April 6th, 2015

Bufalina – Austin Restaurant of the Month

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Pizza, Restaurants

BufalinaLogo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helmed by Steve Dilley, Bufalina showcases the best Neapolitan Pizza that Austin has to offer. Fondly dubbed “the Aaron Franklin of Pizza”, he is a former financial trader who made the jump to pizza. His background includes a stint at the prestigious Vera Pizza Napoletana in Naples in 2010, as well as a brief stint at Pizzeria D’Atitilio, which opened in 1937.

The two year project to build out Bufalina included bringing in an authentic Stefan Ferrara oven brought all the way from Italy. And it is a sure thing of beauty:

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The atmosphere is cozy and lit with candles. The majority of the seating is picnic-style with long communal tables. Overall, the interior, while understated, is comfortable.

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The pizzeria prides itself on more than just its pizza offerings though. The hand-pulled Mozzarella is made with curd from local dairies (or is brought from New Jersey when local milk is not available). Our plate featured a tomato relish with capers, fresh basil, and a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper. Overall, the plate was well balanced.

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Bufalina also offers a daily pasta special. The featured pasta was actually quite lovely. The tagliatelle was rich with egg yolks and reminded me of the pasta my grandma used to make by hand when I was little. It was topped with pulled pork and braised chard with a ladle of duck jus over the top. I rather enjoyed this dish, as it really took me back to grandma’s homemade noodle soup, where everything came from the farm. Definitely memorable, especially since it is rare to see freshly made pasta on a menu in Austin.

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Next on the menu was the Calabrese pizza, which was topped with a light tomato sauce, slightly spicy salami, roasted red peppers and fresh Mozzarella. The dough was well fermented and the pizza had the signature charred crust we come to expect from Napoletana-style pizza. Overall, this was a decent pizza, but the flavors could have been amped up a little (think Calabrian peppers instead and some intense garlic notes).

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The Brussels sprout pizza was next up. It featured sliced Brussels sprouts, serrano peppers and chopped ham. This was my favorite dish by far, but I am probably slightly biased since I happen to love Brussels sprouts. There was a nice char on the Brussels, and the touch of heat from the serrano peppers balanced the salty sweetness of the ham quite well.

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For dessert we chose the orange olive oil cake with coffee ice cream. The cake had a nice crumb, somewhere between a pound cake and a scone, with rich olive oil notes and a touch of orange.  The coffee ice cream played unexpectedly well with these flavors.

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And one last thing if you want to try this cozy little pizza place: get there early. They fill up fast, and they do not take reservations for parties under eight people. We dined right when they opened, and I am glad we did! The line to wait got pretty long pretty quick, with waits over two hours, and that was within 45 minutes of arriving.

October 30th, 2014

Focus on Fall Flavors: Get Your Pumpkin On!

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

It’s that time of year! Time to roll out the pumpkin flavored products. Pumpkin has become so popular that a certain drink at Starbucks goes by the shorthand of PSL. Just search on Twitter for the hashtag #PSL and you will see what I mean. The PSL has even spawned a video parody to the song “Shake It Off”.

So what is the allure of the pumpkin? For some it can be the nostalgia of the fall season, and for others it answers to a deep-seated need for rituals. Pumpkins are associated with the fall season, so it just makes sense that consumers ring in the season with pumpkin-flavored products.

While some people do not understand the allure of pumpkin flavor others live in obsession over this humble squash. According to an article written for CNN, pumpkin’s popularity increased 14% over the past year, and 34% over the past 5 years. This translates to more and more farmland being dedicated to growing pumpkins.  Other articles call for an end to the pumpkin madness, stating that the market is over-saturated by pumpkin products.

Restaurants, including QSRs and Fast Casual alike, have definitely embraced this mega-trend for fall, so let’s take a quick peek at some of the latest products created to rival the ubiquitous PSL and a few other goodies designed to complement these pumpkin offerings.

Tropical Smoothie Café: their ‘Naughty or Nice’ seasonal promotion showcases interesting smoothies in unique flavors (Cranberry Truffle, Peaches N’ Pumpkin Spice, and Very Berry Cranberry) to complement their Pumpkin Pie smoothie. In addition, they are featuring 2 new sandwich combinations just in time for the holidays: the Chipotle Cranberry Turkey Club and the Rustic Turkey Apple Club.

Dunkin Donuts: the new Pumpkin Crème Brulee Latte and the Croissant Donut (which is set to release on Nov. 3) are featured items on the Dunkin Donuts menu. And for Halloween, they featured a pumpkin pie donut in the shape of a jack-o’-lantern as well as the Boston Scream donut filled with vanilla custard.

Quizno’s: New Pumpkin White Chip bars were released just in time for Halloween and are available for a limited time. Basically a pumpkin-flavored blondie, they are sure to be tasty.

Panera: the Turkey Cranberry Flatbread Sandwich and the Butternut Squash Ravioli are newly released items. Finish your meal with the new Caramel Apple Scone. While there are no pumpkin flavored offerings in their new menu items, they feature other traditional fall flavors.

Stevi B’s: by popular demand, they are bringing back their Pumpkin Pie Pizza, a limited-time dessert pizza with pumpkin pie filling and sweet icing.

Pie Five Pizza: also coming back for the fall season is Pie Five’s Pumpkin Pie Spice Cake with warm spice notes, pumpkin pie filling, and spiced pumpkin frosting.

Regardless of whether you are firmly seated on the pumpkin bandwagon or you do not care for pumpkin flavors, you cannot deny the consumer draw of including pumpkin on your menu.

March 31st, 2014

The Future of Take N’ Bake

Posted in New Foods and Flavors, Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

Papa Murphy’s, the grand daddy of the take and bake concept, has been the trailblazer in this sector of the pizza industry since they invented the idea in 1981. Their recent addition of a pan pizza that they call “fresh pan pizza” debuted in February of this year to all markets. It has received good reviews so far, and this addition has served to round out the menu at Papa Murphy’s.

With the success of such a well-known chain, several other chains are capitalizing on the improved margins from the take and bake model.

Godfather’s Pizza just announced that they are opening a take-and-bake concept this spring called Big Vinny’s Take & Bake Pizza. Set to open in Lincoln, NE, the concept will showcase fresh dough and premium ingredients to create customized pizzas for their customers.

ZPizza, a chain that is one of the first to use organic flour and organic tomato sauce, just recently launched a take and bake option in gluten-free and wheat crusts. The bonus? The gluten-free crust is just as tasty as the wheat crust.

Figaro’s, an Oregon-based chain, claims to be the first chain to have offered gluten-free take and bake pizzas to its customers back in 2011. They also offer take and bake lasagna and calzones with baked or take and bake options.

Noble Roman’s has 22 locations that offer take and bake pizzas (traditional, SuperThin, and deep-dish Sicilian), breadsticks, chicken wings, cookies and cinnamon rounds. At the end of 2013, 56 franchise agreements had been signed for new locations. They feature fresh-made sauce from crushed tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and spices. To grab a larger share of lunchtime pizza revenue, they are also testing the “You Bake or We Bake” concept in a 3 store test.

Mama Mimi’s is an award-winning small pizza chain based in Cincinnati, OH. They have won “Pizza of the Year” at the National Pizza Festival in Las Vegas as well as the “Best Gourmet Pizza in North America” at the prestigious World Pizza Championship in Italy. With 6 locations in operation, and award-winning pizzas like Mama’s Marmaletta Amore (apricot glaze, mozzarella, chicken, caramelized onion, basil, red pepper flake and gorgonzola), they definitely define gourmet take and bake pizza.

Several companies have taken a different approach to the desire for take and bake. By offering nationwide shipping on their pizzas and other products, the following chains seek to further widen their customer base into new territory:

Donato’s Pizza recently came out with a line of gluten-free pizzas and flatbreads to complement their regular take and bake options. These are offered in-store but also in Kroger’s and on Amazon’s online store to be shipped right to your door. This allows them to extend their customer reach while still providing the quality pizzas that their customers expect.

Lou Malnati’s is the king of the deep-dish pie in Chicago. And they will ship you a pie anywhere in the country via the website www.tasteofchicago.com . They also offer a Pizza of the Month Club for those who cannot get enough Lou Malnati’s.

Whichever delivery method a chain chooses, great quality take and bake is the pizza of the future. It should not be underestimated by operators as the trend in ‘gourmet at home’ becomes more and more popular.

January 14th, 2014

Detroit Style Pizza: What’s the Hype?

Posted in Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

A truly American style of pizza, the Detroit Style Pizza started from humble beginnings in 1946, as World War II was coming to a close. Buddy’s Rendezvous in Detroit, MI wanted to offer returning war veterans a taste of the foods they had in Europe during the war. Where everyone else was serving them fish and chips, Gus Guerra had other ideas. He and his wife Anna pulled out the family recipe books and developed the pie that is infamously known today as Detroit Style Pizza.

The pie, known for its edge-to-edge cheese, is baked in a special blue steel pan that caramelizes the edge of the cheese. The pizza also features sauce on top of the cheese (“pizza upside down” to some), which is added after the pizza is fully baked. The focaccia-like crust is a favorite among those preferring thicker, airier crust.

Detroit-style pizza is making the headlines lately too: Shawn Randazzo of Detroit Style Pizza Company took the honor of World’s Best Pizza at the 2012 International Pizza Expo for his homage to his hometown. In the spring of last year, Little Caesar’s rolled out a Detroit-Style pie, which is considered to be the biggest single product launch for them in their 54 year history. And in August of last year, Via 313, in Austin, Texas was named one of the top 33 places to eat pizza in America by the Huffington Post, with the Detroiter rated the best on the menu:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thrillist/these-are-the-33-best-piz_b_3708231.html

To understand the differences between this pizza style and others, let’s look at the components that make it authentic:

1) The pie must be baked in a seasoned square pan

2) Dough hydration must be between 65% and 75%

3) Dough proofing specific to the type (I could not elaborate in my research what this means) (some sites stated to proof with the cheese on top of the dough for 2-3 hours)

4) Pepperoni under the cheese

5) Cheese from edge to edge

6) Red tomato sauce on top

7) Baked in a deck oven

The website www.detroitstylepizza.com offers a training program and certification to those interested in taking their Detroit-Style Pizza-making skills to the next level. You can also buy the authentic pans (seasoned or unseasoned) on the website if you cannot find them elsewhere. Very recently, there was a major shortage of the pans, causing panic among operators in this market. The one and only factory that made the pans closed down production in West Virginia to move its operations to Mexico. Getting the factory up and running in Mexico took much longer than previously thought, which resulted in a huge shortage of blue steel pans that lasted nearly a year. Ironically, the pans were originally utilized to hold small machine parts in factories, and were never meant for pizza production. Just very recently, they started selling “make your own Detroit Style Pizza Dough” kits on the website as well. The kit includes a seasoned authentic dough pan, pan lid, spatula, pan grippers, and dough mix. You can also buy a dough mix refill that contains enough mix to make 20 small Detroit Style Pizzas. http://detroitstylepizza.co/mail-order/

With all the excitement around Detroit-Style, I decided to head over to Via 313 to see for myself what sets it apart from other pizza styles. The “313” in the name is in honor of the very first area code in Detroit. Housed in a small trailer in the back of Craft Pride on Austin’s infamous Rainey Street, Via 313 is the blood, sweat, and tears of two brothers: Zane and Brandon Hunt, both originally from Detroit. The brothers shared passion for pizza saw them receiving their VPN certification for Tony Gemignani in San Francisco in 2010. Both are certified in Pizza Napoletana (VPN) and in Detroit Style Pizza. Next came the truck that they opened on East 6th in Austin, TX in 2011. It wasn’t much later and the buzz reached the national level.

We ordered two pies, and the first to come out was the Omnivore. It was topped with cremini mushrooms, sweet onions, natural casing pepperoni, pinched hot Italian sausage, and green peppers. The cheese had a perfectly caramelized edge, just as promised, with a light and airy yet buttery crust with seemed lighter and fluffier than focaccia. It was topped with a thick red sauce and sprinkled generously with herbs. This was a very fresh tasting pizza with high quality ingredients.

Next up was the Cadillac, a little bit more fancy-schmancy, with creamy Gorgonzola cheese, fig preserves, prosciutto, and Parmesan. This pie was not finished in the typical Detroit fashion though: a balsamic glaze replaced the typical red sauce. I loved the flavors on this pizza, but felt that the prosciutto could have been shaved thinner so as to be less chewy. It was missing that crispy character that I would expect on an artisan pizza.


These pizzas will fill you up, and as far as comfort food in a pizza, they really hit the mark. You could feel the love that went into making these pizzas. What better meal than one of this light and crispy pies to welcome you to Austin!

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:

http://blogs.technomic.com/segment-performance-pizza/#.UctR75V_hAR

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.

http://www.toppers.com/news/big-box-pizza-restaurants-brace-for-powerful-newcomer

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.

February 20th, 2013

Pieology

Posted in About Allison, Pizza, Restaurants, Trends

Pieology is opening to rave reviews, and I recently visited a Pieology store in Irvine, CA.

The restaurant is small, about 24 seats inside, and full of amazing aromas.  The minute you walk into the place, you can see the large wood fired oven used to create these masterpieces of pizza.  Once you saddle up to the make line, they begin to create your pizza.  Choose from the “One of Ours” predesigned pizzas or the Create Your Own.  Most people I saw were creating their own pizza magic!  Set up as an assembly line, there are a lot of options.  Part of the theater of Pieology is that they make your individual pie while you watch.  All the ingredients are right in front of you, so you can pick and choose based on what looks good.

Pick your sauce:

Red sauce

Herb butter

Olive oil

Choose a cheese:

Mozzarella

Ricotta

Parmesan

Gorgonzola

Add a protein:

Pepperoni

Sausage

Meatball

Ham

Bacon

Chicken

And finally, the toppings:

Black Olives

Mushrooms

Red Onions

Green Peppers

Artichokes

Tomato

Garlic

Pineapple

Jalapenos

Fresh Basil

Cilantro

Into the oven the pie goes.  Now you wait.  But not long, as the super hot oven cooks the thin crust crispy and melts the cheese quickly.  After baking you can also get a few ingredients added like roasted red peppers, black pepper, olive oil, pesto, or dollops of red sauce.

Straight from their website (www.pieology.com) comes their philosophy:  “Pieology prides itself on providing the best tasting, healthiest custom pizza in the world. Using only the freshest ingredients, Pieology provides smoking hot pizzas in under 5 minutes. Our energy efficient restaurants are not only comfortable but also adhere to the philosophies of our corporate mission statement:  Making the world a better place one pizza at a time.

I did wait in the packed restaurant a little longer than 5 minutes but the entertainment of watching the “Pieologist” rotate the pizzas and tend the ovens was entertaining enough to keep me salivating for my pie.  The catchy name grabs your attention but the seriously delicious pies will keep you coming back.

Happy (Pizza) Eating,

Chef Allison