Reviewing TJ’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral the other day got me in the mood for other cheese and dough related, disc-shaped appetizers of Mediterranean origin that are suitable for a variety of toppings. By which I mean pizza! Luckily, Trader Joe’s was able to deliver with their Bambino Pizzas Formaggio – a box of 4, tiny little 5″ cheese pizzas that come frozen and ready to get cooked up in your oven.
|What it is:||Mini cheese pizzas|
|Size:||Four 4oz. pizzas.|
|Worth it:||Yes. This is acceptably tasty pizza.|
Trader Joe’s has had a variety of these pint-sized pizzas for years – however, they’ve recently debuted an eye-catching new box design that ditches the “boring Italian-food look” for an aqua blue that really pops out at you. Hey, it worked on me – good job box designers, you’ve tricked my ape brain again!
Aside from the box, there’s nothing really all that innovative about little cheese pizzas you cook at home. These are basically what you’d expect – medium crust, cheese and marinara sauce pizzas about the size of CD’s. What really suckered me in (as it so often does) was the cool name Trader Joe’s stuck on these. Or should I say “Trader Giotto”.
As I’ve talked about time, and time again, the little noms de cuisine Trader Joe’s utilizes both delights and frustrates me. On the one hand, as a borderline insufferable psuedo-intellectual, I treasure these slyly literate winks. “Ho ho”, I think, not unlike Dr. Hibbert, “I wonder if anyone else caught that”. On the other hand, their consistent lack of consistency drives me right up the wall. Case-in-point, Trader Joe’s Guacamole vs Trader Jose’s Spicy Edamame and Guacamole dip.
Apart from the exotic name, these are actually pretty basic fare – your standard no-fuss, frozen cheese pizzas. However, the execution is pretty much beyond reproach. You’re always going to loose a bit of quality when you scale down a pizza to personal size – you end up with more crust for a lesser amount of sauce and topping (not unlike the miniaturized Trader Joe’s Pot Pies) – however TJ’s does a good job making sure there’s still plenty of rich and tangy marinara sauce, and melty mozzarella cheese to satisfy.
Unlike, say, french fries, pizza is one food that manages to hold up well when frozen. Just pop these in your oven for 11 minutes and they come out bubbling and crispy. It may not be the most exotic thing Trader Joe’s has ever brought to market, but they’re easy to cook and perfectly tasty. And just like our aforementioned 5 Cheese Greek Spiral, they’re easy to dress up with a spring of basil, a few slices of pepperoni, some olives, or you know, whatever. Nothing wrong with that!
Would I Recommend Them: Sure, everyone can agree on mini-pizzas.
Would I Buy Them Again: I don’t see why not.
Final Synopsis: Yum yum, tasty tiny pizzas.
In theory, this sounds delicious. How could it not be? Paper thin sheets of oven crisped filo dough filled with a thick and gooey blend of five delicious cheeses – surely that’s a prescription for gustatorial heaven, right. And while it’s close, Trader Joe’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral isn’t really all that good – as if it’s missing some essential ingredient that would have tied it all together.
|What it is:||Melted cheese in a pastry shell spiral.|
|Price:||$3.99 / 14 oz. disc|
|Worth it:||No. Too bland to justify that much cheese and dough.|
Looking like an over-sized lollipop, Trader Joe’s 5 Cheese Greek Spiral is at the very least an intriguing looking appetizer. It’s essentially a single long tube of filo (AKA pie crust) dough, filled with tons of cheese and wrapped into a single snail-shell spiral. Like a cheese-and-pastry kielbasa, or a cheese-filled pizza crust gone wild. TJ’s isn’t kidding around about that “five cheese” part either – this big honkin’ disc contains nearly a pound of gouda, kasseri, kefalotyri, “semi-hard” and blue cheese.
The whole thing is placed in the oven (the oven explicitly – the packaging bans microwave use) and roasted for 25 minutes until golden, crispy, and filled with hot, bubbling cheese.
So why isn’t this better than it is? It’s really hard to go wrong with cheese and dough – and yet this Greek cheese spiral failed to illicit more than lukewarm reactions from everyone I called around to try it. The problem is that there’s just nothing interesting going on with this appetizer. Lots of cheese is good in theory, but the cheeses in this mixture end up as a single, salty, mild-tasting blend, without the intriguing charm or tang of the individual components. The filo dough is also unadorned, tasting of nothing much but a bland paperiness that makes for a very nice texture, but not much else.
There are no end of delicious foods that make use of cheese and dough, so it seems like a shame to waste it all on an appetizer that is merely acceptable. Pizza, for example, or any of Trader Joe’s delicious flat breads.
In fact, if there’s any potential to be unlocked in this 5 Cheese Greek Spiral, it’s in treating it as a pizza-like launch pad for more interesting toppings. With the application of a little imagination it’s easy to compensate for that missing X factor. Throw a tub of artichoke dip on top of these warm cheese coils and you’d really be talking about a delicious appetizer, or simply serve alongside a ramekin of marinara or other dipping sauces. Drizzle with honey!?!? That might just be crazy enough to work. Do anything, really, just as long as you’re not eating it plain.
Would I Recommend It: Not strongly. It’s pretty underwhelming.
Would I Buy It Again: Maybe – I might try fancying one up for my next soiree.
Final Synopsis: Lots of salty cheese in a bland crust. Should have been better.