

Meatball dissected

Dominick's Italian Ristorante Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

Dominicks Pizza and Ristorante Review

 

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Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

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Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza ReviewPapa Murphys is the result of the consolidation of two mini-chains in the early 1980s. Papa Aldos in suburban Portland, OR, and Murphy’s in Petaluma, CA.

The unique hook for the now global, 1500+ store chain is (as far as I know) the only national chain offering strictly “take and bake” pies.  They make them to your specification at the store, you tote ’em home and bake them.  There was some discussion of them starting to bake in-house, and delivery, too, but as far as I can see, neither has happened.

Sidebar: There was a take and bake operation in my hometown, independent, (don’t remember the name)  long before Papa Murphys started sprouting up everywhere. For some reason, my mom loved the place and the concept. Add to that, it was on top of a generic ‘take and bake’ (kidding) soda store, the “Pop Shoppe” which had a ton of flavors of soda, value priced, under their own name. Wonder what happened to them?  (OK, just found out, they were born, had explosive growth, died, now on the comeback trail)  (Backspace to the link, if you’re interested).

Anyway, Papa Murphys has a fairly large menu choice of toppings, types, and sizes.  I went with the five meat “stuffed”, which is crust, cheese, toppings, another crust, more toppings, more cheese.  This one packs Red Sauce, Canadian Bacon, Pepperoni, Italian Sausage, and Bacon topped with Ground Beef. They are big and they are heavy. There is a 14 and 16 inch size, and either one is priced at about half a comparable pie at local shops around me.

Takes awhile to bake, of course, but it’s satisfying and filling. No skimping on the toppings or cheese. Slightly sweet sauce. “Bread like” crust.  Overall appealing.  Easily feed your family.  Better (IMHO) than the big three, for sure.  They offer a couple sides, salads, and desserts.

Papa Murphys are everywhere. Check the website to find a store near you.  Menu below. Postscript. I went to the store in Woodstock IL (you’d recognize the town, where they filmed “Groundhog Day.”)   I had a coupon, and the owner said he couldn’t accept it, but he’d give me the same deal.  OK.  And he did.

 

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

Right from the store

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

Out of the oven at home

 

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

Menu – click to enlarge

Papa Murphy's Pizza Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review
Papa Murphys 5 Meat Stuffed Pizza Review

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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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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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