2011 October: Man on the Street

I often have to remind myself that there’s more to life than just pizza. The ability to contain a balanced meal with all the major food groups allows pizza to satisfy the needs of any dining situation, from a quick snack to a full-blown meal. I can eat it every day without getting bored, yet I still appreciate the occasional diversion. Even though pizzerias often concentrate on a single-item menu, I’m delighted to find additional offerings that fill in the blanks between slices. As a consumer, here are some non-pizza items I want to see on a menu when I walk into a pizzeria.

Pizza dough is always on hand, so why not use it to pump up your list of offerings? Calzones, stromboli and rolls (chicken roll, pepperoni roll, spinach roll) are simple modifications of your existing pizza options. I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes the calzone format is more appealing than a couple of slices. I’m eating the exact same ingredients, but the modified construction results in a completely different product.

I’m surprised I don’t see garlic knots on more menus. I love the punchy aroma of fresh garlic knots in a pizzeria — and they provide a nice snack while I’m waiting for my pie. All it takes are some strips of pizza dough, garlic, olive oil and cheese. Voila –– a tasty side dish that requires no additional ingredients or kitchen equipment!

That same dough can also become dessert with an extra ingredient or two. I recently had a plate of fried dough strips topped with Nutella and powdered sugar. You can also do cinnamon and sugar or any other sweet flavor combination you can imagine. If you have a fryer you might as well make zeppoles, which require nothing more than dough and powdered sugar. I’d be delighted to chase my slice with some sweets, so don’t be afraid to try some out on your loyal customers.

Now that I’ve eaten your pizza dough in its many forms, how about some quick vegetable dishes? I love oven-baked artichokes and stuffed peppers. You can get the job done in the corner of your pizza oven with nothing more than the veggies and your usual pizza ingredients.

To wash it all down, I would love to see some alternative beverages at pizzerias. There are tons of small companies who make unique sodas that can help set you apart from your middle-of-the-road competition. You already know how hot craft beers have become, so get ready for a wave of healthy, organic, all natural and small production sodas. I’m a big root beer fan, so you can bet I’ll pay an extra buck for that funky bottle of small-production Sarsaparilla.

In an industry with so much competition, these non-pizza offerings can provide the hook you need to reel in new customers and keep them coming back. You may even get some attention from the press for experimenting with unique menu items. Since everyone in town makes the best pizza in the world, you might as well throw a curve ball at your customer base and give them a reason to think of you before the place across the street.

Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.

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