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Pickle pizza started as a novelty, but now it’s a big dill

Harambe Loved Big Macs pizza with special sauce, beef, American cheese, iceberg lettuce, onions and pickles at Boogy & Peel. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

The debate over whether pineapple belongs on pizza is staler than a three-day-old Domino’s slice. For evidence of just how long this great national conversation has been going on, check out the finale of Netflix’s nostalgia-heavy, 1980s-set “Stranger Things,” in which a stoner pizza delivery guy tries to sell a skeptical teenager on its merits, or at least the virtue of keeping an open mind. “Try before you deny,” he advises, like a Reagan-era sage.

Not that the matter 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.

However you feel about this development in human history, it might be time to get your talking points ready. The pickle pie is having a moment.

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It’s a new food item this year at the Minnesota and Indiana state fairs, and announcements about it have attracted attention from local media and social media oglers. Pickles have been popping up among more traditional offerings in pizza shops, too, from chain joints to cheffy pizzerias. Most often served atop a white or ranch sauce instead of the classic red, pickles are proving that they’re more than a novelty act in the pizza-topping game.

“There’s this nice sweet, acidic, 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 blistering oven, the pie is topped with crunchy iceberg lettuce, slices of white onion, a lashing of more special sauce — and housemade 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 would spit in your face,” Jennings says. “But, like, try it and tell me it’s not tasty.”

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Plenty of brine-loving fans would agree that pickles have earned their place in the topping pantheon. While there’s no definitive history of the pickle pizza, a Nexis search of news stories indicates that after making the odd appearance at a handful of restaurants over the years, they began getting wider notice around 2018.

That year, a video of a pickle pizza being made in New York went viral, and Al Roker and his “Today” show gang gamely tried out a pickle-topped pie for on-screen yuks — theirs came from Rhino’s Pizzeria in Upstate New York, which they touted as the creation’s inventor.

Since then, it has 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. Pickle pizza, though, looks 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). He was exploring ideas for his latest oddball offering, and it occurred to him to make a pizza based on a delicacy popular in the state, the pickle roll, sometimes called Minnesota sushi. That snack features pickles slathered in cream cheese and wrapped in a slice of ham.

“I posted about it in a Facebook group, and people were like, ‘No way, that sounds terrible,’ ” he says. “But I had a feeling about it.”

After some tinkering, and sourcing fresh pickles that could stand up to the 500-degree heat of his ovens, Schneekloth hit on what he determined was a winning combination. Its base is a garlic- and dill-accented white sauce, layered with pickles, mozzarella and strips of Canadian bacon that’s been smoked for 48 hours. Because he makes his pizza in the Quad City style — a lesser-known genre of pies named for its origins in the region spanning four cities in Iowa and Illinois — most of the toppings go below the cheese (a final garnish of more pickles and fresh dill crowns the whole thing), and the pizza is cut into strips, not wedges.

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He proved his Facebook pals wrong — customers loved it. It drew international attention when the blog FoodBeast featured his creation in 2019.

“It just blew up,” he recalls. “I was in newspapers in the U.K.” He now sells his frozen pizzas on the food-shipping service Goldbelly and drives a Mercedes Sprinter van covered in images of pickles.

Since then, he’s seen plenty more pickle pies sprouting up. “More power to ’em,” he says.

He’s back in R&D mode, working on a deep-dish pickle pizza he’s calling the Mega Dill. “If I can perfect this, people are gonna buy it,” he says.

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At Slyce Coal Fired Pizza Company in Vernon Hills, Ill., pickle pizza was a recent special menu item. Graeme Nyland, the restaurant’s general manager, said the creation was a team effort. He had argued for it, pointing to the mile-long lines for the pickle-pizza stall at the Wisconsin State Fair, figuring 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 using 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 vinegary punch that sets things off,” he says. “Pickles are the kind of thing that people either love ’em or hate ’em, and there are more that love them.”


An earlier version of this article incorrectly said "Good Morning America" cast members tried pickle pizza on-screen. It was members of the "Today" show. The article has been corrected.