Has there ever been a more hated foodstuff than gluten?
The proliferation of gluten-free pizza on local menus is indicative of this ill will held by celiacs and gluten-intolerants alike. Heck, some people choose to be gluten-free (GF) just because they can! This is America after all.
When it comes to deciding who has the best gluten-free pizza in town, it's a hard thing to judge. Andria Brown, who was diagnosed with celiac disease a couple of years ago, explains, "Non-GF people just shouldn't eat it, and GF people's opinions vary depending on how long it's been since they had real pizza. In general, the thinner, crispier crusts are better because they're not trying to be soft and chewy."
Leigh Espy, who is gluten-intolerant, agrees. "Gluten-free crust is not the same — you don't get that lovely chewy texture, but I've always preferred the thin, crispy crust anyway."
Of course, depending on how much you hate gluten (and how much it hates you), cross-contamination factors must be considered as well. Here's an overview of your current options:
Annica Kreider, VP of brand development, says Mellow Mushroom began offering gluten-free crust several years ago as a result of requests from guests who were no longer able to enjoy pizza. It is celiac-safe. "We pride ourselves on this aspect of our program. Our cooks have been trained on the importance of preventing cross-contamination," Kreider says. The kitchen staff will wash their hands, put on fresh gloves and a fresh apron, and only use gluten-free dedicated cooking utensils and ingredients. Everything is made to order and prepared in a separate area. A screen pan is used during the baking process so the gluten-free crust never makes direct contact with the pizza stone. "While realizing that a gluten-free crust would likely never taste the same as our signature Mellow dough, our goal was to deliver a flavor profile that was just as delicious as our regular crust for the gluten-free audience," explains Kreider.
It has totally different ingredients from the regular crust, which is thicker. "A combination of ancient grains really gives it a delicious and hearty flavor, and it crisps up very nicely. We also were able to make it vegan in the reformulation," she says.
The crust is very popular, thanks to a dedicated marketing campaign.
Rock'n Dough Pizza Co.
Amanda Denno says at Rock'n Dough they had a substantial customer demand for a gluten-free and/or low-carb option. "Some people simply preferred to eat low-carb, and other people needed to avoid gluten due to dietary sensitivities or gluten allergies," she says.
They use a pizza crust mix from local Memphis company Nourishe and prepare it in-house. The crust mix itself is 100-percent gluten-free, however, Rock'n Dough prepares this dough mix in a kitchen where flour containing gluten is heavily used. Steps they take to minimize gluten cross-contamination include storing it separately from other ingredients in a sealed container and preparing the gluten- and grain-sensitive dough at different times than gluten-containing dough.
"We take care to minimize cross-contamination, but it is possible that small amounts of gluten do get incorporated. For this reason, we cannot guarantee the crust we serve in the restaurant is 100 percent gluten free," Denno says. This pizza crust is therefore not suitable for people with severe gluten allergies or reactions. It is listed as "gluten- and grain-sensitive" on the menu, and they train their staff to discuss the possibility of cross-contamination with their guests so they can be fully informed.
Denno says the crust tastes great. It contains nut, seed, and root vegetable flours and is naturally free from gluten, grains, and soy. It is also lower in carbohydrates than many other gluten-free products and is Paleo-diet friendly. "Nourishe specializes in great-tasting gluten-free products, and we specialize in great pizza — when you combine them, it is the best!" she says.
Rock'n Dough does not currently offer gluten-free on their food truck, but they do offer it for private catering events, where the menu is decided prior to the event.
Pyro's Fire Fresh Pizza
Co-owner Chad Foreman says Pyro's offers a gluten-free crust that many guests, both those with celiac disease and those just wanting to minimize gluten in their diets, really like. "Our gluten-free crust is made with rice flour, and we offer to cook it in a pan for our more sensitive guests," he says.
However, they do not offer a 100-percent gluten-free experience. "We do not recommend any of our products for individuals that are extremely sensitive. Since we make our signature thin crust in-house everyday with flour and semolina, our restaurant has gluten particles everywhere, which makes cross-contamination virtually impossible to avoid," Foreman explains. This cross-contamination means that although their rice-based crust is gluten-free, most of the toppings and the oven they cook it in are not gluten-free.
Guests are pleasantly surprised by how light and airy the crust is.
Russo's New York Pizzeria
Chef Anthony Russo spent two years perfecting the recipe for his gluten-free crust. The secret is that it is bound together with honey and a Sicilian olive oil made specifically for Russo's.
Jackson Lewis, the franchise's PR representative, says there is a serious need for great-tasting gluten-free options, and because of this, Russo's offers guests an entirely gluten-free menu. Additionally, the retail version of the gluten-free pizza is sold in 3,000 grocery stores across the United States.
Local franchise owner, Brett Steiner, says to prevent cross-contamination in the Germantown store, they keep the pizza crust in a separate cooler and change their gloves prior to making the order. The crust is very popular. They sell at least 50 a week.
Hog & Hominy
Hog & Hominy makes its gluten-free dough in-house. For a $3 upcharge, all pizzas on the menu can be made gluten-free. They keep the dough separate and roll it separately, but it isn't guaranteed to be 100-percent safe for celiacs because regular flour is used throughout the kitchen.
Ciao Bella orders a gluten-free, pre-baked, 12-inch crust from a company in New Jersey called Conte's Pasta through their specialty foods distributor. It is prepared with separate utensils, but it is prepared in the same pizza station as the rest of the pizzas and cooked and in the same pizza oven as everything else.
Memphis Pizza Cafe
MPC also orders a frozen gluten-free crust. Like Ciao Bella, they use separate utensils, but it is prepared and cooked in the same station/oven as regular pies.
Chuck E. Cheese's
Chuck E. Cheese's has a gluten-free pizza that comes in a sealed, oven-safe bag. It isn't opened until it gets to the table, and a one-time-use pizza cutter is provided. It's celiac safe, but rumor has it, not very tasty!