Decisions, Decisions 

That build-your-own menu? No need to panic.

click to enlarge Build your own sandwich at Miss Cordelia’s.

Justin Fox Burks

Build your own sandwich at Miss Cordelia’s.

There are those among us who love the build-your-own option offered by some local restaurants. They like having things their way. Others seek the safety of the already set menu items. And then there are those of us who see all the decisions ahead — choose a protein, the bread, the three or more toppings, the sauce, the extras (never mind the impatient sighing of the customer next in line) — and try not to freak the eff out.

To that latter group, we say: Keep calm, read on ...

Miss Cordelia's

Miss Cordelia's launched the build-your-own sandwich menu a little over a month ago after sitting on the idea for almost three years. "I knew it would work. It was just a matter of implementation," explains David Thornton, who wears several hats at the store, including marketing manager, chef, and deli manager.

"Our customers became regulars, and the regulars would decide something they wanted to add or take away from our signature sandwiches. It seemed a natural progression to let them design the sandwich themselves," Thornton says. His main concern was that if popular, the order-taking process could become very slow. He designed a menu with the options on it that can be filled out before coming to the register. There is a blanket set price so it is simple to ring up, and the line moves quickly.

To build a perfect sandwich, Thornton says to think not only about what you like but what works well together.

"You might love corned beef and balsamic vinaigrette, but I don't think I'd recommend it as a panini," he says. "In truth, classic sandwiches are classic because the ingredients all work together. I like to tell people to take something like a classic ham and Swiss but play around with the vegetables a little bit. The choice of vegetables, sauces, and bread is the key."

Some popular sandwiches at Miss Cordelia's that can be tweaked include the Tuscan Sun (grilled chicken, slow-roasted tomatoes, roasted portobello, pesto mayo, and provolone cheese on ciabatta), Tom's Poppin' BLT (Tom's Tiny Kitchen Pimento, bacon, jalapeno, lettuce, tomato, and cream cheese on toasted wheat), and Chris's Chipotle (Boar's Head chipotle chicken, chipotle mayo, Swiss cheese, lettuce, and tomato on ciabatta).

Thornton's favorite build-your-own sandwich is the Italian Trio of meats (prosciutto, salami, and mortadella) with Swiss cheese, spinach, roasted red peppers, black olives, and pesto mayo on ciabatta. "It is pretty close to one of our sandwiches on the menu with a few slight changes to my tastes, which is exactly how I think the build-your-own sandwich menu works best," he says.

737 Harbor Bend (526-4772)


Kirk Cotham and his business partner, Chad Foreman, spent about a year researching and developing the concept and then opened the first PYRO'S in the fall of 2013. For them, it was essentially about creating an experience to give guests exactly what they want as best as they could. "Pizza has traditionally been limited to either sharing a pizza and therefore negotiating with the rest of the party on what to get that will satisfy everyone or buying a slice of pizza. Our concept allows for everyone to have exactly the pizza they want," Cotham explains.

At PYRO'S, there is no charge for extra ingredients, so guests don't have to worry about the price of the pizza if they go a little crazy with the toppings. Cotham notes that their process of bringing guests through the line allows them to "fine tune" the pizza further by ordering one ingredient only on one part of the pizza or asking for a little more of something to really customize the dish. 

He says the response to the concept in general has been phenomenal: "We see people expanding into different ingredients and adding things that they might not have ever tried before, like our roasted broccoli. It has become a very popular pizza topping."

Cotham has a few rules of thumb for creating the perfect pizza. Among them: Don't be afraid to ask about an ingredient or a combination. "Our staff eats our food and knows it very well, so they can help you build something you will enjoy. We love to talk about pizza."

Don't be afraid to try something new is another suggestion from Cotham. "If it sounds good to you, it probably will be, and if it doesn't turn out like you thought it would, just let us know, and we will be happy to make you a new one."

Cotham's favorite pizza creation is a spicy marinara with steak, broccoli, and bacon and finished with the house-made honey balsamic finishing sauce. "The spiciness of the marinara mixes well with the sweetness of the finishing sauce, and I can't stop ordering it," he says. 

1199 Ridgeway (379-8294)

2035 Union (208-8857) 

Swanky's and Cheffie's

Swanky's Taco Shop and Cheffie's Café are siblings, without the rivalry. The goal for both is to create a custom-dining experience for each guest who walks through the door. They want everyone to be confident they will get exactly what they are craving, which is why they allow the build-to-taste option.

Lindsey Archer, director of marketing for Swanky's, shies away from offering some rules of thumb. "The beauty of the build-to-taste concept is that there are no rules," she says. "Guests get to decide what is best for them."

Archer does offer one bit of advice, though: Do not fear the sauces. "Topping off your burrito with Swanky's signature garlic sauce or your Cheffie's sandwich with the house-made pesto schmear adds that little extra," she says.

Despite the limitless possibilities, there are some trends with the DIY orders. At Swanky's, they see more chicken burrito bowls travel down the line than anything else. "Guests love the healthy option of the burrito bowl, where they can load all those fresh ingredients in, minus the carbs of the tortilla," Archer explains.

When it comes to healthy options, the same goes for Cheffie's custom salads. "Our sliced marinated chicken atop a bed of mixed greens and piled high with fresh ingredients from the line seems to be a crowd pleaser," says Hillary Vance, the marketing coordinator at Cheffie's. Archer and Vance do have their own DIY favorites.

"From day one, I've loved Swanky's marinated pork. My go-to is a pork burrito filled with black beans, garlic sauce, roasted corn, pico de gallo, and cheese, topped with tomatillo sauce and wrapped in a steaming white tortilla," Archer says.

Vance's top pick at Cheffie's is a roast beef sandwich on artisan white bread, loaded with sun-dried tomatoes, pepperjack cheese, leaf lettuce, and red onion, topped with the house-made horseradish schmear and toasted on the panini press.

Cheffie's Café, 483 High Point Terrace (343-0488)

Swanky's Taco Shop, 4770 Poplar (730-0763); 6641 Poplar (737-2088)

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