The Cape Breton pizza burger

In Canada, Cuisine by Lenore Newman10 Comments

One of the things I love about food is how the fortunes of specific dishes rise and fall over time as fashions and trends come and go. Foods become popular, others are forgotten; one day peasants are eating pressed blocks of caviar for breakfast, a turn of tastes later golden caviar from albino sturgeon is being presented to the tsar on a golden tray. As a researcher, I find the historical trajectory of food fascinating; as a field researcher it means I need to explore all of Canadian cuisine, not just the fancy urban dishes. Over the next four years or so, if I am to successfully get an idea of what Canadian cuisine is, I have to be open to the everyday foods, the non-elite, corner store foods. And that is why I was so thrilled to stumble upon a genuine Cape Breton pizza burger.

The Cape Breton pizza burger is a hamburger bun with tomato sauce, cheese, processed sliced meat, and any other pizza style topping that might be handy, and was popularized by Paul’s Food Factory in Sydney, Nova Scotia. Paul’s sells their products through gas stations and corner stores, and the pizza burger is one of their top sellers. Of course Cape Bretoners also make their own pizza burgers, and they can be found very occasionally in cafes. I wasn’t sure I would be able to find a pizza burger, but in one of those fortunate moments in research, I stumbled upon a coffee shop that served them. I almost didn’t bother to go in this shop, but I was snackish, the motel didn’t have internet, and I wanted a little food before settling in for a nice sleep. We had come all the way from Port Aux Basques Newfoundland, where we had slept in a tent, and I was in a state of jangled fatigue. And there, waiting inside this little cafe, was a pizza burger.

The pizza burger tastes pretty much like one would imagine, and hits all of the high notes of cheese, tomato, and salty meat. I love that on a rocky remote island this food has become a “thing”, yet so unlike the sort of “thing” that happens in a city; I weary of cupcakes on every corner, pulled pork on every menu item, a TV adaptation of hard talking chefs inventing the new big thing. Cape Breton is a very unassuming place, and a very pleasant and friendly place, and the pizza burger was also pleasant, unassuming and friendly. I would get up the next morning, drive the Cabot Trail, and eat great quantities of Acadian food and other local delicacies. But if I’m honest with myself the pizza burger was my favourite food in the region, and I wish Paul’s Food Factory many a happy year lovingly popping out these tasty little treats, best washed down with beer from the can or a bag of juice (Bags of juice seem to be another of those strange East Coast phenomenon). One day someone might be serving pizza burgers on a gold tray, but for now, it’s enough to say this food felt very Canadian, in a way I find difficult to describe. And it does just fine without pulled pork.

Comments

  1. Lexie

    As I recall, the pizza burger originated from Ken’s kitchen in Sydney River,:) not from Paul’s food Factory in Sidney :(. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  2. apopheniabrown

    Interesting! Ken’s was open before Paul’s, but I can find no proof that they sold pizza burgers. Can anyone confirm or deny that Ken’s was selling them first? Though it does seem Ken’s did pizza pockets, or ponzos, before they became popular elsewhere.

  3. shipwrekkt

    Thank you so much for this post! I love everything you’ve just said, about authentic unassuming food culture. This is EXACTLY what I am trying to research myself right now, and it can be really hard to find information on such items because the locals just kinda shrug like it’s no big deal or they don’t realize it is unique and special to their region. I’m heading to Cape Breton in a couple weeks, and doing my research, which is how I found this blog post. Did you stumble into any butterscotch pie while in CB by any chance?

    1. apopheniabrown

      Believe it or not I had a great butterscotch pie at the Irving station restaurant on the causeway to Cape Breton. I also had a nice, if slightly sweet slice in Cheticamp. I didn’t get to Louisbourg, but I’ve heard the food is interesting there as well. And don’t forget to try the Whiskey at Glenora.

      1. shipwrekkt

        Oh, I won’t. Also, there is a new brewery called Big Spruce that is Atlantic Canada’s first organic farm-based brewery. I am also going to investigate Cape Breton style pizza, which the Capers swear is far better than anything in Halifax : )

  4. Ken Macgregor

    Sitting in my kitchen in Glasgow, Scotland I have on the wall a photograph I took of Ken’s Kitchen in around 1979 and the sign says ‘specialising in Ponzo and Pizza’ for all those years Ponzo has been a mystery to me! I’m still not much wiser. Could someone please enlighten me?

  5. Valerie Campbell

    A ponzo is basically a small pizza folded in half then deep fried Ken’s kitchen made the best and I haven’t had one since they were to die for 🙁

  6. Paul MacDougall

    Yes, Ken Hanna invented the ponzo! As described by Valerie above and delicious! He also made excellent Hawiian pizzas!

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