Dressed to Impress
One of the first kitchen jobs I had in San Francisco was at a gourmet salad restaurant. The place had just opened in the financial district and was booming. The chef/owner had previously worked at high-end places such as Gary Danko and was totally changing the game of fast-casual dining. Yes, they served salads, but let me tell you they were freaking amazing salads. Andrew (Swallow) changed them seasonally, topped them with grilled filet mignon and seared Ahi. He mixed in mango, fried leeks and local cheeses. He really focused on making a salad a cohesive dish and taught me the importance of utilizing different textures and flavors. It is something that I apply to any dish I make, especially pizza. And his dressings. I could almost drink them. All these years later, the food we made there has left an impression.
When I opened my pizzeria, I knew I wanted to keep it simple. Of course, I wanted to make the best pizza I possibly could. But I also wanted to make really, really good salads. I think it’s something that owners tend to overlook but can be a huge selling point for customers. Not only does it up the final check average — often times doubling it during lunch for a slice house, but it brings in people who wouldn’t otherwise eat there. I live in a place where people are very health conscious and having the option of great salads to accompany a slice has definitely played a role in how busy we are during the lunch rush. Depending on your menu, salads are also an easy thing to make by reutilizing ingredients you already order for your pies — items such as spinach, arugula, Parmesan, goat or feta cheese, roasted or fresh veggies and, of course dressings.
Dressings are very versatile. If you have a few solid ones for your salads, they can double as a dipping sauce or pizza topping. My husband rarely eats a slice without dipping the crust in our balsamic. And then, of course, there is Ranch. We sell our Ranch as a side for the pizza, but also cover a pie in it accompanied by pickled veggies and natural casing pepperoni.
Let’s talk about Ranch. Aside from pineapple, it may very well be one of the most heated pizza topping debates. People get serious about their Ranch or lack thereof. It has taken me four years to finally acquiesce and serve this creamy, herby dressing. Why has it taken me that long, you ask? I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m a pizza snob, especially when it comes to MY pizza. I love my crust. Sometimes I grab a slice and only eat the crust. So why would I want to cover it up with Ranch? Well, let me tell you something … as it turns out Ranch is delicious, especially homemade Ranch. It’s the kind that smells and tastes herby and is stained a minty green color from fresh parsley and chives. Do I think it belongs on every slice or whole pie? Absolutely not. There is always a time and place. And not only does it taste amazing, it is also very profitable. Over the years I have realized that sometimes you have to put aside your judgements and look at things from a business perspective. In other words, give the people what they want.
As with creating any category on your menu, it is important to know your demographic. I live in a very health conscious place. Yes, people love to eat and seek out really good food, but you can bet that they ran up the mountain a few times before indulging in it. So, a dairy free, vegan option is always essential. Sixty percent of our dressings fit this category. We started out with three dressings and over the years have added two more standards. They accompany our four salad options.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good house salad. We just don’t really offer one. Being a small slice shop, I try to use every ingredient more than once. We have an arugula salad and also top a few pies with the green. Same with spinach. Our shredded kale goes on our Italian Mamma pie and is massaged with apple cider vinaigrette for a salad. The only green we don’t repurpose is romaine. While I’m not saying you should get rid of the house salad that is occupying space on your menu, it is always fun to get out of your basic salad comfort zone. Here are few dressing ideas to play around with:
- buttermilk poppyseed
- cilantro jalapeño
- basil peach
- Miso, scallion and ginger
- balsamic strawberry
Creamy, zesty, tart, fruity or spicy, a well-balanced dressing can add flavor to any menu. It can increase sales and bring in new clientele. Dressings are also super versatile and simple to make. So, go ahead, turn a pizza junkie onto salads. And if that doesn’t work let them dip your beautiful crust into some homemade dressing.
Try these scratch dressings:
Audrey Kelly is the owner and pizzaiola at Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage in Boulder, CO.