By Joan Lang
Notice how many places are touting flatbread these days? Not the Indian naan or Middle Eastern pita—although these seem to be growing in popularity, too—but that doughy concoction that used to be called pizza.
“Flatbread” is a great word for something that’s pizza-like but might have toppings no self-respecting pizzaiola would consider using. There’s lots of new-wave joints specializing in flatbreads, many of them of the organic/local/sustainable persuasion: Flatbread Company; American Flatbread; Urban Flats; Full of Life. The latter promises all-natural ingredients, stone hearth cooking, environmentally friendly filtered water, and such toppings as pistachios, flax seed and artisan-made raw milk cheese.
Hola, in Marshfield, MA, allows the flatbread designation to carry a Mediterranean-style menu that also includes tapas, and burritos and tacos, as well as an Old World collection of wines, sherries and ports. And at the Hubbard Inn, in Chicago, flatbreads (one is topped with merguez sausage, almonds, sumac, blue cheese, yogurt and pear chutney) fill a role along with bar snacks like deviled eggs and goat cheese croquettes with tomato jam as accompaniments to the “Continental tavern” ambience and ambitious cocktail program.
Rebranding a popular but timeworn favorite like pizza is a smart idea. Unlike bruschetta, say—which many people don’t know how to pronounce—or a head-scratcher like farinata (a rustic chickpea-flour pizza-cum-pancake), a flatbread is a known quantity with customers, yet still exotic and upscale-sounding enough to command some attention, and maybe even a premium price.
A neutral palette, flatbread can support any kind of topping, from Mediterranean ingredients to wow-man farmer’s market foods—and even something expected, like pepperoni and cheese. You can grill it, bake it, fire it in a wood oven. Sizes range from bread plate to extra-large, and of course they’re perfect for sharing. They also do triple-duty as an appetizer/bar food, lunch, dinner and even (as Quzino’s does) a sandwich bread or salad container.
And, like pizza, flatbread is the ultimate flash of food-cost and cross-utilization genius. What more could you ask for from any brand?