Once upon a time, late in my college career and for some time therafter, one of the places we used to go for a good, relatively inexpensive meal was a restaurant called Gino’s, on Rush Street on Chicago’s Near North Side. It was down a short flight of stairs from the street, dimly lit, usually crowded, and sort of rough around the edges — a perfect student place. It also served what was arguably the best Chicago-style pizza ever: deep dish, loaded with toppings, and one pizza would feed a party of four, even in the hungry days of our youth.
Success bred expansion, and Gino’s East opened a few years later, in the high-rent district farther east, with the same ambience and the same pizza. And now you can buy that pizza in your grocer’s frozen foods section.
Let me say right off the bat that Gino’s East frozen pizzas are better than anything my local pizzerias seem to come up with, even the small, not-a-chain place down the street. I’m focusing on the Classic Sausage Patty variety, because, inveterate carnivore that I am, that’s my favorite. I’ve tried some of the other versions, and they stack up well.
First, the name: there is, in fact, between the cheese underneath and the sauce on top, a solid layer of sausage. It’s not particularly spicy, but not what you’d call bland. It’s actually pretty nicely balanced, with enough of the various spices that you know they’re there. (I’ve had too much Italian sausage that reeked of fennel and nothing else.) The cheese layer is generous, as is the sauce. The sauce deserves special mention: this is not something that came out of a jar. It’s got texture — there are chunks of stewed tomatoes (and occasionally, a piece of peel) — and it’s got just enough bite to make it interesting. It’s a good, rich tomato sauce. And the best part is, the crust cooks up nice and crisp. The box proclaims that it’s “Handmade,” and it seems to be — it’s got those little irregularities that you can’t get from a machine.
There are eight servings in one pizza (recommended) — this is two pounds of goodness, here — and one slice, with a bit of salad, will certainly fill you up. If you’re watching your weight (300 calories, of which 140 are fat), or your intake of things like sodium (320mg) or cholesterol (2mg), you’re not going to want to make this a constant thing, but I always say, moderation in all things — including moderation. Everyone deserves a treat from time to time, and Gino’s East frozen pizza is a real treat.
And for those of you who are not feeding an army, it reheats beautifully — it’s even better as leftovers.
This one is definitely worth checking out in your grocer’s frozen food section.