Pizza with toppings that bite back: python, gator, frog legs
04/05/2014 12:00 AM
04/07/2014 12:01 PM
The Everglades: More than two million acres of subtropical wilderness stretched out in every direction as we drove down Florida’s Interstate 75. Endless sawgrass marshes whipped past, serving as a reminder of the origins of the pizza I was about to eat.
I am a chef by trade, and have tried a great variety of strange foods. Despite my adventurous palate, I found myself anxious at the thought of trying this pizza.
“The Everglades Pizza,” served at Evan’s Neighborhood Pizza in Fort Myers, is a 14-inch pie topped with alligator sausage, python meat, frog legs, “swamp cabbage” (palm hearts), and “Everglades Seasoning.” Due to the high cost of python meat, about $70 per pound, the Everglades Pizza will set you back about $45, a small price to pay for such a unique culinary experience.
The rugged old building that houses the parlor was constructed in 1955 for use as a gas station, and the storefront still sports huge glass windows. Checkerboard tile floors, a pinball machine and a mural depicting a tropical paradise give the place a very easy-going feel.
Evan Daniell, who owns the place with his wife Avis, got the idea for his signature pizza when he and a friend found a picture online of a huge Burmese python that died after devouring an alligator.
“It was crazy,” Evan said. “That was when we took a look at the Everglades, and kind of tried to decide what types of ingredients we could put on this thing.”
Much to my dismay, Evan was kind enough to cook some of the python up by itself for me to try. The texture of the sliver of snake was similar to calamari, with an earthy, turkey-like aroma and a slightly fishy taste. He pre-cooks the python before arranging the thin strips on the pizza coiled up to resemble a snake. When the finished pizza came out of the oven, one of the pieces was reared up like a tiny cobra.
I sat down with a glass of beer and tried to convince myself that I was prepared to eat this thing. Strange does not begin to describe the pizza that was placed in front of me. The presentation was slightly horrifying. Tiny frog toes hung lazily off the crust, as if lounging by the side of a swimming pool. Rubbery strips of curled snake flesh, weird plant-like morsels, and tiny bits of alligator meat poking out of the sausage gave the pizza a foreboding look.
I figured I would start with the bone-in frog leg to get it out of the way, then eat the rest of the slice. Steeling myself, trying to disconnect slightly from what I was about to do, I picked up the chunky frog leg and took a big bite. Thank goodness for beer. The frog tasted like chicken’s evil cousin, similar in texture, but with a gamey, deep, unique flavor. I tried not to focus on the tiny, perfect frog bone that was left on the side of my plate, and turned to the slice itself.
The sausage is made in-store with a base of ground pork and mixed with a generous amount of pre-cooked alligator meat, bought fresh at a local fish market. It was OK, as sausage goes, and I couldn’t really even detect the alligator meat when I took a bite of the pizza. The swamp cabbage had a slightly pickled flavor and really stood out. When I got to the python, I gobbled it down without chewing it much, mostly to save myself some time.
Then, with the taste of frog lingering in my mouth, I downed my beer and thanked Evan for taking time out of his day to show us around. Our gracious hosts made a vegetarian sub for my photographer, and we climbed into the car feeling like we had made a couple of new friends.
On our way home, we stopped at Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades to take a few photos. I was overcome by the thought of snakes crawling around my insides and my stomach finally got the better of me. I released my lunch back into its natural habitat and drove away, putting the swamp, and everything in it, behind me.
An earlier version of this story included the wrong title of Big Cypress National Preserve and inaccurately characterized the scope of Everglades National Park. The portion of the Everglades along Interstate 75 are not part of the park.
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