Pizza purists, we apologize in advance, but this won't be a discussion about the perfect balance of sauce, cheese and crust thickness. Instead, for National Pizza Month, we're spotlighting Connecticut pies that push the envelope with non-traditional, creative and downright wacky toppings and combinations.
Hot Dog PizzaWith Curly Fries And Bacon
Price: mini, $7.87; small, $10.40; medium, $14.89; large, $19.20
This sauce-free pie at Bella Napoli in Milford and Stratford is loaded with children's-menu favorites: sliced Hummel hot dogs, bacon and crispy seasoned curly fries. (And yes, our server offered us ketchup.)
Owner Jimmy Zeko says the popular specialty pie is indeed influenced by children's palates, but little ones aren't the only ones flocking to it: "It's a good party food, good football food. We sell quite a few."
In 29 years of business, "there's things that come up every few years, different trends come up," Zeko says. Other top-selling pies include Philly cheese steak, pulled barbecue pork and a "Santa Fe" with grilled chicken, peppers, onions and chipotle sauce; and two salad pies, topped with fresh greens and veggies. bellanapolipizzaonline.com.
Skippy's Dare(Yes, A Peanut Butter Pie!)
Price: 12-inch, $15.90; 16-inch, $19.20; 18-inch, $21.20
"Don't knock it until you try it," Randy's Wooster Street Pizza's menu reads, urging an open mind for this unorthodox combination. At the Manchester pizzeria, a few tablespoons of smooth Skippy peanut butter serve as a "sauce" for this pie, layered with circles of provolone, generous crumbles of bacon and shredded mozzarella.
Founder Randy Price says the pie's inspiration comes from his childhood, when his mother used to make peanut butter sandwiches with bacon.
"The provolone has a nutty-type flavor, kind of mellow, not too abrasive," he says of the pizza's components.
The Skippy's Dare has become a staple at the annual Big E fair in West Springfield, where Randy's Wooster Street has manned a vendor booth in the Connecticut state building for several years. Price often has to explain to customers that the pizza isn't a "Big E gimmick," but rather, it's been on his restaurants' menus for 25 years. He estimates he sells about 2,000 slices of the pizza on average during the fall fair's 17-day stretch, and says the booth was on track to sell about 2,500 in 2016.
Price's restaurants have long embraced unique specialty pies, introducing pizzas with smashed potatoes, ham and cheese; smoked salmon with asparagus and Havarti, and breakfast creations with eggs, cheeses and meats. His latest project is Pizza One, a Hot Wheels-themed truck with a mobile brick oven, that services birthday parties and other special functions. Information: 860-649-1166.
Grilled Peach (And Prosciutto)
"I always like doing a fruit [topping]," owner Vinnie Carbone says of the thin-crust pizzas at Carbone's Kitchen, the casual Bloomfield sibling of Hartford landmark Carbone's Ristorante. In the past, they've experimented with sweet-and-savory combinations using figs, apples and pears.
The most recent iteration features seasoned peach slices and a spread of ricotta atop a thin stretch of grilled dough. After it's baked in the oven, the pizza gets its final touches: lemon olive oil-dressed fresh arugula, slices of prosciutto di Parma, a scattering of pecans and drizzle of saba.
"It's kind of crunchy-fruity-savory … it's just a cool combination," Carbone says. carboneskitchen.com.
Macaroni And Cheese
Wood-n-Tap's macaroni and cheese pizza, aptly described by executive chef Sean De La Rosa as a "carb explosion," is a starch lovers' dream. Cooked ditalini pasta, tossed in a chipotle cream sauce, is spread out on the dough and joined by a mixture of shredded cheeses, bacon and more carbs: a scattering of bread crumbs. The oblong pie is finished with chopped green onions.
"It's a strange combination but when you have it, it makes sense," says De La Rosa. " It's definitely like a college dorm kind of dish."
Customers will often add a protein as a topping, says De La Rosa, like blackened chicken or even grilled shrimp. The bacon cheeseburger pizza is another big seller, with chopped grilled hamburger, caramelized onions, bacon, Jack and cheddar cheeses, chopped pickles, honey Dijon and ketchup. woodntap.com.
Thanksgiving Dinner (Cranberry Sauce Optional)
Price: small, $13.29; medium, $17.55; large, $19.94
Pizzeria da Vinci's Thanksgiving pie is for those who are just as excited about the Turkey Day leftovers as they are for the meal itself. Thin-crust dough gets a spread of gravy, followed by mozzarella, dollops of mashed potatoes and stuffing, pulled turkey breast that's roasted in-house, and optional (and recommended) small spoonfuls of canned cranberry sauce.
The specialty pizza is available at the Hebron and Ellington locations. It's a seasonal item, appearing on the menu in early September and running through the November holiday, and the restaurant sells hundreds of them, says Arthur McDonald, Hebron's manager. "On a typical Friday night, we'll sell 30 to 40 Thanksgivings."
It's also often available by the slice ($2.75). davincict.com.
Fairfield's Brick + Wood is certified by Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani (APN), which requires hours of training and strict adherence to specific ingredients and techniques. But there's still room for fun experimentation, like the pizzeria's desserts.
The s'mores pie, owner Clara Cavalli's creation, is the menu's top-selling sweet, a blend of Nutella, graham cracker crumbs and marshmallows layered onto pizza dough. The dough is then wrapped into a calzone shape, which protects the ingredients, keeping the chocolate-hazelnut spread melty and the marshmallows gooey. It's topped with olive oil, a sprinkle of sugar in the raw and more marshmallows.
That structure was designed for best consistency, Cavalli says. She found that on an open-faced crust, the Nutella would burn and dry out immediately in the 1,000-degree oven. But that same intense heat transforms the marshmallows atop the dough — after one minute in the wood-fired oven, they're perfectly roasted, with crisp, smoky golden-brown shells and soft, oozy interiors.
"My whole goal with that [pizza] was to get those marshmallows toasted like a campfire," Cavalli says. Brick + Wood also offers a cheesecake pizza, with sea salt caramel. lovelifeandpizza.com.
Escargot PieSnails? On Pizza? Oui!
Confetti! in Plainville, which added a new wood-fired brick oven to its kitchen nearly two years ago, added escargot to its lineup of artisanal pies after seeing guests enjoy it as an appetizer.
"The garlic and the butter [sauce], people dip bread in it, and one day we're just standing here and thinking about it," says Confetti! owner Peter Lemnotis. "Pizza crust is a natural 'bread.' Let's put the garlic butter on there, a little cheese, and see what happens."
The escargot pie starts with dough that produces a crust that Lemnotis calls "Neo-New Haven," somewhere between the classic Neapolitan and Elm City pizza styles. Once it's stretched, it's topped with the shelled snails, mozzarella, small scoops of garlic butter and roasted white mushrooms.
Lemnotis estimates Confetti! sells about 10 escargot pizzas each week – "It's not a big flier … it's a love-hate thing" — but those who try it tend to like it, he says.
Other popular pies include the Joan, with fresh mozzarella, truffle-oiled arugula and prosciutto; the Pig Pen, with pepperoni, sausage and bacon and the eggplant Parmesan with caramelized onion, basil and provolone. Pizzaiolo Jerry Daniels also recently experimented with a fried green tomato pie, balancing the seasonal produce with chorizo and a ginger-honey-Sriracha drizzle. idineconfetti.com.