Recently, Manolo's Pizza and Empanadas started packaging their products for your freezer, and let's just be clear about one thing: most frozen pizza is absolutely not very good. There are a few brands that are OK. There is one that is actually pretty decent. But let's not discuss that right now, because the fact of the matter is simple: Manolo's delivers you the very best frozen pizza that any of us have ever had.
Bottom line, when you have a veterans like Anthony Rossi and Adrienne Wingler behind the pie peel, this is the result. They've been at it together for over a decade, and like any great team, experience counts for a lot.
To that end, it wasn't totally surprising that it was pretty decent, as Manolo's uses really great ingredients, and is known for its quality, above all. But we were all pretty amazed by just how good these were, and how well they responded to a conventional oven. The cheese somehow bubbled and crisped up, the way pizza cheese is supposed to. The crust was both chewy and crispy, the way pizza dough is supposed to be. The toppings did not taste freezer burnt at all, the way some frozen pizza toppings can. The end result was just a great pie, and by our standards, it is highly recommended. Check out the menu here.
I asked Anthony Rossi, the co-owner of Manolo's a few questions about this new "piece" of his endeavor (hiyo!), where they are available, and what the long term plans are.
"(In addition to Champaign-Urbana), we are currently delivering frozen to Savoy, Mahomet, Downs, Bloomington/ Normal, Morton, Pekin and Peoria," he wrote in an email.
"Unfortunately we won’t be in any grocery stores in the near future, as we want to take our time and grow the product line first. That being said, we do have a nice selection of pizzas in the store that are ready for pick up or delivery.
"Most of the pizzas we have in stock ready to go are 12” Medium, though we do offer 14” and 18” upon request. If a pizza is wanted that we don’t have in stock, we just need 24 hour notice for next day pick up or delivery. Since we make the pizzas to order, all of our specialty pizzas are available or you can create your own. Empanadas are already made so we just need about an hour heads up for those to be packaged for pick up or local delivery."
As for how he feels about his product going frozen, he thinks it stands ups. "I don’t want to rob Peter to pay Paul, but we all know that most delivery pizza loses a bit of its pizzaz when delivered," he quipped. "With our frozen option, you can get our signature items cooked exactly how you want out of your own oven, without sacrificing quality and without a car ride to get to your mouth."
And honestly, it holds up. I can't believe I am writing that, but it is true. 2020 y'all. Everything has changed.
To that end, each of our editors tested it, and you can read what they thought of it below. Spoiler alert: they really, really liked it. After that, you can hate eat the DiGiorno currently wasting away in your freezer, or just feed it to the squirrels. And then you can buy local, and buy better, frozen pizza from Manolo's. It is truly fantastic.
I had the Pepperoni, and here's what it looked like. My kids scarfed this up, and that does not always happen.
See? Basically picture perfect. (SF)
Photo by Anna Longworth.
EDITORS: Patrick Singer + Debra Domal
PIZZA: Spotted Goat
There’s no doubt that comparing a frozen pizza to a freshly baked one isn’t really fair. That said, this opportunity to bake up one of the best pizzas in town right in our kitchen was honestly a highly anticipated event. Yes, an “event”. This is a pandemic, so it is the little things, you know? Living pretty far from Manolo’s, this isn’t really an option normally — until now.
In case you are unfamiliar, Spotted Goat is spinach, mushroom, gorgonzola, goat cheese, and mozzarella with alfredo and dollops of red sauce. It is arguably one of the best pizzas in all of C-U, and truly, eating Manolo’s without having to have it delivered changed the way I see frozen pizza now in a variety of ways. For the price and quality, this is something we would happily do again because if we’re going to have a frozen pizza stashed away, it might as well be from Manolo’s. It reminded me of how delicious it is when served up fresh on Oregon Avenue, thinking back to the “before times”, but all of the beauty in this pizza remained. (PS)
Photo by Debra Domal.
Since this was my first taste of Manolo’s pizza offerings, I can’t compare it to the fresh out of the pizza oven experience. However, I can say it was a breeze to bake and the result did not disappoint. Served as optimum GBD (golden brown deliciousness) it was crisp, but not dry. More filling and satisfying than most thin crusts and certainly more than most frozen or bake-at-home pies. If your love of cheese leans more towards the adventurous, this mix of gorgonzola, goat cheese, and mozzarella, has your name on it. This gooey good trio goes next level rich thanks to the garlic Alfredo. But the contrast of red sauce cuts through nicely as do the mushroom and spinach toppings. (DD)
Photo by Alyssa Buckley.
EDITORS: Jess Hammie + Alyssa Buckley
PIZZA: BBQ Chicken
Sometimes, the thought of having to cook a meal and clean a kitchen after a day of 2020’s bullshit is often just simply too much. Suffice to say I was very eager to try Manolo’s frozen pizza — I didn’t even have to expend the effort to place an order.
So it was on one of these miserable evenings that I popped the BBQ Chicken pizza into the oven and set the timer. The pizza looked good out of the package, and I love Manolo’s pizza already, so I had high hopes. What a relief to know that something this year did not disappoint. The crust was crispy and flavorful; it wasn’t the chewy crust of Manolo’s to-go, but it tasted like real pizza crust, not cardboard or pie crust, or whatever yoga mat frozen pizzas are made of these days.
It sounds so lame, but the ingredients were real food, not processed textural things. The chicken was flavorful, the barbecue sauce was a sweet and tangy, and with the gooey cheese and onions, it was *chef’s kiss*. It’s probably the best frozen pizza I’ve ever had. I plan to stock my freezer with more Manolo’s. (JH)
Photo by Jessica Hammie.
I have had Manolo’s empanadas before but not Manolo’s pizza. This frozen pizza was exceptional, especially since it was as easy to go from, “I want some pizza,” to eating said pizza fifteen minutes after I popped it in the oven.
The chicken on the thin crust pizza was well-seasoned and slightly crispy. The marinara sauce was great, the barbecue drizzle tangy, the onions deliciously soft, and the cheese was on point. I liked how fresh and handmade the pizza tasted: this isn’t a regular frozen pizza. There’s no processed-tasting meats or freezer burn or excessive packaging; it’s a yummy pizza from an Urbana restaurant, and it’s the kind of thing I’d like to have on hand for when a pizza craving strikes. (AB)
Photo by Julie McClure.
EDITOR: Julie McClure
PIZZA: Apple Butter Bacon
This frozen pizza delivery development from Manolo’s is a wonderful thing. As someone who lives on the far west side of Champaign, always out of their usual delivery zone, we just didn’t often partake of their pizza. And it was always a damn shame, because it’s one of the better pizza options in C-U. Now, a new day has dawned. Our family popped an Apple Butter Bacon frozen pie in the oven and it came out with cheese bubbling and a crust that was crisped just right. If you’ve never tried this speciality pizza, you might be a bit skeptical. Apple butter? On pizza? What is this nonsense? It is, in fact, a delight: The sweet sauce, a pungent pop of gorgonzola cheese, and bacon, which makes everything better. I’ve picked up the Apple Butter Bacon pizza from Manolo’s in the past, and it was just as enjoyable when baked in my oven. (JM)