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Perfect in a pinch: Staff and readers review frozen pizza favorites

As we all looked for easy and convenient lunch and dinner options during the pandemic, more and more we opened the freezer and pulled out a pizza. Americans bought $275 million in frozen pizza during March, according to AdWeek, which was a 92 percent increase over the same period in 2019. Who makes the tastiest one? We turned to readers and our staff to find out.

Tree Tavern Cheese Pizza

Staff review: Rick Koster

The Tree Tavern, once a bar in Princeton, New Jersey, fed their patrons a popular cheese pizza for years — and continue to do so, amidst more upscale fare, in the present-day incarnation of The Tree Tavern Wine Bar in nearby Wanaque. The pie remains so appreciated, the Tree folks make and distribute a frozen version, which can be found locally in ShopRite stores.

We bought two: one to prepare "as is" for my meat-eschewing wife Eileen — the package contains "Suitable for Vegetarians!" boasts — and one that I could doctor with extra ingredients. Instructions suggest daubing a bit of olive oil on the top of the pies before baking for 15 minutes in a pre-heated 400-degree oven. Done. I also added diced chicken breast and green olives to my pizza.

We were both happy with the results. The tomato sauce has a slightly sweet aftertaste that works well with the heaps of titular mellow cheese. The proportion betwixt the two slightly favors cheese, and that's fine. The crust is thin and chewy — there's that slight "frozen dough" quality that seems to occur with every frozen pizza, probably because the dough is frozen. (Instructions include tips on how to make the dough crisper, but our oven isn't exactly NASA-precise, and we didn't want to burn lunch. Not the Tree Tavern folks' fault.)

I ended up eating my entire 12-inch creation; Eileen had three slices and pronounced hers more than satisfactory in context. With all the excellent pizza joints in the region, we rarely opt for frozen, but I'd feel happy knowing there were a few Tree Tavern pies in the freezer. Particular in these soon-to-be post-apocalyptic times. 

Reader review: Marco Frucht, Groton

My all-time favorite frozen pizza has been Tree Tavern, which you can still get reasonably priced at all the ShopRites. My first taste of Tree Tavern was as a small child, and it became a family favorite for rainy days and while celebrating the plain old fact that it was Friday night.

They claim they've never used artificial ingredients for 55+ years, and I believe them. It's basically flour, water, salt, crushed tomatoes, cheddar cheese, and a hint of garlic powder. My mom's secret ingredient is just a capful of veggie oil drizzled over the top while preheating. I do a larger drizzle of EVOO instead and sometimes a tiny bit of cayenne and some black pepper.

Now I emailed my mom that I'm writing this review, and right away she said, "Oh, that's one of the things on my ShopRite list this week."

Reader review: Karen Smith, Old Lyme

I enjoyed this frozen pizza as a child, and 50 years later I am still enjoying it. Tree Tavern Frozen Pizza is the only one I will eat. It must have been one of the first frozen pizzas sold in Connecticut. Recently rediscovered after many years in a local store. Package still looked the same. To my delight, it tasted the same as I remembered as a kid. Great cheese taste; they only sell cheese pizza, nice cheese ratio on pizza. I enjoy the sauce as it is not spicy, just good. The crust is nice and hard with a nice crunch. I'm very happy I have one frozen pizza that I love to eat.

Mama Cozzi's Three Meat Pizza

Staff review: Tim Cotter

While I've been buying two frozen pizzas a week during the pandemic, I generally grab whatever is on sale. For sure, some are better than others, but none have been memorably horrible. I've never had Mama Cozzi's, which is made exclusively for Aldi's markets. I picked up two: three-meat rising crust and supreme thin crust. The biggest difference between what you get at a pizzeria and in the frozen food aisle is the crust. And while neither of these went against that, the crusts were servicable: crispy for the thin crust and doughy for the rising crust. I would recommend cooking both to the maximum time suggested.

The pepperoni was sufficiently spicy, but while these are touted as three-meat and supreme, they were mostly just pepperoni. I would've liked more veggies on the supreme, and on the three-meat I had trouble finding the beef. The sauce stacked up well, although a little more seasoning would've been nice.

I bought both of these pizzas for less than $3 apiece. Not sure if I hit a sale or not, but that is a great value. And, overall, Mama Cozzi's was right there with the more recognizable brand names.

Reader review: William Kenny, Norwich

With all due respect to a highly successful coffee and hot beverage chain, this American runs on pizza. Let me note I'm in love with Asylum Street Pizza in Norwich, but my guilty pleasure go-to is a frozen pizza from Aldi, Mama Cozzi's Three Meat Pizza with Cheese Stuffed Crust.

I've enjoyed Aldi's frozen pizzas for years, starting with their gateway pizza, Just Pepperoni, telling myself I could quit anytime I wanted. Before I knew it, I was hanging out in the Aldi store parking lot with a quarter in my hand, jonesing for a chance to have my own shopping cart and to savor the flavor of Mama Cozzi's Three Meat treat.

It's not a thick crust pizza or a thin crust pizza; it's a just the right size crust pizza to easily and softly fold in half so you enjoy every bite with just the right amount of all the toppings. The three meats, sausage, pepperoni, and beef, generously cover the entire pizza and the just a bit-more-tangy-than-usual cheese covered in all the spicy sauce you could want makes one outstanding value and a delicious change of pace. My only complaint: despite its size, and it's huge, there never seems to be enough.

If your store-bought frozen pizza tasted like the cardboard box it came in, try Aldi's Mama Cozzi's Pizzas and enjoy the difference.

Screamin' Sicilian Holy Pepperoni

Staff review: Kristina Dorsey

I realize packaging isn’t everything, but I love the design on the Screamin’ Sicilian box. The drawings on it remind me of Monty Python illustrations (check out those pointing fingers!), and a name like “Holy Pepperoni” splashed across the front is a sure attention-grabber.

Let’s talk about the actual food: The pepperonis were so abundant that when I opened the box, I wasn’t convinced there was an actual pizza underneath. The pepperonis had a kick to them, which melded flavorfully with the (also generous application of) cheese.

I followed the instructions for a crispier crust, and it was as snappy as I like.

My disappointment was the sauce, which was woefully unexciting. They seemed to skimp on the seasonings.

Is Screamin’ Sicilian as good as takeout? Nah. But for frozen pizza, it’s worth, uh, screamin’ about.

Reader review: Jessica Baltz, Milwaukee, WI

Screamin' Sicilian Holy Pepperoni is my go-to for frozen pizza. It's loaded with tons of toppings and so premium, it could replace delivery of takeout. It actually does a lot of times in my household. It's perfect when friends or family stop over or when I've had a long day at work and don't feel like cooking. I probably have it for dinner 2-3 times a month!

I really like the amount of pepperoni on each pizza and the amount of cheese. It's great cheese, too; you can tell they don't skimp on the amount, or quality, of the ingredients used. I also like the buttery crust. It's thick, but not too thick and not doughy like a traditional rising crust pizza. 

DiGiorno Rising Crust Pizza

Staff Review: Karen Florin

Frozen Pizza Fridays are a tradition at our house. We usually don't feel like cooking, or even eating out, after working all week. It's so easy to open the freezer, turn on the oven, and in 20 minutes or so, eat some highly processed but delicious food. And we can't eat pizza without a glass of cola, no sir, so it's a real junk food party.

We buy what's on sale, and DiGiorno brand is often on sale. We've tried may varieties, with a preference for those with thinner crusts. This time, we went with the reader-recommended Rising Crust variety, choosing the half-pepperoni and half-cheese option to please both of our tastes. The rising crust lived up to its name, and looked to be about an inch thick when it came out of the oven. The flavor of the dough was good, but that cakey texture is a far cry from the thin and tasty New Haven style "Appiza" crust we love. The tomato sauce was neither bland nor spicy, nor too salty, which is often the case. My problem was there was too much. The cheese was just right, and husband Bob said the pepperoni was good, though he wished for more.

This was not my favorite frozen pizza, but I went back for a second slice. And a third.

Reader reviews:

William Glenney: Closest thing to real pizza that you can buy in a freezer.

Barbara A. Schuler: My husband and I like DiGiorno Pizza. The crust is thick and chewy, plenty of topping and flavor. Can't beat the price and convenience.

California Pizza Kitchen

Staff review: Peter Huoppi

Let me start by saying I'm not a thin crust guy. In my experience, thin crust on a frozen pizza is, at best, like eating a saltine cracker, and at worst, like chewing on damp cardboard. But I'm a team player, so I went to the grocery store in search of a frozen pie from California Pizza Kitchen.

My top two preferences — Four Cheese and and BBQ Recipe Chicken — were out of stock, so I grabbed a Margherita, and because why not, an Artisanal-Style Cheese pizza with cauliflower crust.

I was skeptical of both. I like a good Margherita pie fresh from the local pizza joint, but frozen Margherita pizza conjures up for me some non-specific memory of watery, flavorless tomatoes and too-dry mozzarella cheese.

On first taste, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes, the thin crispy crust is too dry for my taste, but the tomatoes were full of flavor. Almost enough to convince me that they weren't diced and frozen in some processing plant three weeks ago. The chunks of mozzarella and the taste of basil make this a reasonable approximation of a fresh pie. I would definitely buy it again.

The cauliflower crust was an even bigger surprise. With so many colorful, flavorful vegetables to choose from in the produce section, the pale stalks of cauliflower have always been low on my list. When I pulled the pizza out of the oven, even my wife Jen said it looked "less than exciting."

But after one bite, I was immediately convinced that the cauliflower crust is superior. It manages to be at once moist and crispy, without any strange texture to give it away. The overall flavor was everything I'd want in an at-home cheese pizza, and I especially enjoyed the inclusion of ricotta in the cheese blend. It surprises me to say it, but I'm a cauliflower convert.

Newman's Own Thin Crust

Staff review: Carlos Virgen

Our preference for pizza is usually homemade — I am the designated pizza slinger. When we don't have the time or ingredients handy, we rely on local takeout from a place like Two Brothers in Salem. When we don't have the time or the timing doesn't work out, we fall back on whatever frozen pizza is on sale. Usually that means Digiorno or Red Baron.

For this review, I picked Newman's Own Supreme since I had not tried it before. And, well, 100% of their profits go to charity, according to their box. First off, I feel like the pizza was a little smaller than some of the usual brands I've had. But the toppings looked as fresh as frozen toppings can look. No noticeable freezer burn and the veggies were nicely proportioned. Since I went with the thin crust, the pizza was in and out of the oven in less than 14 minutes.

Before biting in, I noticed that there wasn't as much cheese as I would prefer. Next time, I might sprinkle on some extra mozzarella. Typically, the crusts in the frozen pizzas I've tried have mostly been bland and rather vaguely crust like. This crust was not too different from my own quick-rise homemade recipe. Not as flavorful as my own, but better than other frozen pizzas I've had.

The next test would be the tomato sauce. My experience has been that the frozen pizza sauces tend to be on the sweet side, which I'm not a fan of. Newman's Own was not sweet, however. It had a nice acidic flavor. Again, not super flavorful, but it was an improvement over other brands. The pepper and onions had a nice crunch to them. The pepperoni was not bad. I think if I had let the top of the pizza crisp up a bit more, it would have improved the pep. The sausage, however, was better than I expected. It had a nice sweet, spicy flavor that was much better than any of the other frozen pizzas I've ever had.

Overall, I was impressed with he quality of the ingredients, and my kids approved! I'll likely reach past the discounted brands the next time and get me some Newman's Own and send a little cash over to some random charities.

Reader review: Victoria Pruett, Groton

To be honest, I don't love frozen pizza. I've tried many different brands and am never left satisfied. That is, however, until I tried Newman's Own Thin Crust Four Cheese Pizza. The pizza is a little more pricey than other brands, but worth it in my opinion. 100% of profits go to charity, so I feel like I'm making a good choice when I spend my money on it. There's also no preservatives and no artificial flavors or colors.

I guess you could call me a "boring" pizza eater, seeing as how I'm a cheese only kinda girl. But Newman's Own Thin Crust Four Cheese pizza is nearly perfect for me! The sauce is flavorful but doesn't overpower the overall flavor of the pizza, there's plenty of cheese to cover the entire pizza (and it doesn't slide off when you take a bite), and the crust is thin and crispy (but doesn't have that cardboard flavor that other brands have). I was also pleasantly surprised that this pizza is not overly greasy! I like to eat mine dipped in ranch for an extra kick of flavor. One regular sized pizza plus a small salad on the side is the perfect amount of food for my boyfriend and I.

Overall, Newman's Own Thin Crust Four Cheese Pizza checks all the marks for me when it comes to good frozen pizza. The sauce to cheese to crust ratio is perfect. It's never greasy, so I don't feel sluggish after eating a few (or all!) slices. The overall flavor of this pizza tastes fresh, and I feel satisfied but not bloated after enjoying this pizza.

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