Costco’s Take and Bake Pizza
Disclaimer: I like Costco. Despite not being overly fond of having to pay a business for the privilege of shopping at their stores, and even though I don’t have a need for gallon buckets of peanut butter and mayonnaise, or five gallon drums of laundry detergent and 10-pound sacks of rice, I like Costco.
Having said that…
I finally got around to buying a Costco’s Kirkland brand take and bake pizza. I’ve been a member of Costco since the early spring of 2008, and on one of my first visits to the store my eyes lit up when I first saw the enormous take and bake pizzas in their deli area. The cardboard boxed pie was a literal monster and I wanted to take it home and tackle it immediately. I didn’t.
I didn’t take one home because it was just too big and I’m not a big fan of food preservation or leftovers and even with my love of pizza, I didn’t feel like I could (read: should) eat the whole thing.
And the reality is that I would eat the whole thing because you know that little switch in your brain that counts and monitors the food that lands in your stomach and then when it’s time to stop calmly talks to you in that soothing voice and says, “Hey there, I’m full now, pal. It’s time to stop eating for a while.”? You know that voice, right? Well, that voice is sort of broken in me. It does work, but it’s inconsistent and when it finally does speak, it does so in a very soft voice that’s difficult to hear. So I decided years ago as I was folding another too-tight pair of jeans and putting them into that never-used dresser drawer down at the bottom that the voice just can’t be trusted.
For three years I’ve been eyeing those pizzas every time I walk past them wheeling my cart filled with 30 rolls of toilet paper and 16 mega rolls of paper towels. I know what you’re thinking, why walk by them at all? Why not simply take another path through the store and avoid them? I have no answer for you other than that other little voice, the one that helps us make rational decisions, you know the one, right? Like the Stop Eating voice, it’s also sort of broken on me.
So for three years I walk past those gigantic pizzas and I think: “Should I?”, “Dare I?”, “Can I?”, and every time I answer, “No”, and walk past them and leave them alone. I let three years of pizza – the most complete and delicious food in the universe, and now, if Congress is to be believed, and assuming the sauce contains 1/8th of a cup of tomato paste (apologies to all you, “No sauce on my pizza, please.” heretics, but you don’t get any nutritional credit here) a vegetable – pass me by with no contact beyond an aching look.
And then it happened. Blame it on allergies, the change of seasons, the return to standard time, no baseball for three more months or the unresolved stress over the JFK assassination, but something in my brain short circuited, and instead of walking past that pizza bin with a heavyhearted smile, I grabbed one of those mega-pizzas with both hands and hoisted the monster up and into my cart.
I felt a red-hot centipede of shame creep up the back of my neck with the thought that everyone in the store, from customers, to product demonstrators, to the cashiers I hadn’t even reached yet, knew that I had broken down and was finally going to bring a gargantuan take and bake monster pizza home with me, and worse, more than likely eat the entire thing.
I checked out without incident, careful to never make eye contact with the attractive cashier, and headed toward the exit. If you’re not familiar with Costco, they have staff at the exits to check your receipts against what you have in the cart in an effort to ensure you haven’t hidden something under your lifetime supply of pita chips and fruit cups that you didn’t pay for. I gave the receipt checker my receipt and he looked at the titanic cardboard box in the bottom of my cart and then at my receipt and then at me. Then to the pizza again and then back up to me. His look lingered a little too long on me and it didn’t take Kreskin to know what he was thinking, but I ignored his gaze, grabbed my receipt and made a beeline for my car. Walking through the parking lot I didn’t notice anyone else looking at me and my mega-pizza, but I did pick up some mumblings and I think one, maybe two, children started to cry.
Away from the watchful eyes of the Costco staff and customers I started to get excited. My heart was fluttering with the anticipation of spending the night alone with something near to being the world’s largest take and bake pizza. I noticed I was driving fast and I brought my speed down because I didn’t know how I’d ever explain a pizza that size perched on the seat next to me to a police officer should I get pulled over for speeding. It wasn’t until I was in the garage with the door closed and the motor turned off that I allowed myself to relax.
Inside, I didn’t bother to take off my jacket. I set the pizza down on the counter and opened the refrigerator door. Using my hip to keep the refrigerator door open, I grabbed onto the hefty pizza box with both hands and, twisting and bending with the dexterity of Daniel the Contortionist, I eventually managed to get the ponderous pie onto the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. The box just barely fit, and as I closed the door I couldn’t help but smile with the excited thought that it wouldn’t be long until I held a slice of that bulky beast in my hand.
The afternoon hours dragged and I suppressed my anticipation by making frequent checks into the refrigerator to check on the pizza.
Finally, it was time. 5:00 p.m. Time to heat up the oven. Dinner.
I waited until I heard that little click noise the oven makes when it’s heated to temperature. 425 degrees. I cleared off the counter and took the pizza out of the refrigerator. I managed to drool a prayer of thanks to the pizza powers that be as I broke the paper seal and opened up the box and looked down on the magnificence of the Costco take and bake pepperoni pizza. This was it. Three years of admiration and rationalization all boiled down to the time it takes to slide a pizza into the oven which is like what, 15 seconds? My faith at that point could have not only moved mountains, but blasted them to gravel, however all I was focused on was moving that pizza off the counter and onto the oven rack.
The oven barely held this Mona Lisa of pizzas. It was brushing up against the back wall and, I noticed, against the door when it was closed. Nevertheless, it was in there and it would bask for 10-15 interminable minutes until the oven would call out to me with a delicate “Ding” and say, “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts for arrival in Pizza Heaven.”
What an absolutely horrible pizza. The pre-made crust was doughy and artificial tasting, and by artificial tasting I don’t mean artificial like food, but artificial like something out of a laboratory. It was crust that not only didn’t taste like crust, but it didn’t even taste like bread. Scraped free of toppings it looked better suited for attic insulation than food. The pie had thick globs of bland sauce and was covered with wall to wall pepperoni. That might be a good thing if you’re a big fan of pepperoni, but that over-abundance of pepperoni covered up the worst fault of the pizza which was that this was a pizza with no cheese. On top of the flavorless pepperoni was sprinkled a dusting of cheese and that was all. There was no cheese underneath the pepperoni. In contrast to how I top a homemade pizza (sauce – cheese – toppings), this pizza was coated with a thick layer of sauce, a wall-to-wall carpet covering of pepperoni and then a sprinkling of cheese. I ate one piece, and tossed it when I got to the outer crust ring and then I began cannibalizing the pizza by picking off the pepperoni and tossing it and then I scraped off the meager layer of cheese from three slices and stacked it onto one piece to try and make something that resembled a real pizza. My noble efforts at reconstructing this gummy, tasteless and offensive doughy disc into something both edible and that resembled a real pizza notwithstanding, even with the little bits of extra cheese I was able to scavenge, were a failure. Between the crust and the globby sauce, the thing was inedible. In the end, all but three pieces went into the trash along with my three-year-old dreams of Costco take and bake pizza and the ever elusive Pizza Heaven.
My final impression is that this fresh pizza was worse than the .99¢ Totino frozen pizzas you see at the grocery store. The ones that use synthetic “meat” toppings.
I’ve had the pizza Costco serves in their food court and it’s quite good. A nice thin crust, lots of cheese and adequately greasy. If you’ve had that food court pizza and want to enjoy it at home, my suggestion would be to buy a whole pizza at the food court and take it home and either reheat it or eat it cold. Avoid the take and bake pizzas in the deli area at all costs.