Chances are everybody in the Tri-State knows the phone number for LaRosa’s. Go ahead, we’ll recite it together: “347-1111 (tastes so good/you want it bad!).”
While we can effortlessly recall the locally-owned pizza-giant’s phone number thanks to their omnipresent advertising, some people can’t enjoy a majority of their menu. Vegetarians and vegans, specifically. That’s changed now that LaRosa’s offers meat- and dairy-free alternatives with plant-based pepperoni, Italian sausage, diced chicken and vegan cheese.
"Over 60% of what we serve is pizza, and we wanted to offer plant-based toppings to our guests who love our pizza, but who are trying to limit the amount of meat they eat," said Mark LaRosa, president and chief culinary officer, ahead of this week's menu rollout. "So, we needed to get this right. Development took us longer than we anticipated, but we think our guests will be thrilled. The toppings are plant-based for flexitarians, vegetarians and even vegans — but the taste is all LaRosa’s."
After sampling a few slices, I can say with confidence that these new menu items will be a game changer for folks looking for a pizza party without the animal by-products.
When LaRosa’s opened the doors to their test kitchen recently, we were given an inside look — and inside taste — at how they developed the new veggie-friendly recipes for their 66 locations.
Pepperoni, arguably the most important topping in the Midwest, has a specific set of traits necessary to achieve pizza bliss. There must be a bit of spice and a nice, crisp bite. Their new plant-based pepperoni nails it right out of the oven. It’s also vegan, made with wheat gluten and pea protein among other ingredients and spices.
The sausage crumbles are also vegan, made from soy. The approximation of ground pork sausage’s texture is impressive and the flavor profile is spot on.
Meatless chicken is great for vegetarians who don’t mind a bit of egg white, used as a binder in the diced chicken breast. It’s perfect on a barbecue pizza or in a nice leafy green tossed salad.
Vegan cheese was hard to settle on for the company, as a pizza needs good cheese in order to be a good pizza. The final decision landed on a shredded mozzarella style that offers everything you could ask from a cheese approximation made with potato starch and coconut oil. There’s enough flavor to make it even feel indulgent.
“We listen to our guests — good, bad, indifferent, whatever they share, we take to heart and act upon it,” LaRosa says. “For at least 10 years we’ve had guests asking for vegan cheese. A pretty simple request, you would think, but because of the 550-degree oven, it’s pretty intense; most of the vegan cheeses were very runny and had a sour, tart taste. We just weren’t happy with the quality.”
After several years of unsuccessfully settling on a vegan cheese, things changed when Connie Banning joined the LaRosa’s corporate team as the research and development chef. She redoubled LaRosa’s search for a better vegan cheese and other plant-based ingredients to equal the company’s high standards.
“Diet trends are starting to become more customized and we know that,” Banning says. “If you are leaning into plant-based diet, you are doing it for three reasons: health, the environment and animal welfare. People are changing how they’re eating.”
I sampled my standard pizza order, topped with pepperoni, Italian sausage, mushrooms and green bell pepper. I did a side-by-side taste test between the traditional and the new plant-based pizza and I’m happy to report that the veggie option passed. There was very little sacrificed in terms of flavor, texture or overall enjoyment.
If my mind shifts to fully plant-based diet for any of the three reasons Banning listed, it’s very reassuring to know that something as simple as my regular pizza order will still be easily available. More likely, I’ll order this pizza the next time I share a table with vegan friends and family to mix things up.
The new menu items are available on a Deluxe pizza (with plant-based pepperoni and sausage, green peppers, onions and vegan cheese or regular provolone cheese) or you can create your own.
The dough and sauce recipes at LaRosa’s happen to be vegan already and there are a number of other items on the menu that won’t interfere with a vegan diet, including the garlic sauce, Montgomery Inn Barbecue Sauce and focaccia sauce.
And, meat eaters, don’t worry: These are just additions to the menu, not replacements. All traditional meaty items will still be available.
To learn more about LaRosa’s new menu items, visit larosas.com, or call them at… well, you know.
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