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Dishes back by popular demand 

Some are so beloved, restaurant owners remove them from the menu at their own peril

You must be crazy" and "How dare you" are the kinds of comments Brixx management heard when they took pimento cheese pizza (spring 2013) and sweet Thai chicken pizza (fall 2012) off the menu — but mercifully, not at the same time. Using pimento cheese — rather than tomato sauce — as a base was a stroke of culinary genius. Add to that roasted red peppers, spinach and bacon, and you had one heavenly, Southern pie. The so-crazy-it-works Thai pizza is topped with goat cheese, pistachios and satay dressing.

Diners mourned the twin losses. Vocally. In writing. On social media.

Someone I know even called the marketing director to ask, "What gives?" He let "my friend" know she was not alone in her sentiments.

See what happens when restaurateurs tinker with their menus? The results don't always sit well with regulars.

Fortunately, Brixx brought back the missing (and much-missed) pizzas when customers began asking. Often. (Full disclosure: OK, that "someone" was me. I was among the customers who lamented the disappearance of the pimento cheese pizza.)

Brixx marketing director Tim Miner says a team, led by executive chef Richard Shinault, evaluates the menu twice a year. How a particular item is selling is only part of what the team considers. "We look to see if we could be removing a niche item or viable option for a particular group of diners — vegetarians and vegans, for instance," he says. "We work hard to be inclusive."

The team also tries to ensure they're not removing something that diners can't find elsewhere. When the pimento cheese pizza and Thai chicken pizza vamoosed, diners made their disappointment clear. "One guest told us he drives 20 miles for the Thai chicken pizza," Miner says. It's a craving that could be satisfied only at Brixx.

"Our chef designs pizzas that set us apart and speak to our approach to food," Miner continues. "Guests recognize that. People have a very passionate relationship with our food, and there's nothing better than that in this business."

More than a decade ago, 300 East faced similar angry diners when they 86'd the fall salad (clearly meant to be a seasonal item) from the menu. It's now a permanent fixture all year-round. As well it should be. Port-soaked cherries, goat cheese and pancetta dressing elevate ordinary mesclun greens to untold heights.

A few years ago, the kitchen tinkered with its housemade pimento cheese recipe. (Note to restaurateurs: Just do not fuck with your pimento cheese.) They spiced it up by adding diced fresh jalapenos.

"People were livid," recalls 300 East general manager Mike Poplin. "We learned our lesson."

The revamped pimento cheese didn't last a week. Diners demanded the return of the old-school version. "We serve it with regular, old Saltines," Poplin says. "That's exactly how people tell us they want it."

Frank Scibelli, head of a restaurant empire that started with Mama Ricotta's, has also discovered on several occasions — and at all his restaurants — just how much people love their favorite dishes.

At Mama Ricotta's, he and his chef adjusted their recipe for pasta primavera. "Oh, uh-uh," the people said collectively when the kitchen began to roast the carrots, onions, peppers and mushrooms rather than sauté them. The dining public demanded the old primavera, and it returned in its former glory.

When the Marsala rum raisin bread pudding — intended to be a fall and winter dessert — went missing from Mama's menu, Scibelli heard about it, too. It made a quick comeback and hasn't left since.

At his East Boulevard Bad Daddy's Burger Bar, he took the Surf's Up tuna burger off the menu this spring. One of a number of healthy options on the menu, the tuna burger is marinated in ginger, lime and soy sauce and served with peanut-soy Asian slaw on a whole wheat bun. It wasn't gone for long — it was back by summer.

Regulars at Scibelli's Midwood Smokehouse who expressed disappointment about the smoked brisket and black bean chili vanishing from the menu can take comfort. The ultimate comfort food will reappear on the winter menu.

Scibelli says he appreciates his guests' candor. When they have a comment — good or bad, they'll share it with wait staff and management, on social media and especially on comment cards.

And Scibelli listens. "We're in the hospitality business," he says. "What our guests say matters."

There are only a few things in life that can't be changed or allowed to make a graceful exit. (Remember New Coke and the furor over the original formula being replaced?) When a restaurant dish captures the public's imagination and taste buds, it may as well be grandma's meatloaf or pecan pie.

It is not to be messed with.

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