I'd never eaten an Annie's product until it was time to research this post, because when I'm in frozen food mode I'm usually more concerned with price than I am with organic toppings or cow antibiotics, and Annie's focus on quality bumps her prices up out of my financial comfort zone. That's not to say I don't respect Annie's approach to the game, just that it happens not to align with my own.
But maybe I'm just being close-minded. You can miss out on a lot if you insist on cramming things into narrow price ghettos; some of my favorite food memories are of $18 hamburgers and $9 pints of beer. There's a lot of value to be found in ordering high-end versions of typically humble restaurant foods, and I suppose it's possible that the same rule could apply in the grocery store. Actually, I know it works in the condiment aisle, where the $4 mustard is leagues better than its half-price shelfmates. Why can't Annie's Rising Crust Organic Supreme Pizza be worth the ... wait? What? $10.99 for frozen pizza?* All right, let's investigate.
*At Whole Foods in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Annie does have the good grace to sell you a pretty bulky pie for your $11: It's 11 inches across and weighs 25.4 ounces. Sure, you can get more than two pounds' worth of DiGiorno Rising Crust Supreme for about half the price, but DiGionro's best for when you're walking home drunk and hungry and the real pizza place is already closed so you have to resort to the 24-hour CVS and you've got just enough self-esteem left to know you deserve better than Red Baron. Annie's is positioned (and priced) as real food for real humans to eat during real meal hours, so I expect more than girth for my near-dozen dollars. But, yes, girth is something, and Annie has it.
The first thing I noticed upon unboxing my pizza is that the pre-risen crust looks too wide. The edge is about 1.5 inches all the way around, which means you get a cross-pie ratio of 3 inches of edge to 8 inches of properly topped pizza. Not ideal. And since I was in the measuring mood, I checked the height--about half an inch before baking and rising--and counted eleven pepperoni slices. Into the oven for 20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Well, Annie certainly makes good on her rising crust claims. This baby ballooned up to over an inch tall, more than doubling its frozen height. I was afraid that would make it gross and spongy, but it was actually pretty good eating. The light, dimpled, cornmeal-dusted bottom had a slight crunch before giving way to a nicely chewy interior that was better than expected though a bit light on flavor. It reminded me of a street-vendor pretzel.
The toppings were acceptable across the board, but there were no major stars. The uncured pepperoni was meaty, substantial, and mercifully greaseless, but it was underspiced. The mild Italian pork sausage was similarly good but meek; the light fennel and black pepper flavors could have asserted themselves into more of the void left by the unassuming pepperoni. The stray bits of onion and red pepper were predictably bland, though the green pepper chunks showed surprising snap and flavor. The sauce was pasty and seemed overcooked; though it wasn't bad, it was another missed flavor opportunity, though it gets minor credit for not being super sweetened. The mozzarella was organic, which is a nice touch, but it was every bit as wimpy as your typical frozen pizza mozzarella. It's unfair to ask frozen commercial mozzarella to carry a pizza, but none of the other elements of Annie's Rising Crust Organic Supreme asserted themselves, either. This is a pretty good frozen pizza, but for $11, I want better than pretty good.