Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review: Ellio's Frozen Pizza (Pepperoni)

I have logged decades of pizza eating.  In my experience, the odds of getting decent "supermarket" pizza (via kit, refrigerator case, or freezer) has moved in the opposite direction of the odds of getting worthwhile pizza at your local mom-n-pop pizza shop.
A slice of Ellio's

In other words, if you go back to the 1960s and earlier, most pizza shops used home-made dough, house specialty sauce, and maybe even local sausage and other meat toppings.  Any pizza was made by a pizzaiolo who was a genuine craftsman. On the other hand, supermarket pizza was laughably bad. Frozen pizza was in its infancy, and the pizza kits (such as the one from Chef Boy-ar-dee) yielded thin pies of wet white bread, topped with pink ketchup and barely enough cheese to be visible. Truly wretched.

Until the very recent pizza renaissance, with artisanal pizza shops popping up all over, the quality at the typical corner store pizza joint was sliding downhill. Forced to compete on price with the big chains, they began to order bland mass-sourced ingredients from suppliers like Sysco, and the talented pizza chef was supplanted by cheaper and less skilled pie makers. Your local place is chasing Papa John's and Pizza Hut, but the frozen pies are getting better and better.

This gave rise to my DiGiorno test: is your local pizza better than DiGiorno frozen pizza?  Probably not! 

The point of the preceding discussion is to highlight what was a revelation for me in the 1970s: a chance to get tasty pizza, at home. In my world, the very first was Ellio's frozen pizza. The odd rectangle slices, nine to a box.  It was not like having real pizza parlor pie, but it was a remarkably good snack, from my young perspective. I LOVED Ellio's pizza. Like most childhood treats, I outgrew it and stopped eating it.  But on a nostalgic whim, I picked up a box recently to see how it compares to other frozen pies.

Inside the box, there are three long shrink-wrapped rectangles.  I think each one is designed to break apart into three slices, but I could not discern the break points.  I was re-heating some excellent leftover slices of Anthony's Coal-Fired Pizza (full review HERE) on a perforated pizza pan, so I just plunked the Ellio's on there too (after 30 seconds defrosting in the microwave).  The slices cooked for 11 minutes at 400 degrees, then I gave them a minute under the broiler to get the top crisp and sizzling. 

What I found was a thin crust (but with decent hole structure) that was crisp and sturdy. It was bland but inoffensive.  The sauce was sweet, in a way that appeals to kids. The cheese was clearly inferior stuff, with little elasticity or flavor.  The pepperoni was surprisingly good, but wafer thin.

Overall, pretty terrible stuff. But - and this is largely dependent on the strength of your childhood memories - terrible in a good and embraceable way. I enjoyed my slice, and I will (slowly) enjoy the rest of the box.  It's not pizza, really, so much as a snack made of pizza-like ingredients.

I often doctor up slices, and I imagine this could be pretty OK with some garlic, onion, sausage, or other stuff added.
Underside of the crust

No one said it better than Adam Kuban who used the phrase "crappy fantastic" in describing his childhood favorite, Totino's Party Pizza:
Frozen Pizza revels in its crappiness. It amps up the flavor with an ingredients list of junk you probably don't want to look too closely at. It's "pizza" in the same way a Big Mac is a "hamburger" or Taco Bell is a "taco." If you suspend your disbelief, I believe you can thoroughly enjoy it for what it is.
Elliio's frozen pizza is awful. And I like it. Awful good!

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