As you may have read last week, the Artichoke Basille boys, Francis Garcia and Sal Basille, have partnered with A&P on an Artichoke-branded line of frozen pizzas. According to the company's press release, all A&P stores and its subsidiaries (Waldbaum's, Food Emporium, Pathmark) should be carrying the pies now. I was one of the first to highlight Artichoke on this site back in early 2008, so you know I'd be there to grab a frozen pizza or six to test out for you.
Yeah, I said six pizzas. These suckers were hard to find so I wanted to stock the hell up. I tried three different Food Emporiums in Manhattan (Upper East Side, Times Square, Union Square) before finally finding a stockpile at the Pathmark in Long Island City, Queens.
And, no, there are not six different varieties. The new line consists of the signature Artichoke pizza and a Margherita option. I figured I might need some pies for photos, some for actual eating, some in case I screwed something up.
Everybody's got a story, as do Garcia and Basille. The Staten Island cousins—both from a restaurant family—started Artichoke in the East Village of Manhattan in early 2008, drawing early comparisons to Brooklyn legend Di Fara for their similar blend of cheeses and heavy use of basil on their plain slices. (Oh, and the fact that the line is out the door at any given time is another Di Fara similarity.)
But perhaps what Artichoke Basille's is best known for among late-night party people is their signature spinach and artichoke slice, which our man Ed Levine has described as "more than a little like a dip you'd be served at a college party ... but reasonably tasty." Tasty, sure, but I'm not a huge fan of of it myself. It's way too gloppy for a takeaway slice.
The big question, though, is: Would these 10-inch frozen pizzas taste anything like their fresh-world equivalents? I was about to find out.
No surprise that they look similar to other frozen pizzas, what with their shrink-wrap straitjackets.
Still, once you unwrap them and get them out from on top of their cardboard backing, they do look a little different from most frozen pizzas. The Artichoke pizza has recognizable slivers and chunks of artichoke on it, while the Margherita looks perhaps a bit "artisanal," with a light hand taken on the cheese and a bright-red sauce dominating its appearance.
The cooking instructions are pretty straightforward. I like that they note that "these instructions are guidelines only," sort of hinting at giving you some control over the process, making you into a "pizzaiolo" yourself—and theoretically shifting the blame to you if you screw up.
I tried an Artichoke and a Margherita directly on the rack the first night I cooked a pair. I found the crust a bit too crunchy using that method. For the second round, I tried them the way most people will probably make them—on a pan.
The instructions say to cook "until cheese is bubbly and crust is light golden brown." I have cooked four of these pizzas so far, and the cheese does not seem to get "bubbly."
It's the sort of plasticlike frozen-pizza cheese that remains white for most of the bake time before going to brown and then burnt in an instant—without ever, you know, actually melting.
I kept a close eye on these, and got them out right as the crust looked good and the cheese was just starting to brown.
Tearing right into the Artichoke pizza while it was hot, and ... hey, this is not bad. In fact, it's pretty damn good. For a frozen pizza. There are real artichoke hearts at play here, slivers and chunks of them.
The sauce is creamy, rich, and buttery. And in the frozen pizza, I think it gets the balance right—there's just enough for taste and texture but not so much that you'd think your stoner college roommate had gone nuts with the party dip.
Of course, if you're a fan of the real-world Artichoke signature slice, this is probably not a good thing.
It actually does a good job of tasting like the real thing—just not as fresh or as gloriously gloopy.
The crust is on the thick side, which shouldn't come as a surprise for Artichoke fans. The actual slices are thicker than normal for New York–style slices.
If you cook it directly on the rack, it gets a bit too crunchy and dried out. I preferred it cooked on a pan, where it retains some of chewiness. Thought it's still a bit short on flavor.
In the real world, I prefer Artichoke's Margherita slice to its signature slice. But not in the frozen world. They're very aggressive with the Parmesan and Romano cheeses, which I usually like when those cheeses are good (as they are at actual Artichoke). But here, there's a faint metallic tinge, and as I said above, the mozzarella is plasticlike. It does not melt more than it does dry out, and there's no creaminess to it whatsoever.
Still, the sauce is fairly good—you can actually taste some olive oil—and the refreshing flavor of basil comes through loud and clear.
There's a certain similarity to the real Artichoke here. But it's like the pizza-world equivalent of a fax. If you could somehow transmit a pizza slice via telephone, this is what it would taste like—close, but not quite there. (You'd also be from 1995.)
There's nothing too scary in the ingredients of the Margherita.
I threw in an upskirt shot just for the heck of it. What'd you think, it was going to be "artfully charred?" How it comes out will be largely controlled by YOU.
Both the Margherita and the Artichoke I sampled were $6.99 each. A&P in its press release cites suggested prices of $6.99 to $7.99.