Sandwiches are like artistic pizzas in the way that pizzas are like artistic sandwiches. Many combinations of wheat, protein, cheese and vegetables in famous sandwiches can turn your pizzas into best sellers by bringing wonderful flavor memories back to your customers.
Everyone has a sandwich incident that bounces around in their memories. My funny memory happened when my friend and pizza champion Bruno di Fabio took me to the famous Katz’s Deli in New York City.
As I shimmied up in line, I saw the frenzied white shirted pastrami-cutters making sandwiches. The chin high counter loomed over me as I ordered a pastrami-on-rye sandwich, and I was looking forward to the monster sandwiches everyone seemed to get. Then the sandwich maker used his giant fork to place a few pitiful slices on my rye bread and onto a plate in front of me. I turned to my friend sounding too much like a child, “Hey Bruno, I wanted a good sandwich, with a pastrami pile, like everyone else is getting’”
“You idiot, you gotta tip to get a pile.” I then looked up and saw a giant tip jar with numerous bills in it and many bills sticking up as “bait” and instantly understood. The sandwich maker sternly stared at me as I pulled my wallet out and slowly placed a $5 bill in the jar. Without a word, the man grabbed the plate back and after a frenzy of slicing, placed a mountain of meat on it. Later, as I plowed through this delicious sandwich, I thought that it would make a great pizza. When I got back to Ohio, I got started planning a pastrami pizza. I could not mimic the rye crust at the time but found my way around it with rye croutons.
The process of making a pizza from an iconic sandwich may seem exciting and easy. The hard part comes when figuring out what I call, “The Spread.” This is reaching the flavor profile of a famous sandwich in large pizza form by manipulating the weight, flavor or bulk of the toppings.
For instance, salami does not weigh much and can be spread across the pie efficiently, whereas pastrami weighs more and may not reach your customers’ expectations of a “real” pastrami pizza. This happens with chicken, pork, steak as well as link sausages, but disappointment can be avoided by using thinner cuts of meat and/or slicing products like boneless wings thinly. Also, I have found that customers do not mind paying a little more for a “loaded” pizza if it reaches the flavor profile of a fantastic sandwich.
Other variables are sandwich flavor profiles that rely on uncooked products and/or non-melted items. Cheeses like Brie, cheddar, Gouda and sauces like mayo and mustard may burn in the oven and must be topped after the bake. Lettuce, tomato, pickles, giardiniera, seeds and salsas change their flavors, wilt and burn under heat. You may have to adapt your cut-table routine and staff training to finish pizzas if they are not used to these procedures.
Join the Club
To me, any iconic sandwich flavor profile is a masterful business step because the memory of the sandwich is already in your customers brains. I have loved making some pizzas that come from sandwiches all across the world. Here are some great combinations to try.
Pizza Ahogada: This has been a great seller for us using local pork and brisket. This mimics the Torta Ahogada (meaning “drowned sandwich”) from the Jalisco region and especially in Guadalajara where a pork sandwich is dunked in a spicy-cumin sauce. We have used a pungent provolone, onions and cilantro to make this pizza sing…” Hells bells.” (See recipe below.)
The Cubano Pizza: This pizza is as great as it is simple. The Cuban sandwich was first created in Tampa at the Columbia Restaurant. It combines ham, Genoa salami, mojo-marinated pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard. Some salamis burn and are better placed on after baking. Tossing some chips atop this pizza is a special treat.
The Reuben Pizza: We started this pizza early in 2005 with corned beef, mozzarella with shaved Swiss cheese underneath, (swiss tends to burn easily in conveyor ovens.) We then topped it with sauerkraut and thousand island dressing. It was delicious but we had a lot of customers order without sauerkraut.
Chicken Cordon Bleu: This iconic European delight is a crunchy nugget of chicken filled with ham and swiss. Our version uses a base of Dijon mustard topped with mozzarella then ham under shredded Gruyere, (expensive but worth it) then topped with local chicken and baked. After the oven, we drizzle with béchamel sauce then arugula.
Nashville Hot Chicken Pizza: The perfect pairing of super-spicy sauce made with hot sauce, cayenne, brown sugar, paprika, garlic and onion powder coats a boneless wing perfectly. This chicken can cook perfectly on a bed of provolone, feta or even Monterey Jack. After the oven, some garnish with dill pickle and a pile of coleslaw on the side is a great finishing touch.
Muffaletta Pizza: This sandwich was made famous at the Central Grocery in New Orleans and features Italian charcuteri and giardinieria with added olives, capers, roasted red peppers and minced garlic. Provolone is the accompanying cheese to the capicola, mortadella, Italian salami and/or soppressata.
Two Pizzas from two famous sandwiches.
The Bahn Mi Pizza
This famous sandwich relies heavily upon the crunch of crispy French bread. For this reason, a thin and crispy crust and a sprinkle of Japanese Panko breadcrumbs is a good choice. This pizza is topped with a Hoisin sauce, aged provolone, (a great fit for Asian-style pizza flavors) pulled pork topping and then baked. The beauty of this is the finish of easy pickled carrot and radishes, cilantro and pickled or fresh jalapeño.
Ahogada Pizza Bonus
Because of the same flavor profiles, this pizza can be made exactly like the Bahn Mi Pizza by only substituting the Ahogada sauce for the Hoisin. We use approximately 4 ounces of this sauce on our pizza, but you may want to use more. You may not need the jalapeño because this sauce, held under refrigeration for a few days, really gets hot!
1 ½ cups dried Arbol chilies
1 can ground tomatoes
1 ¼ cup raw whole garlic cloves
¾ cup apple cider vinegar
¾ cup cumin powder
½ cup dried oregano
¼ cup salt
Grind up all ingredients with an immersion blender or blender. The dried Arbol chilies will hydrate in the sauce and release the flavor and heat.
John Gutekanst owns Avalanche Pizza in Athens, Ohio.