This spring, as people throughout the Twin Cities recommitted to buying fresh produce at farmers markets and getting ready for swimsuit season, the staff at City Pages had a very different set of priorities.
The goal? Risk life, limb, and lasting arterial damage to determine the finest Minnesota-based frozen pizza.
The criteria were as follows: Packages had to bear an in-state address and had to be widely, consistently available, meaning we scanned the freezer aisles at Cub, Kowalski’s, Lunds, Whole Foods, and Target. Classic ’za only; pockets, pouches, and French breads are fine, but that’s another list entirely. We tracked down 20—which seemed like a nice, round number—in the most basic form we could find. Then, we picked them apart based on that holiest of trinities: crust, sauce, and cheese. Some companies don’t sell plain, and since meat and veggies can hide any number of flaws, we’ve summarized our thoughts on those separately.
We also considered cost (how much will you spend vs. the quality of what you’re getting?), texture (mouthfeel matters), and aesthetic (hey, you eat with the eyes first, whether it’s a 10-course tasting menu or a freezer-burnt desperation dinner). And we accounted for an “overall deliciousness” factor, too. How well is it all working together?
We judged, we argued, we sifted through our grease-stained notes and crunched the numbers like so much crust. There were surprise upsets and upset stomachs. But after scraping out the sauce caked from under our fingernails and brushing the crumbs off our laptop keys, we’re pleased to bring you the ultimate power ranking of Minnesota’s frozen pizza brands.
14. Totino’s Party Pizza
This makes us sad, as we just called northeast Minneapolis-born Totino’s Pizza Rolls the Best Drunk Food of 2018. But we’re not here to talk rolls right now... and you know what else makes us sad? This misshapen brick of a pizza. The sauce is a gel-like, gooey jam that doesn’t taste anything like tomatoes; the cheese is a chalky char that in no way resembles dairy. The only redeeming factor about this little rectangle is its price—you can get one even if you have less than two bucks in your pocket.
“This is like the hot dog of pizzas.”
“Yeah. Pizza byproduct.”
13. Red Baron Classic Crust
In a marketing move right out of the Virginia Slims playbook, Red Baron recently pivoted to a new, mom-friendly mascot: The Baroness. In another move out of the Virginia Slims playbook, this pizza actually tastes like it’s bad for your health. (Ed. Note: We do not actually think Red Baron is as bad as cigarettes—please don’t sue us.) It arrives from the oven with an obviously greasy sheen, smelling like an elementary school cafeteria. Things don’t get better in the eatin’, as the cheese turns to eraser crumbs in your mouth. And the sauce? Every one of our judges wrote “salt,” occasionally in all-caps, with varying numbers of exclamation marks.
“Feels ripped from a school lunch program.”
“This is the saltiest, lamest thing outside of my Twitter feed.”
12. Roma Original Pizza
Roma, too, bore a lunchroom-like smell and taste that’ll transport you right back to third grade. While less of a sodium bomb, Roma’s problem was that the sauce was on the sugary-sweet side, layered under a barely-there dusting of cheese. It really could have used more of both, if only to obscure a crust that, while crispy on the edges, becomes increasingly like a floury, soggy sheet of Lisa Frank looseleaf paper the closer you get to its center.
“Well, it’s... totally a pizza.”
“I don’t know, actually. Too sweet—not pizza-y enough. Like a dessert I didn’t want.”
11. Pizza Corner
Taking the “bigger is better” approach, Pizza Corner one-ups the competition with 13-inch pies. And you know what they say about pizzas with big dimensions... sometimes they’re just okay? The sauce is tart and a little acidic; the cheese browned beautifully and got an almost glazed surface, like a pizza brûlée. But we took issue with the crust, which was thin but somehow dense and flavorless, a communion wafer left out on a humid day.
“Why is the crust so bland?”
“It really is saltine-like. Good pizza for when you have the flu?”
10. Culinary Circle
A poofy, cornmeal-coated crust is the calling card of this casserole-like pizza. And it works, for the most part, lending welcome texture to the vessel for a delightfully zingy sauce. The cheese was decent, but thinly applied, and since there was a lot of sauce on there (which, again, delightful!), it had a tendency to slide right off with your first bite. Overall, this was fine.
“Dang, look at all the cornmeal on that crust.”
“Well, of course. Those are culinary touches.”
9. Gourmet Parlor Pizza
Outside of its wide, wide cooking parameters (15 to 30 minutes is not a window of time, it’s a sliding glass door), we dug this one. There’s something Lunchable-y about the crust, but the sauce is succulent and the cheese—which there’s quite a bit of—is good, if a little gummy. Is it gourmet? It’s frozen pizza. And one you could certainly work into your too-busy-to-cook weekday or late-night-drunk-eats rotation.
“This is pizza on a tortilla!”
“Quesadilla pizza. Know what? I don’t hate it.”
8. Mucci’s at Home
We loved the sauce: hearty, herbaceous, a little chunky. Would buy in bulk. The cheese is excellent: chewy, rich, and milky. But we ran into a serious issue here. While the cheese cooked to perfection and the bottom of the crust crisped nicely, there was a jelly-like layer of sog that coated the top of the crust throughout. It was enough to trip us up—a shame, because everything else ruled.
“The rare entry where it’s 8’s and 9’s across the board, but... that crust.”
“It’s hard to get past that texture.”
Eating Freschetta was kind of like eating a pizza-flavored loaf of bread... in a good way? It looks like a farmhouse pie, its yeasty, fluffed-up crust heaped with garlicky, herbed cheese that bounces satisfyingly against your teeth. Not a pizza for cracker-crust purists, by any means. But if you’re down to sink your teeth into something doughier, this is the one.
“I would eat this in breadstick form.”
“The original Puff Daddy?”
6. All Natural Real ’Za
With a name like “All Natural Real ’Za,” we were more than ready to roll our eyes at this entrant—but it delivered! A juicy, bright, veggie-forward sauce coats a craggy cornmeal crust and is topped with a springy, toothsome blend of mozzarella and provolone. The ratios are precisely right, and the fresh flavors don’t lead to pizza fatigue, so you can comfortably eat several slices. (Hey, it’s cool, it’s natural.)
“It’s real, and it’s ’za, but is it real ’za?”
“Yes! Less processed for the win.”
There are no shticks or tricks with Chanticlear—theirs is a damn solid, no-frills bar pizza. A just-this-side-of-sweet sauce is tangy tomato bliss, cutting the richness of the perky cheese covering it. There’s great interplay between the toppings and the tortilla-thin crust, which, despite being barely there, has a pleasant, whole-grain essence. Simple, savory deliciousness.
“Does this name sound like an off-brand soda?”
“Well, it’s classic pizza.”
“Really sticks all the landings.”
4. Bellatoria Ultra Thin Crust
Bellatoria boasts one of our favorite cheeses, a stringy, stretchy five-cheese blend that’s been flecked with—some might say “blasted by”—oregano and parsley and basil. There’s a lot of it—both the cheese and the Italian herbs—and they rest on a salty-sweet sauce and a crunchy, flatbread-style crust that’s doing exactly what it needs to, which is blending into the background while its toppings steal the show. Well balanced and munchable all around.
“Smothered in herbs, like a catnip potpourri!”
“Oregano? More like oregan... yes.”
3. Brew Pub Lotzza Motzza
Given the name, you might think Brew Pub’s pizza has “a lot of mozzarella.” You would be very right. This thing isn’t just blanketed with cheese—that’s an all-out down comforter. It’s an ocean of mozzarella, a mozzarella stick made flat. And it’s incredible. The moist, dense cheese has a perfect pull; the cracker crust is thin but sturdy and doesn’t buckle under the pressure. (No small feat.) This is an excellently executed trash pizza, and what all other trash pizzas should aspire to.
“It’s the platonic ideal of junk food.”
“Might not like the fourth slice as much—the cheese and grease will get overwhelming—but I want four slices.”
One of our esteemed critics described this contestant as “not unlike a savory Gusher”—and that’s a compliment. There’s a pillowy fluff of mozz over sauce, and they team up to deliver explosive little bursts of flavor with every bite. Browned, crispy edges nestle up next to paler, squishier pieces; a slice of either is equally satisfying. It looks “real,” and it tastes fresh. The ingredients are perfectly proportioned. A quintessential freezer pizza.
“Like a 2-D, high-end pizza roll. It pops.”
“Bar food nirvana.”
1. Kowalski’s Market
This is it. This is the one. Sharp cheddar is married with mellow mozzarella and parmesan, making for layers of flavor and richness. You’ll see actual tomato seeds peeking through the vibrant sauce, which has enough acidity to balance out the fat. We ate Kowalski’s entry dead last on our first day of marathon eating, when we didn’t yet know how to pace ourselves properly. Overstuffed bordering on diabetic shock as we were, we still went back for seconds. It’s that outstanding.
“Tasty ingredients, all working together well.”
“This is like the pizza emoji. Perfection.”
Some musings on the not-plain pizzas, in no particular order...
Levi Foods Artichoke and Tomato
Yes, this tastes like “health pizza,” but it can be nice to feel like you’re getting real food with actual nutrients from the freezer. And the seasoned, wheaty crust was among the only ones that really stood out.
Lunds & Byerlys Capicola Ham & Pepperoni
This was confusing! We liked the spice heat. We liked the cheese. But this pie looked really weird. Where was the sauce? There was, like, no sauce. The pepperoni was yellowed? The ham was... nice? We’re upset!
Green Mill Pepperoni
Green Mill does make a plain pizza, but we couldn’t track it down after placing calls to a bunch of local grocers. The pepperoni version comes with tons of meaty discs on there—we’re talking doubled-up levels—although they don’t get too crispy under a thick pile of cheese.
7th Avenue Pepperoni
The sauce was good, the cheese was good, the pepperonis were good. The damp crust was something of a texture-less flop. Nothing stood out, but it was totally passable.
Davanni’s Tavern-Style Pepperoni
Davanni’s classic red sauce was well seasoned and noticeably excellent, and the ’ronis crisped and curled beautifully atop their softy, cheesy bed. This is a stellar drunk pizza, for sure.
Wicked Pizza Devil’s Delight Spicy 3-Meat Pizza
This is one meaty gut-punch of a pie—but is it wicked? Well, there are a lot of dead animals on there. And they’re very tasty, the Italian sausage especially. The only weird thing? It wasn’t even spicy by Minnesota standards.
All photos by Lucy Hawthorne; click here to see our gooey, saucy, crispy photo slideshow of Minnesota frozen pizzas