Monday, September 26, 2011

How to amortize a deep fryer and make some pizzas in the process

We backed out of the driveway. The button pressed, the garage door lowered. What is that? Some jerk had stuck an advertisement on our garage door. There must be some school of marketing that says obnoxiously sticking ads on people's garage doors is more effective than simply stuffing mailboxes. Now I have to get out of the car, rip the thing off the door, and dispose of it properly.

What kind of jerk would do this kind of thing? A pizza place, strangely enough. Looking at the ad, this place looks like they have a big freezer full of ready to cook kibble, a deep fryer and a pizza oven.

They have eleven "delicious appetizers" on their menu. Seven look like things that come in bags, get dumped into the deep fryer and served. The others look like they come in bags, get stuffed into the pizza oven and served. But I could be wrong. Some could come in a box instead of a bag.

They have cinnamon rolls, too. They don't look appetizing in the ad, and even though they're easy to make, my psychic powers tell me these aren't made in house (although my powers been known to be wrong from time to time in the past).

They have ten pizzas on their flyer. No mention of fresh ingredients, home made dough or other words that indicate quality. Lots of low prices, though. Their pies are pretty much the usual gang of suspects, only heavy on the chicken, with four bird-based pies. There's a Hawaiian 'za, presumably "delux" because it has both Canadian and regular bacon - but thankfully no chicken.

One or two have ground beef. Why? Do I ask for pepperoni, mozzarella and tomato sauce on my hamburger? No! It's even combined with sausage, basically ground pork with spices. So, ground beef plus spiced ground pork but still sort of separate. Why not just make meat balls out of the beef, slice them, and keep things Italian?

Call me opinionated, but there are only a few kinds of meat that belong on a pizza: pancetta, prosciutto, pepperoni and sausage. If we expand the term to mean "animal protein" then I'd add shrimp, mussels, anchovies and maybe even oysters (imagine parsley, cream sauce, chives, oysters, garlic, chili flakes, lemon zest and you'll get the picture... damn. Now I'll have to make this and see how it turns out). Probably not mainstream enough for Main Street USA. But ground beef and Canadian bacon don't add much flavor, especially when overpowered by spicy things like pepperoni, sausage and linguiça.

Linguiça? No, that really shouldn't be there. I love linguiça, but it's really something that should be grilled so that the grease can run out of it and go away instead of running all over a pizza. Think next morning here. Congealed white fat mixed with tomato sauce. Breakfast, cold? I think not.

Two garlic-based pies, a strange thing if you stop to consider that garlic is normally a flavor enhancer and not the star ingredient. Unless you drizzle some olive oil over a bulb, add salt and pepper and bake it slowly until the garlic is meltingly soft and mellow. Not likely to happen in a 600° pizza oven in ten minutes or less.

Wisely, no eggplant on their vegetarian pizza. Eggplant pizza is usually a disaster. Eggplant doesn't cook in ten minutes, even in a Vesuvius-hot oven. It needs time, preferably spent in hot oil. If you do that first step, it works fine on a pizza.

One pizza lists salt as a topping. Salt? Why not list all the other stuff, too? Like oregano, pepper, chili flakes... you could probably top out with fifteen more ingredients that way. Like there's no salt in the meat pizza, loaded with cured meats, each packing a hefty dose of NaCl?

Since when is salt a pizza topping? Bet you'll never see this on a menu: Five salt pizza, featuring French gray sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Hawaiian black and red salt and my personal favorite, Spanish smoked sea salt. Also features tomato sauce, onions, potatoes, egg and anything else I can think of to mellow out that dose of salt. They could call it the Medusa because if you eat enough of it parts of you could very well turn to stone.

They have four almost identical photos describing their salads. All look like they came in a bag, à la Trader Joe's. In fact, the toppings on the pizzas all look like they came in bags.Uniform cut, sprinkled uniformly over the tops of the pies. Artists, they're not.

They say their pizzas are hand tossed. They also say they're gourmet, but until someone puts gormeh sabzee on a pizza I'll just consider that a hollow marketing term. (yes, that was an Iranian food joke. Feel free to laugh or not, as you please). The real question is why bother to hand toss a pizza if the ingredients really fell pre-cut from a frosty bag delivered in bulk from some wholesaler? Maybe they take a pre-formed, frozen crust and toss it like a Frisbee. Would that qualify as "tossed"?

Could they actually make their own dough, in house, shape it and adorn it with wholesome locally grown produce, artisan meats and natural cheeses? It certainly does not look this way in their ad. Sticking the thing on everyone's garage door definitely does not make me think they're a class outfit that cares about quality. More like a pizza mill that buys in 95% of everything they sell pre-made, so some uncaring pimply-faced minimum wage slave can put it together without ever pondering what would happen if they made a real effort to create wondrous pies to the delight of all.

So, here's the Big Question: does buying in 90% of what goes out the door, presumably at the lowest possible cost, truly maximize your profit margin, more than if you created everything fresh, from scratch, with love, striving to bring forth unique pizza variations that could draw the faithful from miles around (or let's face it, fail due to it's nonconformity but live on forever in your die-hard fans' memory)? Does serving something that everyone familiar with the cuisine in question has seen dozens of times ensure your profitability? Or does it cause your establishment to fade into the background of "me-too's" and disappear? I guess I'll find out if no more ads appear stuck to my garage door.