Sunday, May 30, 2010

Restaurant Review: Elliott Bay Pizza

You know, I must say, more and more places are getting the importance of offering gluten-free options to the millions of people affected by the various problems that gluten causes in their bodies. For those of us who this is a necessity, I applaud these places.

And I spend my money.

One such place, Elliott Bay Pizza offers a gluten-free pizza crust that can be substituted for an additional $2.75 underneath any of their 10" pizza offerings. It's quite a nice offering too.

When you first walk in, there is a stack of menus and a sign telling you to seat yourself and order at the counter when you're ready. Very casual. I browsed the extensive menu, then followed the previous instructions.

They have lots of pizza options, as well as the ability to build your own, and all of them can be made gluten-free. I tried them for the first time tonight and really enjoyed myself. I ordered two pizzas so I could take some home (I still haven't been to a grocery store since coming back from San Francisco). I ordered a 10" Maui (Canadian bacon, mozzarella and pineapple) substituting the basic red sauce for their roasted-garlic and olive oil sauce and one 10" Highlander (pepperoni, mushrooms and mozzarella) switching out the red sauce for their homemade basil pesto. A little change is always good.

I sat back down at my table after getting myself a glass of water and my salad came quickly. The lettuce was crisp and cool, with nice pilings of red onions, black olives, shredded mozzarella and a couple of baby carrots. I nixed the tomatoes and croutons and opted for the raspberry vinagrette, which was nice. The salad was a nice starter, but I was eager to try the pizza.

My two pizzas came and the cook (she served it) brought me a plate and some parm and I dug in. The crust was soft and tender, thin and slightly crispy in certain places. The basil pesto was outstanding. As soon as I bit into that pizza, the flavor was almost overwhelming, but in a really delightful way. It began to melt into everything else and it all came nicely together. The Maui with the garlic-olive oil sauce was really nice with just a hint of garlic and I missed nothing about the red sauce that I think overpowers most of the pizzas I try. I prefer them this way. Simple and different. Try it sometime. You might just like it.

After sampling both pizzas and pleased with the texture of the crust and all the options before me, I began to wonder a little something. Something I usually take care of before I even get to this point. The big question: were all the ingredients on these pizzas gluten-free? I wasn't so sure. I felt okay at this point, but it wasn't clear because it wasn't marked anywhere on the menu. In other establishments, there are little stars or asterisks letting you know what was or wasn't gluten-free and what kind of protection they could offer you in the kitchen. Unfortunately, Elliott Bay Pizza didn't really offer this.

When I first planned to go, I called ahead to confirm the existence of a gluten-free crust, just to make sure. Sometimes there is confusion amongst the staff (not always) in some places or you have to order a day or so in advance depending on how they get their gluten-free options. I asked about the crust ingredients and I wanted to know if the alfredo sauce had wheat in it. The guy I talked to didn't know about the alfredo sauce and said he would find out and let the staff know before I got there. That's nice. I did confirm that there is gluten in the alfredo sauce at the counter before ordering. But what about the other things? Was the pepperoni I was eating gluten-free? How about the Canadian bacon?

Now, I don't know. I'll find out soon enough.

And what about the other things on the menu? Do they offer gluten-free pastas or calzones? Not sure. These are questions that are big and important to those of us eating gluten-free. Just offering a crust isn't enough. We will want to know more. Some people have to know more. Some restaurants like P.F. Chang's have gone the extra mile and let their customers know what equipment is dedicated gluten-free and what's not. What food is safe and what food is not. Very helpful when you're sitting down and want to feel good when you get up to leave.

So, I applaud Elliott Bay for getting out there and offering a gluten-free option, but I think they, along with many others, need to go the next step. Get a gluten-free menu printed up or post it on your website. Or they could simply put asterisks or some sort of sign on the menu that states certain items are safe to consume or certain items are not. And most of all, get your staff on-board. Pass the knowledge so as people are ordering they don't just write down whatever they are told, but they make a conscious effort to know what items would be considered safe and what would not be. As the consumer, it is my job to ask, ask, ask, but as the provider, it would make our consuming lives so much easier to have these things set up for us. It would make me want to come back because I know you care.

Something to think about.

Happy eating and safety for everybody!

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