Toronto is now the home of frozen pizza that's actually good
Frozen pizza is starting to get a lot better in Toronto thanks to some small makers who are breaking the Delissio mold.
Sure, the comfort and convenience of popping a frozen pizza in the oven is great, but wouldn't it be even better if the end product didn't taste so much like the cardboard it came in, and more like a pie from a local restaurant?
This is obviously easier said than done, or else pizzas from the grocery store frozen aisle would taste a lot more like fresh ones.
According to some Toronto frozen pizza innovators, part of the secret is trying to make pies as close as possible to way you would if you were serving them up hot and in-house.
General Assembly was on their game when the pandemic hit, with executive chef Curt Martin starting work on designing frozen pizzas as soon as lockdowns began in March 2020, founder Ali Khan Lalani noticing there was a limit on frozen pizzas at the store.
General Assembly kept their frozen pizzas as close to their restaurant counterparts as possible. They're still personally sized at 10 inches, the dough is naturally leavened and ingredients include local fior di latte, grass-fed mozzarella and nitrate-free pepperoni. They're par-baked so they're ready in about five minutes.
New frozen pizza brand Good Wheel wanted to figure out how to perform this magic themselves. Around the same time, founder Alex Commons was testing out different frozen pizzas during his weekly Zoom poker games.
"Once I was a few pizzas in, I realized that they were all... bad," Commons tells blogTO. "The crust in particular was always a weak point."
A near year-long mission to find out why frozen pizza is usually bad led to the launch of Good Wheel with his brother in early 2021. They used a similar strategy to General Assembly, pickling, shaving or par-cooking quality toppings so they'd cook properly in a home oven after freezing.
"Most frozen pizza is made to be inexpensive and manufacturable at huge scales by a machine," says Commons. "We took the opposite approach."
The dough was the hardest part, with the brothers having to develop a totally new dough recipe rather than tweak an existing one.
"At the end of last year we didn't even know if it was possible to make a good frozen pizza," says Commons.
After about 30 iterations that took into consideration the two main dough concerns – moisture retention and crystal damage to the cellular structure – Good Wheel landed on a dough that manages to retain its moisture, flavour and texture for that coveted crispy-chewy crust.
Eden Hazan, frozen pizza expert and co-founder of King David Frozen Products (who have been making frozen pizzas since 2014), confirms that General Assembly and Good Wheel are on the right track when it comes to refusing to sacrifice quality.
"In order to keep things cost-effective, most of our competitors automate the full line and that is where the quality of the product gets crushed," Hazan tells blogTO.
At King David, they also keep things gourmet by offering customers what their big competitors can't, like custom toppings on orders of over 20 boxes, similar to the way you'd be able to customize a delivery pizza.
Let's see the grocery store aisle guys do that.
The response to both Good Wheel and General Assembly pizza has been so positive that they both struggle to keep up with demand. As a two-person operation, Good Wheel can't make their Hawaiian and vegan varieties fast enough, and General Assembly is also finding it difficult to keep up with demand. But they're not letting that get in the way: They're planning to launch in cottage country and Ottawa this summer.
The frozen pizza game is gaining such steam in Ontario, someone even wants to resurrect 1970s Hamilton restaurant Mother's in the form of frozen pizza products. Fundraising efforts are going on right now to bring the brand to Canadian grocery stores. (Could Frank Vetere's be next?)
There are more options for late-night munchies than ever in Toronto, but thankfully when you just can't wait for delivery, or the pizza parlour is closed, you now have a lot more good options to keep your freezer stocked.
After all, life is too short to eat bad frozen pizza.
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