Kurt Evans knows what you think about pineapple on pizza.
“When people put pineapple on pizza, it usually goes from the raw state with a lot of water,” he says. “So then it’s under high heat, it’s gonna extrude some water, and it’s going to dry up.”
But you haven’t tried his pizza. The chef and activist, along with business partner Muhammed Abdul-Hadi and chef Michael Carter, opened the pizza shop Down North in March. The mission-driven restaurant aiming to combat mass incarceration is selling frico-crusted Detroit-style pizzas in North Philadelphia. One of the most popular pizzas he sells is called the Flip Side. Like all his dense and delicious pies, it’s named for a song from a Philadelphia artist — this one by rapper Freeway. The Flip Side is topped with barbecue beef bacon (Evans and Abdul-Hadi are Muslim, so all of the products are halal and pork-free), plus jalapeños and pineapple.
He wouldn’t dream of using the controversial fruit straight from a can. Instead, the chef caramelises pineapples with a little sugar in the same pan used to cook the beef bacon. “We already changed the complexity of it before it even hits the oven,” he says. The result is a glorious merger — the pineapple’s sweet acidity pops through the rich bacon in a way that makes perfect sense. Even on pizza. Especially on pizza.
Evans is one of a growing number of chefs making legit pies that happen to be topped with tropical fruit, taking a torch to every cutting opinion you thought you had about pineapple on pizza.
Hawaiian pizza — typically layered with ham and pineapple — was invented in Ontario, Canada, in the early 1960s. Sam Panopoulos, a Greek immigrant and owner of Satellite restaurant, added the sweet and salty toppings to his pizzas on a whim, and customers loved it. But the tide turned over the decades, and the combo has faced its share of controversy. A survey conducted in 2019 found a majority of responders don’t consider fruit a pizza topping. The famously outspoken Gordon Ramsey choked down two bites for charity, then promptly rinsed with mouthwash, and even Iceland’s president weighed in, when in 2017 he said he’d like to pass a law that banned pineapple on pizza. But recently, the topping has been making a comeback, fueled by chefs and pizzaiolos who are rolling out new versions — ones with stellar ingredients, inventive pairings, and serious dough.
After trying a variety of fruit on pizza at Pasadena’s U Street Pizza, chef Chris Keyser is unabashedly pro-pineapple. He’s in the process of testing a combo for a white pie, with fior di latte mozzarella and fresh cream as a base, with caramelised pineapple, Jimmy Nardello peppers, thinly-sliced, al pastor spice-rubbed roasted porchetta, and pickled Fresno chillies, layered on their two-day-fermented dough.
Their guests loved it so much, in fact, that when the collaboration ended, they added their own version of Hawaiian pizza to the menu, with smoked mozzarella, prosciutto cotto, fresh pineapple, jalapeño, and parmesan — all on the pizzeria’s signature four-ingredient, hand-stretched dough. “Hawaiian pizza is divisive, and most Italians think it’s ridiculous, but there’s no denying that it’s a tasty pizza and the flavours pair well together,” Wallace says. “It’s not for everyone, but we do sell a ton of it.”
The same goes at Little Original Joe’s in San Francisco, where the Hawaiian Punch pizza with pineapple, red onion, pickled jalapeño, and rosemary prosciutto cotto is one of the restaurant’s top sellers. Co-owner Elena Duggan agrees that pineapple pizza can be polarising, but, she says, “people that love it really love it.” Duggan credits the pie’s popularity with its complex flavour profile, thanks to the “herbaceous hint from the rosemary” plus the pickled jalapeño sprinkled on top. Together, the ingredients “achieve the perfect balance of sweet, salty, and spicy,” she says, noting, “It adds a bright, acidic “punch” of flavour.”
Matt Molina, chef and co-owner, along with Nancy Silverton, of Triple Beam Pizza in Los Angeles, doesn’t think pineapple on pizza is even so controversial these days. Perhaps it’s a testament to how undeniably well the flavours mesh, and how thoughtfully he and his colleagues consider the ingredients. They don’t use canned pineapple, instead opting for fresh, raw, shaved pineapple. “It’s key,” he says. “It’s a totally different thing.” At the Roman-style pizzeria with two LA locations, the pineapple, thinly-sliced prosciutto, and jalapeño come cut and sold by the weight. “Overall, it’s the salty, sweet, agrodolce kind of situation that Italians love,” says the chef.
Back at Down North, Kurt Evans is busy swaying firmly-rooted opinions with his version of pineapple pizza. Philadelphia-based food photographer Ted Nghiem reluctantly admits that he’s a fan. “I’m still a pineapple pizza sceptic,” he says. “I still won’t go out of my way for pineapple on pizza. But at Down North, I will.”
This story first appeared on www.foodandwine.com
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