The fix is in—pizza’s popularity is a given. But as with most menu items that are fan favorites, the devil is in the details. Those details are more important than ever, with consumer expectation through the roof. Today’s opportunity with pizza calls for differentiation through careful storytelling. Creative ingredient play, unexpected flavor combinations and brand compatibility all mark the modern pizza trend.
At Cane Rosso, a Neapolitan-style pizzeria with locations throughout Texas, an off-menu special pizza is a big seller—and helps weave an intriguing narrative. The Honey Bastard stars fresh mozzarella, hot soppressata, bacon marmalade and habanero-infused honey.
“When I first got out of college I used to frequent a bar called Kelly’s in Kansas City,” says Jay Jerrier, owner/founder of Cane Rosso. “There was a small by-the-slice place at the back of the bar called Pyramid Pizza, where they basically sold just cheese and pepperoni slices. On the counters they had squeeze bottles of honey for the pizza, which I had never seen before—this was back in the early ’90s. It turns out that a squeeze of honey on a slice of pepperoni pizza is amazing—drunk or sober. That salty-sweet combo stayed with me and eventually gave rise to our Honey Bastard.
For a Belgian take, Brabo Tasting Room, a contemporary pub in Alexandria, Va., serves tarts instead of pizzas, relying on a lighter crust and eclectic toppings for differentiation. Its Duck Confit Tart stars Mornay sauce, pulled confit, Grùyere, chile flakes, onion and chives.
The Grilled Shrimp Tart features herb pesto, pepper Jack and grilled shrimp. “The simple basil and cilantro pesto with grilled, garlicky, zesty shrimp is the perfect combination with the tart’s crusty dough,” says Sebastien Rondier, executive chef. “The pepper Jack replaces the classic mozzarella, giving this dish a spicier, more buttery flavor profile.”
On the Menu: Modern American
As American diners continue to embrace mash-ups of all kinds, pizza promises a new frontier, accessing the veg-centric movement, interest in global flavor, and the unabated love of heat.
- Vongole Pizza with garlic, capers, parsley, hot pepper, cockles, Grana Padano
—2 Amys, Washington, D.C.
- Widowmaker Pizza: Hazelnut romesco, cavolo nero, fennel sausage, farm egg
—Prato, Winter Park, Fla.
- Cauliflower Pizza with scamorza, shishito escabeche, red onion, pancetta
—24 Wood Fired Fare, Philadelphia
- Sausage Pizza with roasted Brussels sprouts, cream, pickled Hungarian chiles, mozzarella
—Pizza Moto, Brooklyn, N.Y.
- Carbonara Pizza: Panna, caramelized onion, housemade pancetta, farm egg, scallion, black pepper
—Pizzeria Bebu, Chicago
Seasonal pizza LTOs
It can’t always just be about pepperoni — even though that’s an easy pathway to popularity. “We’ll still sell more pepperoni pizzas than everything else put together,” says Cory Lattuca, executive chef and director of food and beverage for Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria, with 47 restaurants across the country.
Despite pepperoni’s reign, Grimaldi’s understands the value in creating momentum and piquing new interest — an established strategy behind limited-time offerings (LTOs). Seasonal LTOs perform well for Grimaldi’s, which keeps its brand of coal-fired, brick-oven pizza firmly in focus.
“For us, the biggest thing is to incorporate seasonality and feature something new while fitting in thematically,” says Lattuca. His best-selling seasonal pizza is the BBQ Chicken, with grilled chicken, barbecue sauce and fresh cilantro.
“It relays those barbecue vibes really well, thanks to the coal oven,” he says. This past winter, the Rosemary Potato Pizza LTO combined par-cooked Yukon golds, roasted garlic, extra mozzarella, pancetta and rosemary. “It’s salty and fabulous, and a nice hearty pizza for those colder months,” he says.
Heat seems to be proliferating in all parts of the menu, with pizza boasting some of the most appealing displays of this trend. At Brennan’s in Marina Del Rey, Calif., pizza has become a major draw, serving up eclectic flavor combinations with great success. Its Arrabiata Pizza brings the heat with chile peppers, mozzarella, Grana Padano and oregano, and its Charred Poblano Pizza demonstrates a nuanced approach to heat delivery. It features fresh cream, mozzarella, garlic confit, pecorino and charred poblano peppers.
’Nduja On Top
’Nduja, that spreadable spicy salami from Italy, is gaining huge attention here, thanks to its deeply savory profile and menu versatility. Seen on charcuterie boards and dolloped over veg-centric dishes, chefs are also turning to it as a high-impact pizza topping.
At Pastaria, an Italian restaurant with locations in St. Louis and Nashville, the Salume Beddu ’Nduja Pizza features ’nduja, tomato, fior di latte, garlic, oregano and honey. “I love this pizza for its ability to balance salty, sweet and spicy,” says Gerard Craft, executive chef/owner. “It’s fun getting to prepare Old World ingredients in inspired ways.”
And as it’s crumbled over the pizza, ’nduja crisps up beautifully, yielding a perfect textural element.
At Sotto, a hip Italian restaurant in Los Angeles, the Diavolina Pizza features tomato, Calabrian chile, ’nduja sausage, pecorino, arugula and onion.
Bestia, also in Los Angeles, serves an Alla’nduja Pizza, with housemade spicy ’nduja, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and Tuscan kale.