By Robin Garr
If you’ve long harbored a wish to go viral on social media but didn’t know where to start, here’s a modest proposal: Speak of your undying love for pizza topped with pineapple … and anchovies.
That should do it, and if it costs you a few lost friends and followers, well, that’s the price of fame.
What is it about pizza that makes it such a natural topic for conversation and even debate? Well, just about everyone loves this Italian-born treat, and just about everyone has strong opinions about what we like … and what we don’t.
Thick crust or thin? Or some golden mean in between? Lots of tomato sauce, or just a schmear? Speaking of that sauce, do you want it spicy or mild? How about cheese? Just about everyone is down with cheese, but which cheese? Mozzarella, Parmigian’, a little of both, or something off the beaten path like caciocavallo or maybe vegan cheese?
And then there’s the toppings battle. Woooeee! When I mentioned pineapple with anchovies, did you respond positively? Anyone? I didn’t think so. Let’s talk about favorite pizza toppings today, and not-so-favorite items too.
Pineapple: Ooooh or ugggh?
I mentioned pineapple, so let’s begin with pineapple, the pizza topping that just about everyone loves to hate. Why put a Hawaiian fruit on an Italian treat? Just because we can, apparently. This is by no means a new phenomenon. I ran into it in Boise, Idaho, of all places, back in the Jurassic era – okay, the ‘70s – in a blend with Canadian bacon billed as “Hawaiian Delight.” I did not partake. The all-knowing Internet tells us that the idea originated in Chatham, Canada in 1954, when Greek immigrant Sam Panopoulos created the first Hawaiian pizza at his restaurant, Satellite, located in Chatham, Ontario, Canada.
In a 2017 interview with the BBC, unchastened at 83, Panopoulous said he and his brothers “just put it on, just for the fun of it, see how it was going to taste.” They said enjoyed the contrast between the pineapple’s sweetness and the savory flavor of the ham that they used with it.
Apparently a substantial number of pizza lovers agree. In a 2021 survey by YouGov.com, an internet pollster, 34% of respondents gave thumbs down to pineapple, enough to rank it as the nation’s fifth-most disliked topping. It was outpolled, though, by broccoli (39%), artichokes (44%), eggplant (52%), and, trailing badly, the much-loathed anchovy (61%).
What’s the problem with pineapple? Panopoulous wasn’t really wrong: Sweet and salty flavors can work together. But pineapple is not traditional on pizza, and for many of us, that’s reason enough. “Hard no on pineapple,” a friend said. “It’s pizza, not a luau.”
So how about that finding that anchovies are America’s most hated topping? In an extended social-media discussion, one friend dismissed the hairy little salty fishes as “basically bait.” But another begged to differ: “Anchovies are the best! Tasty little salt bombs that get ripped by folks that’ve never tried them.”
Unlike pineapple, anchovies are as historic as it gets in the pizza universe; they’re recorded as present, with tomatoes, in Naples’ first pizzas in the 1600s. They may indeed trace all the way back to ancient Rome’s garum, a fermented fish paste akin to early Worcestershire sauce.
So we can’t knock them on the basis of tradition, but let’s face it: They’re strong, salty, and fishy, and that’s not for everyone.
Looking on the bright side, the YouGov survey found pepperoni the most-liked topping, garnering approval from 64% of poll participants. It was followed in fairly close order by sausage (56%), mushrooms (54%), extra cheese (52%), and onions (48%). The Louisville-based trade journal Pizza Today concurred in the top four, but moved rising star bacon into its top five in a report this year.
My social-media conversation drew about 150 responses at last count, and most of the mavens there assembled seemed to agree with these findings. Pepperoni and sausage clearly emerged as crowd favorites, with mushrooms and cheese in hot pursuit. More controversial options included green peppers and olives (black or green) which mustered separate crews of lovers and haters.
One thing’s for sure: Louisville’s pizzeria community offers plenty of toppings to choose from. A random check of menus found selections ranging from 21 at Wick’s and 28 at Impellizzeri’s (pineapple but no anchovies at the spots) to 41 at both Coals and Boombozz (which both offer anchovies and pineapple and much more). Pay your money and make your choice.
Is margherita a topping?
Pizza margherita may be my favorite way to enjoy the worthy Italian pie. But is it a topping? I’m not so sure. Still, quite a few friends agreed that it is the pizza de la pizza. (That’s a margherita from Coal’s Artisan Pizza pictured at the top of the page.)
Created in the 1880s and patriotically named after Margherita of Savoy, the first Queen of unified Italy, pizza Margherita’s simple ingredients – ripe tomatoes, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese – were chosen to represent the red, green and white colors of the then-new Italian flag. It’s no coincidence that these ingredients, baked on top of a well-constructed pizza, bring together the ultimate in classic Italian flavors. I love it!
Finally, how about that crust?
I’ve never understood people who eat the saucy part and leave the bones – the golden, char-spotted deliciousness of the properly puffy and chewy edges – to be discarded. The proper pie is about toppings, sauce, and bread all three, and none of these components is optional.
But do we want it thick, thin, or deep? The YouGov.com survey found Americans narrowly divided between thin crust pizza (31% preferred it) and regular (29%). Fewer than one in five (18%) like the deep-dish style, and most of them may be in Chicago. I like a crust that’s thin enough to be foldable if I want to carry it around, but thick enough to hold up the ingredients. How about you?