There is pizza, and then there is pizza. There is the real stuff, savored at a little tavernetta overlooking the Bay of Naples. (The tavernetta is called Esco Pazzo; when you go there, tell Ennio that Cynthia says hello.) There is regional American pizzeria pizza, each having its own champions. (My husband swears undying loyalty to Lou Malnati's; I am an ardent admirer of Shakespeare's.) And then there is the pizza you scarf down on a Wednesday evening when you are too tired to cook and too frazzled to remember what Chinese place has the fewest health department violations this week.
That pizza—the It's-Wednesday-and-I-Refuse-To-Cook-Pizza—will probably come from your grocer's freezer or from a franchise. Every second, Americans eat 350 slices of pizza. That's 23 pounds per person, per year. At home, the pie is split almost 50-50, with frozen pizzas having a slight edge over delivery. And that raises a question: Do all of these pizzas suck, or just the ones I bring home from the store?
To answer that, I first tried to convince Slatethat a pizza refresher course (in Naples, naturally) was an absolute necessity. When that failed, I convened a tasting panel. This select group was chosen for their discriminating palates, their rapier wit, and their willingness to bring beer. One participant offered to make a green salad. We wound up with four girls, three guys, and seven pies.
When it comes to pizza, convenience counts as much as anything. Assuming it's already in your freezer, frozen is marginally quicker and much cheaper. It does require some effort: You have to preheat the oven, open the freezer, tear open the box, and finally, cut the pizza. Oh, the humanity. Bonus: From heat to eat, the entire process can be performed in the nude. (Watch out for those cheese burns!)
Delivery requires a phone call, putting on a robe, a 15- to 45-minute wait, and a brief interaction with the local musician who brings your pie (not to mention a little tip math). The non-cooks insisted that this was less trouble than the frozen; the cooks disagreed. We called it a draw and decided to make the rankings solely on quality.
To keep things as fair as possible, we ordered medium-sized, "hand-tossed" delivery pizzas, roughly the same size as most frozen ones. All pizzas were sausage—not my first choice but readily available from all brands. We removed identifying packaging from the respective pizzas. The tasting panel was given a score card with room for comments. They were asked to rank their favorites from one (gourmet) to seven (garbage) and to guess if the pizza was fresh or frozen. Beverages were served. The green salad was not.
Here, in reverse order of preference, are the contestants, with commentary.
Average Rank: 6.29
Comments: "The cardboard-like crust is by far the best part of this nasty excuse for a food product." "Crust is ... like toast. Cheese seems a little greasy." "Has a lot of cheese and sausage, but neither tastes very good." "Looks frozen but doesn't have 'frozen' taste. Oops, that's because it's flavorless." (After finding out what the brand was: "No wonder. Dead on delivery.")