Pizza: Traditional or Gourmet?

Lou Malnati's Pizzeria
Lou Malnati's is a Chicago favorite. The casual restaurant chain sells more than a million deep-dish pizzas annually at nine full-service locations, three cafes and 21 carryout and delivery locations, says COO Jim D'Angelo. The original menu offered toppings of green peppers, anchovies, sausage, mushrooms and onions. Since then the chain has added black olives, spinach, garlic, sliced tomatoes, and pepperoni. “We try to look at the most traditional and popular toppings, and that's why we didn't move to add pineapple. We did have Canadian bacon, but the cost factor became too much,” D’Angelo points out. “You need to keep the pizza affordable.”
Goodfella's Pizzeria
Scot Cosentino entered the gourmet pizza market nearly two decades ago with this Staten Island pizza restaurant. It features pies with uniquely flavored crusts and nearly three dozen different meats, cheeses and vegetables as toppings. “With our wood-fired oven, we can do toppings in an unusual way, wood-fired roasted peppers, sausage, zucchini, artichokes,” Cosentino says. “And it's not just the meat, cheese and veggies. We have a number of sauces, including the tomato cream vodka sauce that's led our popular Vodka Pizza to win awards.”
What's the philosophy behind your toppings?
We want to make sure our guests get a good quality pizza every time, so quality and quality control is key. You only have so much room around the prep table, and you don't want to keep running back and forth to the freezer. Freshness is also important. So, if you only get one or two requests a day for a topping, is it cost effective if that topping is perishable? If someone comes in for the first time, you want that experience to be great.
It hasn't changed: Use only the best ingredients for our artisan pizzas. We prep everything daily. We've learned how much of each topping we'll probably need to have ready, so there's no waste. Not only do we have high-quality meats and fresh vegetables, but also we use fresh Mozzarella and imported San Marzano tomatoes. We cook our sauces from scratch. It may cost a bit more, but our customers expect it.
What are the most popular toppings?

In Chicago, it's sausage on our butter crust pizza. I know it's pepperoni in the rest of the country, but not here. We have a couple of specialty pizzas that are popular, because you pay one price for several different toppings: the Classic with sausage, extra cheese and tomato sauce, and the Lou with spinach, mushrooms and sliced tomatoes covered with Mozzarella, Romano and Cheddar cheese.

Pepperoni, of course, and our homemade meatballs are a big seller. The Vodka Pizza (Mozzarella, mushrooms, peas and prosciutto di Parma with the vodka sauce) is still a favorite. People can choose their own toppings, but we sell more of our specialty pies. We created them because a lot of people went topping crazy, adding things that didn't go well together. In that sense, too many toppings can be a double-edged sword.

Do you plan any changes in the toppings?

We're always willing to consider new toppings, but we add them rarely. At this point we're able to address health concerns because we have great toppings like spinach, mushrooms, green peppers, onions and tomatoes. We've added a thin crust pizza option and a gluten-free crust, but our guests seem to like the toppings we have now.

I guess we're always looking for new ideas for our toppings. We've had pizzas win awards with toppings like lobster on them and with lemon garlic chicken and roasted potatoes. We've added a heart-healthy vegetable pizza, a whole-wheat pizza with salmon and gluten-free pizzas. I think the staple items are here to stay, but I have seen quite a change with more demand for vegetable toppings.