My sister, who has young children and therefore unspeakable dinner issues, is always desperately seeking ways to make her complicated mealtimes easier. Recently, she informed me about a pre-made pizza that was convenient to have around the house and that she and (of utmost importance to her tortured soul) her whole family enjoyed eating. I think you can see where this is heading.
What I tried: Donatos Take & Bake Pizza ($9, on sale)
Pizza pandemonium: Donatos has chosen not to sell these pies out of their own restaurants, I suppose, in order not to compete with themselves. But in select Kroger stores - you know, like the kind where you can buy salsa, raincoats and riding lawn mowers - there are large kiosks set up with considerable time and effort put in to attract attention.
Thus did I find myself near the deli section of the mega Kroger at Graceland, staring at a wildly flashing video monitor. I was momentarily mesmerized by a cycle of kaleidoscopic images rendered in color-saturated, super-vivid CGI.
There were dancing bell peppers, marching wedges of cheese, a slot machine spinning with pizza items on it and occasional Orwellian-sounding slogans like "Less work means more time enjoying pizza," "We make it fresh, you make it hot," and "Our specially designed baking pan gives you the perfect crispy golden and delicious crust every time."
Outside the box: Separating itself from frozen and other take-and-bake competitors, the Donatos T&B came in what looked like a real pizza box. That box had a date on it (mine was three days in the future) and recommended the pizza should be baked in one to two days. That gave me about a week, but I made it that night anyways.
The abbreviated instructions claim the pie should be ready after 12 to 15 minutes, and mine was bubbling cheese and deeply browned on the edge after 13, so I took it out. It looked and smelled like good pizzeria-style pizza. On the downside, it was seriously greasy, but in fairness I had chosen the pepperoni and sausage variety.
Pizza pandemonium, take 2: Then came the hard part. Releasing the pizza from its special floppy foil pan was no easy task, and the brief instructions didn't advise me on how to do it, either. The main problem was that melted cheese had glued the pizza's edge to the perimeter of the pan. After an annoying bit of scraping and cussing, I was able to work with it.
Bite it: I found this to be a damn good product. From the garlicky sausage to the spicy pepperoni, from the rich cheese to the no-B.S. sauce, it tasted like a well-made Donatos pizza. On the minor downside, the thin crust was not snappy crisp in the middle, and it really was an oil fest.
Would I eat it again?: Yeah. It's super-convenient, 20,000 leagues above those frozen jobbies and eats more like a standard pizzeria pizza than other, more specialty-oriented T&Bs.
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