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Friday, December 31, 2010

Pizza!

It's been awhile since I set up this blog and here's my first 2011 resolution (I know, it's not 2011 yet...)... to actually populate this blog w/ the reasons why all the stuff to the left is on my top 10 list!

So here we go. Pizza - probably the first food I genuinely mourned after finding out I could no longer eat gluten. Fortunately, at least here in the San Francisco Bay Area, it seems local pizza places are taking note at the number of us gluten free folk and there is now a great representation of pizza places out there that serve gluten free pizza - some even serve pasta as well. No, I haven't tried them all yet - I pay close attention to what folks on the celiacbayarea yahoo group have to say about their experiences - and I only try places who are practicing safe food preparation.
Yesterday we ate at Pizza Party, who currently holds #2 on the pizza list. Pizza Party has been around for many years, but is more commonly known as "Pizza and Pipes". They use the Venice Bakery crust, our favorite. We always ask them to put extra sauce on the pizza and cook it "crispy" - otherwise the crust will turn out a bit soggy. Even our daughter (now 14 mo) is a fan - she just gobbles it up, but always leaves some sauce for her face, fingers and clothing...

#1 on the list is Tony & Alba's - another long time bay area gem. Tony & Alba's is fairly new gluten free and they use the French Meadow crust. Cooking with the French Meadow crust is tricky because it comes in it's own tin pan so the first time we ordered here the crust was soggy and we sent it back to be cooked a bit longer. Then we had a great conversation with Al - one of the owners at the San Jose/Steven's Creek Blvd location. We told him about our experiences with many of the other local pizza places and suggested how he could improve their GF pizza offering. Well, Al invited us back to try out some possibilities. So of course we came back! He made 2 pizza's: one where he pre-baked the bare crust for 5 minutes; the 2nd he pre-baked crust + sauce. We found both pizzas were far superior to not pre-baking but definitely preferred pre-baking the crust only. So that's how we order it now. Tony & Alba's sauce, cheese and toppings are superior to other places so that's why Tony & Alba's is #1 on our list. We've also tried their pasta with meat sauce which is also very good. Al raves about their polenta but we haven't tried it yet.

Tony & Alba's and Pizza Party both offer membership in their "Royalty Rewards" program so we always get offers in the mail (and email) for discounted or free food. Their pizza is reasonably priced - on average $10 per pizza - and a pizza can feed a little over 1 hungry pizza lover. (We order 2 pizzas and now that our daughter is eating pizza, it's just the right amount for the 3 of us).

BTW some day I'll take some photos of these pizzas and add them to this post.

So those are the top 2... the next tier is also very good but not on top mainly due to price and in Willow Street's case, inconsistency.
BJ's Brewhouse also uses the Venice crust. We also order this pizza with extra sauce and ask them to cook it "crispy". It's been delicious every time and I love that I can pair with with my favorite beverage - hard berry cider. But at least for our local BJ's in Cupertino, parking is a nightmare. It butts up against Apple's corporate headquarters and often the only way to park is to use BJ's valet -something that just weirds me out. That and you can spend quite a bit of time waiting to order whereas at Tony & Alba's or Pizza Party we can pre-order as we are leaving home and be in and out of there within 30-45 minutes -ideal when dining with a toddler.
Willow Street Pizza uses the French Meadow crust so they run into the same soggy crust issue. We also order with extra sauce and ask them to cook it crispy. Willow Street I'd say is more "California-style pizza" (lots of weird non-traditionanl toppings versus the basics I grew up on in New York) and often we receive a pizza that is missing something like sauce or has a very small amount of toppings on it. We haven't been back there in months after our last encounter at the Los Gatos location where the manager tried to convince us that the pizzas were pre-assembled before coming to the restaurant and that is why there was no sauce on our "extra sauce" pizza. We have always had good luck at the San Jose/Willow Glen and Westgate locations though. But to be honest, we haven't been back because there are too many better options out there. I'm grateful that Willow Street is there, but they're not getting our business right now. Oh, did I mention a pizza averages $14?
Ditto for Amici's. Amici's was the first local restaurant to offer GF pizza and for that we are eternally grateful. Amici's is thin crust NY style heaven, at least when I used to get the gluten variety - it was perfect when I needed that NY pizza fix. Fast forward to gluten free days. Amici's uses the Still Riding Pizza crust which is my least favorite of the crusts out there. The first time we ordered at the Mountain View location they seemed to have forgotten to actually cook the pizza, so we sent it back to be baked. Since then we've been to the Mountain View and downtown San Jose locations and have always had a good pizza. But it's just not as tasty as Tony & Alba's or Pizza Party, and at an average of $25 a pizza, it's not worth it either. Amici's does also serve Redbridge beer which is a great accompaniment- oh, and their spinach salad is delicious too. But they also have not been getting our business since Pizza Party and Tony & Alba's started offering their GF pizza.

So that's it for the bay area gluten free pizza locations on the list. There are a few I have not tried yet:
  • ZPizza (multiple locations): I've heard lots of bad things about them, from unsafe preparation to just nasty tasting pizza
  • Extreme Pizza (multiple locations): They use the Still Riding Pizza crust so I haven't been motivated to try them yet, but I expect to eventually
  • Mission Pizza and Pub (Fremont): I've heard this is very tasty and I think they use the Venice crust. I hope to try them at some point if/when I am out in that area
  • Zachary's (east bay): I used to LOVE their stuffed pizza but I've heard their GF pizza is thin crust so I haven't been up there. If they had stuffed GF pizza we would have grabbed the baby and been in the car within 5 minutes to do the hour or more drive up north. But we will try it someday - their sauce is great
  • Pizza Rustica (Oakland): they use the Mariposa Bakery crust which is the hubby's favorite but their toppings looks sort of California (lots of veggies, not much sauce or cheese) so we haven't been up there yet. Someday...
We've had some gluten free pizza away from home during our various travels. Our first road trip after going gluten free was in August 2008 where the hubby, myself and our amazing yellow lab we'll call "Mr Spectacular" drove from Silicon Valley up to the Seattle area and back. In the process we were able to sample our first freshly and commercially prepared gluten free pizzas!

Pizzeria DePaoli

The first stop on our journey was to Pizzeria DePaoli in Windsor California - a little over an hour north of San Francisco. I had read a lot about this place on the celiacbayarea yahoo group as it was one of the few places at the time where you could get gluten free pizza. It had recently changed ownership and name but the server guaranteed it was the same delicious pizza. Let me tell you we had very high expectations for this first pizza and we were seriously let down. Ever since whenever we order a gluten free pizza from a new place we come in with NO expectations and look at it as a starting point which we can work on improving with the restaurant manager if we decide it's worth improving. The crust was very thick and gummy, the sauce bland and hardly any cheese. Yes it filled our tummys but we knew we would not be back. But it's still gluten free pizza so we've got to give our gracious thanks as they were the trailblazers for all the good stuff to follow. And who knows- it may have been an off day.
Haley's Corner bakery in Kent Washington (just outside of Portland) is a small place hidden behind a Jiffy Lube that makes a ton of yummy gluten free baked goods, plus pizza. The crust was very thick, the sauce and toppings bland but we were in heaven and were so thankful that such a place existed. I The owner (I don't recall her name) was extremely friendly and very passionate about creating tons of great GF baked goods. We didn't expect the pizza to be pizza restaurant kind of pizza - and for a bakery it went beyond our expectations. We'll be back there for other baked goods next time we're in town.
Mississippi Pizza Pub is probably the first actual pizza place where we ever had a GF pizza baked for us -. The crust was a little on the thick side but the sauce and toppings were very good. Although... now that we are totally spoiled with the likes of Tony & Alba's and Pizza Party I am not sure where this would be on the list if it were a local joint and I could sample it again.
Finally... this isn't *really* pizza but we ordered this online soon after going gluten free. The hubby grew up on Chicago pizza and prior to going GF we would spend our trips to Chicago taste-testing various pizzas. Lou Malnati's has a great deep dish pizza and much of this is due to their sauce -probably the best sauce out there with a close second to Zachary's here in the bay area. At any rate, Lou Malnati's does not offer a GF pizza per say, but they do offer a "crustless" pizza where the base is a huge slab of sausage and they top it with sauce and cheese. As I mentioned earlier, we ordered several online and tried it first as-delivered and found it just too meaty. Then we tried to make our own crust and stick the crustless pizza on top but no dice. The sausage is just too much meat. We will be back in Chicago next month and will probably go there to see if it's any better when ordering live at the restaurant, and we may even bring our own pre-baked crust so we can dissect what they serve and put it on our crust.

The highlight of our upcoming trip to Chicago (well, other than seeing our friends and family and going to a big family event) will be trying the GF stuffed pizza at Chicago's pizza. So stay tuned for a review.

So what are your top 10 pizza's out there?


5 comments:

  1. Great post! Clearly I need to get out there and try more of these "new" pizza offerings in the Bay. :)

    -Sea
    www.bookofyum.com

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  2. Thank for all the amazing information. Very new to GF and love the suggestions. Did you ever get to Chicago where did you go that was GF that you loved? We are heading there this summer.

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