3 Funky Flatbreads: Local favorites are adventures in comfort foodPerhaps the popularity of flatbreads can be attributed to Imo’s and our fervent familiarity with St. Louis-style ultrathin-crust pizza. Perhaps we love flatbreads because we are a society of drinkers who know that few things pair better with a variety of beers, wines and liquors than pizza. Perhaps. But honestly, we love them because flatbreads allow for experimentation on a recognizable canvas. Here are three popular preparations that have not only harmonizing flavors and out-of-the-box ingredients, but a story all their own.
THE TWO P'S IN MISSISSIPPI STAND FOR POACHED PEAR
The poached pear and fig pizza at Eleven Eleven Mississippi was not born a flatbread. In fact, when executive chef Bruce Piatek first dreamed it up, it was to be a salad. But after some debate, it was decided that a flatbread pizza would better serve both the clientele and the creativity of the chef. Composed of a crème fraîche base and then topped with poached pears, dried figs, caramelized onions and Gorgonzola, this crispier-than-average flatbread has been lording over the menu for the last eight months.
The traditional Tuscan-style dough is docked before being cooked three-quarters of the way through. It then spends four minutes inside an 800-plus-degree wood-burning oven and passes through the hands of four chefs – pantry, prep, sous and sauté – before hitting the dining room.
Bartlett pears poached in port, sugar, nutmeg, cloves, vanilla and cinnamon lend sweet overtones while caramelized onions offer another dimension. Tart Gorgonzola, common in Tuscany, not only fits the restaurant’s theme of wine country bistro, but also breaks up the sweetness of the fruit. However, for those who love to hate strong cheeses like Gorgonzola, Piatek offers the cheese of your choice as a substitute. Pair it with a bottle (or two) of Chardonnay with a crisp finish to further take a bite out of the sugars.
CURIOSITY KILLED THE FISH
According to Brian Hale, executive chef at the Chase Park Plaza, his salmon flatbread came from the curiosity of a 3-year-old. His daughter, to be exact. One day as her father was sipping on coffee and dining on lox and eggs on the back patio, little Hale wandered over to ask if Dad could put those ingredients on a pizza. What she meant to do was get pizza for breakfast, but what she actually did was create an item for the menu at Monarch Restaurant in Maplewood, where Hale was working at the time. It traveled with him to the Chase, where it has become the most popular flatbread on the menu at Café Eau and remains one of his daughter’s most-loved dishes.
Until his own smoker is in place, Hale trusts a short list of fishmongers to get him the good stuff. (Ducktrap River is a favorite brand of smoked salmon.) His flatbread shells are rolled out 100 at a time and put directly in the oven for 30 minutes to prevent the creation of a thick, fluffy consistency. Capers, lemon juice and cornichons add acid and go nicely with salmon, of course. Red onion and garlic add the bite, while sour cream acts not only as a base, but a cooling agent for the other components. Twelve minutes after ordering the salmon flatbread, expect to see it tableside (assuming the restaurant isn’t overcrowded) and crunch down on the cracker-like crust.
But more than just offering balanced interaction of the ingredients, this dish reigns supreme at Eau Bistro because of the interaction guests enjoy with it. Atop the generous spread of Fontina cheese and smoked salmon pieces lies an egg fried over easy. Break the yolk, drag a slice of flatbread across it or just smear a sunflower yellow line around your plate. Come back to adulthood with a glass of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc, especially something from Evolution or Conundrum.
VEGETARIAN IN NAME ONLY
Terrene always has had two flatbread options on its menu. One is constantly rotating, currently a ginger-infused Asian flatbread. The other hasn’t changed since the West End restaurant opened in 2005. Executive chef Tello Carreon attributed the success of Terrene’s original vegetarian sausage flatbread to its simplicity.
After the dough rests overnight, Carreon forms the dough balls that will be stretched out and docked. Here, consistency is key. The flatbread dough has to be more delicate than traditional crust but strong enough to hold the weight of its ingredients. Crisp but not hard. Soft but not able to be torn. Carreon also coats the outside of the flatbread with extra-virgin olive oil and seasons it with local fresh herbs in general and fresh Italian parsley in particular.
The vegetarian sausage arrives at Terrene without flavor; Carreon thaws it, cooks it and seasons it to taste like real sausage. At the end, the sausage’s crumbly texture and Carreon’s use of fennel seed, a key ingredient in Italian sausage, trick the taste buds. Provolone cheese adds a milky smooth and slightly smoky flavor to the flatbread, but Carreon is happy to serve it without cheese to make the dish vegan. A dish that “regulars return for,” this flatbread pairs well with a frothy beer. Pizza and beer … classic.