Yesterday, Starbucks launched a new "breakfast sandwich" called the "piadini," inspired by the Italian flatbread-like "piandina" usually filled with meat and/or cheese and eaten at lunch or snack time. Starbucks' piadina introduction was basically screaming for a comparison, and once we got real Italians involved, the taste test results weren't pretty.
A call up to chef Giancarlo Quadalti of New York's Teodora, Celeste, Bianca, and Fiore—he is from Ravenna, Italy, the home of the piadina—inspired a serious chuckle on the other line. He was equal parts intrigued and frightened. Starbucks is really attempting what sweet, hunched-over Italian women make at streetside kiosks?
When we brought him and his good friend, Italian wine expert Maurizio DeRosa, the two available flavors (portobello mushroom with ricotta, and sausage with cheddar), they thought the Starbucks sticker and tightly-wrapped package was cute, but the contents, not so much. At first, Quadalti shook his head. "Uh-uh. I'm not trying that." He left the room for a bit to griddle his own piadina, a staple appetizer at Teodora, served with choice of cured meats, broccoli rabe, or stracchino cheese. Returning, Quadalti lifted up the Starbucks version, bending it like silly putty. "It should not do that."
He demonstrated the opposite reaction with his version. "See how it slightly crumbles? It breaks if you try to fold it."
The Starbucks piadina, on the other hand, felt like pancake batter. DeRosa pointed to an especially white, doughy part. "It's not even cooked either! That's raw!"
Though neither of them spat out the Starbucks rendition, they were not going back for seconds. They were both forgiving because, hey, it's warm bread. How can warm bread be that bad? Like a warm bed, it's comforting, and Starbucks amps up the comfort quotient by zapping its piadinas in cool mini-ovens. That doesn't mean these piadinas are delicious, just warm, and they get less delicious by the minute.
Flatbread Ingredients: At Teodora, the dough is made of lard, salt, and flour. The lard is the magical ingredient here, providing a significant taste and texture difference from the Starbucks version.
Folding Style: Starbucks went for a folded corner approach. Teodora does not mess with folding, opting for triangular shapes instead, creating an open face effect with piled-on toppings. The old Italian women are so-so on folding. Not crazy Starbucks folding, but a simple taco-like fold.
Food Fillings: Starbucks goes for mini balls of sausage and eggy bits in one version, chunks of portabella with eggy bits in another. Teodora goes for mortadella, salumi, prosciutto, the soft stracchino cheese, and brocolli rabe. No eggy bits.
Price: At Starbucks, $3.25 for each. At Teodora, $13.50 for the appetizer plate, usually split amongst a table.
Nutritional Info: At Starbucks, the portobello mushroom piadini contains 370 calories and 18g fat. The sausage, egg, and cheddar piadini has 500 calories and 32g fat.
At Teodora, psst. They don't want to know. They don't seem to care. They just eat it.
The point is: Maybe you can't afford the Teodora version every day, but one bite and you know it's the real deal. The Starbucks piadina is tasty enough, but it quickly loses its allure as it cools. And if Starbucks is looking to its piadinas to compete with McDonald's breakfast sandwiches, the serious eaters say Starbucks stil has some work to do. We'll take a fried chicken biscuit or an egg mcmuffin any time.