Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

Fired Up Pizza: 10 Flavor Builders New opportunities in a beloved, classic category

Vinny’s, part of Agricole Hospitality in Houston, offers premium toppings like country ham, Wisconsin brick cheese, mushrooms and caramelized onions.
PHOTO CREDIT: Carla Gomez

The explosive growth of fast casual has helped elevate pizza to new heights and has kept this exciting category on fire, priming menus across foodservice for innovation. Consumer acceptance of new flavors, textures, forms and blurred dayparts has expanded the menu opportunities for pizza even further.

Pizza can benefit from a strong connection to ingredient sourcing and history. Take cues from the success of burgers and tacos, as both grew in prominence from celebrating the story behind the food—elevating each from just a generic burger/taco to something much deeper.

Create a stronger emotional bond by taking your guests on a nostalgic, pizza-inspired culinary journey across America. Look to potential regional partnerships and/or develop limited-time offerings around an iconic food dish or trending menu features outside of the pizza category.

Multi-unit operators can make regional favorites available in all locations or just in units in that region/city. This serves a dual purpose: It entices your core customer with premium features and attracts new consumers who are searching out unique flavor experiences.

Ideas in action:

  • Windy City Works (Chicago): Olive oil, Chicago Italian beef, giardiniera, magic dust, minced garlic—Uno Pizzeria & Grill, based in Boston
  • Jack Stack Barbecue (Kansas City): Jack Stack barbecue sauce, Jack Stack pulled pork, cheddar, red onions, diced pickles—Jack Stack Barbecue, based in Kansas City, Mo.
  • Crab Dip (Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C.): Maryland crab dip, tomatoes, crabmeat, cheddar, Old Bay seasoning—Pie Five, based in Dallas
Try This:
  • Austin-inspired Longhorn Pizza (thick crust): Chopped brisket + smoky barbecue sauce + pepper Jack cheese + fried jalapeños
  • Nashville-inspired Hot Chicken (hand-tossed crust): Crispy Nashville chicken + spiced tomato sauce + fresh mozzarella + side of pickle juice for dipping crust
  • Minneapolis-inspired Tatonka Juicy Lucy (Detroit-style crust): Ground seasoned Buffalo + queso and brick cheese + bacon + caramelized onions

Pizza offers a safe point of entry with mainstream appeal—yet it’s positioned to step outside of traditional parameters. Here are 10 modern approaches that can propel pizza innovation.


Breakfast

Today, consumers expect the breakfast category to offer new flavors. Breakfast is wide open for interpretation and a springboard for innovation—so why not leverage brunch-style pizza? Trending global flavors, existing entrées and classic breakfast builds can all be turned into pizza-centric creations.

Breakfast Pizza: Rosemary oil, Yukon gold shreds, pancetta, red onion, fontina, runny egg
—Red Rabbit, Minneapolis
Breakfast Pizza: Shaved pancetta, ricotta, baby kale, caramelized onion, pesto hollandaise
—Pacific Standard Time, Chicago

Try This:
  • Shakshuka Pizza: Hatch chile/harissa tomato sauce + fresh spinach and bell peppers + feta crumbles + runny egg
  • Everything Bagel & Lox Pizza: Smoked salmon (topper) + blistered red onions + whipped chive mascarpone/cream cheese + fried capers + everything-bagel spice

Dough Renaissance

Pizza dough is ripe for growth potential and modern takes, especially with consumers calling for differentiated and quality choices. From trending Detroit-style, Colorado-style, gluten-free, cauliflower crusts to classic hand-tossed thin—crusts are piquing curiosity and showcasing creativity.

Premium Crusts: Artisan thin, artisan thin hearty wheat, PieRise thick, hand-crafted deep dish, cauliflower crust, gluten-free
—Pieology, based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.

Freddy Prince: Upside-down Sicilian with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, pecorino Romano and a sesame-seed bottom
—Paulie Gee’s Slice Shop, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Try This:
  • Motown Meat Pizza: Detroit-style crust + garlic red sauce + cubed brick cheese and mozzarella + pepperoni (under the cheese) + sliced meatballs (on top of the cheese)
  • Bollywood Pizza: Naan flatbread + mango chutney + grated paneer/mozzarella + curried cauliflower + ribbons of fresh snap peas

Refined Exotic

Savvy consumers look to restaurants to introduce them to new flavor experiences. Regional and global inspiration that sounds exotic, yet delivers bold pizza flavors that resonate with the masses will entice and foster cravings.

Señor Salvador: Chorizo, pickled jalapeños, smoked cheddar, guajillo chile sauce, red onions
—Vinny’s, Houston

Thai Chicken Flatbread: Spicy pulled chicken, red pepper, jalapeños, housemade Thai peanut sauce, mozzarella and provolone cheese blend, green onion
—Bar Louie, based in Addison, Texas

Try This:
  • Wicked Good Pizza: Grilled flatbread with brown butter-garlic sauce + ricotta salata crumbles + chilled lobster roll spread
  • Luau Pizza: Compressed pineapple + crispy barbecue pork belly + grilled Vidalia onions + pepper Jack/mozzarella cheese + Urfa chile sprinkle

Proven Flavor Systems

Proven flavor systems remind us that tried-and-true combinations are still menu pillars to build on. Innovation doesn’t always have to come from creating new—it can be achieved by reformatting and repositioning classic pizza builds, like cheese, pepperoni, Buffalo chicken, carbonara and so on.

Buffalo Chicken: Crispy chicken tenders tossed in house mango-Buffalo barbecue sauce with mozzarella, scallions and blue cheese dressing
—Not Your Average Joe’s, based in Milton, Mass.

Five Cheese: House-shredded mozzarella and provolone, grated Parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, smoked Gouda and goat cheese over basil pesto sauce, fresh basil
—Newk’s Eatery, based in Jackson, Miss.

Try This:
  • Chicken Alfredo Pizza: Grilled chicken + creamy Parmesan sauce + mozzarella + charred broccolini + red pepper flakes
  • Alpine Sausage & Mushroom Pizza: Italian sausage crumbles + oyster mushrooms + housemade red sauce + caramelized onions + raclette cheese

Unexpected Pies

Today’s guests actively search out original experiences and value their “influencer” status in sharing exciting new menu finds across social media. Create indelible appeal with unexpected pizza shapes, toppings and flavor combinations to differentiate from the norm and generate a story.

Khachapuri: Open-faced bread boat “pizza,” creamy melted cheese, butter, easy egg (swirl and mix as you eat)
—Kargi Gogo, Portland, Ore.

The Extra Helping: Short rib, mac and cheese, shredded mozzarella, pickled red onion, crumbled croutons (oval-shaped pies)
—&pizza, based in Washington, D.C.

Try This:
  • Pizza Fresca: Doughnut-shaped triple cream-cheese pizza + filled open center of lightly dressed fresh salad greens
  • Oktoberfest Pizza: Pretzel crust + beer-cheese sauce + grilled bratwurst slices + roasted golden potato slices + drizzles of Bavarian sweet mustard

Drizzles, Dusts & Finishes

Eye-catching, flavor-popping complements are great to finish your pie with signature style and generate restaurant PR. This is an easy way to incorporate emerging trends, provide guests a way to customize, or simply add a touch of whimsy.

Cart Driver: Sausage, mozzarella, kale, chile, fennel pollen
—Basta, Boulder, Colo.

The Local: A collaboration pizza with Heirloom Market BBQ, fresh mozzarella, aged provolone, beef brisket, cipollini onions and drizzled with smoked hot honey
—The Local Pizzaiolo, Atlanta

  • Napa Pizza: Speck + goat cheese + arugula + roasted butternut squash + saba (grape-must syrup) drizzle
  • Green Mountain Pizza: Roasted green apples + aged cheddar + peppered bacon + apple-cider syrup drizzle
All-Purpose Pizzeria

At All-Purpose Pizzeria in Washington, D.C., the Pineapple Pizza “Master P” stands out with aged provolone, ginger-brined porchetta, brown-sugar roasted pineapple and pineapple-pickled peppers.


Anything But Red

Light-yet-bold New Age pizza sauces that balance red tomato-based sauces on the menu can appeal to consumers looking for more variety in their pizza experience. This opens the door for infused oils, plant-based purées, relishes, “creams” and more.

Da Count: White pie with garlic bread spread, fontina, manchego, smoked mozzarella, Asiago and pecorino
—Tony Boloney’s, three locations in New Jersey

Butternut Squash: Caramelized onion, roasted garlic, organic kale, vegan almond ricotta, dried cranberry, sage
—True Food Kitchen, based in Phoenix

Try This:
  • Eggplant Parm Pizza: Roasted eggplant + crushed yellow pear tomatoes + fresh mozzarella + shaved Asiago + fresh micro greens + garlic bread crumb topping
  • Pesto-Pepper Pizza: Chicken sausage + pistachio pesto + provolone and feta cheese + pickled banana peppers

Premium Pies

Authenticity and premium cues can drive traffic and resonate with discerning, food-loving guests appreciative of heightened value. Communicate and build excitement around your culinary ethos, quality, signature pies, one-of-a-kind ingredients, seasonality and modern touches on classic favorites.

Salami & Green Olive: Whole-milk mozzarella, light tomato sauce, Grana Padano, extra-virgin olive oil, Olympia Provisions cotto salami and cracked green olives
—Apizza Scholls, Portland, Ore.

The Secret ’Za: Truffled cheese from Italy, creamy burrata, chewy blistered crust, finished with a sprinkle of gold flakes
—Ray’s and Stark Bar, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles

  • Crab Rangoon Pizza: Lump crabmeat + whipped ricotta and mozzarella cheese + XO sauce + green onions + crispy wonton crumbles
  • Steakhouse Pizza: Chunks of smoked beef short rib + creamed blue-cheese spinach + San Marzano tomatoes

Plant-Centric

Capitalize on the proliferation and massive influence of plant-based lifestyles with on-trend pizza builds, built around craveworthy produce and legumes. Give health-conscious consumers an even greater reason to indulge in a flavor-packed pizza.

Seasonal Pizza Pie:A rotating pizza featuring local produce
—Melfi’s, Charleston, S.C.

Suarez (Vegan): Tomato, Tuscan kale, garlic, nutritional yeast
—Renzo, Charleston, S.C.

Try This:
  • Flower Child Pizza: Delicata squash + aged cheddar/fontina/mozzarella + red onion + sumac olive oil + edible flowers
  • Baja Pizza: Mole + spiced black-bean pico + grilled corn kernels + queso fresco crumbles + avocado crema

Pizza-Ish

Maximize your pizza oven output across the menu, extending that equity and cross-utilizing existing ingredients into dynamic features, upgraded ingredients and seasonal limited-time offerings. Use pizza as your inspiration, morphing into something new.

Pizza Salad: Create-your-own salad on a warm Asiago pizza crust
—MOD Pizza, based in Bellevue, Wash.

Caputo Pie: Fried circle of breaded ground chicken, red sauce and a blend of cheeses, Calabrian chile-infused honey, sliced into triangular pieces
—Foxwoods Resort & Casino, Mashantucket, Conn.

Try This:
  • Roast vegetables in your pizza oven and transform into purées for a salad-dressing base, for a dipping sauce, or for premium toppers on salad.
  • Utilize pizza dough and signature fillings to create an open-faced pizza pot pie.

 

From the Mar/Apr 2019 issue of Flavor & the Menu magazine. Read the full issue online or check if you qualify for a free print subscription.

 

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About The Author

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ROB CORLISS is a three-time James Beard House guest chef with more than 20 years of experience that includes running world-class hotels, launching new concepts, working in top marketing agencies and, currently, owning a consulting company, ATE (All Things Epicurean), focused on flavor, menu and restaurant innovation. Based in Nixa, Mo., he has an energizing passion for food and is dedicated to connecting people to their food, environment and wellness.