The Celiac and California Pizza Kitchen

A celiac walks into a pizza sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but that was actually the beginning of a wonderful summer Saturday with friends. After a few weeks of playing the lazy hermit at home, I couldn't wait to rejoin the college crew for a day of relaxing, exploring a (near empty) campus, and, of course, food.

Our eatery of choice!
Now, pizza places and celiac disease rarely mix. Even when a restaurant offers a "gluten free" pizza, cross contamination from flour in the air, shared ingredients, and a shared pizza oven often nixes the safety for celiac customers. But with a gift card burning a hole in my boyfriend's wallet and online research that revealed California Pizza Kitchen recently introduced four pizzas approved by the Gluten Intolerance Group, we decided to dig into some pies.

California Pizza Kitchen is a higher end pizza restaurant, offering a variety of unique pizzas, salads, entrees and appetizers. While pricier than my usual restaurant go-to's (cough cough Chipotle and Chick Fil A), I couldn't wait to try my first, safe gluten free pizza (not cooked by me!) in nearly a year. CPK offers several other gluten free choices on their menu (such as salads) and someone can order any pizza on a gluten free crust for a two dollars extra charge, but only four pizzas are safe from cross contamination.

The real deal!
The Original BBQ Chicken, Pepperoni, Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage, and Margherita pizzas are all designed to be prepared by managers, using ingredients that are separated and marked "gluten free." I also love the fact that CPK only uses rice flour to prepare the pizzas, in order to minimize the chance of gluten flour landing on gluten free pizzas.

We arrived at the California Pizza Kitchen (located in San Diego's Fashion Valley Mall) around one o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. Considering that it was Memorial Day Weekend, I was happily surprised to be immediately seated. After walking in, I asked for a gluten free menu for our table and told our waiter of my celiac disease and need for a gluten free pizza. CPK passed those initial celiac tests with all of the workers easily adapting to my requests. And, since it offer dozens of unique pizzas (plus complementary bread), CPK easily won over my friends as well.

Just a few of the gluten goodies...
After scanning my options, I ended up choosing a pepperoni pie and adding mushrooms from the Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage Pizza. I certainly appreciate the lengths CPK takes to prevent cross contamination of pizza ingredients, but I do wish that I could have added more vegetables to my pizza (I peeked at the boy's menu and drooled over the California Club with avocado and the California Veggie with a rainbow of crunchy toppings!). Nonetheless, the pizza I did order, along with my friends' choices of a gluten-filled White Pizza and Mushroom Pepperoni Sausage, emerged quickly and still bubbling from the oven. I also appreciated that the manager brought out our entire order, one of CPK's gluten free pizza precautions.

All the pizzas were medium-sized and, in my mind, perfect to split between two people. My friends devoured two pies between the three of them within seconds, while I slowly savored my own. The pepperoni slices were well distributed, as were the mushrooms, though I did blot some of the (typical restaurant) oil off with my napkin. And, since I don't usually eat dairy, the melted layer of mozzarella underneath the toppings tasted heavenly. I asked for light on the cheese, and the thin but even coating perfectly complimented the spicy pepperoni and juicy mushrooms. I also enjoyed the fresh oregano sprinkled on top.

My gluten free pizza!
Surprisingly enough, however, the real star of the show was the gluten free crust! I'd read ahead that it was made mainly out of potatoes, and was free of not only gluten, but also eggs and soy. Whatever the exact ingredients, it blew memories of other gluten free crusts out of my mind! Crispy around the edges, fluffy in the middle, and strong enough to be cradled and devoured like a gluten-filled pizza. Also, the crust was 100% free of the funky aftertaste often found with gluten free pies. Instead, the toppings and crust worked together to form a pizza party in my mouth that reminded me of the old, gluten-gorging days.

Since I had the pizza all to myself, I was the only one at our table who needed a to-go box, which turned out just as delightful as the pizza itself! On the top of the box, California Pizza Kitchen printed instructions on how to optimally reheat a pizza. I decided to try out their advice for myself the following night. After slicing and broiling some veggies for a few minutes in the oven, I popped my leftover slices into the oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese started to bubble. Then, out popped some leftover pizza perfection! While it certainly tasted delicious at the restaurant, adding my own preferred toppings gave it that extra punch. Pizza good on Day 1 and 2? A gift card well spent!

The finished (upgraded) product!
Trying to order a safe gluten free pizza as a celiac is often a joke - both on you and the chef! California Pizza Kitchen's new line of Gluten Intolerant Group certified pizzas, however, offers a safe and delicious way to enjoy a slice of pie with friends. While not at the same heavenly level as the local pizza place in Colorado Springs, I'd definitely go back to CPK for a fun night with the college crew! If only all punch lines had this happy of an ending!

Have you ever tried California Pizza Kitchen before? What's your favorite pizza topping? Comment below!


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