Flavor Trends, Strategies and Solutions for Menu Development

By Flavor & The Menu
April 9, 2020

Pizza still reigns supreme. Datassential reports that 91 percent of consumers either love it or like it, making it this country’s No. 1 favorite food. Such rabid devotion fuels continued culinary innovation in this category—from creative and surprising topping combinations to fresh translations of regional favorites.

Thanks to its popularity, one of pizza’s many moves is a migration onto breakfast and brunch menus, where its versatile format easily hosts these dayparts’ roster of stars such as eggs, smoked salmon and bacon.

Washington, D.C.’s Italian spot Ghibellina menus Colazione Pizza on its brunch menu, with fior di latte cheese, spinach, roasted potatoes, Grana Padano, bacon and two eggs.

A mile away, Alta Strada serves an Everything Bagel Pizza, dusting the crust with the seasoning, then topping the pie with smoked salmon, mascarpone and capers.

Little Dom’s, a modern Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, serves Breakfast Pizza on its a.m. menu. A bestseller, it features the classic tomato sauce and mozzarella, then adds speck and a sunny-side egg to firmly anchor it in the morning daypart.

Hot Enough for You?

Empire Slice House

Ghost pepper marinara and poblano heat up the Ghostface Killah Pizza at Empire Slice House in Oklahoma City, Okla. Barbecue potato chips bring in a fun, crispy contrast.

It’s hard to think of a menu item where heat isn’t welcome today. Pizza is no exception. The allure here lies in the narrative woven by the chile pepper or sauce, along with the balance offered by other toppings.

Empire Slice House, a pizza concept from 84 Hospitality restaurant group, based in Oklahoma City, Okla., mines the lore of the ghost pepper in its Ghostface Killah Pizza. Served by the slice or by the pie, this popular pizza stars a ghost pepper marinara, roasted poblano strips, pepperoni and a crispy finish of barbecue potato chips.

“The name is deceiving because it sounds like it’s going to be super spicy, but I’d only rate it a five out of 10,” says Rachel Cope, founder/CEO of 84 Hospitality. “The marinara has a little kick, but its flavor profile is more smoky than spicy. The roasted poblanos are the sneaky star of the show. Freshly crunched barbecue chips cover each slice as the perfect textural addition.”

Fiery Menu Mentions

  • La Picosito Pizza with marinara, mozzarella, pepperoni, roasted Calabrian chile and fresh garlic­
    Magpie, Oakland, Calif.
  • Pizza with cream, Calabrian chile, garlic, dandelion greens, Alpine cheese
    Pizzeria Beddia, Philadelphia
  • Coconut Curry Pizza: Yellow vegetable curry, mozzarella/provolone cheese blend, crispy
    chickpeas, spicy cilantro chimichurri
    Pop + Offworld, Detroit
  • Honey Pie with honey, Calabrian peppers, scallions, mozzarella, Piave cheese, fried caramelized onions, Serrano peppers
    Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco

Hip to Be Square

Lions & Tigers & Squares

New York’s Lions & Tigers & Squares specializes in Detroit-style pizza, featuring five varieties, all with a cheddar cheese crust.

Pizza lovers of all stripes, including Chicago-style and New York-style fans, have been wooed by Detroit-style pizza for a few years now. The pizza’s unique build—from its crispy, chewy, airy crust to the use of cheddar cheese and a novel square shape—has helped it gain a following and has encouraged chefs to explore its potential.

Typically, the pie is assembled in a square pan, with cheddar sprinkled all the way to the edges, yielding that signature browned, crispy crust. Toppings go over the cheese followed by a red sauce. Detroit-style pizza has made its way to San Francisco, at places like Cellarmaker, which specializes in the far-from-local regional style, serving square pies with crispy edges, but giving some of the menu offerings a decidedly California spin. For example, its Brown Butter Sunchokes Pizza features a blend of mozzarella and toma cheeses, red kuri squash purée, blue cheese, sage and candied pepitas—all in a Detroit-style pie.

Lions & Tigers & Squares in New York is an ode to Detroit-style pizza. It was opened by New Yorkers who fell in love with the style of pizza and saw an opportunity to expand its reach. “I think that there’s always interest in something new, the next best flavor out there,” says Francis Garcia, co-founder and co-owner. “Detroit has been going through a bit of a renaissance, and I think that has helped propel interest in their specialties, like this square-pan pizza with the caramelized cheese crust.” Garcia’s restaurant serves five pizzas, including the Classic, with a caramelized cheddar cheese crust and zesty tomato sauce, along with the Mustard Pie, a signature Detroit-style pizza with spicy brown mustard, corned beef, sauerkraut and a cheddar cheese crust.

“The Mustard Pie was conceived almost accidentally, when a drunken customer stumbled in late at night asking for a mushroom pizza, but he slurred so badly, it sounded like he was asking for a mustard pie,” he says. “We gave him what we thought he wanted, a pizza with mustard and some toppings, and that’s how the Mustard Pie was born!”

A Taste of Rome

Buona Forchetta

Buona Forchetta’s offerings include (pictured, left to right): The 3 Tomatoes Pizza sporting San Marzano tomato sauce, sun-dried tomato pesto, and both Kumato and piennolo tomatoes, along with oregano and extra-virgin olive oil; Invidia Pizza with Provola cheese, sautéed kale with garlic, spicy red pepper and speck; and the Ira Pizza, featuring San Marzano tomato sauce, cow’s ricotta cheese, ’nduja Calabrese and baby arugula.

Buona Forchetta, an Italian concept with three locations in San Diego, serves Roman-style pizzas at its concession stand in the city’s Petco Park baseball stadium. Starring thick, chewy dough and a crispy crust, they’re easy to eat on the go, making them ideal ballpark fare.

Classic Translations

Meaghan Webster

At Stellina Pizzeria in Washington, D.C., the Cacio & Pepe Pizza borrows from that classic Italian dish, topping pizza with three cheeses and a generous amount of black pepper.

Mac and cheese atop pizza might have been the gateway that a number of consumers were looking for. This craveable, comforting and indulgent combination has garnered its fair share of fans. It’s also sparked innovation, leading chefs to consider other wonderful pasta dishes and see how they might play in the pizza world.

Mad Bene, a pizza and pasta restaurant in Kapolei, Hawaii, menus a Carbonara Pizza, topping it with smoked pancetta, pecorino and a poached egg that is pierced tableside.

Passero, an Italian restaurant in Arlington Heights, Ill., crowns its version of Carbonara Pizza with bacon, fingerling potatoes, fontina, chives and a farm-fresh egg.

Cacio e pepe, the Roman pasta classic that has become more familiar here in recent years, is also finding its way onto pizza. Matteo Venini, executive chef of Stellina Pizzeria in Washington D.C., features Cacio & Pepe Pizza, with cacio di Roma, pecorino Romano and buffalo mozzarella—then blanketed in toasted black pepper.

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