I’m sitting in the Starbucks at Third and La Brea. My leg taps nervously. I don’t know what the shady point person I’m meeting will look like — just that she’ll arrive soon. It’s daylight, and I’m surrounded by happy people. People who are working, sipping coffee, living their lives. And here I am, waiting for a hot cheese infusion.
It’s a reflection on me and how far I’ve fallen. I don’t even care. All I can think about is the imminent delivery; the two DiGiorno pizzas I’ve been promised in exchange for a fair and honest review.
How did I get here? In our culture, pizza is widely accepted as a celebratory food. It would seem strange to not have it at every kids’ birthday party, every family get together. A New York slice, a Chicago pie. It’s loosens up a room. Brings a smile to the face. So growing up I thought it was normal to polish off an extra-large double meat pie on a Friday night. It’s what my parents did, what my friend’s parents did. Everyone was doing it.
I was young the first time I had a slice. I don’t even remember it. That’s how normal it was. My first didn’t even leave an impression. But I know it was at home. With my Mom and Dad making sure I didn’t choke or pass out.
“If she’s going to eat pizza,” my parents always said, “she might as well eat it here, where we can supervise.”
In college it got worse. I would go to class, eating pizza on the way. I’d get a pepperoni fix sometimes two…three times a day. Sometimes I ate pizza at 2am. Sometimes I ate it cold. Sometimes I ate it even after it had been sitting out on the counter all night long, unrefrigerated. Quality didn’t matter. Sure, Whole Foods slices made me feel classy, but I would just as easily eat pizza in an alley behind a bar, off a paper plate.
Which brings me to last week, sitting in a Starbucks, pregnant, and waiting for a DiGiorno representative. Now, before the mommy bloggers tear me apart for being a pregnant addict, know that I get it, and I’m ashamed. I’ve read the articles saying to lay off the pizza, to eat mostly fruits and vegetables. But, if anything, the stress of pregnancy have only led me to increase my cravings, to want more and more.
The drop was to be made by a woman named Allison. Funny right? I could write a whole paper on the irony of someone with my exact name supplying me with my destruction. I could blame my parents, other pizza-eating kids who pressured me, even Pizza Hut’s “Book It” program, but at the end of the day it was Allison making me eat more pizza. Maybe I just needed to look in the mirror.
The other Allison arrived — looking more normal than I expected — and quickly swept me outside, where no one could hear us. Away from the prying eyes of moms with babies, and straight-laced business folks grabbing a coffee on a break, she told me about the product. The truth is that I can barely listen to her with all that pizza near me. I wanted to eat it right there. Shovel it in until I passed out, a smile on my face, the words “it’s not delivery” slipping from my lips. But there are formalities, even when it comes to an illicit pizza hand-off, and I was grateful that she didn’t request we go back to my house, pre-heat the oven, pretend we’re friends, and then share a slice together.
This pizza? It’s all for me.
I rushed back to my house, relieved to find that my husband wasn’t home yet. He didn’t need to see this. He eats pizza too, so he can’t really tell me to stop. But I know from the veggies he keeps cooking me “for the baby” that he wouldn’t approve. Who would?
When my DiGiorno pizza binge was over, I decided to rank the best frozen pizza products on the market. I know them all well. Really well. Uncomfortably well. AND I HAVE OPINIONS. With all of these I went with the pepperoni option unless (like in the case of Amy’s) there was no pepperoni option.
My rating scale is “how many scalding hot bites you would take (deadening all of your tastebuds) before letting it cool.” Because, let’s face it. Frozen pizza could be used as a torture device in an offshore prison to get people to talk. It ALWAYS burns the roof of your mouth no matter how long you wait, and you can still never wait. Especially if it’s any good.
These are the best and worst frozen pizza experiences you can have, power ranked.
10. Trader Joe’s brand
I love Trader Joe’s and I love pizza. I wish so badly that Trader Joe’s had good frozen pizza, but they don’t. Their flat breads are tasty, but their basic pepperoni is terrible. The sauce is too sweet, almost in a “This happened during some REAL hijinks” kind of way. Like I imagine someone spilled a sugar container into the pot while making this sauce and had to keep it in because the boss was coming over tonight, and Lucy promised Ricky there’d be no funny business this time. The pepperoni is bland and the cheese is fine, but it’s not going to win any cheese awards. Are there cheese awards? If so, I would like to go to them, please.
Rating: I would not take any scalding hot bites, I would let it sit on the table until it was cold. Then, many hours later, when I was stumbling home from a bar, I’d scream, “YES! PIZZA!” and eat it cold.
9. Amy’s Pizza
This is the pizza I used to get for lunch when I was trying to give up meat. It seems like it’s healthy, and I have a vague sense that Amy’s is more environmentally friendly than other frozen foods. Though, now that I think about it, I have absolutely no reason to come to that conclusion. It’s not as tasty as you’d like in a pizza. And the crust is doughy in a way that I find vaguely off and distasteful. Like when you go to someone’s house and they’ve put the fork on the wrong side of the plate or they try to murder you in order to turn your skin and bones into furniture. Just like “not quite right.”
Rating: 1 scalding hot bite and then I’d go back to eating meat forever.
8. Totino’s pizza rolls
To be honest, I would have ranked these lower if I didn’t find the SNL sketches about them so hilarious. The sketches put me in an overall good mood when I think about them. That being said, I do not care for the taste of Totino’s pizza rolls. They taste onion-y. And the cheese inside is chewy instead of being melty. They feel overly fried. I know that’s the point, but what can I say? I don’t like it.
Rating: 1 scolding hot Totinos roll, and then 1 more just to see if I still didn’t like them. And then 2 more because I’m bored. So 4 scalding hot bites.
Tombstone is part of a special package I like to call, “the 7-Eleven shame spiral.” It’s that thing when you’re pretty sure that your life is completely worthless so you go to 7-Eleven at 2 in the afternoon and buy a Tombstone pizza, a bottle of Barefoot pinot, and 20 dollars of scratch off tickets that you pay for in cash while avoiding eye contact with the cashier because you know she can tell you’ve been crying for three hours? Then you go home and eat all of the pizza and most of the wine while scratching off ticket after ticket, sobbing, and wondering where the time has gone because you used to have so much potential?
Their pizza tastes like salty tears, broken dreams, and a creeping sense of desperation. And sometimes it’s exactly what the doctor ordered.
Rating: 4-35 scalding hot bites depending on amount of wine consumed.
6. Bagel Bites
It’s literally impossible to find an appetizing photo of bagel bites. The thing is, I remember these as being insanely delicious as a kid. And I just can’t quite let go of that dream. I’m aware that the bagel part is weirdly tasteless and soggy. And the cheese comes in cubes that never quite melt. But I don’t know, man. I still kind of love them.
Rating: 4 and ½ half scalding hot bites trying to convince myself that these are as good as I thought they were as a child.
5. California Pizza Kitchen
In terms of frozen pizza, this is a solid choice. It’s way more flavorful than the others. They try to put fresh herbs and better ingredients in. Sauce is fine, crust is crispy. They’ve put some work into it. Which is…. sort of sad when you think about it? This is the restaurant to grocery store product that no one ever asked for. No one loves California Pizza Kitchen so much that they wished desperately they could have it at home whenever they please. CPK is the kind of food you get in the airport because the line’s too long at McDonald’s. CPK is that fringe friend who buys everyone dinner because they think it will make you like them, and it’s just…time to throw in the towel. You’re not gourmet pizza, guys. And you never will be.
Rating: A whole scalding hot slice, so five-ish bites.
4. Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza
These are just so delicious. The way the sauce soaks into the French bread with its abundance of cheese. It’s a delight, is what it is. I can’t think of anything bad to say about them. Except that I always wish I had a hundred of them. And I wish I ate these every meal.
Rating: 6 bites delicious bites that cause the skin on the roof of my mouth to peel off before the food finally starts to cool down a little.
3. Hot Pockets
Hot Pockets couldn’t be trashier, and it’s what makes them so perfect. Are they the official food of Nascar? Probably. I’ve never looked at their ingredient list but I have to think the first three things listed are grease. You’d think that might be a drawback but you’d be wrong. These are spicy and garlicky and an American treasure. If you told me Hot Pockets are our biggest world export, I’d believe you. Because that makes sense. You may not eat Hot Pockets because, admittedly, They. Are. Bad. For. You. If that’s the case, I’ll respect that very adult decision to refrain. But there isn’t anyone who doesn’t eat them because they don’t like the way they taste. Every person on Earth loves Hot Pockets.
Rating: Eight bites that alternate from scalding hot to completely cold and uncooked.
DiGiorno has the best frozen pizza crust, and their thickness most closely mimics delivery pizzas. Which is good, because otherwise their million year “It’s not delivery, it’s DiGiorno” campaign would be really embarrassing. It’s a really good frozen pizza, and I am always happy when I have it. DiGiorno feels like an upscale choice in a pretty low scale world.
Rating: I get two whole pieces in before it cools down. 9-10 horrible scalding hot bites that I take in between blowing on the cheese and complaining.
1. Red Baron
Red Baron beats out DiGiorno for two reasons. 1. In my frozen pizzas I prefer less crust. Look, I’m just not expecting top quality Papa John’s level crust here (yep, I just called Papa John’s crust top quality. COME AT ME). Frozen pizza crust is never good and ends up just sitting on my plate. That’s a waste. 2. Red Baron has the best sauce. It’s just a little bit spicy. I also find their pepperoni, cheese, and sauce ratios to be perfection.
Rating: I eat the whole pizza as if I’m shoving the entire f*cking sun in my mouth. It burns forever and I don’t care. 42 scalding hot bites