Trends in toppings: Unexpected choices offered on pizzas

Trends in toppings: Unexpected choices offered on pizzas

April 28th, 2013 by Susan Pierce in Dish2013

The Community Pie's Margherita Pizza is topped with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, basil, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.

Photo by Connor Choate/Times Free Press.

Pepperoni may be the "go-to topping" on pizzas, but pizza restaurants are tempting customers to broaden their dining experience by adding a variety of tastes to their menus.

Try swapping Italian sausage for lamb sausage? Mozzarella for goat cheese?

New and nontraditional flavors on pizza menus are the trend as restaurants find their customers are developing more sophisticated tastes.

"You are always going to have people who come in and order what they consider a 'Supreme,'" says Virginia Brooks at Mellow Mushroom on Shallowford Road, "but we have people who come in and read the menu and see we offer shrimp, a cheese they've never heard of or shiitake mushrooms and want to try them."

For instance, Mellow Mushroom offers pizzas such as the Thai Dye with curry chicken, mozzarella, roma tomatoes, basil, cucumbers and sweet Thai chili sauce. The menu also includes tofu or shrimp on pizzas, ricotta cheese in calzones, even vegan cheese.

Community Pie, Chattanooga's newest pizza place downtown on Market Street, specializes in the unusual -- both in crust ingredients and toppings.

Steve Crossman, Community Pie manager, says the business has built its name on authentic Neapolitan-style pizza made fresh with flour and tomatoes imported from Italy. His company also promotes buying locally produced ingredients.

"All the honey we use comes from Hixson. We have 14 pizzas on the menu, but have probably 22 we have recipes for that we'll use when local farm products come into season," says Crossman.

"We have sweet fig pizza or a lamb sausage pizza, which has fresh mozzarella and olive oil and tomato sauce. We do a pork confit, where pork is slow-cooked, then pulled apart and put on the pizza with calabrian chilies, hand-torn basil, mozzarella and sea salt," he says.

Other choices include the eggplant caponata and the Nueske's Bacon Pizza, which combines fingerling potatoes, fontina, Tilamook sharp white cheddar and arugula and caramelized onions.

Even pizza chains are acknowledging the expanding tastes of their customers with new menu additions.

Papa Murphy's -- already different because it builds the pizza but the customer takes it home to bake -- offers four new tastes.

"We have have an Herb Chicken Mediterranean, which comes with feta cheese, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. It doesn't have a sauce, but has minced garlic and olive oil for the base," says Chip Baldwin, owner of the Papa Murphy's in Cleveland, Tenn., one of three Papa Murphy's in the area.

Baldwin also recommends the Thai Chicken DeLite which has a super-thin crust and is topped with chicken, onions and zucchini, sweet chili sauce and crushed red pepper flakes on top.

"It's a sweet-heat pizza," says Baldwin.

Other popular choices include the chicken-bacon pizza with seasoned artichoke hearts and the Taco Grande Pizza. The latter combines a refried bean and salsa mix to create the base instead of pizza sauce. The customer's choice of either chicken or hamburger is spiced with taco seasoning then loaded onto the base along with black olives, tomatoes, green onions, jalapenos and banana peppers.

"If people will try these combinations of pizzas, if they are willing to take a chance and deviate from straight pepperoni pizza, they'll find that the unique blend of flavors will attract them to come back and do it again," says Baldwin.

He encourages customers to try something new.

"I tell people that 'You gotta give it two bites.' The first bite you're like 'Hmm, that doesn't taste like pizza to me.' By the second, you really enjoy it."

Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at spierce@times freepress.com or 423-757-6284.