First, a note of clarification with regard to what I’m calling “Jewish pizza.” I’m not talking about pizza ebraica, Italian for “Jewish pizza” (literally “Hebraic pizza”), which refers to the fluffy pizza-esque flatbread topped with caramelized sugar, toasted nuts, and candied citrus peel, berries, or raisins. It’s definitely a delicious piece-a-pizza, but not the subject of this piece. Sorry, kids.
This kind of Jewish pizza has been given a Jewish twist. Just as other ethnic and religious groups have put their own unique spin on traditional versions brought to America by Italian immigrants, so too have Jews made pizza their own through innovative construction and composition.
Read on for the best examples, from pizza inspired by a bagel and cream cheese, to pastrami pizza.
1. Pizza With House Smoked Salmon, Spago
Ironically, one can argue that a Roman Catholic Austrian emigre by the name of Wolfgang Puck deserves credit for starting the Jewish pizza trend in the early 1980s when, on a whim, he significantly modified the standard recipe. According to legend, Hollywood heavy-hitter Joan Collins requested smoked salmon with brioche during her visit to Puck’s Spago restaurant in Los Angeles. The kitchen was out of bread so Puck substituted pizza dough and, using the classic bagel and cream cheese as inspiration, layered it with dill creme fraiche, salmon, red onions, and fresh dill. Two decades later, Puck’s improvisation is a permanent feature of Spago’s menu.
2. Wild Smoked Salmon Pizza, La Fiamma
Puck prompted others to hop on the piscine bandwagon, including Ken Bothman, pizza maestro at La Fiamma, who uses his grandfather’s top-secret recipe for salmon smoked over hickory as the star protein for this pie. Other luscious ingredients competing for attention (in a good way!) are earthy niblets of roasted garlic and red peppers, an aromatic cilantro-almond-caper pesto, and mozzarella and chevre cheeses.
3. Pastrami Pizza, Downey Pizza Company
Another spot in Los Angeles is well-known for its “turf” rather than “surf’ take on Jewish pizza. “Home of the Famous Pastrami Pizza,” Downey Pizza Company has amassed a massive following for its pie that approximates the iconic cured meat sandwich by stacking its cheese pizza with pastrami, pickles, and mustard. Be forewarned: a “mini” will satisfy more than a miniature appetite.
4. Reuben Pizza, Skinner’s Pub
St. Paul’s Skinner’s Pub offers an homage to another traditional Jewish deli sammie with its Reuben pizza loaded with tangy sauerkraut, swiss cheese, corned beef, and liberal drizzles of Russian dressing. As when eating the eponymous sandwich, you will need both hands to support the hefty slices of this pie and should be prepared for some spillage. If you need a break in between bites, listen to the live music offered al fresco on the patio in nice weather.
5. Paul’s Boutique, Speedy Romeo
New York’s Lower East Side outpost of Speedy Romeo offers their own froufrou spin on Jewish pizza to suit the tastes of their well-heeled patronage via the Paul’s Boutique. This far-from-pedestrian pie is a classy convention of pastrami, sauerkraut made from sweet, smoky red cabbage, fontina cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and heady béchamel. And what better bed for this bougie assemblage of toppings? An everything bagel crust for the pizza, that has, well, everything.
What’s next? Gefilte fish pies? Um, maybe not. A deep-dish chicken liver pie topped with gribenes atop a schmalz-brushed crust? Actually, that sounds kind of delicious!