Let’s Talk About Breakfast Pizza

If you haven’t found yourself standing bleary-eyed and ravenous in a gas station in Maine at 7 o’clock in the morning, you probably aren’t aware that nearly every convenience store in Maine sells something called “Breakfast Pizza,” a doughy crust piled high with scrambled eggs, cheese, chopped onions or peppers, and loaded with bacon, or sausage, or bacon and sausage and every other ground meat under the sun. But is it pizza? Who in the hell thought this was a good idea? And why is it so irresistibly delicious?

For outsiders, pizza in Midcoast Maine can be a bit of a peculiar beast. As far as “regional styles” go, we can probably agree that, with few exceptions, pizza here tends to be a pretty doughy affair, with big puffy slabs of ever-so-slightly undercooked dough, covered in sweet tomato sauce, with tons of cheap mozzarella cheese and toppings like woah, with a tendency toward meat-laden pies buried under fistfuls of pepperoni, ham, chopped bacon and ground beef.

For anyone who cut their teeth on New York street corner dollar slices, where obnoxious pizza obsessives calculate cheese ratios by weight and discuss things like “bend metrics” (a term I just made up to describe the rate at which a curve increases when a slice is held by the crust, tip sloping toward the ground), or the blistered, blackened, crushed tomato, thin-crusted beauties that adorn the streets of New Haven, acclimating to the so-called “pizza donuts” of Knox County can be an adjustment.

What our regional style lacks in subtlety, however, it more than makes up for in ubiquity. While slice shops are largely unheard of here, it’s almost impossible to walk into any gas station and not find a few pizzas being sold by the slice.* These pizzas aren’t just for looks, either, the way many gas stations keep a few decrepit forgotten hot dogs spinning endlessly for hours on those heated Listeria rollers; here, if you want to grab a quick, cheap, fresh slice of pizza, you’re headed to one of our hundreds of Irving stations, or a Maritime Farms, or a Big Apple. You’ll probably even encounter a line, queued up by the warmer, each hard-working person waiting their turn with the spatula. And quite frankly, you could do a lot worse.

*This is a uniquely regional thing, it seems. A friend of mine, after going on tour through the South with his band, was shocked to find most gas stations sold…gas. “It was weird,” he reported upon returning home, “NONE of the gas stations sold pizza, so we didn’t eat much.”

Breakfast Pizza
Breakfast pizza from Maritime Farms, eaten in its natural habitat.

Because most of these gas stations have full-scale kitchens, and because sales volume (particularly during lunch hour) is so high, these pizzas are far from an afterthought. In fact, because the ingredients are so inexpensive, and because a desperate man will eat almost anything as long as it meets the criteria of “ready instantly,” many gas station kitchens are willing to get downright experimental with their offerings. There will almost always be a pepperoni pie, just as there will be a pizza topped with the meat from at least three different animals, pooling in its own orange-mingled seepage. But if you get really lucky, someone in the kitchen will have risked their reputation on inventing something all new. A pizza topped with pulled pork and pineapple, perhaps. Or a pizza inspired by the flavors of a bacon cheeseburger. Or some kind of crispy chicken-bacon-ranch situation.

Breakfast is good. Pizza is good. Breakfast pizza must be AMAZING.

It’s in this spirit of creativity, then, that a hard-working manager must have eyed one of the pizza warmers, shelves rotating forlornly empty in the corner of the room, and had a flash of brilliance: Breakfast is good. Pizza is good. Breakfast pizza must be AMAZING.

But let’s be clear: It may be round, and you may cut it into slices, but this ain’t pizza. In my mind, pizza stops being pizza as soon as you stray too far from the tried-and true crust/tomato sauce/cheese formula, and ends instantly the moment you introduce “alternative” sauce bases, like Alfredo sauce, mustard, or (heaven help us all) Thousand Island dressing, as in the so-called “Big Mac Pizza,” another regional specialty that deserves its own rambling vitriolic post. On a “Breakfast Pizza,” the finished product is more like a gigantic, flat quiche, though my sense is that anyone who takes the majority of meals at a gas station is probably going to reject this designation. Let’s agree that as soon as scrambled eggs are involved, a pizza stops being a pizza. Call it a “flatbread,” if you must, but maybe let’s don’t call it pizza.*

*Actually, call it whatever you want. I’m so far beyond caring about things like this. You do you, player.

Preparation methods vary; the first time I made one, during my tenure as Kitchen Manager at Mussel Ridge Market in Spruce Head, I tried a few different techniques, copying other versions in town, since I lacked the traditional training to create one myself. Fried eggs didn’t work, because they couldn’t hold up to the warmer and had to be eaten immediately. Pre-scrambling them ahead of baking, or otherwise applying any heat before the pizza went into the oven yielded cracked, dried out, overcooked results. I’m not sure how everyone else is doing it, but I finally found success by stretching out the dough, adding a layer of cheese, pouring on mixed raw eggs, before adding more cheese and toppings. Cooking it this way in a screaming hot pizza oven fuses all of the components into a solid, eggy mass with a crispy-on-the-outside, soft in the middle pizza crust.

Breakfast pizza is freaking delicious and 100% addictive.

You know what else we can agree on? Breakfast pizza is freaking delicious and 100% addictive. If I hit the gas station early enough, it’s impossible for me to resist, even if I’ve already gotten a morning meal under my belt. It scratches every early morning food itch I have; it’s hearty, satisfying, melty, and salty. A few shakes of cheap hot sauce rounds out the experience, delivering a complete array of flavors for just a couple of bucks. It’s always there for me when I need it, a comfort I miss when traveling out-of-state and confronted with a gas station that doesn’t serve Breakfast Pizza, or even likelier, any pizza at all. Like that cup of baked beans you can get locally with a diner breakfast, it’s one of our under-appreciated, idiosyncratic specialties that I’ve grown to depend on.

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