Super Bowl LIII, the biggest football game of the year, will be played this Sunday in Atlanta. In case you didn’t know, Super Bowl Sunday is the second biggest food consumption day of the year, trailing slightly behind Thanksgiving. Besides millions of chicken wings, analysts say Americans will purchase 12.5 million pizzas to nibble on next Sunday.
To help find the perfect pizza for your football-viewing feast, here’s some good news: pizza exists beyond the boxed variety in the supermarket freezer case. In recent years, unique pizzerias have sprung up across Mississippi. Gourmet pizzas have even been added to numerous restaurants’ menus. Despite their different locales and styles, most follow the same playbook: focus on homemade pizza and master techniques honed in New York and Italy. And last, keep the creativity coming so nobody will care if you punt on the pasta, side dishes and desserts.
Take my pizza tour and find a favorite spot to master your cravings while dining in or picking up and enjoying at home while you watch the big game.
1. Soulshine Pizza Factory – Ridgeland, Flowood, and Oxford
I won’t say it was the “first,” but Soulshine led the pack in bringing gourmet pizza to the Jackson area. I first sampled the stone-baked crust topped with fresh ingredients a few years ago at its Ridgeland location on Highland Colony Parkway. I’ve been a convert ever since. One of my favorites is The Carnivore. Yes, I know I should eat healthy, but when it comes to pizza, it doesn’t make sense. Topped with Italian sausage, ground beef, pepperoni, marinara, and mozzarella, it’s a treat worth ditching your diet for.
2. Tony's Wood-Burning Pizzeria – Gulfport
“First, you make a roux.” These five words typically describe the process of making gumbo, not pizza, but in this case, they’re relevant. It’s the first step in making gumbo pizza that is, like its Creole cousin, a hearty combination of thick file roux, Gulf shrimp, crabmeat, Andouille sausage, rustic tomato sauce, sliced okra, and thick cheese blend.
Similar to the liquid version, tangy shrimp and crab make one very good topping along with a chunky, spice-heavy sauce covered with a thick blanket of cheese. The pizza is a signature one at this downtown Gulfport eatery that’s been serving up delicious pizzas and pasta dishes since 2000. It’s worth a stop the next time you’re on the Coast.
3. Mercury Pizza Co. - Hattiesburg
Sometimes, the best food is located in or near a gas station. Mercury Pizza is no exception.
Being a college town, you’d rightly expect lots of pizza joints in this bustling city, but Mercury is a step above the rest, especially if, like me, you like crispy pizza crusts. Located inside an Exxon station on U.S. Highway 98 West, Mercury uses a brick oven to cook its pizzas to a crispy perfection. My top pick is the barbecue pulled pork pizza topped with sweet barbecue sauce, pulled pork, mozzarella, jalapenos, and cherry tomatoes. One bite of this pizza or any others, including the Greek, butcher, or supreme and you’ll understand why Mercury was named best pizza in the Pinebelt for the past two years.
4. Pizza Shack – Jackson, Madison, and Clinton
When a pizza restaurant advertises that it’s “not Chicago-style, not New York-style, but Mississippi-style,” you know it’s a can’t-miss place. I’m glad I dropped in or else I wouldn’t have discovered my favorite, the Great American Burger pizza. Topped with Mississippi-style Comeback Sauce, beef, bacon, sliced pickles, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese, it’s like biting into a juicy grilled bacon burger. Others among the 20 or so on the menu that you’ll want to try are the kitchen sink and Philly queso.
5. Sal and Mookie’s New York Pizza and Ice Cream Joint – Jackson and Biloxi
Sal and Mookie's has consistently served delicious pizza since the first restaurant opened in Jackson several years ago. There are way too many favorites to single out “just one” from the stellar lineup of pizzas like Gambino, Penn Station, Meat Packing District, and Freedom Tower. However, more often than not, I select a little taste of N’Awlins courtesy of NOLA Central Grocery. It’s a delicious salute to the big easy topped with classic olive salad, Italian plum tomato sauce, smoked ham, genoa salami, mozzarella, and provolone. Who needs a road trip when you can sit down to this treat?
6. Brooklyn Pizzeria – Gulfport
Ask almost any of the locals on the Gulf Coast and they’ll tell you Brooklyn’s is their go-to pizza joint. Not one for fancy names, Brooklyn’s is famous for its mammoth slices of pizza. In fact, it’s one of only a handful of places outside a food court at which you can order a single slice of pizza. The crispy crust, thin and flat to the very edge, is smoothed with tomato sauce, showered with your choice of pepperoni, sausage, beef, Canadian bacon, mushrooms, bell peppers, and extra cheese and baked to a crispy goodness that exudes a smoky flavor. Whole and personal pan pizzas are on the menu, but it’s the big slices that keep locals and tourists alike flocking to Mississippi’s version of Brooklyn.
7. Old Venice Pizza Co. – Oxford and Tupelo
How could you not love the food at a place that bills itself as “eclectic Italian with a touch of Southern Creole?” Old Venice’s pizza delivers on both promises, serving up gourmet pizzas with interesting names and even more memorable ingredients. Crabby crawdaddy, lucky Luciano, Baha Santa Fe and Mona Lisa sound irresistible, but the crowd favorite is the banscuesccio. With a cream cheese base, sliced chicken breast, sweet red onions, sliced jalepenos, mozzarella and pizza sauce, it’s worth the drive to either of its Mississippi locations.
If you want to make your own pizza, check out this copycat recipe for California Pizza Kitchen Barbecue Chicken Pizza and a homemade dough!
Easy 10 Minute Pizza Dough
3/4 cup warm water (see note)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (if you buy the little envelops, you will have some left over. Envelops contain 2-1/4 teaspoons. Fold the remaining yeast up tightly and keep refrigerated for next time.)
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting your work surface
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (less if you only have table salt handy)
1-1/2 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 500 degrees F, but NOT broil. If you have a pizza stone, be sure it's in the oven before you turn it on. (This prevents from cracking). If you are not using a pizza stone, you can use the back of a cookie sheet. (see instructions below).
Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Add the yeast and let it sit for about a minute until it's looking foamy.
Add the flour, sugar, salt, and olive oil. Stir to combine and form a rough dough.
Flour a clean work surface and dump the dough onto it. Knead the dough for about 4 minutes, incorporating any dry bits that were not mixed in the bowl.
Place the dough back in the bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel. Put the bowl on top of the stove (the heat from the oven will make the dough more pliable) and let it sit for 5 minutes.
While you wait for the dough, get your pizza toppings ready -- grate your cheese, slice onions and peppers, etc.
If you have a pizza peel, rub it with flour and dust with cornmeal (this prevents sticking). If you do not have a pizza peel, you can use a wooden cutting board OR you can assemble and bake on THE BACK of a cookie sheet.
Divide the dough in half (well-floured hands help) and stretch it carefully into a circle. Note that a thicker dough will take a little longer to cook. Place your circle on the peel/cutting board/cookie sheet you set up and add your toppings.
If you are using the cookie sheet, place it right in the oven (middle rack) and bake for 10 minutes. If you heated a pizza stone in the oven, carefully slide your pizza off the peel or cutting board and onto the stone. Bake for 10 minutes (more if you opted for a thicker crust) or until the crust is golden and the cheese is melted.
Repeat with the second dough.
NOTE regarding water – you are looking for just barely warm (think baby’s bath water). Too hot will kill the yeast and too cold won't activate it.
California Pizza Kitchen's Barbecue Chicken Pizza
10 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons favorite barbecue sauce
Cornmeal or semolina flour, for handling
1/2 cup favorite barbecue sauce
2 tablespoons shredded smoked Gouda cheese
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 small red onion, sliced into 1/8-inch pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
To make BBQ Chicken: In a large frying pan, cook the chicken in olive oil over medium-high heat until just cooked, 5 to 6 minutes. Do not overcook. Set aside in the refrigerator until chilled through.
Once chilled, coat the chicken with 2 tablespoons BBQ sauce; set aside in the refrigerator.
To make the pizza: Place the pizza stone in the center of the oven and preheat to 500 degrees F for one hour before cooking pizzas.
Use a large spoon to spread 1/4 cup BBQ sauce evenly over the surface of the prepared dough within the rim. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon smoked Gouda cheese over the sauce. Cover with 3/4 cup shredded Mozzarella. Distribute half the chicken pieces evenly over the cheese (approximately 18 pieces). Place approximately 18 to 20 pieces of red onion over the surface. Sprinkle an additional 1/4 cup Mozzarella over the top of the pizza.
Transfer the pizza to the oven; bake until the crust is crisp and golden and the cheese at the center is bubbly, 8 to 10 minutes. When the pizza is cooked, carefully remove it from the oven; sprinkle 1 tablespoon cilantro over the hot surface. Slice and enjoy!