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We’re living in a golden age of frozen pizza, where there’s no longer a need to sacrifice taste for convenience. And it’s our local dough tossers who are leading the way.
When we look back at the havoc that COVID hath wrought, there will be two lasting memories of goodness that emerged from the mess: mRNA vaccines, with their insouciant capitalization; and finally being able to get a frozen pizza that doesn’t taste approximately the same as the box it came in. Pre-pandemic, the state of frozen pizza was so bad that the mid-1990s arrival of Delissio and DiGiorno (the Blur and Oasis of gastrointestinal distress) served as a high-water mark on the basis of one modest claim—it tastes just like delivery—and was greeted with something akin to joy. But this new crop of locally made pies aims much higher: the bar is set close to the taste you’d find in one of the good Napoli pizza joints that we’ve come to expect as the elevated norm over the past decade. And they’re from here. And made with real ingredients. We set upon the current crop of local heroes to find out which ones are truly making good on the promise of bringing the magic of artisanal pie to the home front.
Size: 10-inch (advertised), 9½-inch (actual)
Availability: Stong’s, Spud.ca, Fresh St. Market, Legends Haul, Safeway
Let’s go with the OG of proper frozen pizza—a brand that’s been reliably producing so-much-better-than-average pie for years and whose Stong’s/Spud pipeline makes it as ubiquitous in west-side homes as that bottle of Aesop hand soap in the guest bathroom. The tagline here is “made by people who care” and we believe it. They also use 00 flour (good) and ferment the dough for 24 hours (double good). But their claim that no two pizzas are the same is a tougher pill, because when this baby slides out of its cardboard box, it looks pretty uniform. It’s smaller and thicker than most (with a girth that hampers the cooking a small bit), but it’s cheaper than most, too.
Holy Napoli Pizza. Photo: Moments of Wild.
The Verdict: Had we done this test two years ago, this would have been a winner. The pepperoni, which looks suss and mass-produced on unpacking, actually chars up nicely, and the black olives seem like they were selected by someone who really does care.
Grade: B. A solid option, light years better than what came before. They also sell reliable frozen dough.
Nightingale Spicy Salumi Pizza
Availability: Fresh St. Market, Stong’s, Gourmet Warehouse, Urban Fare, Legends Haul
David Hawksworth’s entry into this game early last year was the first to show the possibility of translating the fare at Nightingale to the home market, and demand has been so great that production has still barely ramped up enough to satisfy the hungry masses. They come vacuum-sealed so you can see what you’re getting (current options are margherita, mushroom and spicy salumi) and they look handmade—right down to the seriously charred crust. The salumi is actually spicy, the mushrooms taste like they were foraged and our only complaint is that the middle can get a bit soft—you bake this straight on the rack and I had one unfortunate sinkhole-effect incident that resulted in cheese dropping all over the bottom of the oven, but even then I had a smile on my face.
Nightingale Roasted Mushroom Pizza
The Verdict: Amazing. You have to watch this pizza to make sure you don’t overcook, but if you pay attention you get a crust (from 72-hour-aged dough) that has just the perfect amount of chew and crunch and toppings that mirror the quality from the home restaurant. The best frozen pizza we’ve ever had.
Availability: Legends Haul, Vagabondpies.com
Owner Devon Thor moved from Vancouver to the Island to attend baking school and her COVID venture—named after her peripatetic ways—combines her love of sourdough with her love of pie. The aged sourdough crust and plant-based offerings ( they make their cashew mozza in house and source their “meat” from the Very Good Butchers) have carved out a niche on the Island (and over here as well, courtesy of Legends Haul).
The Verdict: They’re squat little numbers—the outside of the crust is great, the interior less so—but that heft keeps them strong for a day or two in the fridge. And they’re the best vegan frozen pizza I’ve ever had.
Munch by Nicli
Availability: Munch.ca, Legends Haul
Nicli’s now-closed Gastown location earned a solid claim to bringing the proper Napoli pizza craze to town when it opened in 2011. Fast forward a decade and they’ve decamped for the North Shore, but they’re bringing the love back across the Burrard Inlet in the form of frozen pies. These are half again as thin as Nightingale’s and have very little sauce at all but the brand also features the greatest number of options (11, including blue cheese mushroom and vegan margherita) and offers free delivery (along with a killer promo for first-time customers), which is a boon. Like with Nightingale, the crust here is a quantum leap over any frozen pizza you’ve had before—yeasty, and more crunchy than chewy.
Munch By Nicli Pizza
The Verdict: This is a superlative pizza. It’s Scott to Nightingale’s Amundsen—were it not for Nightingale, it would be the best frozen pizza I’ve ever had.
General Assembly Pizza. Photo: Suech and Beck
Price: When done by subscription, approximately $11.50 per pie (if you order 6)
Availability: Gapizza.com, Fresh St. Market, Stong’s
If we lived in Toronto these would be local, right? But the hogtown import has been going great guns back east and has now landed here with the same vision of dominance, so we figured we should let them join our shindig. Their goal is to make you a subscriber—the Spotify of the pizza world, hold the Joe Rogan—such that you get a scheduled delivery every four, six or eight weeks. At first glance the smaller-sized pizza looks a bit like pita bread, and it puffs up like crazy in the oven while the crust gets crispy fast, but there’s not quite enough chewiness to the crust to run with the gazelles in this bunch. That being said, they’re very generous with the pepperoni, which is spicy and of the cupped variety, and if you go the subscription route these pies are the lowest priced of the bunch.
The Verdict: A winner in any other contest—would be happy to have them drop on my doorstep every month.