Not that the case is settled, but after all these years, can’t we agree that it’s time to move on? Because there’s a new, potentially divisive pie making its way onto menus around the country that deserves our attention instead: Ladies and gentlemen of the social media debate stage, I give you pickle pizza. Discuss.
Regardless of how you feel about this development in human history, it may be time to get your talking points ready. Pickle pie is having a moment.
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It’s a new food item this year at the state fairs in Minnesota and Indiana, and announcements about it have drawn attention from local media and users of social media. Pickles have appeared among more traditional pizza shop offerings as well, from chain chains to chef pizzerias. Most often served on top of a white or ranch sauce instead of the classic red, pickles prove they are more than a novelty in the pizza topping game.
“It’s this nice sweet, tangy, tangy bite,” says Rachael Jennings, who recently opened her own pizza place, Boogy & Peel, in Washington after years as a chef at white-hot Rose’s Luxury. Pickles are the star of her Big Mac-inspired pie, which layers a version of the fast-food icon’s special sauce (spoiler alert: it’s basically Thousand Island dressing, she says) with American cheese and ground beef. Out of the blisteriest oven, the pie is topped with crunchy iceberg lettuce, slices of white onion, a slightly more special sauce – and homemade pickles.
Jennings acknowledges that her pies, whose style she calls “neo-neo-Neapolitan,” aren’t even close to traditional. “If you took this to your nonna in Sicily, she’d spit in your face,” says Jennings. “But try it and tell me it’s not tasty.”
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Many brine-loving fans agree that pickles have earned their place in the topping pantheon. While there’s no definitive history of the pickle pizza, a Nexis search for news stories indicates that after making the odd appearance at a handful of restaurants over the years, they began gaining more attention around 2018.
That year, a video of a pickle pizza being made in New York went viral, and Al Roker and his “Today” show crew brilliantly tried a pickle pie for yuks on screen — theirs came from Rhino’s Pizzeria in Upstate New York, which they proclaimed as the inventor of creation.
Since then, it’s taken off at a handful of state fairs, including in Ohio, Florida and West Virginia, as well as the Calgary Stampede — venues where gimmicky food thrives. However, the pickle pizza seems to be a breakout star.
An early innovator was Dennis Schneekloth, the owner of QC Pizza, which has two locations in Minnesota and specializes in quirky recipes (think crab rangoon and avocado toast-inspired pies). Exploring ideas for his latest oddball offering, it occurred to him to create a pizza based on a delicacy popular in the state, the pickle roll, sometimes called Minnesota sushi. That snack contains pickles slathered in cream cheese and wrapped in a slice of ham.
“I posted about it in a Facebook group and people said, ‘No, that sounds terrible,'” he says. “But I had a feeling about it.”
After some tinkering and sourcing fresh pickles that could withstand the 500-degree heat of his ovens, Schneekloth hit on what he found to be a winning combination. The base is a white sauce with garlic and dill, layered with pickles, mozzarella and strips of Canadian bacon that has been smoked for 48 hours. Because he makes his pizza Quad City style — a lesser-known genre of pie named for its origins in the region that spans four cities in Iowa and Illinois — most of the toppings go under the cheese (a final garnish of more pickles and fresh) dill crowns it all), and the pizza is cut into strips, not wedges.
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He proved his Facebook friends wrong – customers loved it. It attracted international attention when the FoodBeast blog featured his creation in 2019.
“It just blew up,” he recalls. “I was in the papers in the UK” He now sells his frozen pizzas on food delivery service Goldbelly and drives a Mercedes Sprinter van covered in pictures of pickles.
Since then, he’s seen many more pickle pies sprout up. “More power to them,” he says.
He’s back in R&D mode, working on a deep-dish pickle pizza he calls the Mega Dill. “If I can perfect this, people will buy it,” he says.
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At Slyce Coal Fired Pizza Company in Vernon Hills, Ill., pickle pizza was a recent specialty menu item. Graeme Nyland, the restaurant’s general manager, said the establishment was a team effort. He had argued for it, pointing to the mile-long lines for the pickle pizza stand at the Wisconsin State Fair, thinking they could do it in a more elevated way.
Slyce’s version used extra virgin olive oil and garlic as a base, topped with prosciutto, sliced tomato and pickles made in-house with English cucumbers. A chili oil drizzle finished it off. Nyland appreciates the star ingredient’s culinary qualities — and its divisive appeal.
“It just has that nice vinegar punch that kicks things off,” he says. “Pickles are the kind of thing that people either love them or hate them, and there are more people who love them.”