In my hometown, Redlands, we celebrate the R on our mountain, exquisite Victorian homes, our once-famous orange groves, and cashews on our pizza. Cashew pizza is a regional idiosyncrasy that I had no idea was unusual until I tried to order cashews on my pizza in Tacoma, Washington. “What? No cashews?” I was outraged, and homesick.
When I was a kid, it seemed that every pizza restaurant in town offered cashews as a topping. Every local gathering that included pizza, included cashews, even school pizza parties. I’ll admit, I was not always a fan, but I learned to love the toasted nutty crunch. When my parents lived in New Jersey, my mom kept cashews on hand to improve the local delivery pizza. My cousin takes a can of cashews into his favorite pizza parlor in Colorado and asks that they add them to his order.
Where and when did this phenomenon begin, and how far has it spread? I have often thought of measuring the reach of cashew pizza by calling all of the pizza joints in a radius of Redlands, but then I assure myself that this would be taking things a bit too far. It is probable that the original cashew pizza was served at Dave’s Fabulous Gay 90s Pizza Parlor, known as Gay 90s or just Gay’s, a popular Redlands restaurant in the 1960s. I’ve heard about the place since I was a kid. My mom went there in college, and from the sound of it, so did everyone else in town. Local legend has it that the bar in the television show Cheers is based on Gay 90s, a place that writers Les and Glen Charles frequented when they were students at the nearby University of Redlands. The owner packed up shop and moved the operation to Olympia, Washington in 1972, where it took the name Dirty Dave’s Gay 90s Pizza, perhaps starting another pocket of cashew pizza frenzy.
The classic Gay 90s pizza, now the ubiquitous Redlands pizza, is topped with pepperoni, sausage, onions and cashews. When I make pizza at home, one is always topped with cashews. A flatbread version with cashews and dried figs was a big hit with my vegetarian friends. Try adding cashews to your pizza sometime and tell me what you think. They taste best when they’ve been warmed in the oven for a few minutes, preferably on the pizza. Delivery pizza is usually undercooked anyway, so if you can bear the wait, put it on a hot pizza stone in the oven with cashews for a couple of minutes before you eat.