Portable food still requires well-designed delivery packaging
Pizza has a lot going for it. It is almost an embarrassment of riches.
In addition to being delicious, sometimes nutritious, practically guaranteed to please a crowd and price-conscious, pizza is also portable. Whether sliced, carried out or delivered, pizza is a well-traveling food.
But just because pizza and most of the offerings at pizzerias are designed for transport, that does not mean every combination handles a drive-time of 20 to 40 minutes on the road gracefully –– or tastefully.
Operators need to be careful or that gooey cheese will start to cool and the hot strings of mozzarella goodness will morph into stretchy chunks, or that baked pasta dish will absorb the shape of the pan and become one giant noodle, impossible to break apart.
Since delivery drivers cannot teleport or disobey the legal speed limits, it is inevitable that pizza will spend some time moving from point A to point B. So in order to drive their best food forward, operators need to be strategic with their delivery options.
“Pizza travels well because of the ingredients and the shipping container,” says David Boles, co-owner and kitchen manager of Essex’s NY Pizza & Deli in Salem, Massachusetts. “The paper box absorbs steam, which helps keep the pizza from getting too soggy. The sauce and cheese on the dough also help insulate the pizza, keeping it hot and delicious when on a delivery.”
Mimi Wunderlich, brand marketing manager at Villa Enterprises in New York, parent company of the Villa Italian Kitchen brand, says their most popular cheese and pepperoni pizzas hold up particularly well with a travel time of 20 to 40 minutes because Villa does not put pepperoni on until a pizza has been cooked.
Villa’s signature oversized strombolis and Italian pastas and entrées –– including spaghetti and meatballs, salads with dressing on the side, and breadsticks –– also handle driving like a champ, but pizzas with a lot of “wet toppings,” like pineapple or whole tomatoes, do not travel well and tend to get soggy with too much travel time.
Boles agrees. “Salads delivered with dressing on the side also travel well because they’re easy to keep at an ideal, colder temperature,” he says. “If you add a hot topping it may wilt the salad.”
Eric Sowers, director of Culinary Development at Bertucci’s, a Boston-based Italian restaurant with locations on the East Coast, thinks of one item in particular when considering “quality retention.”
“Baked pasta dishes are good examples of items other than pizza that travel well,” Sowers says. “These dishes tend to maintain heat, quality and flavor well. At Bertucci’s, this would include our homemade lasagna, baked tortellini, and chicken Gratinati.”
Proper heating is the key to keeping these dishes traveling at their best.
“When care is taken by any restaurant with regards to proper heating, these types of dishes are great choices as they can retain their desired temperature over a longer period of time,” Sowers says. “Typically items with a more dense build maintain temperature better than those that aren’t as dense. Because the dishes mentioned above are cooked in our brick oven at 650 F, this helps them maintain an appropriate temperature by evenly heating the dishes throughout.”
Boles agrees that good quality pasta travels well, especially when in the right dish.
“If the pasta is cheap or overcooked, it will be subpar when it reaches the house,” Boles adds. “The shipping container plays a role as well; look for plastic containers with a sealable lid for best results.”
Sowers credits his carry-out containers for delivery success.
“Our carry-out containers also are able to help conduct the heat by absorbing the heat from the bottom of the brick oven as well as the circulated heat from the fire,” Sowers says.
Even with the best containers and intentions, some pizza and foods just are not meant for the road.
“Fried foods such as seafood, French fries or onion rings don’t fare well after time,” Boles says. “Frying is a method of dry cooking. As most fried foods are battered or breaded, after time the crispy breading from the hot oil will soften from the juices escaping the meat inside or veggie, as is the case with onion rings. If the restaurant is selling hand-breaded per order foods like seafood, rings, or chicken, the breading is even more sensitive.”
With these foods, the container type can make a precarious situation even worse.
“If you have these foods in a hinged to-go container or paper bag that trap steam, the process is accelerated and food quickly cools and gets soggy,” Boles says. “Look for an absorbent or biodegradable to-go container when sending food on a delivery. Chinet is a good brand, but if food is shipped in Styrofoam, the container should at least have vent holes and a wax sheet for lining.”
Although some foods are more challenging to transport from a pizzeria, with the correct attention to detail most foods can arrive at their destination tasting great.
“I feel that when items are heated, stored and delivered properly that any item can be successfully delivered or picked up as a carryout item,” Sowers says. “The key is packaging hot and cold items separately in order to maintain their respective temperatures.”
Paying attention to what and how pizza and other menu items leave the restaurant is important to an operator’s delivery success. The right temperature, ingredients, assembling and packaging all contribute to a well-received, delicious meal and will ensure that one of the great perks about pizza keeps driving on.
DeAnn Owens is a freelance journalist living in Dayton, Ohio. She specializes in features and human-interest stories.