They say the customer is always right—unless said customer is crazy about the build-your-own-pizza menu. Even for something as common and as infallible as pizza, there is a right way and a wrong way to order it.
Just as there are wrong things to order at seafood restaurants, burger joints, and steakhouses, the same is certainly true at a pizza-centric restaurant, whether fast-casual or high-end.
But unlike seafood restaurants or steakhouses, where taboo orders are about sustainability and cooking temperatures, the no-no consensus at pizza places is more about customization — and we mean no Do it.
Any pizza place that puts meticulous craftsmanship and care into its recipes is one that customers can trust to make a delicious pie with harmonious ingredients, cheeses and sauces.
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By straying from these specialty pies or choosing to build your own, you run the risk of missing out on the best menu creations or ruining a well-crafted pizza with random toppings that clash. Quite simply, the number one order you should never order at a pizza place is an off-menu pie.
We asked some of America’s top pizzerias for their suggestions on what to avoid ordering, why filling up on mediocre appetizers is a bad idea, and why you should trust the chef.
In fact, what you shouldn’t order at a pizzeria should be any menu item that doesn’t make sense for the concept. As Bryce Schuman, the executive chef at New York’s Sweetbriar, explains, “Don’t order the crab or pierogis. You should always stick to what the restaurant does best. Get the best-selling part and give it a whirl.” For example, at Sweetbriar, the number one pie is the Spicy Mangalitsta, with house-fermented chili paste, thinly sliced Mangalitsa ham, honey and thyme.
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Or in that case, when you’re at a pizzeria, do as the Italians do. This is the moral according to Michael Taus, executive chef at Chicago’s ROOF on theWit. “I believe people should not order non-Italian items from a pizza menu. Being of Italian heritage, my family always stays away from random items like wings, Asian chicken salad, hummus and nacho bites on an Italian-centric menu. I say pick a category and do it well.” At ROOF, for example, Taus serves a sausage pizza inspired by his father’s tradition of buying sausage from Greco&Sons Italian Foods and pairing it with Melrose peppers.
According Khanh Nguyen, founder and CEO of Houston’s Zalat Pizza, customers should trust that the chef knows what’s best and that items are added to the menu for good reason. “We buy the ingredients that the chefs put on the menu, not the marketing department,” he says. “I avoid creating menu items that look like they’re built from analytics that a marketing team would identify as hot sellers, like stuffed crust, or the latest flavors or styles, like Detroit-style pizza.”
While he acknowledges that these figures can be great, the odds of a marketing team executing a product at the highest level aren’t great. “We stick to what tastes great and will make our customer happy.”
This ethos is especially true of the whole build-your-own pizza format, which Rob Larman advise against. The chef/owner of il Fuoco in Sonoma doesn’t offer DIY pizzas as an option for good reason. “It’s not that there are bad ingredients, it’s about what works together and why. I’ve been a chef for 52 years now, so I think about flavors and I’ve done a lot of work curating a menu of flavor-based pizzas.” Instead of throwing together random toppings and to order off the menu, he suggests customers order his Bill Pizza with Calabrian chili, dates, Tallegio cheese and guanciale.
Lisa Dahl, the chef at Sedona’s Pisa Lisa, agrees. “Don’t add extra toppings to your pizza because you may inadvertently destroy the balance the chef created when he designed his pizzas. We don’t want people to change our pizzas any more than we want people to change our pasta sauces to our creations with pasta”.
Similarly, by focusing on what the house specialty is, this means that customers should not prioritize random appetizers or sides that could distract from the main menu items. “Customers should never order fried calamari from a pizzeria menu,” it says Jon Gabelowner of New York-based Zazzy’s Pizza and founder of Coming Soon Food Group.
In fact, he says that seafood should generally not be ordered at a pizzeria, as it’s something that’s best made fresh, at a restaurant that specializes in it.
Aside from seafood, the most common pizzeria dishes to avoid include ubiquitous items like garlic bread. “I would recommend never getting garlic bread, which is guaranteed to be full of oil and sodium,” she explains Rick Rosenfield, co-founder of California Pizza Kitchen and founder of California’s Roman-style ROCA. If you want to cut carbs, he says have another slice of pizza. Or, according to Dahl, if you really want some bread, say no to the common garlic bread, but say yes to the homemade focaccia. “Garlic bread will fill you up quickly and dull your appetite, which should be reserved for authentic items like focaccia and bruschetta.”
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Then there are some more controversial pizza toppings that some chefs advise against, like pineapple and jalapeño. Per Ken Martinco-owner of Connecticut-based Colony Grill, the adage “the customer is always right” is understandable, if sometimes ill-advised.
“We believe everyone should eat and be let eat when it comes to pizza. That said, we don’t exactly understand pineapple. Get a fruit salad.” Anchovies, on the other hand, thinks they get a bad rap. “They’re incredibly salty and delicious, especially when paired with something like a hot cherry pepper.”
And instead of ordering something with jalapeños, which might make more sense at something at Taco Bell, Mici Italy co-founder Michael Micheli suggests trying Calabrian chili. “Our family grew up adding a little heat to the food we made together, and there are so many delicious and native Italian hot peppers out there that offer much more flavor versatility than a jalapeño pepper.” Preferred for their spicy and smoky flavors, which give just the right amount of heat without being overpowering, the restaurant chain uses them in items such as the Pulizzi pizza, topped with Sicilian Calabrian sausage and chili.