Worst. Pizza. Ever.
Being a throwback to an earlier era in terms of food and diet, the humble frozen pizza remains a go-to when a little convenient comfort food is called for. They are not good food, but they can be good comfort, which can often be enough. There is one piece of baggage, however, that a frozen pizza brings in my life. I cannot pop one in the oven without turning just a little red in the face.
My senior year of college found my two roommates and me living in the upstairs half of an old foursquare double in an old neighborhood of Muncie, Indiana. The downstairs half was occupied by four girls. We didn’t know them well but were on polite terms, always saying hello whenever we passed during our comings and goings.
One evening I came home from classes and was preparing to pop one of those frozen pizzas into the oven. This was not one of those “good” frozen pizzas, which I would describe as the ones that advertise on television about how tasty and close to “real” pizzas they are. This was one of the pizzas that, if it merited any advertising at all, was all about the price. You can still buy them for about 99 cents today (on sale, at least), if this gives you any hint. And yes, I will still occasionally buy one just for kicks.
As a quick aside, at least one food writer has pronounced my brand of choice as the best of all frozen pizzas. He reasons that because all frozen pizza is awful we may as well revel in the really cheap one that is not actually trying to be pizza at all. He is not wrong.
Our oven was part of a range that had been sitting in this kitchen since at least the mid 1950s. When first installed, it must have been the height of modern convenience, particularly compared to everything else in that kitchen. Like the wooden cabinet with the built-in flour sifter that surely been there since the Woodrow Wilson Administration. That range had served us ably for over half of the school year, but on this particular evening the oven decided to call in sick.
I had already taken the pizza out of the freezer and opened the cellophane. Modern me might say “oh, never mind” and head for a drive-thru somewhere for a substitute. But for college student-me that frozen pizza was a precious resource that was not to be wasted because the money earned from delivering real pizzas did not grow on trees. Thinking about that last sentence, I suppose I could have just driven to my employer and eaten free pizza, some of which was almost always available to we drivers to nosh on between runs. I don’t actually recall this coming into my calculation, so perhaps I was pressed for time or was just looking for a little quiet time.
Then an idea came to me. I picked up the phone and dialed the apartment downstairs. “Hi, I’m one of the guys upstairs. I just went to put a frozen pizza in the oven and our oven has gone dead. Any chance I could come down and use your oven for a few minutes?”
This, I reasoned, could be a win-win. Not only could I salvage my kind-of-pizza, but perhaps this little unplanned social interaction might lead to something more. The downstairs girls (I didn’t know any of their names) were not unattractive and there was still plenty of time left in the semester for a new girlfriend.
“Sure, come on down” came the encouraging reply. So downstairs I went. They had already turned it on and I popped my crappy frozen pizza right in. Baking time was only something like ten minutes and they said it was OK to wait. I made a little small talk in the kitchen with a couple of them, but they seemed to have something to do in the other room. I heard some laughing, but what group of college kids living together doesn’t laugh sometimes.
My pizza was quickly done and I pulled it out of the oven onto a plate. I said thank you and went out the back door and up the stairs into my own place. Noise tended to travel up through the floor and I heard more laughter. And then I saw it. My zipper. It was all. the. way. down.
I get a little red thinking about this even now. I can only imagine the thoughts that went through their minds, the most benign of which surely involved me being a complete idiot. It does not take much imagination to see them wondering if they had experienced some kind of crude come-on (which, I can assure you, it certainly was not.) After all, it was early 1982, a time when that sort of thing was merely in bad taste rather than the quasi-criminal conduct it would be in a college environment today.
I have occasionally wondered how the conversation might go if I were to meet any of those girls today – girls I have not seen for over thirty five years. “OMG, are YOU the guy who stood in our kitchen with your fly open????”
Or perhaps they would not remember at all – maybe this was one out of hundreds of stupid or strange events that we all experience in our lives. Perhaps I am the only one who remembers because I was the one who was so embarrassed.
Then again I still remember the poor girl who tripped on a sidewalk crack one day on campus early in my freshman year. She performed a most inelegant swan-dive onto the pavement right in front of me as her books scattered everywhere. She hurriedly assured me that she was fine as I helped her to gather her things. Her deep red face was due only to embarrassment as she made no time for small talk and got the heck away from me, the only witness to her clumsiness.
I suppose that is just the natural state of things – sometimes we all make a fool of ourselves in one way or another. Perhaps the best attitude is to shrug off the embarrassment and not get too much enjoyment when it happens to someone else. And, I suppose, to be thankful that such events don’t happen to us more frequently.
And yes, I realize that this has turned into something more about embarrassment over stupid things than about frozen pizza, but sometimes this is how life works. My life, at least. And now yours too.
This is great. When you first mentioned going to see the girls downstairs I had to wonder if one ultimately became the future Mrs. JPC. Then you mentioned your fly so I’m guessing that magical moment happened at a later date. Hopefully you were wearing undergarments during your visit downstairs.
It seems many had their go-to cheap college food of choice. Ramen noodles are popular and I basked in the glow provided by $0.25 pot-pies from Walmart. That you can still stomach those cheap pizzas is quite remarkable.
Nope, Mrs JPC came along later. I was awkward around girls to begin with and this set be back a little further.
Since writing this I have been getting a crave on for one of these things, which may best be thought of as engineered pizza.
I have done the pot pies too. They will do in a pinch.
Good one. Totally didn’t expect that!
I made a frozen pizza in our first year of marriage. I had popped it in the oven and since I had nothing to do for 10 minutes I thought “What’s this lever on the door for?”
I moved it and it went *click* and stayed there. It was the self cleaning lock and it wasn’t going to unlock until the oven cooled down as a “safety feature”. So all I could do for the next 45 minutes was watch the frozen pizza turn into a smoking black shingle while I opened all the windows and took the batteries out of the smoke detectors. Luckily the pizza didn’t quite catch on fire.
This being our first year of marriage my wife was in those days reassessing my intelligence post wedding, and it was not a pleasant evening for me.
Both our marriage and my frozen pizza making skills recovered, but these days I am having difficulty finding a decent quality frozen pizza. The only good ones on our local store are made in Germany. We have no decent frozen pizzas on this whole continent so we have to bring them over from Germany? Italy I could understand, but you don’t normally think of Germany as center of pizza excellence. We should be bringing over Reisling, Kolsch beer and Bratwurst but the world is indeed a strange place…
Starting the self-cleaning cycle with food in the oven is epic! I have experienced a smoky house when using the cleaning cycle after some nasty oven spills, but never when there is such a great fuel source. Is this kind of how they make charcoal?
I have decided that “decent quality” and “frozen pizza” are two things that just don’t go together. I think you just have to start eating crappy ones as a kid and develop the taste for them.
The imported from Germany thing is indeed mystifying.
This just reminded me of another story from when I was very young. I remember once a lady in church had neglected to zip up her dress, and came in with only her sturdy foundation garments covering her backside. Nobody said a word and the service went normally, I assume she was suitably mortified when she got home.
So at least you weren’t appearing in front of several hundred people, and you didn’t have to see them every week for the rest of your life 🙂
Haha, very true! Fortunately it was a supportive group of people. And I presume that she was not young and trying to be a little cool around those of the opposite sex. Because that part didn’t work out for me at all.
Within the last 6 months I managed to spend 20 minutes cooking one with the cardboard still under the pizza. At that point you have to choose between underdone crust or overdone toppings. Splitting the difference made it edible, but not my finest work.
Add in the smell of cooking cardboard and, well, . . .
But at least you have the satisfaction of not being a quitter and saw the project through.
It occurs to me that if your frozen pizza has cardboard under it you are spending too much on your frozen pizza. 🙂
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There’s something cheaper than shrinkwrapped to a piece of cardboard? Its not like I’m getting the hoity-toity Red Baron ones that come in a box. 😉
It was Tombstone, which I stock up on when Meijer has a sale. The Jack’s brand is cheaper, but I didn’t think they were very good.
The Totinos pizzas from my tale are just cellophane, no cardboard. But they come in a box, so I guess they just make the cardboard thinner and more colorful and move it to the outside.
It is interesting how most people can develop a taste for cheap convenience food. I know I certainly have. Could this be a sort of culinary Stockholm Syndrome? 🙂
You poor guy! But at least it happened in front of relative strangers — instead of, say, while giving a presentation at the office. Nevertheless I know how long-lasting that feeling of residual embarrassment can be as years later I too am still blushing over an incident involving lactose intolerance, long streams of toilet paper, and a bicycle. On the plus side, at least it didn’t put you off frozen pizza. 😀
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Oh, I see some material in this comment for a blog post that would be simply riveting. 🙂
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I’ll just say I’ve never returned to the “All You Can Drink” milk booth at the Minnesota State Fair, JP. 😉
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Good read. I will say that, while no frozen pizza is the best pizza, there are frozen pizzas that I think are good. Digiorno’s various specialty pizzas (my favorite of which is one adorned with peppers and chorizo sausage) are pretty enjoyable. Also back in the early ‘oughts, Freschetta had a four cheese pizza with the crust stuffed with tomato sauce that was my go-to option on Saturday nights, although it has long since been discontinued. And back when Cub Foods was still in the area, I used to love their ordinary cheese. The biggest problem with frozen pizzas are the size, in my opinion. It’s okay for one or two folks but you either need a bigger pizza or multiple pizzas for three or more.
Talking about good pizzas, have you ever been to Puccinni’s up on 82nd street? Probably my favorite place to sit down and get a good quality pizza (the cheese covered garlic bread is also a nice appetizer)
I keep falling for new frozen pizzas that I think might be good. Several have been OK, but they tend to approach the price of the carryout/delivery chains that are running constant promos. I view the ultra cheap Totinos like a Twinkie. A Twinkie is not good baking. It’s just a Twinkie. But sometimes a Twinkie is what you want.
I have not tried Puccini’s. If we go for quality over price Some Guys is our go-to.
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Oh good heavens, it’s an open barn door. Those girls were immature. This happens. Life goes on.
It did indeed.
I just came back from the grocery store with two frozen pizzas in my three bags. One made in Italy, the other apparently from Secaucus, New Jersey. I live in an area with multiple year-round farmer’s markets and access to outstanding fresh and prepared food. But I still crave – and succumb to those cravings – frozen pizzas and frozen toaster waffles at least once a week. Usually Trader Joe’s which are quite good for the price.
Oooh, toaster waffles! I just succumbed to the worst bad food temptation of them all and came home Saturday with a box of cherry flavor frosted Pop Tarts. I have no defense.