The plan sounded so perfect. Buy eight popular frozen cheese pizzas. Bring them to my nephews’ house. Have them taste-test the pizza with me. Write down the cute, poignant, and sometimes deep things they said as they thoughtfully ranked them. Learn a little about ourselves and frozen pizza. Go home and sleep deeply.
It didn’t exactly work like that. My nephews are 10, 8, and 3. For the purposes of this taste-test (and because their future selves likely don’t want their names exclusively associated with frozen pizzas on the Internet), I shall call them J., C., and Spiderman, respectively.
This is Spiderman, pictured shooting a web at the camera. He was most excited about the pizza taste-test beforehand. “I’m going to eat all the pizzas,” he told me as I stood in his kitchen shoving them in the oven. “You’re going to eat eight pizzas?” I asked him. “No,” he said. “I’m going to eat a hundred.”
But then this happened:
That is a frosted birthday cake made by Spiderman’s grandmother for C.’s birthday. He ate the entire thing while holding it on that fork. And so, by the time all the pizzas were ready, Spiderman didn’t want anything to do with a pizza taste-test. “I've never liked pizza,” he explained, lying to my face. And then he started singing the chorus to a popular Maroon 5 song.
Luckily, J. and C. were still down to help me eat a bunch of pizzas, even without Spiderman. This is C. It was his birthday. Look how happy he looks.
This is J. The three of us rated each slice on crust, sauce, and cheese. I also wanted to rate texture, but I had a hard time explaining what it meant and gave up.
8. Red Baron Classic Crust 4 Cheese Pizza
"I didn't like the cheddar. Do people put cheddar cheese on pizza?" - C.
I told the boys about the Red Baron commercials from '90s, about the actual Red Baron, and how ladies found him handsome, especially when he delivered them pizzas while wearing a cool hat. The boys didn’t care. “I wasn’t born in the '90s,” said J. ANYWAY, Red Baron, which held up very well in the '90s, has kind of fallen off in the new world of fancier frozen pizza. The four different cheeses were bland, the sauce kind of sticky, and the crust, while crunchy, didn’t have any satisfying crusty flavor.
7. Amy’s Margherita Pizza
“It looks like marshmallows. Is that a marshmallow pizza for DINNER?” - Spiderman
I wanted Amy’s to move much higher up the frozen-pizza ladder, because I respect that they’re trying to use fresh mozzarella and organic tomatoes and all of that. But the pizza itself suffered, possibly from its own high standards. For one, the top crust was mushy thanks to the excess water that seemed to be in the mozzarella and the sauce, and despite cooking it for 30% longer than recommended on the box, the bottom crust could not recover. Also, while C. liked “the bread being nice and soft,” he definitely didn’t enjoy “the green stuff,” even after I told him it was chopped basil.
6. Tombstone Original 5-Cheese
“There’s just... there’s a lot of crispy bread on the bottom?” - J.
I likely averaged eating around one to six Tombstone pizzas a month when I was in elementary school, which might explain why all doctors are visibly nervous when they look at my cholesterol charts. But yet again one of the OGs of the frozen-pizza scene just isn’t as palatable anymore. Much of the reason, according to the boys, was the very conservative amount of sauce, which left it feeling like we were eating crispy flatbread covered in cheese. And though they get credit for throwing another cheese on top of the normal four-cheese blend, C. points out that “four might’ve been enough.”
5. California Pizza Kitchen Margherita
“Are those real tomatoes?!?” - C., in horror
Yes, yes they are. CPK has recently made a power move in the frozen-food aisle, as I noticed that nearly half the rack in the esteemed frozen-pizza freezer in my supermarket is filled with CPK products. And, I have to say, this was where the boys' tastes and mine diverged. I enjoyed the more authentic crushed tomatoes and the “extra virgin olive oil, sweet basil” and “mozzarella and Fontina cheeses.” The chunky tomato sauce, though visually appealing, was a non-starter with the boys. C. just shook his head after taking a tiny bite and proclaimed an inability to get past the “chunkiness.” J. liked the flavor of the sauce, but was suspicious of its look. For his part, Spiderman jumped in here to tell us that he had “had this pizza before with Blair (NOTE: a girl friend, whom he calls his actual girlfriend) and it was very good for ninjas.”
4. DiGiorno Original Rising Crust Four Cheese
“I liked the sauce. It tasted like real sauce. Like real pizza place sauce where they make you the pizzas there and then you take them home as takeout.” - C.
I couldn’t tell if C. was messing with me, and maybe alluding to the “It’s not delivery” catchphrase of DiGiorno’s rising crust, but man, did he nail it. DiGiorno had that appealing look when you took it out -- the crust had indeed risen, the cheese on the end got deliciously brown, there was a plentiful amount of flavorful sauce to go around. It’s just, that rising crust actually might’ve produced... too much rising crust. There was a lot of dough here, as the pizza kind of found its sweet spot between deep dish and normal. And while the authentic taste pushed it close to the top, the imperfect balance between the three textures (sauce, cheese, and crust) kept it from moving past four.
3. Newman’s Own Four Cheese Thin & Crispy
“The bread is crusty, so I like that. I would eat this tomorrow.” - J.
Having never had a Newman’s Own pizza, I was not expecting much. But Paul knows what he’s doing here: it was the fastest pizza to cook (it barely took 10 minutes), and the crispy crust had some snap in it without totally drying out. Both C. and J. noted how good the crust was, and how the flavor of the sauce mixed well with the mozzarella, cheddar, Parmesan, and Asiago. And C. actually went back for a second slice, which was kind of strange, seeing how we were working our way through EIGHT TYPES OF PIZZA. I reminded him that he should conduct himself like a professional, but he ate it anyway.
2. Freschetta Naturally Rising 4-Cheese Medley Pizza
"The sauce is powerful.” (I asked what he meant by powerful) “You don’t know what powerful means?!?” - C.
First off, I do know what powerful means because I’m 33 damn years old. And I have to disagree with C. here. The sauce was flavorful, and complementary to the four-cheese blend, but it was not powerful. And I would’ve told him that, but it was his birthday and I’d only given him two books as presents and wasn’t in a place to get in an argument. But Freschetta seemed to have a combination of great traits of a variety of pizzas: it rose like DiGiorno, but not in such an aggressive way as to get too doughy. It had the most flavorful sauce balance other than the winner and Newman's, and the cheese blend was subtle yet distinctive. Spiderman, on the other hand, said it “smelled like cupcake pizza” and then started uproariously laughing to himself about that idea.
1. Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza Cheese
“It has a puffiness, and there isn’t too much cheese. The bread is hard and crusty. The sauce tastes good and you can see it under the cheese. I’m actually really excited about this one.” - J., showing very little external enthusiasm
Who knew, friends? Who knew that after all of these years, all of the countless iterations of frozen pizzas, all of the crust changes, and the steps forward in freezing fancy types of basil and vine-ripened tomatoes, that the pizza MADE ON A SPLIT-OPEN PIECE OF FRENCH BREAD would be the winner? But it’s true. French bread pizza is still damn delicious. The crust still gets very crusty along the bottom but the top stays pillowy and hot, especially when you break through the cheese and find a not-insignificant amount of sauce, with a little garlic hint waiting underneath. It isn’t imitating pizza that you get at a pizza shop because it recognizes its own singular value as the perfect lazy person food. Or, as C. says, “you could put it in your pants pocket and no one would know you had pizza.” Fair point, C. Really fair point.