In Atlantic City this year, the calzone will officially enter the competition realm. At Pizza & Pasta Northeast 2020, the calzone competition is set to make its debut. It’s interesting the reverberating effects that these competitions have. Pizzeria owners see other restaurants’ styles on display, which in turn paves the way for inspiration and intrigue to go back to their pizzeria and see what can be created. Steel sharpens steel, great ideas lead to great ideas, and I’m excited to see those results.
What constitutes a calzone, and how is it not a Stromboli?
I’ve made calzones since day one of my pizzeria Andolini’s. I love calzones, and I also love Stromboli. There are definite differences. Calzones exist in Naples; they’re as old as pizza. Stromboli is an American invention from Philadelphia. The namesake inspired from the movie Stromboli, starring Ingrid Bergman. Calzone has its roots in Naples. If you go to any Naples pizzeria today, a calzone will be on the menu. The word calzone is loosely translated to “pants legs,” which means that it’s the type of food ideal for to-go eating. Classic Napoletana pizza, with its oozing sauce, does not lend itself to grab and go.
A great calzone has several other distinguishing factors — the stuffed ingredients, of course, but also the fold, the size and the bake. I like selling a larger calzone, as it gets the price for the item in a realm that makes more sense. And I can charge for it, as much as an extra-large pizza. So, we do a 16-inch calzone.
All of our calzones have ricotta, sliced sausage that we make in-house, with a folded braid technique closer and extra-virgin olive oil on top, so that when it bakes, it comes out golden. We cut it three times in the shape of a chicken foot, so each slice comes out triangular.
The key to a proper close of a calzone is in the rolling braid. I’ve seen the pinch, where it’s closed off by putting your thumb and index finger together. I’ve also seen the fork on the edge closure, mashing the dough to become one. I think a solid braid lends itself to not just being aesthetically pleasing, but also ensuring that no product leaves the calzone during the bake as the dough rises.
Other ways to make the calzone your own, include deep-frying it, to create a calzone fritti. This method is popular in Apulia, Italy, and is sometimes referred to as panzerotti.
A smaller calzone may be more necessary than ever before. In the COVID world that we now live in, smaller box lunches are not just a good idea; they’re mandatory for many businesses when they order lunch. Companies don’t want people sharing things, which throws a wrench in the pizza industry as a whole. Getting around a table and everyone eating off the same pan to share a pizza is the backbone of what we do. That’s all out the window now. To compete against the Panera’s and Chipotle’s of the world, personal pizzas, or moreover individual calzones, can be something that gets your lunch game back into the competitive spectrum. Obviously, these would not be the 16-inch large form version that I referenced earlier, but more of a six- to nine-inch version.
A calzone does not need or is not mandated to have any one particular topping inside of it. I choose to have ricotta in all of mine, but again, it’s entirely up to you whether it’s heavy on the meats, multiple kinds of cheese or a variety of vegetables. Depending on your demographic, having a calzone that lends itself to each demo makes you more apt to reach higher sales. I have a vegan Calzone that doesn’t outsell my other calzones, but is very popular in the vegan community and sets us apart for having vegan-friendly items. Egg and sausage calzones give you the ability to feed a morning crew and get a head start on sales for the day. Spinach ricotta calzones can come off just healthy enough to feel like a smart choice for health-conscious customers.
I created my most successful calzone as a goof (it was a reference to Seinfeld). In 2016, I watched an old Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza’s boss, the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner, barked at him to go to his favorite pizzeria and get him a calzone. Steinbrenner told him to get him the one with the eggplant and the pepperoni. So I made a fried eggplant, pepperoni, sliced sausage and ricotta calzone. I call it The Steinbrenner. This calzone went on to become my most popular calzone. It tastes great on its own, and the heightened awareness of must-see TV fanatics, now in their early 40s, doesn’t hurt either.
The beauty of a calzone, just like pizza, is its effortless ability to make it unique. I’ve never had two calzones identical, even in Naples, where almost all the dough is created in a very similar way. Each pizzeria puts their spin on how they fold it, whether it’s a half-moon or more of a U shape. To the inside toppings, whether or not they have pizza sauce or not. Heavy on the meats, or an absolute ricotta-fest. You can choose to have a side sauce or array of sauces to dip the calzone or cover it in a sauce as served.
I’ve seen the big boys do this with P’zone and dipping zones as campaigns to build buzz for calzone offshoots. The advertisement style should match your brand. If you aren’t selling kitschy family fun, modify how a package calzone deal feeds a group. Or market the style as being authentic to Naples. Regardless of how you approach the marketing of your calzones, know this: if you see the national chains investing heavily in a particular style — in this case, calzones — you know the market research supports the viability of the product.
These things are the choice that distinguishes you. And at the Pizza & Pasta Northeast challenge, I’m looking forward to seeing the varying combinations on display to see who stands out this year and in the coming years.
Mike Bausch is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @andopizza