If you haven’t noticed, generic delivery pizza is becoming less of a culinary archetype and more of an artifact, and millions of pizza lovers in this country have helped elevate it to something far more experiential. While there’s nothing wrong with the simplicity of classic staple toppings like tomato and mozzarella, nowadays fortune clearly favors the brave when it comes to ingredients. In fact, I’d venture to say the best thing about American pizza is the way it’s constantly being reinvented. Pies are blank canvases of doughy crust — a true tabula rasa — that layer after layer get transformed into discus-shaped delights. We, with our discerning pizza palettes, are no longer content with plain ol’ pepperoni and mundane mushrooms; we want slices that shock and awe. The only real rule for building a bold, pie masterpiece (masterpie, if you will) is that it tastes awesome in the end.
Now as you may or may not know, a good majority of us here at Cooking Channel live in New York City, and as you may or may not have heard, the vast majority of New Yorkers are big, giant pizza snobs. And listen, I get it. Without New York’s Little Italy, American pizza would not be what it is today. This is where pizza in America began and now you literally can not walk five blocks without passing an array of independently-owned pizza joints. Barring Chicago (and let’s get real, Chi-town, I’m from NC and even I know deep dish isn’t really pizza — it’s a casserole) and Naples, pizza’s birthplace, it’s rare we hear of places rivaling New York’s caliber of pizza … at least that used to be the case.
This Sunday, Cooking Channel’s in hot pursuit of famed “masterpie” builders on Pizza Outside the Box, and we’re traveling coast to coast in search of them. Not only have we discovered ten of the most deliciously daring and unorthodox pizza pies in the country, but guess what? NONE of them are in New York! Not a one. Whether grilled in Rhode Island or baked in a thousand degree oven in Boulder, Napoletana-style or with an Asian twist, each of these pizzas are famous for their unique ingredients and flavor combinations. Forget everything you thought you knew about pizza, and see where and why customers clamor for awesome out-of-the-box taste. My two personal faves intrigue me both in terms of their inventive toppings as well as their surprisingly rural locations.
Let’s start with the phenomenon pictured above. Folks, meet the Mac and Cheese pizza. To enjoy a slice of this cheesy and carbtastic pie you’ll need to head to the heartlands. Madison, Wisconsin is home to over 13,000 dairy farms and produces over 130 million pounds of cheese every year. Knowing how much this college town loved their cheese, Ian Gurfield, owner of Ian’s Pizza, felt confident a mac and cheese pizza could work. And work, it did. Covered with cooked macaroni (that gets slightly crispy in the oven), a blend of mozzarella and sharp Wisconsin cheddar and drizzled with tangy, creamy creme fresh, this pie was an instant home run with the college crowd. One girl calls it the perfect “breakup food.” I’d swap a carton of Ben and Jerry’s for a slice of this any day.
In Fayetville, West Virginia — yes I said West Virginia — Pies and Pints’ chef and co-owner David Bailey is making culinary waves with his innovative pizzas, including his signature Grape Pie (pictured below). Beginning with a base of provolone and mozzarella cheese, he liberally sprinkles his dough with sweet and juicy red grapes cut in half, salty crumbles of gorgonzola and fresh rosemary. The sweet and salty combo has the whole town hooked, as well as the multitude of outdoor enthusiasts that visit the area for recreation. It certainly gives me a hankerin’ to hit up those country roads where (perhaps) I belong, after all.