Pizza purists seem pretty clear—too many toppings spoil the pie. The same disdain is extended to the wrong kind of toppings; some things just don’t belong on pizza, they say. And yet, each dictum brings with it another rebellious, avant garde pizza-maker who sits up at night thinking of yet new ways to top pizza. Even here in the Scruffy City itself, rebellion foments all around. Here, we uncover some of Knoxville’s pizza rule-breakers and reveal their comestible challenges to the establishment.
To look at owners Sahide and Saira Masood, you wouldn’t imagine that they’d ever do anything outrageous—except perhaps to swat you if you tried to add ketchup to some Tikka Masala. But at Red Onion, the Masoods mix up their popular pizza menu in outrageous ways. Unbeknownst to many an innocent passer-by, Red Onion Pizza also offers a limited menu of Indian food, and it shows in a bold offering: Biryani Pizza. This Biryani is a rice-based, spicy Indian dish made with chicken, onions, turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and all sorts of things that would most people would never think about putting on a pizza. Yet there it is, bold as brass, at the Red Onion. In fact, Saira confess that, “Sometimes people even ask for a curry pizza—we try to make them happy.”
Thai Dye Pizza
What started out as an innocent summer promotion has ended up as a regular menu challenge to pizza orthodoxy. Yellow curry powder, olive oil, and red pepper flakes make the unconventional base for safely traditional layers of white onion, mozzarella, and fresh tomatoes. After the pie is baked, the pizza’s heresy is completed by slices of fresh cucumber, a chiffonade of fresh basil, and a swirl of Thai Sweet Chili sauce. The pizza has swayed many a normal, red-blooded pie eater with its exotic flavors and colorful appearance. It’s even tempted otherwise respectable Thai food lovers into its cross-cultural delights.
Jalapeño Pimento Cheese
Even icons of the Old South like pimento cheese are subject to pizza fusion. Brixx starts out with an unsuspecting homemade crust and slathers it with a pimento cheese that’s been spiked with a hint of jalapeño and swirled with roasted red peppers. Then, boldly, Brixx’s chefs add a layer of crispy bacon and fresh spinach. The pimento cheese is a special recipe that Brixx just won’t share, but it’s made in such a way that it doesn’t turn all flat and gooey after it’s run through the oven.
It’s difficult to imagine Al Harb as anything other than your grandfather—which is exactly what you want from your friendly local pizza maker, especially one who has quietly reigned as one of Knoxville’s Pizza Kings for years. But even as you’re enjoying your slice of a Harby’s famous super combo, there very well could be a Reuben Pizza being made in the same building. A shocking combination of corned beef, sauerkraut, and Thousand Island dressing rests atop Harby’s top-quality, hand-tossed dough and under a layer of pure mozzarella. A trip to the oven results in a toasty and crispy pie that defies every institutional notion of both pizza and deli sandwich. Not content to merely serve this pizza, Harb himself also praises it: “Making it into a pizza gives it an exquisite flavor for a Reuben.”