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From the Freezer: Uno's Artisan Crust Frozen Pizza
"I simply don't have the freezer space to stockpile iced pizza and wait for unambition to strike. But am I missing out?"
Do we really need artisanal frozen pizza? I'm Slice's dunderheaded populist correspondent, and even I don't know who sustains this market. I guess some people feed it to their young, and the TV keeps trying to convince me that sports-watching young men unfreeze gourmet pies whilst drinking beer and totally not being like chicks, bro. This seems unlikely, but I suppose they must be telling some version of the truth because the grocery store is crammed full of the stuff.
I'm not opposed to the concept of frozen pizza, but actually buying it requires a rare strain of premeditated laziness: It's hard for me to commit to eating pizza at some unspecified future time when the delivery place is closed and I lack the gumption to customize a ball of store-bought dough and a can of crushed tomatoes. I simply don't have the freezer space to stockpile iced pizza and wait for unambition to strike. But am I missing out? Some of the boxes make it look awfully good.
I started poking around the frozen food aisle last week and yikes, some of those good-looking boxes are quite pricey. I can see buying a 99-cent single-serve disk of Mama Whoever's plain cheese and tricking it out with whatever leftovers are on hand—for best results, employ this tactic immediately following a ham holiday as opposed to a candy holiday—but some of the higher-end selections cost nearly as much as delivery.
Frozen pizza's appeal is in its convenience, but what's more convenient than paying a stranger to bring you hot dinner? Any frozen pie retailing for north of $5 really needs to be legitimately good eating. I've had recent and pleasant experience with the in-house version of Uno's Artisan Thin Crust pizzas, so I figured I'd start my exploration of the deluxe frozen pizza market with the icebox rendition.
I tried the Artisan Crust Margherita and BBQ Chicken; I bought them at different stores for $8.49 and $5.99 respectively. They were the most expensive frozen pizza at each place, despite being on the slim side at 14.5 ounces apiece. That's a lot of scratch for frozen food, so even before I set about to preheating I knew that I couldn't recommend Uno's Artisan Crust unless it significantly advanced the frozen pizza game. At these prices, a brand-name version of Mama Whoever's isn't going to cut it.
I started with the Margherita. It's a bold gambit to sell an expensive frozen pizza topped by nothing more than diced tomatoes and mozzarella (and cursory basil, garlic, and olive oil). When it comes to frozen pizza, it might be best to invert the standard Slice doctrine about avoiding topping overload: If you know you're not getting fresh, premium ingredients, then maybe you're better off going with some quantity. Frozen tomatoes and mozzarella just aren't up to the task of justifying the price of this bland, sauceless pizza.
The wafer-thin crust crisps up fine in the prescribed 10-12 minutes at 450 degrees, but that's about the only thing this pizza had going for it. The tomatoes held their texture well, but they had very little flavor and were haphazardly scattered, with most of them landing in the middle. For $8.49, I don't want to have to rearrange my frozen pizza toppings. The cheese tasted a little bit like salt, which made it taste like seaside air rather than regular air. This was no better than any other plain frozen pizza; I wasn't expecting much and I was still disappointed.
The BBQ Chicken offered a shot at redemption due to the aforementioned topping issue. If it retained the Marg's decent crust and piled on some credible sauce, chicken, and onion, then it could be a good time. It was not a good time.
The crust didn't fare as well this go-round; it was so limp and soggy that I tore a hole in it getting it out of the oven, despite pushing a bit over the top of the 10-12 minute cook time. The pizzas weighed the same, so I can't blame the increased bulk of the toppings (there was a good bit of chicken, but hardly any onion and not much cheese). Maybe the sauce gummed things up?
The chicken was no good. It tasted tinny and sour and inferior to even the worst of the frozen poultry I've known and tolerated. The sauce was light in both volume and flavor, and it wasn't so bad, with a touch of tang that helped smarten up the bland crust, but it wasn't tough enough to cover for the chicken. The cheese didn't do anything other than melt nicely.
I advise you to stay away from Uno's Artisan Crust frozen pizzas. The restaurant versions are good, but the art gets lost in the freezing.