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Nov 30, 2018

Memories of Showbiz Pizza Place

Some of the fondest and happiest memories from my youth stemmed from visiting Showbiz Pizza Place. Showbiz Pizza is the now defunct sister restaurant to Chuck E. Cheese.  Like Chuck E. Cheese, the restaurant focused on pizza, animatronic entertainment, and video games, all within a family friendly atmosphere.  After my family moved from California to Colorado in the late 70s, I found myself dreadfully missing our once regular trips to Disneyland, and Showbiz was the closest thing to Disney magic you could find when living 1300 miles west of Anaheim.  

I'll never forget my first visit to Showbiz Pizza Place.  Giving in to my desperate plea's, my parents reluctantly took me there for dinner one Saturday night. We stood in line outside for the better part of an hour on a cold Colorado winter evening.  My Dad kept grumbling about the long wait, but I didn't hear any other complaints from him once we got inside.  I knew immediately as I stepped through the door, that Showbiz Pizza was my personal heaven.  After all, there was pizza (my favorite food), skee ball, pin ball, video games, and awesome animatronic entertainment!


My 1980 Billy Bob mug
To this day I can vividly remember glancing over at my parents from time to time, only to see them watching me with big smiles on their faces.  At the end of the night, my dad bought me a Billy Bob glass mug to commemorate my visit.  I loved that mug, and still possess it to this very day.  I even wrote an essay at school on the following Monday, documenting my first ever visit to Showbiz Pizza Place for which I received an A+.


The animatronic band that performed on the main stage was known as The Rocka-fire Explosion. The band featured, Fatz Geronimo the gorilla, Mitzi Mozzarella the mouse, Dook LaRue the dog, and Beach Bear.  Just to the right of the center stage was the Showbiz franchise mascot, Billy Bob Brockolli the bear.  To the left of the main stage was Rolfe DeWolfe the stand up comic, and Earl Schmerle his puppet sidekick. Billy Bob's buddy "Looney Bird" would occasionally pop up from his nest (an old oil drum full of moonshine) to offer some comic relief.




While many of my friends weren't too excited about watching the entertainment, and would high tail it straight to the arcade or skee-ball alley.   I on the other hand, would take in all I could get.  I too would spend lots of time in their massive video arcade, but also spent even more time watching the Rock-afire Explosion.  I actually remember being in the midst of playing video games, and hearing the band start up.  On more than one occasion, I would cut my games short, or deliberately make myself lose so I could head back to the dining room to watch the Rocka-fire Explosion perform.

I always loved Showbiz Pizza Place, even when it wasn't "cool" for kids my age to dig it any more.  I remember many an afternoon where I left my high school campus to go get lunch at Showbiz by myself.  I was always the only kid my age in the restaurant. Other patrons were usually Moms that were taking their toddlers or preschoolers out to burn off some energy.  I would sit alone watching the shows, and would then hit up the arcade to play a couple games of Donkey Kong or Asteroids before finally heading back to school.

Some years later when I lived on the East coast and my firstborn was a toddler, I would often take him to Showbiz for lunch. I was usually the only Dad in the restaurant surrounded by Moms.  Before moving back to Colorado in the mid 90s, I took my son to Showbiz one more time.  Little did I know, it would be the last time we would ever see a Showbiz Pizza Place ever again.  Upon moving back to Colorado, I learned that the old Showbiz I frequented as a boy was now a Chuck E. Cheese.  I searched high and low for Showbiz restaurants in surrounding cities, and even other states, but learned that all had suffered the same fate. Showbiz was the casualty of corporate unification that converted all Showbiz stores into the Chuck E. Cheese's.  That move never sat well with me, and while I tried to embrace the change for my kids.. my family eventually stopped patronizing the chain.

The magic was gone, and it was evident in nearly every aspect of the business. The entertainment in my personal opinion was replaced with a sub par abomination that had no soul or magic compared to the Showbiz franchise. As I got older and started reminiscing about my Showbiz memories, I read stories of the infamous corporate transformation.  Ex employees stated that virtually overnight, they were instructed to destroy and throw out all kinds of props, decorations, stage sets, and in some cases, animatronic characters.  However, during this dark time, many sets and Rock-afire bands were saved, and would eventually experience some of their former glory many years down the line.

Below are some corporate unification videos showing employees how to dismantle sets, characters, and instructions on what to destroy. The videos then go on to show how to replace the sets and characters with Chuck E. Cheese characters. They're actually somber videos to watch for Showbiz fans like me, and very much feels like watching someone dismantle a part of my childhood.

 

After some digging on the web, I found that several Showbiz enthusiasts actually own old Rocka-fire Explosion bands complete with the software to run their very own shows!  Below is a video from one such fan.  This clip even features the first performance I ever saw by The Rocka-fire Explosion back in 1980, during my first visit to Showbiz Pizza Place.  Gosh I love YouTube!

 

If you'd like more information about Showbiz, or would just like to reminisce, the most comprehensive Showbiz website I've found on the web is at Showbizpizza.com Also.. the documentary Rock-afire Explosion is available on DVD, and can be purchased on Amazon.  Check out the trailer here..

Order your copy at www.rockafiremovie.com

 

Nov 23, 2018

Review - "Supremus Maximus" from Screamin' Sicilian Pizza Co.

There are some great things happening in the world of frozen pizza.  Consumers are demanding higher quality and healthier options, and companies are listening.  Pizza's made with all natural ingredients and no preservatives are becoming ever more available, and I for one am loving it!

Enter Screamin' Sicilian pizza.  I've sing their praises to anyone who will listen and am going to do so again.  So without any further delay, here's my review on the wonder that is the "Supremus Maximus".



Retro Dad rating..
5 out of 5 slices!


Screamin' Sicilian's Supremus Maximus is a Supreme pizza made with incredible whole milk mozzarella cheese from Wisconsin, heaping piles of rough-chopped pepperoni, enormous orbs of Italian sausage, strips of fire-roasted onions and red & green bell peppers, and black olives.


Before I cooked this pizza, I had to snap an up close picture of the toppings.  I knew this was going to be a special pie when I took a gander at the roasted peppers and onions you see above!



As soon as I pulled this beauty from the oven, I sampled a few of the roasted peppers and onions.  I was shocked to find how crispy the onions were, and how incredibly sweet the peppers tasted. 


The rough-chopped pepperoni was of the utmost quality, and I can't say enough good things about the sweet Italian sausage! Not only were the pieces huge, but the sausage is steeped with seasonings and spices that make it incredibly delicious.  I'd even go as far to say that the sausage is better than many pizzeria's out there.  No surprise, as a multitude of pizzerias use mass produced sausage bought from food distributors.  The Zesty Italian tomato sauce played against the Wisconsin whole milk mozzarella perfectly, and was laid on in perfect proportion.

What really continues to impresses me about Screamin' Sicilian frozen pizza's however, is how much they do not taste like frozen pizzas. This is largely in part because of the crust, which is usually a dead giveaway that a pizza is of the frozen variety.  Made from individually rolled dough balls made of wheat, water, olive oil & yeast, it represents a nice stone baked crust that reminds me of past homemade pies I've crafted over the years.

What more can I say?  The Supremus Maximus was a hit with my family, and once again had me ecstatic that I can dine on a frozen pizza that tastes nothing like a frozen pizza.  I have went ahead and bought a few more varieties of these pies, and will review each one as I cook them up, so keep an eye out for the reviews!

Visit Screamin' Sicilian Online



Nov 16, 2018

Review - Sal's Pizza and Pasta House in Sarasota Florida

Sal's Pizza and Pasta House 
6582 Gateway Ave Sarasota, FL 34231


Pizza Chap rating..

5 out of 5 slices


Before I officially moved to Florida, I took a few scouting trips to research what part of the state I wanted to live.  On one of those last trips, I discovered a great New York style pizzeria in Sarasota called Sal's.  Being from Colorado, it was at the time, the best New York Style Pie I had eaten in years.  Here are some thoughts on their pizza.






The crust
The crust on this pie was everything a New York style crust should be. Thin and slightly crispy.. but not cracker crispy. A nice puffy and bready edge crust, but nowhere near thick or chewy. The fellow behind the counter hand stretched the dough and hand tossed it in under two minutes. The modest yet incredibly efficient deck oven had the pepperoni pie cooked in about 7 minutes, and it was absolutely cooked to perfection.

The sauce
The balance that a New York style sauce requires is a delicate one. The ingredients call for little more than tomatoes, garlic, and some oregano. Too bold of a sauce will take away from the taste of the cheese, while a weak sauce makes for a bland and uninteresting slice. Sal's sauce was spot on as well as perfectly proportioned to the pie.  It served as the perfect buffer between the rich cheese and the wonderful crust.

Toppings
The high butter fat mozzarella was absolutely amazing, and the mouth watering pepperoni was of the utmost quality.

Their pizza was incredibly and utterly delicious.  The stuff dreams are made of.  Well.. my dreams anyway.  The dining experience at Sal's to me personally was a bit surreal.  The staff, food, and general vibe, made it evident that I was sitting in an honest to goodness New York style Pizzeria. However, once you look out the storefront windows, you see that the pizzeria is juxtaposed with a beach town view complete with palm trees.  At the time, I had never experienced anything like it at a pizzeria, and it was quite fun and refreshing.


The fellow behind the counter knew his way around the kitchen, and for sure around his deck oven. He made an absolutely perfect pie in under ten minutes and didn't resort to cracking the door once.  He knew his oven like the back of his hand, and didn't open it until it was time to pull the pizza out.  I was wondering if it needed a turn or two, or even another minute or so, but the young Pizzaiolo crafted a great tasting pie cooked to perfection.

He hand rolled some bread sticks for us that were both beautiful and tasty.  He also put together a pig in a blanket with pizza dough for my son, which housed a 1/4 lb hot dog and cheese. He was quite friendly as well, asking where we were from (must've been obvious we were out of towners) and was more than happy to shoot the breeze with us, answering our questions about the local sights.


Our visit to Sal's was everything a great dining experience should be.  Rest assured that when I visit Sarasota again soon, I will definitely be popping in for more great food and exceptional service.. all set in the backdrop of a beautiful Florida beach town.



Nov 11, 2018

Review - DiGiorno Crispy Pan Pizza




Our rating..
4 out of 5 slices


I hadn't eaten a DiGiorno frozen pizza in quite some time, but heard some good things about their new Crispy Pan Pizza.  I must admit that I was never a real big fan of DiGiorno's pizza over the years.  I did however take a gamble a while back on trying their Garlic Bread Pizza and was pleasantly surprised, which in turn created a gateway for me to try this one.  I always like to keep some frozen pizza on hand for emergencies, so I figured I would pick one up so I could give it a try next time a late night craving hit.




This three meat pizza comes laden with pepperoni, sausage, beef, and loads of Mozzarella.  The pie comes with its own single use pan which I must say, did an excellent job of crisping up the pizza from edge to edge.  The cheese actually creeps over the edges and helps in creating a crispy and caramelized crust.


I was doubtful that DiGiorno could pull off a crispy pan pie, but they proved me wrong.  The edges and underside of this pizza were nice and crispy, with the interior of the 1+ inch of crust being soft, airy and tender on the inside. I wouldn't quite say it's the same as a homemade or fresh baked pie, but it most definitely tastes closer to homemade than frozen!  More pepperoni and a better sauce to bread ratio would have garnered a higher rating from me, but the pizza was by no means unenjoyable to eat.



I baked the pie at 22 minutes and really should have rotated it once, because I have a hot spot in my oven.  Totally my fault, but I could definitely see cooking these pizzas at 24 minutes plus, being too much for these pies.  Every oven is different, so I would start checking on it at around the 20 minute mark.

As for size, I'd say three to four adults could dine off of these pies (depending on their appetites).  If you're feeding a family of four or five, make sure to buy two of them.  Cutting it up into slightly smaller pieces would make it ideal to put out for party snacks.

All in all.. definitely a bargain for under seven bucks, and I can honestly say that it beats the heck out of anything Papa's, The Hut, or Domino's cranks out.  And THAT my friends, is no small feat for a frozen pizza company to pull off!  DiGiorno's made this Crispy Pan work, and I hope they keep putting the research and development into new products they release.

Visit DiGiorno online




Nov 9, 2018

Review - G's NY Pizza in Clermont Florida


G's NY Pizza - 12346 Roper Blvd. 
Clermont, Florida.

Pizza Chap rating..
5 out of 5 slices


This week, I realized that I have never officially written a review for the Pizzeria I frequent most often in Clermont Florida. I guess it's due time to remedy that! I won't get too in depth with the full blown details on aesthetics, consistencies etc.  Instead.. I'll let a few photos from my Instagram do the talking..




So as you can see from the pictures, G's is an authentic NY Style Pizzeria through and through.  Great hand tossed pies made with great ingredients.   The owner Peter Fiorino grew up in Valley Street New York, and was on the 2007 United States Pizza Team, so the guy definitely has skills.  I can count on one hand, the times he hasn't been in the pizzeria during my visits in the last year.  He makes a mean pie, and definitely takes pride in his craft.

They have a great menu as well. Whether its a salad, sandwich, calzone, stromboli, or Parmigiana dinner, I've never had a bad meal at G's.  Do you have a sweet tooth?  I IMPLORE YOU to try their Cannolis!  Always freshly filled after you order them, the shells are crisp, and not dense like other places that pre make and refrigerate them. Check them out below..



G's is my go-to Pizzeria for New York Style Pizza, and it's not because it's so close to home (that's just a blessing).  It's a nice little shop (and I do stress the word little) because I believe there are a total of three tables inside.  Two of them seat up to four people, and the other seats two, so max capacity is about ten or eleven people.  I always try to go early to miss the lunch crowd, but am always ready to not have a place to sit.  In that instance I will order it to-go, and hope for a table to open up, otherwise I eat my pizza outside, or in my car.  Still.. totally worth the minor annoyance, because their food is so incredibly good.


Visit G's NY Pizza online


Nov 2, 2018

Review - Joe's Pizza in Ocoee Florida

 2735 Old Winter Garden Road, Ocoee Florida


Pizza Chap rating..
5 out of 5 slices



Well folks, I believe I've found my new favorite New York Style Pizza spot in the Orlando area.  Joe's Pizzeria in Ocoee is hitting on all cylinders, and I've immensely enjoyed my last couple of visits there.   They opened up in New York back in 1988, and expanded to Florida shortly after opening their first restaurants.




This is quality pizza through and through, with great ingredients and a perfectly stretched & cooked crust.   While fresh ingredients are always key to making a good quality pizza, the backbone is the crust, and I could find nothing wrong with Joe's.



The crust on my slices had just the right amount of crispiness to them.  I love a big floppy slice that you can fold and eat on the go.. but the extra amount of crisping that this bottom crust had was perfect, and made the slices easier to handle.  Mind you, there's a very fine line between this crisping and an overcooked slice, but Joe's has managed to find that sweet spot of perfection that kicks this crust into the stratosphere as far as taste and consistency goes!




If you want a real treat, order up a slice of Joe's Margherita pizza which is made with Mozzarella, plum tomatoes, fresh Basil & Garlic.  It's a perfectly balanced slice, and took me to Zen after the first bite!



As if the Pizza wasn't enough of a treat already.. I also ordered some Garlic Knots that totally blew me away.  I can't stand a pre made Garlic Knot that is heavy, tough, and devoid of flavor.  These beautiful little knots of dough were light, soft, and obviously made fresh.  The butter and garlic was perfectly proportioned, which made for some of the most succulent Garlic Knots I've ever eaten.  The marinara perfectly complimented them, and didn't overpower or take anything away from the knots.  At $2.00 for an order of six.. this is one of the best deals you will find in these parts for such a high quality appetizer.

I can't say enough nice things about Joe's Pizza in Ocoee.  If you want New York Pizza done right, hit them up.  If Ocoee is a little out of the way for you, they also have another store at 1881 Fairbanks in Winter Park.  To sum up, Joe's makes an incredible tasting pie made with quality ingredients, and is a heck of a value.   Joe's will be getting more of my business and referrals for some time to come.





Oct 30, 2018

Review - Giordano's Pizza in Kissimmee

7866 W. Irlo Bronson Hwy. Kissimmee FL



Pizza Chap rating..
4.5 out of 5 slices 


I stopped in at Giordano's the other day for lunch.  If you weren't aware, they have a pretty good lunch special that's been running for awhile now.  From 11:00 to 3:00 p.m. You can get a 6 inch stuffed deep dish pizza with all cheese, pepperoni, or sausage, and a choice of a side for just $8.95.  You might scoff at the thought of a 6 inch pie, but I attest as an official card carrying "Big Guy".. you will not be disappointed with this meal.

A cute little Deep Dish Pizza Pie that will fill your belly!


Be aware that this pizza even at six inches, is going to take a half an hour to bake, so if you're in a hurry, you might want to order something else off of the lunch menu.  Personally however, if I'm taking the time to go to Giordano's, I am always going for their signature Deep Dish Pie!  I opted for a sausage Pizza, and was not disappointed.

Tons of cheese, tons of crust, tons of satisfaction


Here are my findings:

The Crust - Nice and crispy on the outer layer, and not doughy anywhere else.  Nice and bready on the end crust, but I love this!

The Cheese - Their aged Wisconsin Mozzarella tasted incredible and provided great creaminess, with a nice buttery flavor.  The stretchiness of the cheese is something you just won't believe until you see it.

The Sausage - A roundish sausage crumble that one gets accustomed to seeing in pizzerias of all sorts.  I would have liked to see a sausage in this pie with a more artisan feel and taste to it.

The Sauce - A very fresh tasting sauce that helps pull this deep dish together.  Giordano's sauce does not have any preservatives or chemicals and is made fresh daily.  Crafted from fresh tomatoes grown in Mendoncino County California, this quality sauce is definitely a star.  It would be so easy for a pizza chain to 'Phone it in' and use a mass produced sauce from a distributor, so I really respect how Giordano's keeps it real.


Some video of that famous Giordano's 'Cheese Pull'
on my Instagram account..



New York style is usually my go-to pizza of choice, but I do get a hankering for a good Deep Dish pie on occasion.  I really do dig everything about these pies, even the massive end crust that you're left with when you finish your slice.

Some people don't care for end crust to begin with, so I can see how a Chicago style crust may not excite some folks.  If that includes you.. I will share a trick with you that might help you finish off that crust a bit easier.


How to eat your Chicago Deep Dish End Crust
(for those who don't particularly care for end crust)

Step One - Stop eating the pizza when you get a couple inches away from the end crust.

Step Two - Rotate the crust so the tip of where your slice used to be, is facing straight up.

Step Three -Hold and eat the crust the way you would eat a Hot Dog.


When you utilize this technique, you will have sauce, cheese, and toppings to go with every bite of the thick end crust.  The toppings won't fall off thanks to the sheer width and flatness of the end crust.  It doesn't work on any other type of pizza!

All in all I had a wonderful dining experience at Giordano's.  One of these days I will have to visit and order one of their full blown loaded large pies that can feed 4-6 people. If I do.. rest assured you will read about it and see it here!