2012 March: Man on the Street

What’s the strangest pizza you’ve ever enjoyed? I’ll never forget an experience I had in an old-school pizzeria in Trenton, New Jersey. The shop, Papa’s Tomato Pies, is the kind of place that would have you arrested for requesting pineapple on your pizza. That’s why I was shocked to see a pie on their menu that replaced the tomato sauce with mustard. As skeptical as I was, the spice of the mustard paired remarkably well with the creaminess of the mozzarella. I doubt we’ll be seeing this particular pizza on menus nationwide, but it goes to show that leaving familiar territory can produce unexpectedly positive results, not to mention increased sales. Here’s a quick rundown of some non-traditional toppings that are currently trending at pizzerias in New York City:

Brussels Sprouts. Believe it or not, these little cabbages are killer on white pizza. I spent the first 25-plus years of my life completely avoiding these things just because pop culture had me convinced they were forged by the devil himself as a weapon against children everywhere. Boy, was I wrong! Pizzaioli are pairing Brussels sprouts with fatty pork options like speck and pancetta for a rich, smoky flavor with loads of umami (savory-ness).

Kale. I had never heard of kale until it landed on a local pizzeria menu a few years ago. It’s another cabbage relative, with flavors that range from sweet to bitter depending on how it’s prepared. You can toss it on a pizza raw or sauté with onions in olive oil. I’ve even seen a few instances of kale with either squash or sweet potato. Aside from being delicious, kale is also a super food packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Try it in late fall when kale season is in full swing.

Artichoke Dip. Artichokes are no stranger to pizza, but until recent years their appearances have been restricted to “heart” form. Thanks mainly to the appropriately named Artichoke Basille’s pizzeria in Manhattan, lots of slice shops around New York are picking up on the trend of topping a dough skin with what amounts to a creamy artichoke dip. It’s your standard combination of spinach, artichoke and Alfredo sauce — and the result is absurdly decadent. Not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t ask me about this pizza, so word is most certainly spreading.

Honey. A short drizzle of honey goes a long way when you’re looking to sweeten a pizza. I find this goes best on white pies, especially those with rich meat toppings like sausage, bacon or guanciale. One of my favorite pizzerias in Brooklyn, Paulie Gee’s, uses a hot honey product to complement spicier meats like sopressata picante. The result is life changing. I’ve even adopted honey as my secret weapon when friends come over for pizza night. It turns a good pie into a great pie!

Don’t expect these ingredients to replace sausage, mushrooms and peppers in the highest ranks of your topping army, but remember that there was once a time when pepperoni was the new kid on the block. Give your customers an opportunity to branch out with some of these naturally tasty additions and you just may surprise them with something delicious that your competition isn’t ready for.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.