Growing up, my family almost always baked our own pizza. That’s not to say we made our own pizza or bought frozen pies all the time. In the Pacific Northwest, there were a few chains, usually located in strip malls and shopping plazas, that offered the service of putting together a pizza to your liking atop raw dough, then you’d pick it up and bake it off at your leisure. When I talk about take-and-bake pizza to some of my colleagues (and my spouse) hailing from the New York metropolitan area, this is a ridiculous concept: Pizza either comes cooked (right to your door, often) or frozen (and ideally you avoid frozen). As an NYC resident currently, I won't defend the quality or style of that pizza I ate as a kid. But certain grocery stores, including Costco, also do a version of take-and-bake, typically offering fresh, uncooked pizzas with preset topping options so I know I'm not alone in this experience. Given how prevalent take-and-bake was in my youth, I've often wondered why the business model hasn’t been a bigger hit nationally (or at least in more car-centric suburbs), so when California Pizza Kitchen announced it was going to offer freshly-made, uncooked pizzas coast to coast, my interest was piqued.
Starting today, CPK fans can order Take and Bake versions of any of the chain’s 20 pizza options (on hand-tossed dough or cauliflower crust), then pick it up from the restaurant or have it delivered and cook it on a rack in their home oven. The included instructions then direct diners to fully preheat their oven to 450 degrees, pop the pizza in for ten minutes (or so), and finally let it cool a couple of minutes before adding any included garnishes (like fresh herbs, oils, or sauces).
I was able to try baking and tasting a few of CPK’s signature pizzas in our test kitchen, and while our baking time did vary (as was warned), requiring a bit more time in our particular oven to fully cook. The addition of those post-baking toppings like cilantro on the Original BBQ Chicken Pizza definitely added another level of sophistication beyond a standard frozen option. My colleagues and I wish our crust had come out crispier, but with a little finessing of our exact baking time and temperature, perhaps that could be achieved.
Based on the menu of the location nearest my office, the Take and Bake pies cost the same as ordering them baked from the restaurant, but if you're already dining in a CPK location, you can opt to bring one home with you and received up to $10 off with your entree purchase. Of course, CPK pizzas are already available at home via the freezer aisle at the grocery store, so the gamble here is that fresher toppings and dough will make the difference between opting to pull into the CPK parking lot over hitting the supermarket. But if a piping hot pizza at home and at your convenience is your priority, this may be the CPK option for you.