Update 9/1/11: As of August 25th, 2011, California Pizza Kitchen temporarily stopped serving gluten-free crust while they review preparation procedures. They are working with GIG on their procedures. I think this is a good thing, that they are working to make their procedures better instead of totally eliminating the option from their menu. I hope they will follow the lead of Naked Pizza, which I believe to have a great gluten-free prep system!
A bit of information before you read my review (added 07/25/11): Recently there has been an uproar in the gluten-free and Celiac communities about the disclaimer CPK has on the bottom of their menu. It says this:
“Gluten-Free” designations are based on information provided
by our ingredient suppliers. Warning: Ingredients or production
methods used by our suppliers may change, or there may be
product differences among regional suppliers. Additionally,
normal kitchen operations involve shared cooking and preparation
areas, or we may need to substitute ingredients in menu items.
We are therefore unable to guarantee that any menu item
is free from gluten or any other allergen, and we assume no
responsibility for guests with food allergies or sensitivities.
I have seen similar disclaimers on several chain restaurant menus, at least one other that I have reviewed here as well as at my favorite natural grocer. While I completely understand the concern of other bloggers, diners and those living with gluten intolerance, wheat allergy and Celiac disease, I believe we have a great opportunity to educate CPK and other restaurants. I would love to see our community working with them to address the concerns instead of calling for harsh actions, such as filing a complaint with the FTC or suggest lawsuits.
That said, I wanted you to be aware before reading this post that CPK, along with most other restaurants in which I have dined, cannot guarantee a gluten-free meal for you. All I can share is that I am highly sensitive to gluten, react very quickly and strongly. I had no reaction at all on my one visit to CPK. I wish the same for you should you choose to dine there.
On June 29th, 2011, California Pizza Kitchen began serving a gluten-free pizza crust. While plenty of gluten-free pizza options are available in the Kansas City area, I wanted to try gluten-free pizza from a national chain. Here’s a bit about my visit on June 30th, the second day of gluten-free pizza availability at CPK.
Three of us ate dinner at CPK, arriving about an hour before close. I have better results eating out if I go at a slower time than during lunch or dinner rush, I feel like the kitchen staff can perhaps be a bit more careful with my order. I asked the young fella who seated us for a gluten-free menu and he said, “Hey, you know we have crust now!” He also shared with me that all menus are now marked with gluten-free items, no need for a special menu. I really like this!
We started with the white corn guacamole and chips from the Small Cravings menu. The guacamole had avocado, white corn, black beans, jicama, scallions, bell pepper, cilantro and serrano peppers. (Watch for a recipe from me soon, I liked this so much I have already created a variation in my kitchen.) It was a perfect serving for just a little nibble before dinner, not the kind of appetizer that fills you up before dinner arrives.
I ordered the Vegetarian with Japanese Eggplant pizza, minus the cheese. My pizza arrived with baby broccoli, eggplant, corn, red onions, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and tomato sauce. The crust had almost no flavor, which was fine since the toppings were so flavorful. It is a firm crust, not floppy and had a tiny bit of browning on the bottom. Not the best gluten-free pizza I have had, but I would eat it again.
While we waited for our food to be served, a manager walked past our table and I asked if he could answer a few questions about their gluten-free crust. He shared with me that it is made with a rice and tapioca flour and they roll the dough out at each restaurant. I asked who makes their dough and he told me it is manufactured by their commissary. He also shared that the dough is rolled out on foil, the pizza is cooked on the same foil so it does not directly touch the oven and is then cut with a dedicated gluten-free pizza cutter. Then came the cover-your-a$$ statement. “But we are a pizza kitchen, there is gluten in the air.” This kind of statement seems to be becoming commonplace. I understand this. The restaurants have to let us know they are taking some precautions to keep our food safe, but their kitchens are not dedicated gluten-free so there is potential for cross-contamination. On the other hand, I do hope they are being serious about keeping those with legitimate gluten restrictions healthy while dining in their restaurants.
If I were traveling and not familiar with local restaurants, I would have pizza at California Pizza Kitchen again. When on home turf in Kansas City, my preference will be to have pizza at local pizzerias offering gluten-free crust. It’s great to have California Pizza Kitchen offering another option, one that will come in handy when I’m on the road!