Taste Testing Four Retro School Cafeteria Foods

We’re a little stir crazy, so we decided to taste test retro food products.

I want to complain about the snow, but also feel pride that this weather makes us tougher. When 20 degrees rolls around, I’ll be gleefully running errands without a hat while people in warmer states will shiver at the thought.

Yesterday read -6 with a doomsday windchill. The snowflakes remind me of the fake snow found in department store displays. It’s so light and fluffy that the winds whip it into white outs. Our little dog is stir crazy, too. Yesterday, I asked him if he wanted to head outside and go to the bathroom.

Trayse Collage Blizzard

Well, OK then. I suppose I wouldn’t want to either.

How does one fend off cabin fever during a week when school’s cancelled due to the cold? Taste test wacky retro products, of course. For this project, I visited Fareway‘s meat counter and Martin Bros. Food Market in Mason City, Iowa. I appreciate how the butchers at Fareway treat every product with the same dignity, from ribeye steaks to processed Mr. Rib patties. They carefully measure each item and wrap them tidy little packages with brown paper.

Fareway goodies wm
Martin Brothers sells bulk foods and party supplies. You’ll find items like big bags of vegetables and every fried appetizer you could possibly imagine in their coolers.

I selected four items that harkened back to my grade school cafeteria days: Pizza Patties, BBQ Rib Patties, and Chicken Crispitos from Fareway and Mexican Pizzas from Martin Bros.

Pizza Patty: I fondly remember “Pizza Burgers” from grade school. Of course, that was over two decades ago, but, then again, I still like corn dogs so there’s that. I remember our Pizza Burgers looking a lot different from this patty, but wanted to try it anyway. Think of the pizza patty as the center of a butcher wrap blossom. $1.66/each

Pizza Patty wm

Meet the Crispito. Back when I wrote a post about school cafeteria memories, I noticed a funny thing. Minnesotans raved about Italian Dunker Day while Iowans fondly remembered Crispitos. I bought two of the chicken variety. Price $1 each

Crispito wm

Hello there BBQ Rib Patty. Why our school never called this Mrs. Rib, I don’t know, but I won’t fight the gentlemen for this honor. You’ve got to appreciate the artistry that went into creating the pressed and formed rib shape complete with three rib nubs and painted on grill marks. I can only compare this product to my grade school memories, for I have never eaten a McRib. $1.25 each

Mr Rib wm

And finally, who remembers Mexican Pizzas? Our elementary school offered pizza once a week and always listed them as “Tony’s Pizza.” Pizza day was special because we could choose from big rectangles of cheese, pepperoni or sausage pizza or this hexagonal oddity, the Fiestada.

I was surprised to find bags of Fiestadas at Martin Bros. In fact, they carried bags of the other pizza rectangles, too. I did some research and home and read Martin Bros. sources this Mexican Pizza from Schwan’s who sources them from Tony’s (or something like that), meaning they’re the closest I’ll get to the real deal. $0.83 each

Mexican pizza

I baked the products at 375℉ until pizza was bubbly and the Crispito was, well, crispy.

Taste Testing Verdict:
Drumroll. . .

Everything Labeled

Pizza Patty: A reader mentioned this product is best fried. It crisped in the oven and oozed cheese. Long story short, this wasn’t our thing because we didn’t enjoy the strong sausage flavor. There’s a lonely Pizza Patty, whom I shall call Patty, chilling in our fridge. Any takers?

Mr. Rib: This was our favorite item. Baking the patty gave it a firmer texture while the sauce formed a glaze. We split the patty in half and them in small buns with dill pickle chips. Jake commented Fareway’s tastes better than the McRib. It’s so naughty-good we’re going to eat the second Mr. Rib. Sorry if you’ve gotten attached to him Miss Pizza Patty.

Crispito: When I first pulled the tubular Crispito from its wrapping, I knew my main goal was to make it crisp. Afterall, it is a Crispito, right? What appeared to be a corn tortilla shell did, in fact, crisp up in the oven. I have no idea what comprises the filling, but it tastes similar to the El Monterey Taquitos my mom used to purchase. Jake and I dipped each half into salsa and concluded the product tasted pretty good. If you like Taquitos, there’s really nothing objectionable about this. Jake still prefers Taquitos, but I prefer Crispitos.

*Some friends added Fareway’s Crispitos taste closest to the ones served in their school cafeterias while others nominated Martin Bros‘s.

Mexican Pizza/Fiestada: This hexagonal wonder still tastes like it did in grade school.

Fiestada Cooked

The only difference is the crust seems puffier. According to Schwan’s website, the crust contains 51% whole grains (not just 50%, but 51% lol) which lends a heartier texture.

“It tastes good. No wonder it’s still around,” observed Jake. While we want to space out our Fiestada consumption, we won’t cry over the five left in our freezer.

And this concludes my foray into revisiting school cafeteria foods. Is there a specific food you’d like to revisit or leave in the past?

5 Comments

  1. Oh poor Patty. You ripped Mr. McRib from her grasp just when she needed him. I imagine she is going to be in mourning in your freezer. Fun post, as always, and I love the quotes from Jake. What a great taste tester he is!

  2. I grew up in central/eastern Iowa, in a town that had a lot of Czech influence so we had Piroski’s (not sure on the spelling). Basically a homemade hamburger bun/dough that had seasoned meat and onions baked in the middle. So good! We also had kolaches sometimes for dessert. Other things I loved – chili day b/c that meant you also got a cinnamon roll, cheesy au gratin potatoes and homemade doughnuts at breakfast. Those were the days!

    • Piroski’s sound so good. I love any type of meat pie or bun. Your school cafeteria sounds like it made more foods from scratch than ours.

  3. I have tried the Tony’s pizza at Martin Brothers, and just haven’t found the exact kind that we had when we were in school. But those fiestadas look awesome!

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