Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review: Mama Cozzi's Hangry Tomato Frozen Pizza - ALDI

I love ALDI for its above-average groceries at below-average prices. The frozen pizzas there are always cheap, but they have been hit-and-miss. No matter how cheap, you shouldn't often waste calories on frozen pizza unless you are feeding kids or the pizza is at least as good as DiGiorno.

The best ALDI frozen pizzas come from ALDI's home country, Germany. For example, their occasional "Specially Selected" brand is an excellent value, on par with the Trader Giotta pies imported from Italy for Trader Joe's

Fun fact: there are two ALDI chains  - North and South - in Germany, operated by competing brothers. One is the same as the American ALDI, the other operates here as Trader Joe's.

Recently, my local ALDI (West Chester, PA) began carrying a few varieties of "Hangry Tomato" frozen pizzas in some splashy packaging. They feature spicy flavors and the regular price is $4.99 for a typical smallish frozen pie. When I saw them on sale for $3.49, I grabbed one each of the "Flamin' Chicken" (20.55 oz.) and "The Sizzler" (18.35 oz.) varieties.
Flamin' Chicken, pre-bake

The Sizzler, pre-bake

The chicken-topped pie featured buffalo ranch sauce with mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, topped with Romano, Parmesan, onion bits, and spiced chicken chunks. The Sizzler also lacked red sauce; its base was siracha ranch sauce and mozzarella, and it was topped with Parmesan, Romano, jalapeno, and uncured pepperoni.
Flamin' Chicken, post-bake
I often doctor frozen pizza by adding toppings, but I cooked these unaltered, following the package directions to bake them directly on the oven rack at 425 degrees for 18-20 minutes. They came out with a golden crisped crust and some nice top browning.
The Sizzler, post-bake
Given their modest size, I cut them into 6 slices instead of 8. I was pleased to note that the crust was sufficiently rigid that it did not droop when lifting a slice, but I was disappointed in the overall texture and flavor of the crust.
A slice of the Flamin' Chicken
Unlike the "good bread" taste in the ALDI frozen pizzas imported from Germany, these were more akin to the typical American frozen pizza. In other words, a bit dry, mealy, and flavorless. The impression I got was "stacked saltines without the salt." Not offensive, but adding nothing to the overall pizza enjoyment.
A slice of The Sizzler
The chicken pizza was just barely spicy. Its flavors were basic and simple; it could have used a boost from a robust red sauce instead of the tame ranch dressing.

The "Sizzler" with fat slices of jalapeno and generous rounds of pepperoni was much better. The peppers were tame by jalapeno standards, but still added a nearly ideal amount of spicy zing. The flavor of the pepperoni carried the whole pie and rescued it from mediocrity.
Under the hood
Final verdict?  Good enough, but too spicy, for kids. Not good enough for adults, even at $3.49 per pie. The Sizzler was far better than the Flamin' Chicken, but I won't be buying either one again. I ate it so you don't have to! If you are going to buy frozen pizza, get stuff imported from Europe or the rising-crust varieties from DiGiorno or Freschetta.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review: Tonito's Pizza - West Chester, PA

When I moved from Bucks County PA (near Trenton NJ) to West Chester PA in 2009, it was only one hour west. But when I begin searching for good pizza near my home, I felt like I'd gone to Montana. 

There were three or four pizza joints within a mile of my house, but each was standard strip mall pizza made with mass-sourced ingredients. Big, soft, floppy slices overloaded with generic mozzarella and processed red sauce. 

It wasn't until 2017 that you could find true "destination pizza" in West Chester, when Rize opened on Market Street with its unique take on a Sicilian-style pan pizza.
Before the re-heat
The final frontier is my own suburban neighborhood. One small strip mall has always housed a pizzeria, and it has changed hands 2 or 3 times since I've been here. The great news is that the newest occupant - Tonito's Pizza - is operated by the Spatola family. I ate and loved the Trenton and Brooklyn style pies at the Spatola's Pizza in Paoli PA, and I saw them on the menu at Tonito's.
Every bite is different
In Trenton, a tomato pie is a round pizza that is made with cheese applied first, then large clumps of chunky red sauce on top. It is generally superior to conventional pizza because the cheese protects the crust from becoming soggy. It is better than "upside down" pies where a sea of red sauce covers the entire pie, because much of the cheese is still exposed to oven browning.

At Spatola's and Tonito's, the Trenton tomato pie is a large square pizza, much like the wonderful pies at La Villa in Morrisville PA. The "Brooklyn" pizza has nothing to do with Brooklyn unless you think it has something in common with a New York Grandma slice. Here, the Brooklyn is simply the same as the Trenton pie except fresh mozzarella is substituted for standard dry mozzarella.

I ordered a Brooklyn pie with sausage to go. Inside, Tonito's is a small standar strip mall space with just a few tables; clearly, the emphasis is on takeout.
Slices at Spatola's Paoli location
Like Spatola's, Tonito's uses thin longitudinal slices of pre-cooked sausage. It was a perfectly fine topping, but any pizza could be improved by the application of fresh raw sausage in chunks, squeezed right from the rope, to be cooked on the pie.

At home, I opened the box to see a beautiful pie, but it was the Trenton, not the Brooklyn I had ordered. I had to decide if I was going to give it an oven re-heat and re-crisp; the square slices were a bit soft, so I broke out the 12 slices over two perforated pizza pans and gave it 10 minutes at 375 degrees.
Crispy oiled crust
That was a great idea - and why this pizza is so good when you just buy a slice in the shop - because the re-heat really improves the texture.  The crust is very thin, but the cheese and sauce payload is pretty substantial. There is just enough oil on the crust to help it become crisp and rigid while keeping a nice dense chewiness.

I was fearful that the pizza would not be as good as the one in Paoli. However, this pie matched and even exceeded my memory of the Paoli location (Spatola's has Downingtown and Phoenixville locations, too). The thin crust was a little crisp, a little chewy, and ideally al dente after the re-heat.

The standard mozzarella cheese was plentiful and adhered perfectly to the crust, but it was a role player here. The red sauce was especially vibrant; chunky and dense and piquant. Its distribution could be improved by spreading it around a bit in smaller pools atop the cheese, and I did a bit of adjustment before the re-heat.

Each bite provided a true Trenton tomato pie experience of a rigid and tasty crust, with varying ratios of cheese and chunky red sauce. I shared this pie with 3 others for dinner, and we demolished the entire pizza. Superb.

Like Spatola's in Paoli, Tonito's also makes a more conventional round pizza. Those pies too are above the standard strip mall fare, but the star offerings here are the Trenton and Brooklyn pizzas. Seven years into the Pizza Quixote Blog, and there is finally a wonderful pizza that is practically walking distance from my home.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Review: Corleone Pizza, Trenton, NJ

Among the new pizzerias with pies worth seeking out, many are crafting Neapolitan-style pies. But as the Pizza Renaissance goes along, I'm seeing a wider variety of styles including rectangular pan-baked pies like the Detroit pizza at Via 313 in Austin and the Roman al taglio slices at Alice Cucina Romana in Philly.

Another relative newcomer with a rectangular pie is, whose name would never suggest anything beyond typical fast-food pizza. But the suburban Trenton location is one clue that you need some serious chops to sell a unique pizza here in the heart of Trenton tomato pie country. 

The owner of is Marcello Mandreucci, a Sicilian immigrant and veteran restaurant owner in the region.
Take-out only at
Marcello has a wonderful story of how he came to recreate the "Corleone style" Sicilian pizza of his youth - I encourage you to read the review and story by Rich Pawlak at Edible Jersey, HERE
Marcello's first stop in America, Bordentown NJ
Based on that insider scoop, I made it a point to stop for this unique pie when passing through Trenton. It's take-out only, with no real space to sit and eat inside.

What is a Corleone style pizza? It looks like a Sicilian pizza, but I found the dough to be light and airy yet crisp -- much like that found in the Philly-style tomato pies offered at bakeries. 
The Corleone, garnished with two fresh basil leaves
Don't confuse a Trenton tomato pie, which is essentially a pizza with the chunky tomatoes laden over top the cheese, with a Philly tomato pie, which is more like a Sicilian pizza with no cheese beyond a dusting of Parmesan. Click HERE for a primer on tomato pie.
Marcello uses only Italian tomatoes, Sicilian oregano, Sicilian olive oil, and a secret blend of three cheeses. What he's achieved in this Corleone pie, though, is balance. 

That crust has a surprisingly delicate texture and flavor, and it would be overwhelmed by the payload of red sauce and dense mozzarella found on a typical Sicilian pizza.
Light and airy crust
This was a pie of perfect proportions; crust, cheese, and sauce in ideal balance. I was delighted to see that the pepperoni topping I ordered was the "spicy cup" style that curls when it bakes, and it added the right notes of salty and savory. 
Multi-tiered rotating oven can take 20 pies at once
The only way to improve this pie would be to offer it with real chunks of Italian sausage that cook on the pie.

They typical experience with Sicilian pizza is that I'm full after one or two slices. Here, I confess I wolfed down four of these feathery delights. 
Under the hood of the Corleone
This pie is not as hearty and umami-rich as a Detroit pizza or the thick pillowy squares at Rize Pizza (Broomall and West Chester, PA), but it brings a lot of old-world satisfaction in a lighter and balanced way. No pizza lover near Trenton should miss the Corleone pizza.

Pizza Grill Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato