« trader joe's tarte d'alsace »

Although my days of eating frozen pizzas are mainly in the past, I have lately developed an appreciation for the Trader Joe's Tarte D'Alsace, a pizza that is sold in many varieties at French (and German) grocery stores, but not in any form at the big chain American supermarkets.  (Mouse-over toaster photo to view a photo of the tarte.)

Trader Joe's, a unique shop that excels with its lower-priced private label replications of proven brands, markets foods that either equal or outshine competition.  TJ's product lines, for the most part, derive from American eating trends - chips and salsa, traditional and organic breakfast cereals, Chinese dumplings, and jarred tomato sauces, as examples.  The Tarte D'Alsace, however, seems inspired not by A&P, Whole Foods, or Pillsbury, but rather from some food scientist's gustatory visit to France.

Based on a savory tart called Tarte Flambée (or in German, flammkuchen), whose toppings include crème frâiche and/or some sort of cheese, onions, and lardons (bite-sized pieces of cured-not-smoked bacon), Trader Joe's has tapped into a flavor profile that people anywhere, including Americans, should appreciate.   (Alsace is a region in eastern France that shares borders with Germany and Switzerland.)

With a crust that is flat (like thin-crust pizza), but pastry-like in its texture and flavor, the Tarte D'Alsace features caramelized onions (unfortunately, caramel color has been added), cooked ham (not as decadent or sophisticated as lardons, but it works), crème frâiche, and shreds of gruyère cheese (a slightly sweet, nutty, and somewhat-complex melting cheese that is as popular in France as cheddar and American cheeses are in the US).  

The onions are slightly oily, but they successfully team up with the crème fraîche and the gruyère to easily defeat the unfortunate dryness that plagues many frozen pizza counterparts.  While the ham is fairly unremarkable, it does contribute a requisite saltiness and may sate a carnivore's need for some meat component in the mix at meal or snack time.

The net result is a taste of Alsace in a box, and though it does suffer a bit from processing and freezing (and smallness, relative to the box size), I nevertheless highly recommend it. 

If you're in New York, there are a couple of restaurants that make this pizza fresh.  I've yet to try either, but both are high up on my to-eat list.  Co., a Chelsea pizza restaurant owned by Jim Lahey (of Sullivan Street Bakery) offers two pies in this vein: the Ham & Cheese, which according to the menu, is made with prosciutto, caraway, and pecorino, gruyère, and mozzarella cheeses ($15); and the "Flambé," which features béchamel, parmesan, mozzarella, caramelized onions, and lardons ($16).  Both sound enticing.

The other related pizza I've yet to try, but that shows much promise, is the Tarte Flambée at The Modern (Danny Meyer's restaurant at the Museum of Modern Art).  Here, Alsatian chef Gabriel Kreuther omits the cheese and tops his thin tarte only with crème fraîche, onion and, applewood smoked bacon ($14). (How can I know it shows promise if I've never had it?  The reservationist, with whom I spoke on the phone, had this to say: "It is so good, I would wear it as perfume if I could.")

But I deviate with these upscale options.  Trader Joe's Tarte d'Alsace, at $4.39, is available in any locale where Trader Joe's can be found (as of June 2010, Trader Joe's has hundreds of stores across 24 states), and it provides an affordable opportunity for one to satisfy a yen for this unique type of pizza.

[N.B. My toaster oven may look rundown, but it works just fine.]

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