Critic’s Special: Sbarro’s new groove

When you see the name Sbarro, it’s probably synonymous with “mall pizza.” And they know this.

Ubiquitous in the food court world, Sbarro has been changing in the past few years with a whole new venture into the fast-casual segment. Based right here in Columbus, it’s a telling symbol that this chain is ever more visible in the neighborhoods, strips and avenues away from the big shopping centers. To match this change, Sbarro has diversified away from the New York style pizza joint it’s known to be, and instead become more of a casual Italian hang-out spot.

What’s driving this new kind of thinking? I sat down with Sean Brauser, brand director for the chain, for a talk about what makes a good pizza. He’s an experienced guy in the business, opening Romeo Pizza and PizzaFire locations in Ohio. Now, let’s talk pizza.

“We started as a neighborhood pizzeria and then we kind of morphed to malls,” Brauser said. “So we’re trying to get back to our roots.”

Sbarro is known for those huge, wide slices of pizza that you fold and, if you like, dip in that’s wonderful marinara sauce. A good pizza is all about the marinara sauce, and so Sbarro is working on great sourcing. Those tomatoes are fresh-packed as soon as they’re picked so once they’re prepared to marinara sauce on site, they taste like they were just picked. It’s all about good water too; New York’s water is often cited as making dough for bagels and pizza better and richer. Sbarro, too, might soon be finding a solution in this realm.

A crack at some of the menu items, new and refreshed:

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  • The stromboli stick to the formula pretty well. A thick buttery crust and, hidden inside it, a mother lode of mozzarella cheese, spinach, pepperoni and sausage if you like it, and more. Potentially, customizable though time consuming to make.
  • The subs get stacked with meat and cheeses and then, for the defining touch, the assembled product is then toasted wholesale so that the bun is crispy and crunchy, “just like a giant breadstick.” The Philly cheese steak specifically does this well stuffed with thick sirloin, it’s not stuffed with overwhelming mountains of meat like you see at some of the stands. So it’s a meal that doesn’t blow you up.
  • Breadsticks: These are my personal favorite, you get two giant knobs of dough per order and each is seasoned ridiculously with oregano, some garlic and a whole lot of other spices on top. You’ll get garlic breath but it’s worth it. My favorite.
  • Baked Ziti: The ziti is topped with four kinds of cheese and, even better, you can get two humongous meatballs for an up-charge.  These are a mix of beef and Italian sausage, and some seasonings on top of it. This one is very filling, you’ll certainly have leftovers.
  • Wings: Baked to order in a few different sizes, these wings are drenched in a hot sauce with a Frank’s Red Hot base, and then spiced up with a few other things. The wings have something like a dry rub for extra seasoning, too. For Brauser, this one is a favorite.

Sbarro is continuing to refine its options with a local test kitchen and some more things in the hopper. When you see the new, cool interiors, the more filled-out restaurant concept that lets you sit in and experience the place, it’s worth giving this new look a try.

Sbarro Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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