Whether pizza is coal- or wood-fired, New York- or Detroit-style, deep-dish or thin crust, toppings stick to the norm. America’s No. 1 favorite topping is pepperoni, followed by sausage (a distant second) and extra cheese, according to a recent You Gov survey. Asleep yet?
All the other common pizza toppings, such as mushrooms, bacon, pineapple, tomatoes and spinach, fall into single-digit percentages as favorites, leaving plenty of room for disrupting the category. After all, isn't basic boring?
The latest pizzerias across the country seemingly agree. While the usual suspects are present, toppings are becoming more robust. It's as if other sections of the menu have jumped onto pizza.
That's the case with Phew's Pies, a pop-up turned pizza truck that Matthew Foster rolled onto the streets of Atlanta two years ago, slinging 12-inch pizzas priced from $13 to $25. He spent the first part of his career in entertainment production, but the pandemic and a love for pizza led him to switch gears. Self-taught, Foster researched regional pizza styles, including Detroit and New York, and landed on a Neapolitan-like take. Toppings, however, are influenced by “the culture and flavors of metro cities, urban areas,” Foster says, referencing his lemon-pepper wet pizza, which is very Atlanta.
A lemon-pepper sauce is ladled onto the base and topped with chicken from air-fried seasoned wings and fresh and shredded mozzarella cheese. A pair of lemon-pepper wings sits proudly in the center along with lemon wedges. Rapper and activist Killer Mike retweeted a description of the pizza, and sales went from serving a few friends to 100-plus overnight.
Foster also applies entrée logic to pizza with Caribbean-inspired oxtail. The braising liquid for the oxtails is reduced and serves as the sauce. The rich meat is removed from the oxtails and scattered onto the pizza, along with the mirepoix from the braise, shredded mozzarella and dollops of ricotta.
If the oxtail pizza is reminiscent of an entrée, his pesto pizza channels an appetizer vibe. Pesto made with pecans works as the base, which is topped with spinach, garlic, caramelized onion, shredded mozzarella and pecan gremolata. When the pizza emerges from the oven, a ball of black truffle burrata is plopped onto the center, giving customers a creamy spread for the slices and a reason never to ignore the crust.
“I don't see the pies as a trend,” Foster says. “It's how I love eating pizza.”
FINE DINING TO PIZZA CHEF
Matthew Wilde, who spent the first part of his career as a fine dining chef, reflects similarly. He had no intentions of opening a pizzeria, let alone owning his current four in the Chicago area. But he agreed, on one condition: Along with the customer-favorite ingredients, he would sell a chef-driven version at Bob's Pizza.
Inspired by the classic Cubano sandwich, Wilde created what was first called Pilsen-style pizza (because his first restaurant was located in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood) and later changed the name to ham and pickle pizza, which didn't exactly engender fans – until they tasted it. Now it's the best-seller, consisting of a garlic cream base topped with house-made pickles and nut-free mortadella. It's finished with shredded mozzarella, salt, pepper and fresh dill. The pickles and meat are thinly sliced, essential for balance and mouthfeel, Wilde says.
Until earlier this year, Wilde offered a Korean chicken pizza. While it had its avid fans, he took it off the menu. “I want every pizza to have the largest number of fans and a tight menu. I have one dessert for two reasons: People don't order dessert (after pizza), and our focus is pizza,” Wilde says. And that's why the moniker for the once-reluctant pizza owner is now “Home of the Original Pickle Pizza.”