Fruitza

2009 June: FruitzaThink fruit pizza and the ubiquitous “Hawaiian” most likely comes to mind. While no one will argue against the popularity of this ham-and-pineapple delight, fruit toppings aren’t limited to pineapple. Consider pears, apples, oranges — even coconut. The operators we interviewed did just that and discovered that fruit not only adds a sweet note to savory pies, but it also creates menu interest.

Fruit-topped pizzas fit perfectly into the concept at McKinners Pizza Bar in Littleton, Colorado. “Most people associate pizza places with Italian restaurants. We are not an Italian restaurant, but eclectic,” explains co-owner Keven Kinaschuck.

“Fruit pizza gives people something to talk about,” adds Christopher McGraw, Kinaschuck’s partner. McGraw developed a prosciutto and pear pizza after eating a pepperoni and pear pie while traveling. The pizza tops a New York-style crust with red sauce, Fontina and mozzarella cheeses, diced canned Bartlett pears and prosciutto. “The combination of pears, zesty tomato sauce, salty prosciutto and nutty cheese is just awesome,” says McGraw, who estimates that a 13-inch pizza has an 18-percent food cost.

Fresh pears were originally used, but they dried out when baked. A canned product, which packs pears in light syrup, replaced the fresh pears. “The syrup maintains the pear’s consistency and adds sweetness,” says Kinaschuck, who recommends placing pears beneath the cheese. “The cheese works like a blanket and traps the moisture. If you put the fruit on top of the cheese, it will burn.”

A Mandarin pizza is built with a cracker thin crust, red wine vinaigrette, fresh spinach, canned mandarin oranges and mozzarella. After baking, it is sprinkled with honey-glazed pecans. “It’s a light, crunchy pizza based off a spinach salad my uncle made,” says McGraw. “Since we bake at such a high temperature, a thin crust prevents it from overcooking.” The pizza has an estimated 15 percent food cost.

Ted McKinnon, owner of two Alfy’s stores in Silverlake and Puget Park, Washington, came up with the Luau pizza after gazing over the salad bar. (Alfy’s is a 15-unit pizzeria franchise based in Everett, Washington.) “We have 45 items on our salad bar, including canned Mandarin oranges and pineapple. I thought, ‘why not try this on a pizza?’ ” he says. The Luau pizza layers Canadian bacon, pineapple, Mandarin oranges, shredded coconut, bacon crumbles and mozzarella atop a sweet Italiano pizza sauce.

The Luau was tested last spring at McKinnon’s operation and sold well enough that he recommended it to the Alfy’s franchise group. It’s currently a full-time menu item. “It is in our top 10 for sales within our specialty pizza category,” says McKinnon, who claims the pizza’s food cost is in proportion to other specialty pizzas. “Coconut and oranges are relatively cheap items. The most expensive part is the bacon,” he says.

McKinnon recognizes that coconut and oranges may scare some people away from ordering. To counter that, he offers free samples. “You must give out free samples for people to try,” he says.

“If you think a fruit pizza may be too weird to sell, there is a good chance that your customers will agree. There are many people who would just order a pepperoni pizza. Free samples get them out of this rut and, hopefully, will get them to order more food.”

Offering more sustainable ingredients was the impetus behind the fruit pizzas served at Hot Lips Pizza, a five-unit operation based in Portland, Oregon. “For us, it makes sense to use locally grown ingredients,” says co-owner David Yudkin. “Oregon’s Hood River Valley grows the finest pears and apples in the world, but the orchards are being torn up for developments. This is a way to support our local farmers and menu local ingredients.”

Hot Lips successfully transitioned a ham-and-pineapple pizza into a ham-and-pear pizza, which layers sliced local pears, house-cured apple wood smoked ham and mozzarella over an olive oil base. Meanwhile, the Veggie Waldorf pizza showcases apples, bleu cheese and walnuts across an olive oil base. “The Waldorf is one of our more popular pies,” says Yudkin. “Because it’s seasonal, people get upset when they can’t get it. It creates a great buzz when it comes back on the menu.”

Four different apple varieties are used over the season. “You want to use a firm, crisp apple, not a red delicious — it’s too soft,” Yudkin says. He estimates the fruit pizzas have a 28-30 percent food cost.

While Yudkin admits sourcing fresh ingredients is more expensive than canned or frozen, he says the yield is better. “We don’t buy print ads. Some of the logic is that what we would have allocated for advertising, we use on food cost,” he says. It’s fun. Yudkin enjoys experimenting with different fruit pizza combinations, even the unsuccessful ones. “We wanted to do a ham and cherry pizza, but it didn’t work out,” he says. “The color wasn’t so nice. (Plus), how do you pit the fresh cherries?” ?

Mandarin Pizza

Recipe courtesy of McKinners Pizza Bar, Littleton, Colorado

13 ounces pizza dough

3 tablespoons red wine vinaigrette

2 ounces baby spinach, washed and dried

25 canned Mandarin orange sections, drained

8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded

4 ounces honey glazed pecans

Corn meal

Roll or hand stretch dough to 13-inches in diameter. Sprinkle corn meal on pizza board. Place dough on pizza board.

Spoon vinaigrette onto dough, spreading about ¼ inch away from edge, then sprinkle spinach on entire pizza.

Place orange sections randomly on top of spinach. Cover with mozzarella cheese and bake in pre-heated 495 F oven, on a pizza stone, until cheese browns slightly.

Remove from oven and sprinkle with pecans. Let set for 3 minutes. Cut and serve.

Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and liefestyle trends.