Nova Scotia Pizza

Nova Scotia Food Profiles: Cape Breton Pizza Burgers

If there is one food that screams “Cape Breton” it would be the pizza burger (if not Cape Breton Pizza). It is to Cape Breton what the Cheese Steak is to Philadelphia, what foldable pizza and dirty water dogs are to New York: the most unglamourous, albeit beloved, of comfort foods. It is not a hamburger dressed like a pizza. It is not a pizza dressed like a hamburger. It is… PIZZABURGER.

What it is: pizza sauce, pepperoni and cheese in a hamburger bun. That’s it.

It is most ubiquitously a mass produced, vacuum-sealed, product. Yes, I am talking about a gas station sandwich.

As far as I know, we have Paul’s Food Factory to thank for this tradition. They started selling subs out of the back of the family station wagon in 1982. It was the golden age of the submarine sandwich, when hungry steel workers and coal miners demanded cheap filling meals. They eventually invested in modern packaging equipment, a vacuum pack machine, automatic label dispenser, and a walk-in cooler. They even leased microwave ovens to convenience stores so that customers could best enjoy their product.

Paul’s Food Factory rose above the competition, and the ritual of nuking pizza burgers in microwaves became ingrained in local tradition. Kids would take their allowance money to the nearest corner store for an after-school treat. The pizza burger would also become the post-drinking meal of choice, as the local Needs was often the only thing open in the wee hours, with alcohol-sopping cuisine.

pizza burger

Paul’s Food Factory Pizza Burger

What to me, (and other mainlanders), is an industrialized sandwich of last resort, is to many Cape Bretoners a thing of pride and nostalgia. I wanted to learn more about the attachment Cape Bretoners have to this sandwich, so I asked some Cape Bretoners to share it in their own words:

“Bob” from New Waterford provided me with this break-down:

  • The Taste. Mildly sweet bun with sesame seeds, spicier then normal pepperoni, tangy sauce, and milky Mozzarella come together to form a taste that is… just good.

  • The Texture. (assuming Microwaved in its own bag) the bun gets damp and soft, due to the moisture of the melting cheese, while the (4 slices of) pepperoni are firm enough that you can’t just tear it apart easily, offering some substance.

  • Pizza Burger in my hotel room. I’m still not convinced…

    The Smell. Oh, god… that smell. It truly makes me think I am a teenager again, when I smell that. It’s consumed so much that it reminds me of the smell of the lunch room at school. I’m sure other kids brought other things, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s like when you smell curry. It cannot be ANYTHING else but curry.

“I have not lived in Cape Breton for 20 years, but the first food item I purchase when I visit is a pizza burger. I remember getting them from the corner store at lunch time when I was in elementary school, and waiting at countless convenience store and gas station microwaves for them to finish heating as a teen — the label scorched and steam escaping from the lone cut corner. The love my kids have for these burgers is culinary and genuine. They are like a hot dog with mustard & ketchup — a perfect combination of flavors and textures.” – Liam from Sydney

“During Christmas break, you get the cab to stop at Needs on your way home from the bar. You need to get one for everyone including your taxi driver. When I lived on the mainland I was poking around a gas station looking for them and the owner thought I was crazy. 2am pizza burgers is a summer and Christmas break tradition!” – Person of the Internet

And apparently there is a “standard preparation”:

– “Rip the top and microwave till the label smokes.”

– “When the label turns black you know it’s done.”

– “Poke a hole first or it’ll explode!”

– “That’s why ya take a pen to lunch. Dummy.”

– “The guy at needs will cut them open for ya.”

I don’t know how I feel about cooking food in burning plastic in the microwave, or liquid “cheese” lovingly described as “lava”. While Paul’s pizza burgers are not ingrained into my cultural palate, I do appreciate a good pizza burger. Most pizza shops have pizza burgers on the menu, and you can even get “combination” burgers with mushrooms and green pepper. Now we’re talking!

pizza burger - Kenny's

Pizza Burger from Kenny’s in Sydney

A few recommendations:

Jane’s in Bras d’Or will make you one for $3 that will make you forget about that dirty Paul’s/Reuben’s stuff.”

Joan’s does their own in-house pizza burgers with fresh baked buns that are good and $0.99 a piece. You need to warm them up wrapped in something to get that same warm semi-hydrated consistency that the bagged burgers provide though.”

I also noticed them for sale at Horyl’s Deli, and I think the guarantee of Horyl’s pepperoni in a pizza burger is promising.

Another variation I just had to try is the Open-Faced Pizza Burger at Pizza Palace!

pizza burger - Pizza Palace

Open-Faced Pizza Burger from Pizza Palace in Whitney Pier

Wow! What an innovation! The cheese isn’t the best quality but I can’t deny this awesomeness. It is everything good about a Cape Breton pizza on a hamburger bun.

My Side Dish says: “Thank God we don’t live in Cape Breton. These are dangerous.”

In Halifax you are more likely to find a pizza sub, but one place you can count on for a pizza burger is Xtreme Pizza!

pizza burger - Xtreme Pizza

Pizza Burger from Xtreme in Halifax

“Now, I’m in my late 30s,” says “Bob”, “living in Alberta, and trust me when I say that ANY time a Cape Bretoner is going home, they bring back these for themselves, and others. I recently brought back 15 in a suitcase, 5 for me, and 5 each for two grown ass men, who crave these.”

Where else can you find pizza burgers in Nova Scotia? Where is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!

    2 Comments

  1. Fry Daze in Cole Harbour sells pizza burgers ! An they call it “ Cape Breton Pizza Burger”! Also when I’m home I always get a pizza burger whether it’s from needs, Cali Pizza, Chickies, Mickey D’s are highly impressive jam packed with goodness !

    Reply

  2. Sort of on topic, ordering a pepperoni pizza in industrial Cape Breton will get you a different pizza than if you ordered it anywhere else. Imagine my surprise the first time I ordered a pepperoni pizza in Sydney and it arrived without any cheese! “You didn’t ask for cheese,” was the response when I questioned it.

    Off the Island, a pepperoni pizza request will get you a pizza with pepperoni AND cheese.

    But now you’ve got me craving a pizza burger.

    Reply

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