Operators rush to add Mediterranean flavors and ingredients to their menus
Want to update your menu? One great resource is looking back at the classics –– Greek classics, that is. From sundried tomatoes and artichoke hearts to feta and olives, Greek ingredients add subtle or bold flavor punches on pizza, in pastas, wraps and salads.
“Greek ingredients are citrusy, tart, and often salty –– flavors that provide a zest and an acidity that instantly adds layers of flavor,” says Stephen Lyons, vice president, culinary operations at Matchbox, an American Pizza Bistro based in Washington D.C., with additional locations in Maryland and Virginia. “Sometimes people don’t realize that what makes their favorite dishes taste great is really just the balance of flavors, not necessarily just what is sweet or savory.”
Matchbox incorporates Greek flavors on its menu in a variety of ways. For example, a wood-fired lamb sandwich is served on grilled naan and topped with charred scallion yogurt, crispy artichokes and feta cheese. It is paired with chickpea fries. A prosciutto and black mission fig pizza pairs the sweetness of the figs and black pepper honey with salty prosciutto. Prosciutto white is a Mediterranean-inspired pizza built with Kalamata olives, fresh garlic purée, ricotta, mozzarella and extra virgin olive oil.
“The prosciutto and olive pizza is a top seller and the lamb sandwich is popular at both lunch and dinner because it is quite hearty,” says Lyons. “If you think of a traditional Hawaiian pizza, which we know is a flavor profile Americans enjoy, then you can start to play around with other fruit and meat combinations that work the same way. The prosciutto and fig is familiar, but also completely unique.”
The Greek-inspired dishes are a success, Lyons continues, because they are not only fresh and flavorful but also new and exciting. “Diners want to try something that challenges their expectations a bit,” he says.
Operators don’t need to stress about procuring specialty ingredients to compose Greek fare. Most Greek ingredients are already on-hand. It’s just a matter of repurposing. When the five-unit, Tempe, Arizona-based Spinato’s Pizzeria was trying out new pizza recipes it made perfect sense to create a Greek pizza since Greek salad was already on the menu.
“We already had all of the ingredients, and I felt those ingredients would be delicious on a pizza,” says Anthony Spinato, vice president of Spinato’s Pizzeria. “Our Mamma Spinato’s Signature Fresh Spinach pizza is one of our most popular items, and we realized it would be a great base for a Greek pizza. We then added Greek salad items like fresh tomato, Kalamata olives, sliced pepperoncini, red onion and, of course, feta. Da’ Greek pizza was born.
“Like many menu items, it wasn’t an immediate hit. Once customers began to try it, they loved it. It’s now one of our most popular pizzas.”
At Buddy’s Pizza, an 11-unit operation based in Detroit, Michigan, Greek items such as the Greek pizza and salad have been top-sellers for years. The Greek pizza is made with brick and feta cheese, red onion, spinach, chopped garlic, diced tomato, fresh dill, and arrives with a side of Greek dressing. The Greek salad mixes romaine hearts and iceberg lettuce with feta, Kalamata olives, pepperoncinis, tomatoes, beets, cucumbers and red onions.
Wesley Pikula, vice president of operations for Buddy’s Pizza, didn’t want to stop there. The Mediterranean salad turns the Greek flavors up a notch with its base of field greens, red onions, artichoke hearts, grape tomatoes, cucumber, garbanzo beans, Kalamata olives, feta cheese and fresh dill. A Mediterranean kale salad is served with the above ingredients but substitutes kale and shredded cabbage for field greens and is tossed in honey/lemon vinaigrette. The Mediterranean pizza is a Sicilian-style thin-crust pizza topped with tomato basil sauce, a blend of brick, fontinella and feta, red onion, spinach and fresh dill.
“These are very popular items,” Pikula says. “Ethnic dining has been a customer favorite for many years.”
At Bill’s Pizza in Palm Springs, California and Prescott, Arizona, customers can choose from Greek friendly favorites like roasted garlic, Kalamata olives, roasted bell peppers, sun dried tomatoes, pine nuts, and sheep’s feta cheese on the “build-your-own” menu portion.
“Roasted bell peppers, garlic, Kalamata olives and feta cheese seem to be a common combination we use in creating specialty pizzas because it is flavorful, healthy and colorful,” says Bill’s Pizza owner Bill Tracy.
Tracy is not alone in liking Greek flavors. His customers do, too. The Elton John Pizza, which showcases a garlic-infused extra-virgin olive oil base, spinach, four-cheeses plus feta, diced tomato, red onion, and artichoke hearts is his best-selling pizza, and the feta cranberry almond salad with red balsamic dressing is his best-selling salad.
Bottom-line: Greek ingredients lend themselves to many successful flavors — and sale combinations.
“Diners today want to find food that tastes good while challenging the norms so restaurants have to think outside the box,” says Matchbox’s Lyons. “Fusing the flavors of other cultures into an American pizza bistro is one way of doing that.”
Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman is a freelance writer in Louisville, Kentucky. She covers food, business and lifestyle trends.