Pizza may be the ultimate have-it-your-way food, but when chefs choose the toppings, the results are often unexpected and inspiring.
This article first appeared in the 1 August 2009 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. Visit the R&I website to find out more about the magazine or to search its recipe database.
Reported by Allison Perlik, Senior Editor
The fact that pizza is so customizable is not only appealing to customers (who now can often choose their style of crust in addition to toppings at chains across the country). Chefs also view pizza as the perfect canvas for showcasing intriguing flavor combinations or seasonal ingredients or for simply having some fun (potato-chip pizza, anyone?).
Whether offered as an entrée or as a shareable appetizer at the bar, pizza can provide a price point for every budget. And there is inspiration to be found across every foodservice segment, as is evident by this collection of distinct pizzas from a range of operations across the country.
Taleggio and 3-Hour Roasted Grapes
La Madia, Chicago
On Top: Taleggio cheese, roasted grapes, dried oregano
Buzz: This signature pie from Chef-owner Jonathan Fox delivers a classically elegant pairing-cheese and grapes-in an unconventional format.
Meatball Marvel Pizza $19.99
Round Table Pizza, multiple locations
On Top: Oven-roasted meatballs, seven cheeses, caramelized onions, garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes
Buzz: The Concord, Calif.-based chain specially created the wraparound crust to support the hefty slices of this limited-time offering.
Firehouse Pizza $15.99
Shakey's, multiple locations
On Top: Spicy sliced sausage, Italian-style sausage, pepperoni, red onions, diced tomatoes, fresh basil
Buzz: This thin-crust pizza from the 50-plus-unit chain's Gourmet menu has been a big hit with meat lovers.
Vivace, Raleigh, N.C.
On Top: - Tomato sauce, fresh and shredded mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, basil
Buzz: This contemporary Italian concept, owned by Urban Food Group, offers a classic rendering of the simple Neapolitan-style pizza.
\* 10-inch pizza
Cucina Colore, Denver
On Top: - Shrimp, pancetta, marinated San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, fontina and mozzarella cheeses
Buzz: The Gamberetti-one of a handful of wood-fired pizzas on the menu at this lively, modern-Italian restaurant-has no sauce.
Shrimp & Chorizo
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Miami
On Top: - Shrimp, thin-sliced Spanish chorizo, escarole, toasted garlic, Manchego cheese
Buzz: Chef Michael Schwartz's bistro in Miami's Design District was named one of the country's top 10 new places last year by The New York Times.
Pizza PatrÁ³n, multiple locations
On Top: Chorizo, ground beef, onions, bell peppers and jalapeÁ±os
Buzz: In January, the Dallas-based Latin-influenced pizza chain introduced a cost-conscious 12-inch option as an alternative to its 15-inch signature pies.
Chicken Alfredo Pizza $13.95
Rocco's Cafe & Pizzeria, Chicago
On Top: Chicken, spinach, mushrooms, mozzarella, Alfredo sauce, grated Romano cheese
Buzz: The spinach and mushrooms are sautéed in butter and garlic before being placed on the pizza.
Potato Chip Pizza $15.00
David Burke at Bloomingdale's, New York City
On Top: House-made potato chips, mozzarella, pizza sauce, basil leaves, heirloom tomato confit
Buzz: In David Burke's typical whimsical style, thin potato chips tossed with chili flakes and Parmesan cheese give this pizza an unexpected crunch.
Joey's Italian Café, Miami
On Top: Gorgonzola, walnuts, arugula, truffle oil
Buzz: Co-owners Joey Goldman and wife Thea both have pizzas bearing their names on the menu of this 8-month-old "Italian cafe." His "Joey" features tuna, spicy salame, Gorgonzola, capers and spinach.
Verde Pizza $11.00
Bar Rosso Restaurant & Vinoteca, Aventura, Fla.
On Top: Zucchini, pesto, cauliflower, roasted pumpkin, broccoli rabe, ricotta salata
Buzz: As its name suggests, this 10-inch lunch pizza showcases seasonal green vegetables from local farmers.
Hot Italian Sausage & Herb Pizza
Taste Restaurant at the Sam, Seattle
On Top: Sliced hot Italian sausage, arugula, cheese curds, fontina cheese, fresh rosemary
Buzz: The restaurant focuses on sustainability (89% of food purchases are local); the sausage comes from a nearby family-owned organic farm.
Pizza with Smoked Salmon $24.00
Spago, multiple locations
On Top: Smoked salmon, sweet onions, dill cream, black caviar, golden caviar, red onion, chives
Buzz: The story goes, Wolfgang Puck created this signature pie by accident at his Beverly Hills flagship in 1982. Having run out of brioche for a dish of smoked salmon, Puck improvised with pizza dough.
Guanciale, Soft Egg and Arugula: Get the recipe $15.00
Serious Pie, Seattle
On Top: Guanciale slices, eggs, arugula, freshly squeezed lemon juice
Buzz: When the pizza is halfway done, a cook cracks an egg in the center and then returns the pizza to the oven. Bacon and arugula are added at the end.
Pizza with Ramps and Morels
one sixtyblue, Chicago
On Top: Ramps, morels, tomato sauce and mozzarella
Buzz: As part of a Play Dough promotion, every Friday night chef Michael McDonald serves up wood-fired pizzas for $5 at the bar of this restaurant owned by basketball legend Michael Jordan.
Pepperoni and Green Pepper
Hungry Howie's Pizza, multiple locations
On Top: Pepperoni and green peppers
Buzz Pizza is shown here on a sesame crust, but customers at the Madison Heights, Mich.-based chain can choose from seven other flavored crusts, such as Cajun, Ranch or Garlic Herb.
Sausage, Peppers and Oregano
Nove Italiano, Las Vegas
On Top: House-made hot and sweet sausage, peppers, oregano, bufala mozzarella and fontina cheeses
Buzz: Dramatic views and Swarovski- crystal chandeliers elevate sausage pizza to fine cuisine at this restaurant atop the Palms Casino Resort. At the bar, a similar version sells for $9.00.
Chicken Bacon Artichoke deLITE
Papa Murphy's Take ‘N' Bake Pizza, multiple locations
On Top: Creamy garlic sauce, mozzarella, bacon, grilled chicken, fresh spinach, marinated artichoke hearts, shredded Parmesan, zesty herbs
Buzz: The deLITE pizzas have half the carbs and calories.
Chicken Spinach Mozzarella $13.09
Donatos, multiple locations
On Top: Fresh mozzarella, roasted chicken, roasted garlic, Roma tomatoes, basil, fresh spinach
Buzz: One of three specialty pies on the Columbus, Ohio-based chain's menu that features fresh mozzarella.
Sweet Pea and Guanciale Pizza $14.00
Motorino, New York City
On Top: Sweet peas, guanciale, fior di latte, garlic
Buzz: Chef Mathieu Palombino's authentic wood-fired Neapolitan pizzas use house-made mozzarella and have won the praise of Mario Batali.
Mushroom Flatbread $8.00
On Top: Portobello and shiitake mushrooms, caramelized shallots, tetilla cheese, green onions, chives
Buzz: New to the tapas-focused menu at Stephen Starr's energetic nightspot, the oblong flatbreads are topped with tetilla, a Spanish cheese made in Galicia from cow's milk.
Cheeseless Hoisin Pork and Vegetable Pizza
University of San Francisco (Bon Appétit)
On Top: Braised pork, hoisin-barbecue sauce, shredded carrots, cilantro, pickled cucumber
Buzz: Created for Low Carbon Diet Day (cheese is considered a high-carbon food), this was a hit with students.
*Price is per slice
Neapolitan Thin Crust Pizza
On Top: Sun-dried tomatoes, roasted mushrooms, roasted garlic, mozzarella, Parmesan, fresh basil
Buzz: The thin-crust flatbread was developed for the contractor's business clients, but is available across all the segments it serves.
Pizza Rustica Rapini Florets
ZYLO, Hoboken, N.J.
On Top: Blanched rapini, black olives, confit tomatoes, ricotta salata, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Tuscan olive oil
Buzz: Chef Tory Unruh is known for his Pizza Rustica, offered for $5 on Fridays during a special summerlong promotion. His Al Prosciutto version has prosciutto, shaved fontina, red-onion marmellata and baby arugula.
Cucina, Woodstock, N.Y.
On Top: White beans, cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs
Buzz: All eyes are on this new Italian concept by Lois Freedman, longtime partner of Jean-Georges Management, and renowned chef Gianni Scappin, who is currently teaching at The Culinary Institute of America.
Potato Breakfast Pizza
On Top: Roasted potato, fresh parsley, rosemary, mozzarella, eggs (cooked sunny-side up as pizza bakes)
Buzz: Mimosas or Bloody Marys are the perfect accompaniment to this fresh-from-the-wood-fire-oven pizza on the restaurant's Sunday brunch menu.
Milanesa Pizza $14.00
Pizzeria Ortica, Costa Mesa, Calif.
On Top: Asparagus, fried egg, fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano, mascarpone, mozzarella, garlic, thyme, sage
Buzz: Chef Steve Samson shares his pizza-making secrets with customers during Saturday Cooking Classes, held the first and third weekend of every month.
Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria, Seattle
On Top: Extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, slivered garlic, roasted asparagus, roasted onions, rosemary ham, fresh mozzarella, Grana Padano
Buzz: This chain (with four local units) is a Vera Pizza Napoletana (VPN) certified pizzeria.
Maxwell's at the Club, Chicago
On Top: Sautéed spinach, sautéed mushrooms (shiitake, cremini and oyster), red onion, tomato sauce, low-fat mozzarella
Buzz: Part-skim cheese helps keep this pizza under 400 calories, fitting for a restaurant located inside a fitness facility.
Fig and Prosciutto Pizza $11.00*
kil@wat at the InterContinental, Milwaukee
On Top: Shaved fennel, fresh fig, white anchovies, goat cheese, red onion, roasted garlic, watercress
Buzz: The sweet flavors of fennel and figs and peppery watercress are a surprising partner for goat cheese in this contemporary, Mediterranean-inspired pizza.
Grilled Balsamic Radicchio and Avocado Flatbread $6.00
Morrison Healthcare Food Services, Atlanta
On Top: Roasted garlic-basil pesto, radicchio, balsamic vinegar, tomatoes, avocado, mozzarella, ancho-chile sauce (drizzled)
Buzz: The pizza is part of the company's Flavors 450 menu, with more than 60 rotating items under 450 calories.
Chicken Caesar and Parmesan $9.75
Sauce, multiple locations
On Top: Mozzarella and fontina cheeses, romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, shredded and grated Parmesan cheese
Buzz: The salad is prepared separately then placed on top of the cooked crust, which is blanketed with melted cheese.
Numero Uno Pizza $17.99
Uno Chicago Grill, multiple locations
On Top: Sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, mushrooms, chunky tomato sauce, mozzarella, grated Romano
Buzz: Ike Sewell, founder of Chicago's original Pizzeria Uno, is credited with inventing deep-dish pizza. Also available as an individual portion for $10.49.
Mango Chicken Pizza
Pandini's, multiple locations
On Top: Roasted chicken, fresh mango chutney, mozzarella, golden curry sauce
Buzz: Sodexo's retail restaurant development group, Retail Brand Group Inc. operates this upscale pizza concept which opened a second location in Germantown, Md., this past July.
Carchofas Pizza $16.00
On Top: Ricotta, scamorza cheese, artichokes, caramelized onions, olive oil
Buzz: Similar to mozzarella, scamorza-a firm, slightly salty cheese with a mild, nutty flavor-is the star of this white pizza.
BBQ Chicken Pizza $18.00
Pizza Fusion, multiple locations
On Top: Free-range chicken, barbecue sauce, roasted red onion, fresh garlic, basil, mozzarella, provolone and Parmesan cheeses
Buzz: The eco-friendly Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based chain with an all-organic menu delivers its signature 18-by-9-inch oval pizzas in hybrid vehicles.
Hawaiian Chicken Pizza
Marco's Pizza, multiple locations
On Top: Ham, chicken, bacon, pineapple, three-cheese blend
Buzz: The Toledo, Ohio-based chain uses a proprietary mix of cheeses and offers its pizzas on classic or thin crust, as well as deep dish in some locations.
California Pizza Kitchen, multiple locations
On Top: Ground beef, caramelized sweet onions, mozzarella and American cheeses, Roma tomatoes, shredded lettuce tossed in CPK's secret sauce
Buzz: This whimsical pie is one of five new pizzas to join the menu of 35.
Alsatian Pizza $9.00
The Smith, New York City
On Top: Bacon, caramelized onions, crème fraÁ®che
Buzz: The rustic flatbreads of northeastern France inspired this appetizer pizza at the trendy East Village neighborhood joint. Crème fraÁ®che stands in for cheese.
Loaded Baked Potato Pizza $6.99
Stevi B's, multiple locations
On Top: Creamy ranch sauce, baked-potato slices, crispy bacon, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses
Buzz: Baked Potato is one of the most-popular varieties at this Marietta, Ga.-based pizza-buffet chain.
Pear and Gorgonzola Rustica $8.95
zpizza, multiple locations
On Top: Mozzarella, Gorgonzola, pears, fresh thyme
Buzz: The free-form pizza is part of the fast-growing Irvine, Calif.-based chain's new Rustica line. Guests who want to build their own pies can choose from soy cheese, truffle oil, Thai peanut sauce and roasted yams among other unique ingredients.
Salt Cod, Spring Onion and Black Olive Pizza
Café Castagna, Portland, Ore.
On Top: Brandade, garlic-infused olive oil, sliced torpedo onions, Italian parsley, cured olives
Buzz: Salt cod is made into brandade (a purée with potato) and dollops of it are placed across the pizza, which is served with lemon wedges.
Philly Cheese Steak Pizza
Domino's Pizza, multiple locations
On Top: Steak, onions, green peppers, mushrooms, provolone and American cheeses (on provolone crust)
Buzz: Domino's introduced this pizza earlier this year as part of its American Legends line; other examples include Memphis BBQ Chicken and Honolulu Hawaiian.
Yerba Buena, New York City
On Top: Berkshire ham, pulled suckling pig, Swiss cheese, pickles, coffee-barbecue sauce, mustard-chipotle sauce, chives, flour-tortilla crust
Buzz: Executive chef Julian Medina puts a creative spin on Latin cuisine with his interpretation of the Cuban sandwich as pizza.
Macaroni and Cheese Pizza $4.99
CiCi's Pizza, multiple locations
On Top: Cavatappi pasta, signature cheese sauce, mozzarella
Buzz: Unexpected yet familiar, the creamy cheese and curly pasta topping this pie make it a favorite with kids and teenagers in particular.
Crumbled Fennel Sausage, Caramelized Onions, Crushed Chile
The Lazy Goat, Greenville, S.C.
On Top: Fennel sausage, caramelized onions, crushed chile, olive oil, fontina cheese
Buzz: In addition to fennel, the house-made pork sausage featured on this pizza is seasoned with cumin and crushed red pepper.
Rosso's Loaded Pizza
Rosso's pizzeria (USC Hospitality), Los Angeles
On Top: Mozzarella, pepperoni, sweet peppers, onions, sausage, mushrooms
Buzz: USC Hospitality operates 32 dining concepts at the University of Southern California, plus several off-campus concepts such as this one on the college's Restaurant Row.
*18 inches (or $3 per slice)
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va.
On Top: Olive oil, garlic, oregano, feta, spinach, mozzarella-provolone blend, tomatoes, Spanish artichoke hearts, sliced black olives
Buzz: The pizza is offered on whole-wheat crust at Olives, a vegetarian and vegan shop within all-you-care-to-eat dining facility, D2.
Chicken Alfredo Pizza
American Fork Hospital, American Fork, Utah (Intermountain Healthcare)
On Top: Chicken breast, fresh mushrooms, red onions, black olives, fresh spinach, garlic, grated Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, Alfredo sauce
Buzz: The hospital's specialty pizzas are available by the slice for $2.59.
Moroccan Eggplant and Pine Nut Pizza
Sodexo Corporate Services, Gaithersburg, Md.
On Top: Grilled eggplant, fire-roasted red peppers, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, fresh oregano
Buzz: The foodservice contractor offers these individual pizzas to its business-and-industry accounts.
*8 inches; price varies