With customers’ ever more sophisticated palates and seen-it-all attitudes, standing out in the wild world of pizza is perhaps more difficult than ever. But once a unique recipe takes hold, thanks to the viral nature of the internet, it has the power to change a pizzeria’s trajectory overnight. From ramen noodle crusts to mustard bases to vegan cheeses, innovation is now taking place at every level of the pie—and catapulting creators to local (and national) fame. Check out these examples of weird pizza ingredients from pizzeria masterminds coast to coast who are thinking outside the box and cashing in on their incredible creativity.
Atlantic City, Long Branch, Hoboken and Jersey City, NJ
Wacky crust? Check. International inspiration? Check. Collaboration with social media influencer? Check. The Devour Ramen Pizza brings authentic Japanese ingredients together atop a ramen noodle crust: shoyu broth, pickled soy boiled egg, rayu, shichimi togarashi, wagiri togarashi, nori flakes, toasted sesame seeds, mirin, spicy chili oil and scallions. “I like to eat ramen, and a few of my friends from [Instagram page] Devour Power also love ramen,” explains Michael Hauke, founder and owner of Tony Boloney’s. “I went to the Japanese grocery store Matsua and went nuts. About 20-plus passes later, bam!” Meanwhile, Hauke’s Taco Taco Taco Pizza is so taco-heavy, you have to say it thrice. Inspired by stoner kids who wandered into the pizzeria looking for tacos, it has three tacos per slice and a trio of stuffings in homemade tortillas: mezcal-marinated steak, chicken and brisket. It receives extra layers of flavor from Oaxacan cheese, chipotle mole, plus guacamole and a sour cream drizzle pooled in the middle. According to Tony Baloney’s menu, videos about the Taco Taco Taco pie have scored 100 million-plus views on YouTube and coverage on “about every media outlet known to mankind.”
Roselle Park and Asbury Park, NJ
Is it a calzone? A side order? A pizza? Yes, yes and yes. For carb and cheese lovers who can’t quite decide, the Triple Threat combines a calzone, garlic knots and a pizza in one, leading to droolworthy reviews from outlets like NJ.com and Thrillist. “I love calzones, and I love garlic knots,” reports Joe’s Rotisseria chef and owner Joe Brignoni. “And I wanted to make a pizza that would stand out in the pizza industry to make a name for myself.” Mission accomplished!
Crying Eagle Brewing Co.
Lake Charles, LA
This locally inspired pie was definitely born on the bayou, offering an explosion of Cajun flavors. The Big Easy starts with classic étouffée (crawfish in a flavorful tomato base), topped with two forms of local sausage—boudin and Crying Eagle’s own Louisiana Lager beer sausage (fresh pork mixed with Cajun seasonings and the brewery’s Louisiana Lager)—plus mozzarella and goat cheeses and a dash of red pepper flakes. “We wanted to create a dish that showcased all of our favorite Louisiana flavors, and we then thought, why not combine them into what we do best: pizza!” says Krickett Schmidt-Racca, marketing and special event manager at Crying Eagle. “This pie pairs perfectly with our Louisiana Lager, which is made using locally sourced rice from Farmers Rice Milling Company right down the street.”
Los Angeles, CA
The Touchdown evokes the flavors of football get-togethers, all topped with a crumble of Nacho Cheese Doritos. “I wanted to create a food item where you can hold all of your favorites from a good football party in your hands—create a football party in your mouth, basically,” says California Sun chef Diana Gasparyan. “With one bite, you get the taste of our fluffy, soft pizza crust, a little heat from the grilled chicken tossed in our special housemade Buffalo sauce, creamy white cheese sauce, crunch from the cheesy Doritos, fresh celery and zesty ranch. I like to play around with ingredients and make sure each pizza I make reminds guests of a certain event, and I believe this pie was a total touchdown!” California Sun also offers the Kale Caesar!, with onion cream, vegan mozzarella and Parmesan, Tuscan kale, Caesar dressing, capers, red onion, seitan cutlet chunks and garlic oil—the stuff that vegan dreams are made of. “I like to think of this pie as a ‘healthyish’ pizza—you get all the goodness of greens, lemony and creamy Caesar dressing, and seitan cutlets,” Gasparyan explains. “But the best part is that it’s all vegan! A lot of vegan guests say this is one of their favorites.”
Lions & Tigers & Squares
New York, NY
Founded and owned by Francis Garcia and Sal Basille of the famed Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, the relatively new Lions & Tigers & Squares offers a departure by focusing on Detroit-style pies and unique combos like the Mustard Pie alongside more traditional faves. One of the pizzeria’s best-known offerings, this concept was conceived accidentally when an inebriated late-night customer asked for a mushroom pizza, but his slurring led staff to misunderstand and whip up a mustard pie instead. “The Mustard Pie brings together salty, spicy and tangy, all in one great-tasting pizza,” Garcia says. “It’s cooked much like a soufflé, in a square pizza pan, and then we spread on spicy brown mustard instead of marinara sauce. It’s topped with corned beef to add saltiness, sauerkraut for some zing and a punch of flavor, and cheddar cheese to bring it all together.”
With a name like Pizza Brain, it’s safe to say the minds behind this hybrid museum-pizzeria always wear their thinking caps. But the business is more than a must-see (and -taste) for pizza lovers; it prides itself on being a community-oriented “pizza shop with a conscience.” Hence, pairing up with a fellow fledgling business for mutual support seemed, well, a no-brainer. Result: the Frankford Taco, which tops a cheese slice with pizza-flavored ice cream. “The Frankford Taco is a collaboration with our shop neighbor, Little Baby’s Ice Cream,” says Rushawn Stanley, who handles social media and marketing for Pizza Brain. “With their pizza-flavored ice cream and our plain Jane pie, the contrasting elements of hot and cold provide an unforgettable, flavor-filled experience.”
Tracy Morin is PMQ’s senior copy editor.