519 Schmecks: Is Pizza a Cheap Eat or a Bank Breaker?

I love pizza — thick or thin, complicated, plain, traditional or off the wall, literally I’d eat pizza off the wall. While I am a documented food snob and can wax poetic about pie made from fior di latte and fermented dough cooked in a wood fired oven meeting the strict standards laid down by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, those who really know me well also understand I can crush a “hot’n ready” with crazy bread, no problem at all.

I am not a pizza snob but rather a pizza lover. I love pizza!

Pizza has one problem: itself. Like my own self loathing ass, pizza is its own worst enemy. The price of pizza can range from ridiculously low to questionably high, and it can be absolutely justified in each case.

Maybe I’m overthinking this but let’s review. I love pizza of all kinds and will defend the grease wheel like it’s my kin. I am a chef and earn my living trying to sell food for profit, and firmly believe the customer benefits from a range of offerings.

What would I like from the readers and food lovers in the 519 and beyond? Simple, have an appetite and open mind for it all.

Such wide ranging price points are often met with criticism, especially when priced in the upper stratosphere; I want to challenge why. At first glance, two slices of pizza can look the same, but a deeper dive, under the pizza box lid, as it were, gives us a better understanding of the value of both.

Dough is cheap, so is salt — both key elements. From there, it can get very different, but the point is, with little money invested, a sprinkling of cheese and sauce, and the ability to serve it hot, mere pennies make a serviceable pie and happy customer.

However, we can take that same salted dough, simple and perfect with its signature, simultaneous crispy chew pull, add a different array and ratio of ingredients, creating a completely different experience, with a different price tag.

White anchovies, fresh buffalo mozzarella, expensive pizza ovens burning organic peach wood with highly trained chefs, house made pepperoni — the list goes on. The pizza gets tastier and the price goes up.

Not long ago, a chef friend opened a new restaurant with a focus on pizza in the style of Detroit. The pizza is amazing, however not “cheap,” — 20 plus for a four slice pie.

Delicious and deep dish, easily feeds two people and contains no less than a ½ pound of frigging cheese — brick and locally hand stretched mozzarella form the base. It’s great; I am indeed a fan.

Some people have reacted to this pizza with the following statement. “Really great pizza, filling and inventive, but $20 for a small pizza come on?!” To this I say: why can’t we have both? Don’t want the $20 fancy pie? Kindly ask the local restaurateur to remove the imaginary gun from your head so you can spend your dollars elsewhere.

Be kind, be open to new experiences and be encouraging to the folks in our Region brave enough to try and sell food for profit. It ain’t easy, and baby, we don’t want to lose the nice things we are lucky enough to have in this budding food community!

Nick Benninger is a local chef and restaurant owner.


Recipe for Better Frozen Pizza

First off, you will need a tool for this to work like magic: a rasp also known as a microplane. This is a great multipurpose tool to have in the kitchen, something I’ll rant about in the future.

My tips on purchasing frozen pizzas:

  1. Stay away from toppings beyond cheese and pepperoni. The frozen grey turds they call sausage are inedible and not meant for human consumption. The peppers and pineapple are freezer burnt and have fallen off the pie — sitting lonely and pathetic in the bottom of the bag. The bacon is not bacon, is smokey sawdust at best. Cheese and pepperoni won’t let you down, keep it simple.
  2. Either overcook it or undercook it, to avoid the predictable cardboard results you get from following the instructions, this is a must. Undercooking will give you a nice slightly chewy doughy texture, overcooking it will send us into a crispy and crackery place with a deep caramelized flavour — both better that cardboard.
  3. After preheating the oven, get your pizza out of the plastic and onto a pizza tray or screen, something with lots of holes is best for maximum air flow. Now, slice a onion up uber thin, toss it with olive oil and salt and top the frozen pizza with that — instantly you have made this a much better pie. At this stage get creative if you have more things on hand, pickled pepper, sliced ham, olives etc. Just be sure to toss it in olive oil so it can brown nicely in the oven.
  4. Keep a chunk of parmesan cheese in your fridge; it lasts forever and goes great with everything including vanilla ice cream, so just do it. Use your microplane to top cooked pizza with shaved parmesan.
  5. This is the most important tip, the after oven drizzling, not dipping sauce. This will make any food great. It’s a must for steaks, seafood, pasta or anything, really. Make this fresh and eat it all that day, the punch of the fresh garlic is what makes this sing, and it does not keep.


Drizzling NOT Dipping Sauce

2 cloves Garlic

2 tablespoons Olive Oil  

2 teaspoon Sea Salt

2 teaspoons Chili Flake (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herb, parsley, basil or oregano will work (optional)

Use your microplane to “puree” garlic cloves into a small bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Drizzle — don’t drip — over pizza!