It's game night, and you're in charge of the food. Or maybe you've got a hungry family and zero time to do anything other than either make a phone call or turn on the oven.
The obvious choice, and one of the most popular for busy moms and dads all across the country, is pizza. Order or cook an "everything" pizza and you can even tell yourself you're at least getting some vegetables along with the delicious fat, salt and carbohydrates that make pizza so popular. Call them supremes, works or whatever you like, they're a great test for the quality of all your pizza place's ingredients.
In the last few years, your delivery joint has come under attack not just from its direct competitors but from the freezer case at your grocery store. There, next to the traditional thin-crust frozen pies, you'll find pizzas claiming to have crusts just like delivery pizzas, cheese-filled crusts, garlic bread crusts ? an array of "stunt" pizzas that rival anything put out by the major chains.
So the stage is set for a showdown: Can the freezer pies stand up to the delivery? They're cheaper, but for true pizza aficionados money isn't everything. Of course, true pizza aficionados probably aren't eating either frozen or chain pizzas, but that's another story. We've got a test to run here!
The pizzas, three delivery and three frozen, were tested by a five-member panel. Each tester was allowed to award up to 20 points to each pizza based on flavor, appearance, crust and overall impression.
Nutritional information is provided for each pizza. For delivery pizzas, information given is for one slice of a medium pizza on "hand-tossed" or equivalent crust.
First, the delivery pies:
Domino's Deluxe Feast: 305 calories, 15 grams fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 660 mg sodium, 33 grams carbs.
The sauce was the best thing about this pizza. It was quite tasty, with excellent notes of oregano and basil. The crust was a bit soggy, and the "bones," the edge crust bits so coveted by some pizza fans, were not appealing. The toppings were arranged appealingly but lacked much flavor impact. Final score: 73.
Papa John's The Works: 230 calories, 8 grams fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 610 mg sodium, 28 grams carbs.
The crust here was thinner than expected, but it held up very well. The Italian sausage was the star among the toppings, delivering great spicy zing. As far as appearance, this came the closest to looking like something from a high-end Italian restaurant. One tester remarked that it was nice to see vegetables that looked like they were fresh-cut, not diced in a factory. The only downside was the pepperoni, which was somewhat tasteless. Final score: 94.
Pizza Hut Supreme: 270 calories, 12 grams fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 770 mg sodium, 27 grams carbs.
There's a reason why frozen pizzas that want to convey their abundance of toppings use "supreme" instead of the other options. This one was smothered with toppings, an overabundance that actually didn't work to its benefit. Pizza Hut's pepperoni has always been its strong point, and it was drowned here by beef and pork toppings that were nearly flavorless, and onions, green peppers and mushrooms that looked far better than they tasted. The crust was excellent, with the best "bones" of the delivery pies. Final score: 85.
And now, the frozen pizzas. Each one was cooked to package directions. If a choice was given between cooking for softer or crispier crust, the softer option was used.
DiGiorno Rising Crust Supreme: 370 calories, 16 grams fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 1,000 mg sodium, 40 grams carbs. (Note: serving size is 1/6 of the 12-inch pizza, as opposed to the 1/8 pizza given by the delivery restaurants, thus the numbers are a bit higher.)
DiGiorno has established itself with an identity of being indistinguishable from delivery pizzas, building an entire advertising campaign on that quality. It was, therefore, a bit disheartening to find the die-cut vegetables, characterless cheese and wan pepperoni on the supreme pizza. The crust rose nicely, and had a good balance of crispness and chewiness, but the toppings dragged the final score down to a 71.
Freschetta Naturally Rising Supreme: 350 calories, 14 grams fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 970 mg sodium, 40 grams carbs.
At a glance, you'd be hard-pressed to tell this one from the DiGiorno offering. They are almost identical. However, the die-cut toppings here have much more flavor, and the pepperoni is actually identifiable in the mix. The crust has a bit more bite than the DiGiorno, and the "bones" were snapped up in a hurry. Final score: 84.
Red Baron Stone Hearth Supreme: 380 calories, 17 grams fat, 30 mg cholesterol, 880 mg sodium, 40 grams carbs.
Pizza aficionados know that a brick or stone oven is the key to the perfect crispy-on-the-bottom, tender-in-the-middle pizza crust. Red Baron has captured that perfectly and adds quality toppings and the best cheese of any of the freezer pies. The only demerit was for appearance, with the vegetables being not just die-cut but minced to tiny bits. Even with that, the Baron won the freezer pie test and almost tied the Papa John's Works pizza with a final score of 92.
So, the delivery pizzas end up with a higher total score than the freezer pies, but not by much. So where do we look for a winner? If you consider price, and who doesn't in this economy, the clear choice is a frozen offering. The average medium "specialty" pie from a delivery joint runs $12 to $14, plus a delivery charge and driver tip. For that, you can often get two of the frozen pies.