I have grown up in La Crosse all my life. I have seen places close and places open, there has been one place that has stood the test of time and is only getting better with age. I typically write about the local places to eat so when I got it in my head that I wanted to cover something simple. Something common, something convenient and affordable to the masses, I thought of the ideal place to cover. Now here’s where I didn’t expect, an opportunity to talk with the people behind numerous products we all know and love. I got to peek inside the massive Wonka factory of convenience, the Narnia of cleanliness. The place that brought gas station food back from the brink of inedibility. With bathrooms to brag home about, Kwik Trip.
Tucked away in our industrial park the building complex is ever changing and growing. The headquarters of this network of gas stations/convenience stores lives right between Onalaska and La Crosse, WI. It boasts a dairy that is one of the few in the nation with specific credentials to allow for the land of milk and honey to do what it does best. Rows of pallets of cheese, line after line making goods that are divine. The sheer volume of goods to supply 800+ stores in the region with one-of-a-kind goods is astonishing.
I was lucky enough to discuss food with the brains behind Kwik Trip’s Research and Development Team. Kevin, who heads up R&D and Kelly and Lacey who are food scientists within the R&D group. Every flavor you have tried from Kwik Trip has come from their counter. It has passed numerous tests and tastings to bring you the most consistent and reliable foods you get on the daily. I asked what the hardest part about their job was and they explained that flavor, availability, shelf life, and consistency are the main goals of their products. This is way different from the normal home cook that I am, where I just worry if it’s going to taste good. Not to mention, have you ever doubled or tripled a recipe and noticed the seasoning was way off? Try doing your favorite cookie recipe but making it with 10,000 times the amount. I promise it won’t taste the same and the dishes would not be worth it.
People like me go to Kwik Trip to get a few staples or just something for my meal that should happen in about 5 minutes in the parking lot. They have done a great job in making hot and ready food that is surprisingly delish. I think other gas stations lowered my bar for what a gas station could be. Kwik Trip gives me consistency when even big box stores couldn’t. Many of the products you see on the shelves are made in-house and thusly more insulated from supply chain issues. With this otherworldly standard, they have grown close to a cult following. Instead of cloaks and Kool Aid, Kwik rewards and sunglasses. Its people checking out as many of the stores/store numbers as they can on a road trip. It’s people becoming connoisseurs of the cuisine. Speaking of, let’s talk about what I got to try in their stainless-steel clad R&D Kitchen.
Today I am going to talk about the Pothole Pizza, five pizzas hot and ready lay before me on the butcher block tabletop. They are steaming and calling my name.
Take It Cheesy
This is a Cheese pizza with the five cheese blend being the spotlight of the party. This is dusted with a magic dust that they couldn’t go into too much detail about. I believe it to be an Italian seasoning blend, random fact: this and the cheese are placed on all their pizzas. I was focusing too hard on the other potholery to notice a slight dusting on the others. This cheese is shredded on the spot and distributed perfectly to ensure that each bite is going to be cheesy.
This pizza is the only rally I would show up to. The pepperonis pass my cup test. That being post cook, the edges curl up or down to give a suction cup appearance. With that shape comes more crispiness. This, combined with the taste, tells me it is all real and good for my soul. Not to mention it is blanketed in them. Not one bite, spare the crust, didn’t have pepperoni in it. I love how the oils from the pepperoni aren’t too much yet still contribute to changing the marinara flavor a bit to please the pep receptors on my tongue.
I have prayed about this, that one day a frozen pizza could deliver a sausage unto me that is worth writing about. This is the answer to my prayers. No more rabbit poo size and shaped nuggies on my za. What we got be, boisterous balls that pack a spicy Italian sausage flavor. Funny bit of trivia: this sausage was an accidental shipment when they were sampling possibilities. The flavor was so right they made it happen. This is a party pleaser for sure.
Meat sweats is a combo of pepperoni and sausage. I read up on meat sweats, I have had them before. It’s the afterglow after a good steak. Or the refractory period after too much turkey. It is your body spending energy to digest the meat miracle you just consumed. Protein is very complex and takes more energy and heat to digest than many other foods. Tell that to the people that say you need to work out more. This pie plates a ½ pound of meat to quell your burning ache for protein. The spices of the pepperoni and the sausage really go along well.
The Kitchen Sink
Jumbo sausage, pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, red and green peppers this is for all you peeps that want something more than just meat and cheese. I am happy to report there are no kitchen sinks within the pizza. Even with the amount of toppings here, the bake on them was great. The crust stayed crunchy and firm enough to not drop the payload when picked up.
All five of these beauties come in under 9$ and give me the upper echelon of frozen pizza vibes. The fact that they are all made just miles from my home and support a company that cares about its employees is a bonus. I asked Kevin why the name pothole, he said, ”Well the Midwest is known for its potholes and typically gives bad vibes or at least attention.” Well, Kevin, you have our attention. Seems like they are turning a bad thing good, and I am all for that. When looking at the line of how these are made I saw it all come into place. They told me they made 8 million pizzas last year and have the capacity to keep growing. I am glad to have these available to me and I can’t wait to see what they sling out next.
There are many more things of wonder that I hope to cover one day but for now, Pothole Pizzas are tickling my fancy.
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About La Crosse Local
La Crosse Local is an arts, food, and entertainment podcast and publication for La Crosse County and its surrounding communities.
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