Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Best of Flavor: Reworking Two Cheesy Classics

Fresh, fast-casual takes on pizza and quesadillas

Best of Flavor: Reworking Two Cheesy Classics

Fresh, fast-casual takes on pizza and quesadillas

By Flavor & The Menu
April 22, 2024

By Flavor & The Menu
April 22, 2024

As an ingredient, cheese always carries the potential to steal the show—even when it’s meant as a supporting player. Whether crumbles of Gorgonzola, gooey queso or thick slices of fresh mozzarella, cheese’s wide-reaching assortment of flavor brings savory taste and rich mouthfeel to any menu item.

But for iconically cheesy dishes, the prospect of reimagining a classic can be daunting. After all, cheese is a complex ingredient with nuanced flavor and texture. Plus, consumers can be reluctant to stray from their long-time favorites.

The following four dishes—two pizzas and two quesadillas—prove that menu developers can mix up the formula and still curry favor with their customer base. It should be noted that these menu items aren’t the avant-garde creations of gastronomically daring independents, but rather clever reimaginings by fast casual that win mass appeal.

Their approaches vary, but ultimately the key to success is balancing the familiar with the novel.

Hit Multiple Flavor Profiles

Photo Credit: Via 313

At Via 313, The Cadillac encompasses a medley of flavors—salty, sweet and tangy—atop a light, focaccia-like crust.

Sweet-and-savory combos perform well within the pizza category, as evidenced by the enduring popularity of Hawaiian-style pizza and the recent surge in hot honey as a pizza topper. But Via 313 took that winning duality a step further, doubling down on both the sweet and salty elements while also introducing subtle sour notes.

Although the Austin, Texas-based pizzeria specializes in Detroit-style pizza, brothers and co-founders, Zane and Brandon Hunt were inspired by Tony’s Pizza Napoletana in San Francisco when they created The Cadillac more than a decade ago. “Within three months, The Cadillac had become our second best-selling pizza,” Zane says. “The pizza is still catching people by surprise with its unique flavor profile.”

In addition to the standard pizza cheeses, The Cadillac features Gorgonzola for added depth of flavor and a bit of tang—the latter of which is further emphasized via a balsamic reduction. A layer of fig preserves ups the sweetness while thinly sliced prosciutto brings umami-rich meatiness into play. It’s finished with freshly shaved Parmesan for an extra bite of saltiness.

Read more about The Cadillac

Layer in a Cheesy Sauce

Photo Credit: Papa Murphy’s

Rather than switch up the cheese topping, Papa Murphy’s opted to sub nacho sauce in for marinara in its Double Bacon-Cheddar Pizza.

From classic marinara, bianco and pesto to barbecue and buffalo, pizza sauces run the gamut. And while several varieties are cream-based, few, if any, are true cheese-based sauces. But therein lay an opportunity for Washington-based Papa Murphy’s.

The brand’s Double Bacon-Cheddar Pizza LTO marries two menu favorites—pizza and nachos—through a silky nacho cheese sauce, made with a hint of jalapeño for a touch of spice. Mozzarella, as well as Canadian and crispy bacon, ensures the rest of the build is more familiar. As Papa Murphy’s Senior Director of Culinary Carron Harris puts it, “Most people order the same pizza every time, so it can be difficult to get them to venture off their path.”

The LTO exceeded sales expectations. It also validated the brand’s flavor gamble and reinforced its standing as an innovator in the pizza category.  “In my opinion, it was a ‘best of’ because it was not only delicious, but fun,” Harris says. “Who puts nacho cheese sauce on a pizza? We do!”

Read more about the Double Bacon-Cheddar Pizza

Prioritize Premium—Even If You’re a Casual Concept

Photo Credit: Taco John’s

Taco John’s Four-Cheese Steak Quesadilla features four premium cheeses: asadero, queso blanco, Monterey Jack and cheddar. It was so popular that the brand now cross-utilizes the four-cheese blend in other menu items.

Even the most common, “lowbrow” cheeses can boast an enthusiastic fan following (look no further than the recent resurgence of American cheese on menus). Nevertheless, today’s food-savvy consumer is drawn to premium options, even at more casual establishments.

Case in point: Taco John’s Four Cheese Steak Quesadilla, which is among the brand’s most popular orders. The build comprises melty asadero, rich queso blanco, classic Monterey Jack and all-natural cheddar. The combo is so popular that it features into other items across the menu.

“It’s all about elevating what guests might expect from a Mexican quick-serve restaurant quesadilla,” says Brad Bergaus, corporate chef and director of innovation. “Quesadillas can be simple but still wonderfully flavorful.”

Read more about the Four Cheese Steak Quesadilla

Experiment With Trending Cheeses

Photo Credit: Qdoba

Qdoba incorporated its Brisket Birria into multiple menu items, including the Quesa-Birria Quesadilla, which features the brand’s signature three-cheese queso and shredded cheese.

Sometimes a fresh take on a cheesy dish doesn’t require changing the cheese itself, but rather folding it into an on-trend dish. Such is the case with the Quesa-Birria Quesadilla and Quesa-Birria Burrito at Qdoba. The hearty birria is slow-cooked in a combination of chiles, garlic, onions, paprika and citrus. In the quesadilla and burrito renderings, Qdoba’s signature three-cheese queso and shredded cheese are added to the mix. Fresh pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream bring light, cooling contrast to the hearty Quesa-Birria Quesadilla.

“I think it combines all that we do best at Qdoba,” says Corporate Executive Chef Katy Velazquez.

Read more about the Quesa-Birria Quesadilla


About The Author