As part of my ongoing Everyone's at Gen Con so why bother series, where I relax the tone and content of the Blog, I am going to talk about Gluten Free Pizza.
I have celiac so I am not supposed to eat Gluten. For me this is proof that Karma is real because I was always the sort of waiter who rolled my eyes when customers mentioned their gluten free concerns. So after a lifetime of eating pretty much nothing but pasta, pizza and subs, I earned the wrath of the cosmos for rolling my eyes one too many times. Now I can't gluten. Really, it isn't that bad, because there is plenty of food out there that doesn't require gluten to taste good. For example you don't need gluten to properly roast a chicken or bake some fennel. Some things, however, need gluten. Pizza is one of those things.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat (and a few other grains) that gives bread its chewy texture. In order to emulate that effect, gluten free products rely on blends of flours from non-gluten grains and staples like rice, potato, tapioca, corn, etc. With pasta things have come pretty far actually. There are some gluten free pastas out there that are pretty darn good. Pizza is a whole other story.
You've probably heard the saying "There is no bad pizza". This is false. If you find yourself with a case of celiac or decide to forgo gluten on a whim for some reason, know this: there is no good gluten free pizza. The best you can hope for with gluten free pizza is something that passable, perhaps a little better than the stuff they used to feed you in high school (the square pizza with holes punched into the crust). That is about as good as it gets. Oh, you may find something that manages to fool you for a day. But trust me, when you go back for seconds you begin to notice the flaws.
There are people who will tell you that they've discovered a great gluten free pizza or that they know a sans gluten flour blend that tastes like the real thing. These people are either lying or part of demonic cult that doesn't want anyone to eat gluten. Ignore them or perform an exorcism, whatever you do don't trust their judgment about gluten free pizza.
I've been on this diet for five years now. It isn't something I would do by choice, but I've learned which brands of gluten free pizza rise above the rest. This is my double list of the two worst gluten free pizzas and the two best. There is another brand of pizza I would like to include here, but for the life of me I can't recall the name or find it on a search. So for now, we'll just have to assess these four.
This was the first gluten free pizza I tried when I found out I had celiac. The basis of the crust is rice flour which I assume is why it tastes not so good. The cheese isn't too bad as I recall, what brings this pizza down is the mealy and gritty crust. It is just overwhelming and difficult to overlook. Otherwise the pizza is fine. In the case of Amy's pizza, it is a texture issue, rather than a flavor issue.
UDI'S PIZZA THREE CHEESE PIZZA
My heart has a special chamber dedicated to hating this brand of pizza because it wasn't always bad. A few years ago, they had a pretty good gluten free pizza. The cheese tasted like a typical three cheese blend, sauce was good and the crust was actually kind of light and crispy like a proper slice. I was so impressed with this pizza, I wrote them an email saying how it reminded me of the pizza I grew up eating on the North Shore. I don't know what possessed them to reformulate but within a year it was "new and improved" and tasted awful. Now Udi's pizza is a whitebread monstrosity. The flavors are all wrong. It is a too sweet. The cheese tastes the way a person living in an isolated part of the midwest might imagine an Italian style three cheese blend tastes like. And the crust is buttery and chewy, no longer crisp. Yes you can fold it, but for all the wrong reasons. It is no longer crisp, but chewy with no bite. It looks like pizza. It feels a bit like pizza. But it tastes nothing like pizza.
As much as I hate this brand though, I must admit I still eat it. It's easy to cook due to its small size and it is affordable. In fact, I ate one before I typed this. As you can see from the image, it looks like a real pizza. I know what you're thinking "of course it tastes awful to you, you burnt it." Yes, I did burn the pizza. But this was deliberate. I've discovered the only way to conceal the incredibly bad flavor of Udi's pizza is to brown the cheese.
This suffers a little from the same kind of mealiness as Amy's but it still manages to taste pretty okay. I think it is the sauce and the fact that the cheese is inoffensive. I wouldn't cut off my right arm for this one, I wouldn't cut off your right arm for this one, but I am happy to eat it if it doesn't involve any loss of limbs.
AGAINST THE GRAIN
This pizza has its flaws but it probably does come closest to the real thing. You won't notice the issues the first or second time you eat it. After the third or fourth, you'll begin to detect a vaguely gelatinous mush in the middle of the crust. Once you discover this, your brain will obsess over it. You simply won't be able to ignore the moist and chewy center hidden below the surface of cheese. It is like getting a strip of taffy in the middle of a pizza slice. That said, it tastes good. The pesto is close to perfect in terms of flavor. The three cheese is not a standard three cheese blend but better than Udi's. The downside of Against the Grain is it basically tastes like a Greek pizza (in the North East Greek Pizza is serrate style from Italian). If you like Greek pizza, then you're in luck. If you are like me and prefer Italian, then it may take getting used to. Honestly I can't afford to be picky so I don't hold the style against it.
You may be asking yourself why, if I love this brand so much, I just confessed to eating an Udi's pizza instead. The answer is pretty simple. It boils down to three things: cost, convenience and concern. Against the Grain tastes great but it is much more expensive than Udi's. You get a bit more for your money though. Gluten free food isn't cheap and Against the Grain is premium gluten free. It isn't something I would eat everyday simply due to the price tag. The other issue is size. It is bigger than Udi's and harder to fit in my toaster oven. It can be done, but it is more difficult to get in and out, harder to ensure an even cooking. The final reason is that Udi's is certified gluten free and Against the Grain is not. While Against the Grain uses a dedicated gluten free facility (always a good sign), they are not certified by any of the celiac organizations, which means they don't have to regularly test their lines for cross contamination issues. In the past this wouldn't have dissuaded me but my health hasn't been perfect lately so I try to be more cautious around the issue.
I should say there are Brands I am aware of but have not tried. Joan's NY Pizza is supposedly pretty good and I've been meaning to test it out (just haven't been able to find it locally). The pictures look great, certainly raise my expectations, and I recently saw it at number 1 on a gluten free pizza list (however Amy's was number 2 on that same list).
There are also brands that simply didn't make it onto my double list. Glutino and Ian's both make gluten free pizza. I don't particularly like either but they didn't leave a lasting impression one way or the other like the four that I listed.
Restaurants also have gluten free pizza and when they make them in house these can be pretty good. Burton's Bar and Grill does a decent job as does Uno. Just keep in mind if you have celiac and eat out at a place at this, they can't usually guarantee the food is gluten free.