I received many helpful leads following my post bemoaning the dearth of deep dish pizza options in Houston . I aim to follow up on many of these tips and began with this recommendation from commenter rgwalt:
I, too, miss deep dish pizza. The good news is that it is available frozen via the Geno's East "brand" at HEB. I believe Target has an offering as well, and possibly Fiesta or Kroger. The Gino's East frozen pizza at HEB is a good replacement if you need a fix.
A few others echoed his endorsement of Gino's East frozen pizza as a decent alternative to fresh deep dish. I jumped in the carriage and drove to H-E-B , where I found two varieties of Gino's East Deep Dish, garlic and spinach and the "meaty legend." I opted for the former since I am biased against animal protein-heavy pies, which I generally find too salty. In an ideal world, I would have sampled the plain "cheese" variety. But, of course, if I lived in an ideal world, I would also be paid to watch the Real Housewives for a living.
In a bold and perhaps risky move, I decided to thaw the pizza in the fridge before baking it in the oven. This method is tacitly condoned by Gino's East, which recommends an adjusted baking time of approximately 20 minutes. Because, however, my pizza only reached partial defrosting during its six-hour stint in the fridge, it required a cooking time of more like 35 minutes. Once it emerged from the oven, I let it cool for a few minutes while I snacked on some purple cabbage, one strand of which somehow migrated onto the pizza dish (see photo).
Is Gino's East frozen deep dish comparable to the fresh Chicago restaurant deep dish pizza? No, not by any means. Was Gino's East deep dish pizza, at least the spinach and garlic variety, a satisfying, suitable replacement?
Yes. This pizza will not fulfill all your deep dish dreams. The texture of the cheese is inconsistent; sometimes a bit stringy, sometimes very thick, sometimes more like giant impenetrable blanket. Also, the center of the pizza was just a bit watery from an excess of spinach.
The crust, however, was terrific, with a slight cornmeal flavor, a buttery brown exterior, and a moist spongy base. The chopped roma tomatoes were so sweet and juicy I could probably convince you a stranger they'd never been frozen, and the spinach, even in its overabundance, was perfectly sauteed with a nice garlic zing. Macroscopic design was also very good, as Gino's East definitely knows that deep dish needs to comprise multiple, thick layers, beginning with crust and ending with tomatoes (or technically perhaps some sprinkled parmesan), to form a hefty pie from which you cut "pieces" not "slices."
Now, I have pre-gamed properly for my Chicago trip.