By Tracy Morin
Call it liquid gold: Sauces and drizzles are not only a great way to add depth of flavor and eye appeal on your pizzas—they’re an ideal upsell to accompany pies and other menu items. “Today’s customer expects the ‘wow’ factor when they order food—everyone is on social media these days, where food is colorful, over-the-top and sexy,” says Chuck Sillari, owner of Mortadella Head in Somerville, Massachusetts. “To stay relevant, restaurant owners and chefs have to figure out ways to excite the masses. I have to look at the food I serve as a piece of artwork, and my sauces and drizzles are the paint. Of course, I want it to be delicious, but I also want it to be beautiful enough for someone to whip out their iPhone, snap a photo and post it on Instagram or TikTok.”
Ready to get your customers sauced? In their own words, these chefs and operators from around the country offer some major inspiration.
Sean Ferraro, chef/owner, Madison Avenue Pizza, Dunedin, FL
Keep in mind that sometimes cooking the sauces changes the flavor, and not every sauce is best when baked in the pizza oven. Uncooked sauces can have a bright, fresh flavor that might be better for the flavor profile of certain pizzas. Other than a locally made hot honey, we use many finishing sauces on our pizzas:
- Homemade Calabrian chili oil on our Angry Pepperoni pizza, with red sauce, mozzarella, cupping pepperoni, roasted long hot peppers and Parmesan cheese. The chili oil brings a smoky spice flavor that adds a little more heat to the pie without overwhelming the other flavors. We make it by simmering Calabrian chilis in olive oil.
- Homemade sweet-and-sour sauce on our Crab Rangoon pizza, with a crab rangoon sauce base and topped with mozzarella, green onions and wonton strips. We make the sauce with crushed pineapple, teriyaki sauce, sriracha and sweet Thai chili sauce.
- Yellow mustard on both our Chili Glizzy (chili, sliced hot dogs, cheddar and red onion) and our Pastrami and Pickle (red sauce, mozz, pastrami and dill pickles).
- Homemade pistachio pesto for our Mortadella and Pistachio pizza, with mozzarella, ricotta, mortadella and fresh garlic.
- A homemade clone of Big Mac sauce that we use on our Return of the Mac pizza, with mozzarella, yellow American cheese, ground beef, pickles, shredded iceberg and diced onion.
- Homemade mayo-mustard drizzle on our Cuban Pizza—it’s just 50% mayo and 50% mustard—with mozzarella, Swiss, homemade mojo pork, salami, ham and pickles.
- Our Flaming Hot Cheeto Mac Daddy is topped with both hot buffalo sauce and ranch. It’s made with a mac-and-cheese base and topped with chicken tenders breaded in crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, green onions, ranch and buffalo sauce.
“I look at the food I serve as a piece of artwork, and my sauces and drizzles are the paint. I want it to be delicious, but I also want it to be beautiful enough for someone to whip out their iPhone, snap a photo and post it on Instagram or TikTok.”
— Chuck Sillari, Mortadella Head
Jon Court, executive chef, Fiore Pizzeria and Bakery, River Forest, IL
When thinking about the use of a drizzle or finishing sauce, the purpose is to enhance the product by adding a flavor or texture that will complement the rest of the pizza or dish. Here’s a list of sauces I’ve used:
- Calabrian chili honey, drizzled over an ’nduja and roasted garlic pizza. The sweet honey combined with the spicy chilies complements the slight spice of the ’nduja.
- White truffle honey, drizzled over a pizza topped with Fontina and Parmigiano-Reggiano, confit garlic, caramelized onions and rosemary. The earthiness of the truffle combined with the sweet honey goes nicely with the robust cheeses and savory garlic and onion.
- Chile Crunch (a mixture of olive oil, dry chilies, and a crispy garlic-shallot blend) is delicious drizzled over roasted vegetables. I’ve also used it on a zucchini pizza with ricotta cheese and spring onions.
- Citrus Yogurt, drizzled over a Lamb Sausage Pizza. The acidic yogurt balances out the rich flavor of lamb sausage very well. I make the sauce by combining Greek yogurt with olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice.
- Smoked Pecorino cream, drizzled over a broccolini pizza. The smoky, creamy sauce complements the fresh crunch of broccolini.
- Apple cider vinaigrette, drizzled over a butternut squash pizza. The sweet and acidic sauce complements the savory flavor of the roasted squash.
- Lemon Agrumato, made when whole lemons are pressed with olives. This gives a nice, bright lemon flavor to a piece of roasted cauliflower or grilled fish.
Hengam Stanfield, co-founder, Mattenga’s Pizzeria, San Antonio, TX
Ranch is classic for pizza dipping here in Texas, so we took it up a notch by adding two flavored ranch dips to our menu this year and have seen great success. They’re perfect for drizzling, dipping and even as a base instead of classic red pizza sauce. We sell 1,000 to 1,200 of these monthly—with pizzas, wings and our pizza rolls, and as a salad dressing.
Our two unique dips are Mattenga’s Ranch: Fresh Basil and Garlic Ranch Dip, and The Texas Ranch: Jalapeño Cilantro Ranch. For the first, we simply purée fresh garlic cloves and basil leaves in a food processor with a little olive oil blend, then mix it with our ranch. The depth of flavor makes every bite absolutely pizza-licious. For the Texas Ranch, we purée pickled jalapeño peppers and fresh cilantro in a food processor, then mix it with our regular ranch dressing. There’s the mild kick from the jalapeño, a slight hint of cilantro and the creaminess of ranch. They are so popular!
We charge 75 cents per 2-ounce Ranch Dip, so they are the perfect upsell to increase average ticket with minimal effort. They’re easy to prep and make in batches, since we all have ranch and these ingredients on hand. The dips give our food a unique and memorable flavor that brings guests back again and again—a flavor they won’t get at another pizza place.
“We charge 75 cents per 2-ounce Ranch Dip, so they are the perfect upsell to increase average ticket with minimal effort.”
— Hengam Stanfield, Mattenga’s Pizzeria
Michael Vakneen, pizzaiolo, Pop Up Pizza at the Plaza Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV
I drizzle Mike’s Hot Honey on the Mike’s Spicy Supreme pizza right when it comes out of the oven. The sweet sauce against the salty pepperoni and sausage gets intensified by the combination of the pickled jalapeños and spiciness of the honey. The roasted mushrooms bring an earthiness that keeps the flavors of this pizza grounded and complex, adding layers of flavors without being too over-the-top.
Customers also like to use the honey dip cups to dunk chicken tenders and the packets to drizzle on pizzas. The spicy honey combo—an initial sweet flavor with an extra-hot kick on the back end—is not only fun for customers but helps round out a perfect umami flavor explosion, putting our slices on the cutting edge versus the competition. As the post-oven drizzle becomes another staple to differentiate pizzas, we will continue to look for new and creative ways to keep our customers excited about what we’re doing.
Steven Jarczyk, chef/co-owner, Sfera Sicilian Street Food, Chicago, IL
We look at drizzling and dipping sauces as the perfect accompaniment and upselling option for our sfincione, a Sicilian-style pizza. Sfincione has a higher crust-to-sauce ratio than most pizzas, and a 2-ounce side of our housemade marinara is a great addition to a slice—it offers an added value to our guests and makes the dining experience more custom and interactive. We also offer a side of housemade chili oil and truffle aioli to our guests as an add-on sale. This offers something delicious that enhances our sfincione while adding to the check.
Lisa Lee, senior VP of marketing, SPB Hospitality (Old Chicago Pizza & Taproom), Katy, TX
From November through January 1, we served a limited-time menu featuring the Nashville Hot Honey Pizza, created in partnership with Mike’s Hot Honey. It featured Old Chicago’s signature dough with mozzarella cheese, Nashville hot chicken, pickles and green onion, with a zigzag drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey. This past fall, Old Chicago also launched its Hot Honey Thriller pizza for a limited time. Who can say no to crispy bacon, Italian sausage, pepperoni, red pepper, melted mozzarella and a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey?
“This past fall, Old Chicago launched its Hot Honey Thriller pizza for a limited time. Who can say no to crispy bacon, Italian sausage, pepperoni, red pepper, melted mozzarella and a drizzle of Mike’s Hot Honey?”
— Lisa Lee, SPB Hospitality
Jorge Sandoval, chef/pizzaiolo, Brooklyn Ave. Pizza Co., Los Angeles, CA
We serve an artisan sourdough crust imbued with Chicano flavors and break pizza barriers with creative twists on classics. Post-bake is fun time for us! A drizzle gives our guests something new, exciting and very eye-appealing.
A couple of our pies and specials feature a drizzle, and we are very thoughtful on what we finish with before a pie lands on the table. The Mole pie is a unique standout on the menu—the mole is complex, sweet and earthy, with a mild heat from the spices and chili used. We start with a blend of mozzarella and queso Oaxaca, then, post-bake, we top it with curtido, fresh cilantro, a drizzle of house crema and, most importantly, more mole sauce. The blend of sweet, spicy and pickled, plus the visual appeal, hits the mark, which in turn creates a fun atmosphere for the guests and encourages them to be bold and try the rest of our menu and our specials—such as the Birria pizza, with queso fresco, birria, shaved radishes, a drizzle of habanero jalapeño crema and, of course, a side of consommé.
Chuck Sillari, owner, Mortadella Head, Somerville, MA
I make all of my sauces and drizzles in-house. A couple of my most popular sauces are the Calabrian Chili aioli and the Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing. Both are used as a finish to my most popular pizzas:
- The Calabrian Chili aioli goes on my Gomorrah Pizza, a Roman-style crust with white cream sauce, fried chicken cutlets and garlicky roasted broccoli rabe, and on the Pepperoni Special, with fresh mozzarella and grated Pecorino.
- The Creamy Gorgonzola Dressing stripes my most popular pie, the Buffalo Chicken, when it comes out of the oven. This dressing is an elevated play on the typical blue cheese dressing that goes with buffalo sauce. Gorgonzola, an Italian style of blue cheese, adds a lot of flavor.
It’s been interesting to see how using these drizzles on pizza and sandwiches has evolved into offering new dipping sauces. I have so many customers asking for extra sides of these sauces to dunk their chicken wings and French fries!
Recipe: Calabrian Chili Aioli
Courtesy of Chuck Sillari, Mortadella Head
- 2 c. mayonnaise
- ½ c. Calabrian chili peppers
- 1 tsp. finely chopped parsley
- 1 tsp. honey
- 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
Add all ingredients to a large bowl and whisk together until completely mixed. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
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Want a look at the amazing ranch dips offered at Mattenga’s Pizzeria? Check out their fun, snappy video below!