Pizza fundamentalists, not unlike the other kind of fundamentalists, insist that there is only one true way. Any variation on the strict Neapolitan tradition — save possibly for a select few authorized New York City variations — is not merely blasphemous but perverted. Let the congregation answer: “Amen!”
But pizza was not made for tomato sauce and cheese alone. For many American pizza makers — and more than a few in Italy — the traditional pizza base is merely a foundation for an imaginative edifice. From the notorious Hawaiian pizza topped with pineapple and ham to the creations encrusted with sprouts, seeds and nuts that we call “California-style,” there’s a world of pizza out there.
You’ll find no fundamentalists on the Eat ’N’ Blog crew, for whom every new bite holds a potential adventure. Correspondent KIM MASSEY has been out on the pizza trail, looking for offbeat pizza creations at four local eateries. Let’s turn over the pulpit to Kim for her report. I’ll pop back in at the end to talk about one more excellent, non-traditional pie.
According to recent statistics, Americans consume a whopping 3 billion pizzas each year; that’s approximately 100 acres of pizza per day at a rate of 350 slices per second. The time-honored pepperoni is by far the most popular topping, accounting for 36 percent of pizza sales and an annual consumption of 251,770,000 pounds.
People, that’s a whole lot of salami!
Far be it from me to cast a harmless slice of sausage as the anti-hero, but I do have some concern for the little people of the pizza-topping world. I can’t help but feel that by habitual discrimination we may have banished the fish, flora and fowl that also grace our pies to a culinary underclass.
So, in a recent fit of degustatory activism, I imposed a moratorium on pepperoni pizza. Accompanied by a merry band of pepper-onlys (a select few who confessed an obsessional preference for the substance), we set out to sample some of the alternative pizza offerings at a few local eateries.
Our first foray into the pepperoni-free zone had me thanking the kitchen gods at Café Lou Lou for having the good sense to reject the traditional Italian prohibition on pairing fish with cheese. The smoked salmon pizza ($11.75) provided a perfect example of how compatible the two can be. It composes a melodious combination of tender chunks of hot smoked salmon, artichokes, herbed marinara sauce, creamy goat cheese and a smattering of capers upon a chewy, puffy Italian-style bread crust. This pie just happens to include some of my favorite foods, but it was no less well received by the pepper-onlys, who collectively declared it a winner.
We also sampled the wild mushroom and chicken pesto pizza ($11.75). An everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair, it boasted large, randomly cut pieces of tender grilled chicken breast atop generous layers of pesto sauce, grilled wild mushrooms, red onion, roasted peppers and feta and mozzarella cheese. The group declared it a hearty, interesting but slightly overcrowded pie that might have been improved by just a little less culinary embellishment. Still, it’s hard to fault an establishment that’s so generous with both imagination and ingredients.
Café Lou Lou
1800 Frankfort Ave.
The pepperoni-free pies at Primo offered a study in contrast with Café Lou Lou. Here, the thin cracker-crisp crusts feature just a few select but premium quality ingredients. The elegant but somewhat austere appearance belied the hidden depths of flavor. The simple but artful Toscana ($12) consisted of grilled wild mushrooms, pancetta and parmesan. The plump and earthy wild fungi paired perfectly with the judiciously placed squares of pancetta, the robust flavor of which infused the entire pie. It was unanimously declared the favorite of the pepper-onlys, suggesting that it’s actually pork fat they crave.
On the other hand, the Venezia ($12) was entirely devoid of porcine elements, but it scored well, too. A well-conceived combination crust basted with garlic butter and topped with silky spinach leaves, it added generous layers of melted parmesan and baby smoked shrimp. The artfully placed shrimp provided a delightful accent to the garlicky spinach foundation. If I had any complaint at all, it was that there were too few of the tasty shrimp for them to make an appearance in every bite.
445 E. Market St.
In a further break with tradition, we searched for the ultimate fusion-themed pie for our final samplings. The Thai chicken pizza at Tony Boombozz ($12) provided an unlikely coupling of spicy chicken, carrots, bean sprouts, peanuts, teriyaki sauce and, yes — mozzarella cheese. We were a little skeptical whether these diverse elements could actually work, but blatant curiosity prevailed, and we managed to avoid ordering one of our tried and trusted favorites instead. This resolve paid dividends, as the spicy, salty and slightly sweet combination fared better than expected and provided an interesting taste sensation with a nicely balanced contrast of flavors and textures.
3334 Frankfort Ave.
At California Pizza Kitchen, the mango tandoori chicken pizza ($10.99) provided a further example of the success that can be achieved by pairing exotic and mainstream ingredients. An authentic-tasting spicy curry sauce replaced the usual marinara, providing a delightful backdrop for tender cubes of grilled tandoori chicken and large chunks of fresh mango. The addition of grilled onions, red peppers and the usual mozzarella cheese yielded a wholly satisfying pie.
California Pizza Kitchen
Oxmoor Centre, 7900 Shelbyville Road
The mission ultimately proved to be something of a culinary triumph for the minorities of the pizza-topping world. The former pepper-onlys exhibited few signs of withdrawal, chewing happily and nodding in silent agreement as I waxed lyrical over the joys of degustatory diversity. I quickly ceased my preaching to the converted and fought them tooth and nail for that last piece of pie.
Wacky pizza at Danny Mac’s
Rendered ravenous by Kim’s report and intrigued by a LouisvilleHotBytes forum discussion about Danny Mac’s, a new spot just off Poplar Level Road a few blocks south of Eastern Parkway, I hustled over to satisfy my crave with a weird but strangely addictive pizza variation.
The chicken bacon ranch pizza ($8.99 for a 10-inch small pie) has come a very long way from Naples or even New York, although it does bear a distant kinship to Alsatian flammenkuchen. In place of the usual spicy tomato sauce, it lays down a thick coating of tangy ranch dressing on a thin, cracker-like crust, then piles on mozzarella, lots of bits of tender boneless grilled chicken, more mozzarella and a generous ration of crisp bacon. Fired until the crust is golden brown, the bacon sizzling and the cheese molten, it’s a great way to satisfy a serious hunger. Assuming that you’re not a pizza fundamentalist.
For the record, it’s not the first pizzeria in town to bet the, er, ranch on this concept; Fat Jimmy’s (several locations) and the excellent Fast Break Pizza in Crestwood also make creative use of ranch dressing, among other good things. But Danny Mac is a welcome addition to the local pizza scene, and he also makes a mean Philly cheesesteak sandwich ($6.99).
Danny Mac’s Pizza, Pasta & More
1014 Clarks Lane
Jarfi’s on Broadway!
Jarfi’s Bistro has teamed up with Louisville’s PNC Broadway Across America series to offer a combined reservations service. You can now make dinner and theater reservations for an upcoming Broadway show (upcoming features include “The Lion King” and “Monty Python’s Spamalot”) with a single phone call. To add a touch of spiffy service, after you’ve dined, your server will deliver your tickets directly to your table! Call 589-5060 for more info.
Contact Robin Garr at [email protected]