Tuesday, March 11, 2014

California Pizza Kitchen Review

Being on a gluten and dairy free diet basically means that pizza should be my arch enemy. After all, a perfect wheat crust topped with perfectly melted cheese could probably make me sick for a month or longer (this is not an exaggeration!). 

However, thanks to a collaboration between dedicated diners, suppliers, and restaurants, gluten-free options are increasing almost every day. 

One excellent example of a restaurant getting it right for those requiring gluten-free meals is California Pizza Kitchen (CPK). Their first foray into the gluten-free world came in 2010, but this trial ended on a sour note as cross-contamination issues plagued the pies. Not to be deterred, they went back to the drawing board to ensure their second attempt was successful and safe. 


Working with outside contractors and the Gluten Intolerance Group (GIG), CPK developed their own pizza crust from scratch with a predominately rice flour base after multiple trials to get the winning combination of taste and texture. Taking it a step further, they completely color-coded the ingredient containers, gloves, and utensils blue to clearly distinguish between gluten and non-gluten items. Rice flour is now used for all pizza prep in the kitchens to eliminate another hazard of a traditional pizza kitchen. 

Being an avid fan of CPK in my pre-gluten/dairy free days, I missed the exotic toppings and fun flavors that make CPK's (normal) pizzas so unique. Though they offer gluten-free salads, small plates, and other items on the menu, the only dishes certified gluten-free by the GIG are their pizzas. This is a pretty big deal because the GIG has very strict gluten testing policies in order for a company to bear their certification. The menu, to the side, details the four pizza options. (Note: toppings can be exchanged between the gluten-free pizzas, but toppings not on the gluten-free menu are subject to cross-contamination. (The complete allergen menu can be found here.)

There are three Central Florida locations of CPK; I dined at the one on Conroy Road at the Mall of Millenia. After being seated, I requested a gluten-free menu, and after bring one, the waitress showed me the gluten-free items on the main menu as well. She asked if I was allergic, and recommended sticking with the pizzas because of the restaurant's thorough handling of them and GIG certification. As with any meal out, the potential for cross-contamination should be considered. Although I've eaten here before, it is nice to know the wait staff are knowledgeable of gluten-free precautions and options.


Although some might say it's anti-pizza, I order all of my pizzas sans cheese. I know there's dairy-free soy cheeses and other vegan substitutes, but I am not a fan, especially after growing up with the real thing. I ordered the gluten-free Margarita pizza and added red onions (listed on the BBQ pizza). The manager brought it out to my table about fifteen minutes later, a nice touch which strengthens my confidence that proper procedures were taken. 

The pizza itself looked and smelled delicious. The crispy crust was complemented by the fresh olive oil and tomato "sauce." I'm glad I added the onions because they added flavor to the pizza which despite the tomato's fresh taste, would have been kind of boring all to themselves. The element that tied the whole pizza together was the fresh basil that brought a wonderful aromatic element to the meal and continued to accentuate the freshness of all the ingredients. Though my memories of gluten pies have faded, the pizza really did resemble what I remember to be a flatbread-style crust. It was crispy, and chewy, but not heavy and bloating, as most thicker crust pizzas can be. I finished off the whole 12-inch serving in one sitting, but was pretty hungry upon arrival. It satisfied me for the rest of the evening. 

California Pizza Kitchen serves as a testament that catering to a gluten-free market, despite its challenges, can pay off in the long run. Each safe, delicious pizza wins them more customers, and their new niche as a provider of allergy friendly foods expands the awareness and opportunities of the gluten-free diet into the mainstream. Thanks to CPK, I can enjoy going out for pizza with family and friends- something I believed I would never be able to do again. 


The Basics:

Address: 4200 Conroy Road, Orlando, FL 32839 (Other locations in Florida and other states can be located here)
Website: cpk.com 
Cuisine: pizza, pasta (not gluten-free), sandwiches (not gluten-free), salads (some gluten free), and soups (not gluten-free)
Ideal for: Lunch, Dinner
Price: $10-$20 per person (gluten free prices on above menu)
Accessibility: Conroy location is wheelchair accessible. Tables standard level and mix of booths and tables with chairs
Special Features: Offers delivery through Doorstep Delivery (the other Orlando location offers delivery as well)

Disclaimer: Restaurant reviews are based upon the information I have at the time of the review and do not reflect changes in supplier or availability of items. Please contact the restaurant directly for up-to-date information and feel free to to contact me with any questions or comments. I was not compensated for this review and it is a reflection of my personal opinion.

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