Sandwiches go global with interesting new ways to deliver the goods
Sandwiches are the top-selling menu items at lunch and dinner in all restaurant segments, according to Technomic’s most recent consumer trend report. The research also found that essentially half of all sandwiches consumed in America are purchased at foodservice establishments.
Serving unique, signature sandwiches is a highly effective way to increase menu differentiation and customer satisfaction. Filling sandwiches with boldly flavored proteins, artisan-quality cheeses and housemade condiments is one way to achieve this end. Today, many creative chefs and operators are taking their handhelds to an even higher level by serving them on globally inspired flatbreads.
The following three flatbreads have recently been used to create one-of-a kind menu offerings in a variety of operations across the country, from food trucks to full-service casual spots. These examples only touch on the opportunity to build sales — or even be first to market — with singularly delicious flatbread sandwiches.
Best of all, these breads are readily available to foodservice in pre-baked form, ready to be warmed and filled.
NAAN BREAD: A NEW WRAP
Once a unique bread carrier, the wrap has reached ubiquity on mainstream menus and offers little in the way of differentiation. Recognizing this, chef Matt Maroni, formerly of Chicago’s Gaztro-Wagon food truck, developed a menu of flavor-forward sandwiches based entirely on Indian naan bread. Heartier than a wrap bread but lighter than a pita, Maroni found the naan to have the ideal thickness and texture for his sandwiches.
Across the country in Los Angeles, chef Josef Centeno of Bäco Mercat took a similar approach by building his sandwiches on housemade bread called “bäco,” which is nearly identical in appearance and texture to naan.
Both chefs created new sandwiches featuring complex layers of flavor and indulgently rich meats and cheeses, such as: Maroni’s Braised Beef Naanwich garnished with stewed cabbage, julienned Granny Smith apple, bacon and melted Gouda; and Centeno’s “Original,” a bäco stuffed with cubes of crispy fried pork belly and beef carnitas, garnished with a creamy roasted red pepper sauce and baby greens.
Virtually any sandwich treatment takes on new life when wrapped in warm naan bread. However there is a proven opportunity in following the examples of chefs Matt Maroni and Josef Centeno, incorporating grilled, roasted or braised meats, grilled or roasted vegetables, and soft or semi-soft melting cheeses in combinations that offer both bold flavors and rich textures.
> Grilled Steak Naanwich with braised mushrooms, Port Salut and sour cream
> Braised Leek Naanwich with Gorgonzola dolce, dried cranberries and candied pecans
> Meatball Naanwich with creamy marinara, pine nuts and Taleggio
> Wild Mushroom Naanwich with Bel Paese and fines herbes
> Merguez Sausage Naanwich with harissa and fresh chèvre
PIADINA: THE ITALIAN BURRITO
The piadina, also known as piada, is a delicate round Italian flatbread that is traditionally filled with thin slices of cured meats and cheeses and folded into a half-moon shape. Several shops featuring this classic sandwich have opened and closed in New York City in recent years. While most sandwiches in American foodservice are hearty and robust, the piadina is thin, light and modestly portioned. This may be why some operations serving the traditional piadina have not found success.
Enter Chris Doody, founder of Piada Italian Street Food, a Columbus, Ohio-based fast-casual concept that has grown to eight units in less than three years. His signature sandwich is the piada, an oversized flatbread that is rolled around generous portions of Italian meats, cheeses and sauces, along with a dozen-plus vegetable garnish options that the customer mixes and matches to order — essentially an Italian burrito.
While these piadas pack significant heft, the ingredients are of top quality and the flavors within are fresh, bold and authentic.
MENU-READY: ITALIAN BURRITOS
Technomic’s sandwich report cites Italian as the top flavor pick when consumers order an ethnic sandwich. Given the widespread popularity of both Italian cuisine and handheld foods, building those flavors within an oversized piadina bread seems a natural.
> Meats: Grilled steak, chicken, sausage, salami, shrimp
> Sauces: Marinara, Alfredo, pesto and various combinations of the three
> Cheeses: Parmesan, Asiago, provolone, fresh mozzarella, feta
> Fillings: Arugula, spinach, fresh and sun-dried tomato, bell peppers, onions, olives, artichokes, mushrooms, eggplant
PARATHA: LAYERS OF FLAVORFUL FILLING
The delicious Indian flatbread paratha is unique in that the raw dough is folded multiple times while rolling, creating delicate layers in the finished bread.
Many commercially produced versions feature ingredients that are incorporated into the dough as it is folded and rolled, resulting in a “stuffed” flatbread. These ingredients include Indian paneer cheese, chopped vegetables, roasted onions, cooked egg, shredded herbs and crumbles of ground meat.
At her new restaurant Little Goat Diner in Chicago, chef Stephanie Izard serves an ingeniously delicious paratha burrito, filled with sunny-side eggs and topped with avocado-bean salad and a spicy chile pepper sauce.
The dish clearly illustrates the potential to creatively incorporate the paratha — particularly those containing layers of flavorful ingredients — into a wide variety of unique contemporary handhelds.
MENU-READY: Stuffed Parathas
With its flaky texture and layers of flavorful ingredients, the paratha provides perhaps the greatest opportunity to create sandwiches with clear competitive differentiation.
> Scrambled egg and country ham in paneer cheese paratha
> Grilled chicken and brie in vegetable paratha
> Mushroom, leek and artichoke hearts in herbed paratha
> Roasted potato and smoked mozzarella in ground lamb paratha
> Grilled skirt steak and blue cheese in roasted onion paratha