June 27th, 2013

Hottest New Pizza Concepts

Posted in Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

With Pizza Chains increasing in popularity, it’s time we looked at some of the trendsetters for 2013:

Blaze Pizza: Pasadena, CA Web: www.blazepizza.com

With 13 more opening this year, Blaze Pizza is up to 56 franchised locations. A lot of its expansion is outside of CA this year with upcoming openings in Detroit and Chicago to name a few.

Their menu has some interesting pizza combinations, and a make your own pizza selection. Interestingly, the veggie option includes unlimited vegetables, which I have never seen before. I could see that being a definite plus for the health conscious or vegetarian crowds, so it’s nice to see on a pizza menu.

800 Degrees: Los Angeles, CA Web: www.800degreespizza.com

Just starting out in California, 800 Degrees utilizes a wood-burning oven and claims that they can bake your pizza before you even leave the counter. At 800 Degrees, they use local products, including locally made Mozzarella, wild yeast, and high-end toppings, such as bacon marmalade, rosemary ham. Complemented by Gorgonzola or Boschetto di Tartufo, and lovely Italian truffle cheese, it sounds heavenly. Look for the new locations at LAX and in Santa Monica.

MOD Pizza: Seattle WA Web: www.modpizza.com

With 8 locations, this Seattle, WA based pizza franchise is aimed at the 20-something crowd. Each pizza is $6.88; and with ingredients such as Asiago, roasted red peppers, and artichokes it is a great price point. Rounding out the menu are several salads and knots in garlic or cinnamon as well as handspun milkshakes, beer and wine. The name is homage to the British “MOD” subculture; they dub themselves “young, retro and slightly irreverent”. The pies and the atmosphere sound just plain fun.

Live Basil Pizza: Denver CO Web: www.livebasilpizza.com

The brainchild of the founders of Smashburger and Quizno’s, Live Basil made its debut in the Denver, CO market in May of this year. Another quick fire pizza style chain with its roots in Naples, Italy, the sauce uses San Marzano tomatoes and a natural 3 cheese Italian blend (Mozzarella, aged Provolone and Grana Padano). The restaurant’s namesake, basil, is grown onsite and picked daily to top your pie.

Brixx Pizza: Belmont, NC Web: www.brixxpizza.com

With 23 East Coast locations and some coming soon, they must be doing something right. Georgia is the latest foray for the Belmont, NC based Brixx Franchise Systems LLC management team. A word play on a winemaker’s term, Brixx has an extensive wine and beer selection that sets it apart in the fast casual segment. Technomic name this concept the one to watch for 2013:


Toppers Pizza: Whitewater, WI Web: www.toppers.com

Fifty four units strong and growing, Toppers is attempting to position itself as a serious competitor in the big box arena. In the short term, 30 stores are set to open by the end of 2013. By 2020, they have their eyes on the 500 mark. With a whole line of Topperstix, toasted grinders, “Q’za” (a quesadilla style pizza), and their signature pizzas, they have every hunger craving covered.


Go Roma: Park Ridge, IL Web: www.goroma.net

Go Roma, with 6 locations in the greater Chicago Area, is a quick service Italian restaurant that features soup, pasta, salads and of course pizza. All items are made in the back of the house and use simple, fresh ingredients.

Naked Pizza: New Orleans Web: www.nakedpizza.net

Touting their pizza as all natural, and to your door in 25 minutes, they are trying to save your health, one pizza at a time. With a crust made from 10 grains, such as quinoa, oats, buckwheat and brown rice, the focus here is on good for you, great tasting pizza. Now serving customers at 13 locations across the US.

Pieology: Rancho Santa Margarita, CA Web: www.pieology.com

Opening 6 locations in the near future, Pieology guarantees your pizza within 5 minutes. From James Markham, the same guy behind MOD Pizza, they offer a great array of toppings and after bakes.

SPIN! Neapolitan Pizza: Kansas City, MO Web: www.spinpizza.com

With 5 locations in Kansas City, and 2 more in California, they offer Gluten-Free and Vegan menu selections with a complete wine and craft beer list as well as signature in-house Sangria in your choice of 3 flavors.

June 25th, 2013

Hungry? Watch Your Step and Look Out for That Chicken!

Posted in Restaurants

In doing research for my next blog, I came across a restaurant that markets itself as “Dinner in the Sky”. This restaurant, with locations in more than 40 countries, may just be one of the most extravagant, and dangerously exhilarating dining experience of your life. The table, which seats 22 patrons, who encircle a chef, a waiter, or entertainer, is sold in 8 hour allotments, to be customized however desired. The table is lifted 50m above the ground by a suspension crane. A 2nd crane with an entertainment platform is also available if requested. While only available in Las Vegas and Florida currently, the brand looks to be expanding. http://www.dinnerinthesky.com/dits_dinner/index.php

While we are on the subject of scary or seemingly death-defying restaurant experiences, this restaurant in Thailand sets BBQ chickens on fire, which are then launched through the air to be caught by waiters on unicycles. I am sure they have lots of practice, but it just sounds plain dangerous to me! http://www.ka-tron.com/

And then there is Ninja New York, which is a labyrinth of hallways that wind their way to the jail-cell like tables. Careful though, you just might find a ninja jumping out at you from behind a wall. But don’t worry; he is only there to cook your food tableside. http://www.ninjanewyork.com/

This last restaurant, Disaster Café, while still under construction, boasts a simulated 7.8 earthquake as part of your dining experience. http://www.disastercafe.com/

June 14th, 2013

The Most Interesting Peruvian Foods You’ve Never Heard Of

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Recipes, Trends

South American cuisine, specifically Peruvian cuisine, is on the rise in restaurants around the country. One of the hottest culinary trends in the past few years, the food of South America is at once approachable and familiar, yet with interesting twists that intrigue and tempt the palate.

We are all familiar with potatoes, being a staple in many diets. Potatoes find their origins in the Andean highlands and are one of the most widely used tubers in the region. It is estimated that there are over 5000 species of edible potatoes in Peru. Most of what we consume in the United States shares one common ancestor, Solanum tuberosum. It’s not so interesting that they have potatoes in Peru you say? Well, it’s really more about some of the ways that they are prepared. Chunos, or freeze-dried potatoes are made from potatoes that are allowed to dry out during the day. Here is a link to the entire process, which can take up to 50 days for quality chunos http://enperublog.com/2008/09/01/the-chuno-dehydrated-potato-of-the-andes/ .

This clip from Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern shows the process first hand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHekHgFIKHM . To cook them, the freeze-dried chunos are typically sautéed in some type of fat, and left to hydrate in water overnight, prior to addition to a dish. One popular dish, called carapulcra, is made by combining chunos and pork into a stew.

Another interesting tuber common in Peru, and second in popularity to potatoes, is the olluco or ulloco. It is eaten for both its tuber and its greens. The tubers are said to stay crisp after cooking, unlike a potato. The green can be used in place of spinach in any dish. That is, of course, if you have access to olluco leaves. I was able to pick up a can of olluco tubers at my local Fiesta so I could try them out. Here is a picture of them:

They do bear a close resemblance to potatoes in appearance but are actually more closely related to the Madeira vine. They are typically eaten fried or boiled, with the tubers being julienned, then allowed to soak in water to remove the bitterness. The most common and oldest recipe for olluco is olluquito con carne, made with olluco and dried beef that has been cooked in sofrito.

To get an idea of what the olluco tastes like, I cooked some up using a traditional recipe (without the meat):

Recipe: Olliquito

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

½ onion, fine dice

6 cloves of garlic, pasted

½ tsp cumin

¼ tsp fresh oregano

2 Tbsp Aji Amarillo paste

1 Tbsp paprika

1 can olluco, julienned

Heat the oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat. Add the onions, garlic, cumin, oregano, Aji paste, and paprika. Cook until soft. Add julienned olluco and cook until all water evaporates (about 5 minutes).

Corn also grows in this region, several types of which are used to make a drink called chicha. Chicha de morada, a purple corn drink is an unfermented drink, traditionally flavored with clove, cinnamon and fruit juices. It is high in anti-oxidants and delicious to boot.

Chicha de jora (corn beer) is made from germinated corn that has been allowed to ferment. In the most remote regions, the chicha de jora starts with ground maize that has been ‘chewed’ by the chicha maker. Enzymes from this chewing break down starch into maltose.

Another interesting drink is called mocochinchi, which literally means “booger” in Spanish. It is made from dehydrated peaches that have been soaked and boiled with spices.

Still with me? Great! Then let’s look at some fruits of the highlands.

The Araza or Amazonian pear is an orange fleshy fruit that has few seeds and is very soft when ripe. It has the flavors of passion fruit with a pH similar to lemons. This fruit may never make it to the supermarket though: it only germinates in semi-rotted wood, making it difficult to grow commercially. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Araza

Badea, a relative of passion fruit, is also called giant granadilla. It is similar in flavor to a passion fruit but sweeter and is commonly used to make beverages. The leaves also denote some medicinal purposes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Badea

The lulo or little orange is related to the tomato and reportedly tastes like a cross between rhubarb and lime. This fruit is also difficult to cultivate, and the ripe fruit deteriorates quickly, much like its red juicy cousin. It will be a while before this fruit sees large scale production. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solanum_quitoense

Lastly, we cannot leave out the herb Huacatay; referred to as Mexican marigold, it plays a major role in the flavor of Peruvian cuisine. Also called black mint, it is rumored to taste like a cross between mint and bubblegum and is a key ingredient in pachamanca (a traditional dish of meats cooked in an in-ground BBQ pit).