The order went down like a drug deal.
“What do you want?”
“Well, what do ya got?”
The bartender reached into the freezer and pulled out a variety of Heggies pizzas. Then he spread them out on the bar yellow-label up so that we could see the goods – pepperoni, sausage, double cheese, chicken alfredo, deluxe.
“This one’s really good,” he said, pointing to the deluxe pizza.
“Oh, yeah. That one is really good,” said some other guy who was bellied up to the bar. “But they’re all good.”
The deluxe ($12 at Grumpy’s NE) is topped with sausage, pepperoni, onion, mushroom, lovely crosscut slices of green pepper, and a generous amount of real Wisconsin mozzarella cheese. “Real” as in the definition of the word you’re most familiar with. Aside from being encased in plastic and hard as a brick, Heggies actually looks like real pizza, a deft act of verisimilitude that plays out just as convincingly in the flavor department. It’s not just good frozen pizza, it’s legitimately good pizza.
But we’re certainly not the first to point this out. Heggies has been quietly building its cult-like legion of superfans since the ’80s, using dives like Grumpy’s NE and other (mostly) kitchenless establishments throughout greater Minnesota, Wisconsin, and parts of Iowa and the Dakotas as its primary recruiting grounds. Slick retail marketing? Nah. A strong social media presence? Who needs that? The legend of Heggies has been built on the power of word of mouth, with a little help from the scarcity principle. The fact it’s hard to find adds credibility to its mythology. Heggies is kind of like the Pappy Van Winkle of frozen pizza.
People are so nuts about this stuff that they’ve been known to chase down Heggies delivery trucks like a hoard of teenage girls after a Bieber motorcade. Drivers are routinely honked at on the road, and often hugged and kissed while making a delivery. Some have even been pulled over by hungry cops who just want to know where they can buy a damn pie. And once, at a stoplight, a guy got out of his car to give a driver a 12-oz. token of his appreciation. “It’s about time I buy you a beer,” the guy said.
Stories like these aren’t just isolated events either. We spoke with owner Shawn Dockter, who explained that things like this happen almost daily in Heggies World.
“I was at a fundraising event one night and was introduced to two gentlemen in their 60s who I had never met before,” Dockter explained. “After I told them what I did for a living, one guy said, ‘Hmm… never heard of it before.’ The other guy reached out, bear-hugged me, and said, ‘I love you!’”
Despite having been around for over 30 years, the pronunciation of the name itself still inspires contentious debate, even amongst diehards (it’s a hard “g,” as in “egg,” not a soft “g” as in “veggies”).
“Just two weeks ago,” said Dockter, “an extremely intoxicated guy called the corporate line at 2:30am demanding that someone put the pronunciation debate to rest. He said that he had to know that night, and wanted someone to call him back immediately. Unfortunately, he hung up without leaving his name or phone number.”
There’d be no mystique, of course, if the pizza weren’t great. Heggies would just be another ubiquitous commodity in a big box freezer, like Tombstone. What separates Heggies from other frozen pizzas is, perhaps unsurprisingly, their use of fresher, local ingredients. The mozzarella comes from the same Wisconsin creamery they’ve been using since 1989. Everything else, from the meat and veggies to the ingredients for the sauce and crust, are sourced close to their Milaca, MN, factory (for competitive reasons, the company wasn’t comfortable disclosing specific names of suppliers).
This commitment to quality ingredients is something the company takes deep pride in. “We believe any recipe is only as good as its ingredients,” said Dockter. “We distinguish ourselves from our competition through the quality of our toppings. We are manically focused on fresh, quality ingredients.” Heggies looks and tastes better because it is better.
While you can certainly make one at home (provided you can find it), the best way to enjoy the finest frozen pizza in the land is in a bar, VFW, bowling alley, Legion, or restaurant with a pizza oven.
After about 25 minutes in the Grumpy’s pizza oven, our deluxe pie was finally ready to eat. The cheese around the edges of the crust was cooked to a deep, crispy brown that looked magical under the orangey glow of neon bar lights. Heggies actually recommends cooking their pizza to this state of doneness. “Cook the pizza until it’s a strong golden brown, a little bit more than you normally would,” said Dockter. “The flavors are the best when it’s slightly overcooked.” This is one of the benefits of using a pizza oven. The other is that it produces an extra crispy crust, which on a Heggies is necessary to support the heaping mounds of fresh cheese and toppings.
Unlike most frozen pizza sauces, which are typically either too sweet or about as bland as ketchup, the Heggies sauce is rich and thick, and nicely seasoned. It’s not spicy, but it’s assertive enough to complement the rest of the toppings. And just look at the way the mozzarella stretches!
It’s hard to believe something this good started as a hard frozen disc behind a bar.
True to form, the company doesn’t provide any official list of locations that serve their pizzas. So you’ll just have to keep your eyes open. But if you’re looking to pick up a few for your freezer at home, you can find Heggies at Kowalski’s, Everett’s Meats, Holiday gas stations, Freedom, numerous Coborn’s, Fareway Foods, Festival Foods, Hy-Vee, and a few of the larger grocery stores here and there.
You could always flag down one of the delivery guys, too.
Heggies Pizza, 1115 6th Ave NE, Milaca, MN 56353; 320.982.7777