By Dawn Swartz • Illustrations by Caitlin Muncy
Blaze Fast Fire'd Pizza
980A West Eisenhower Parkway
It’s refreshing to feel those serving you have had even two minutes of training dedicated to gluten free (GF) realities. It’s the simplest diet at this point in U.S. food trends, so there’s no excuse not to have the knowledge if you make your living serving food. When I told the first server on the line at Blaze Fast Fire'd Pizza that I was GF, the others heard it quickly. One changed his plastic gloves, another asked if this was for allergy or preference, and yet another advised I would want to choose the balsamic dressing on my salad and say “no” to the turkey meatballs. I was impressed by their helpfulness and knowledge.
What helped to make this a great pizza was the many veggie options, including, artichoke, arugula, banana pepper, basil, two kinds of olives, cherry tomatoes, garlic, sweet peppers, jalapeños, mushrooms, oregano, pineapple, fresh and sautéed onions, spinach, and zucchini. As for meat toppings, there are bacon, meatballs, turkey meatballs (not GF), sausage, ham, chicken, pepperoni, and salami. There are also nine cheeses to choose from and seven sauces.
If you have ever tried GF pizza, you know the hardest thing to get right is the crust. Blaze succeeds with one qualifier: pass on the olive oil drizzle. I know it sounds good, but any wetness added to this pizza affects the crust. It may sound delicious to crown your own creation with a spot of pesto or olive oil, but don’t gamble on this. I didn’t believe it so they let me try it both ways, and they were absolutely right! A crust that looks and tastes like silly putty could ruin your day, let alone your dinner or your date. So just go without the drizzles.
For beverages, they offer the usual serve-yourself soda fountain (where you can expect the sweetener is going to be high fructose corn syrup). The four non-pop offerings are sweetened with cane sugar. It’s easy to spot the two which have less sugar; they are labeled “agua fresca” as opposed to the two lemonades. But they’re all delicious.
Before going, you should know that most people order online. When I got inside, I at first felt ignored because I couldn’t even tell where the line started for build-your-own pizza, and it seemed everyone was getting helped besides me. Why? They had all ordered online. So, I highly recommend ordering online.
Also, try not to go at 8 p.m. when I did. Later I was told that they were training four new people that night, and the dinner rush had just ended. Another time I went at 5 p.m., and it was still a wait, just not as hectic as the previous time. Blaze is located next to Whole Foods and REI. Another location is on Washtenaw Avenue.
620 East Liberty Street
Pieology on Liberty Street has been serving GF since its arrival in 2014. The manager and staff were sure to say they only do “GF friendly” because the GF pizza shares the horizontal space with all other meals, so those with severe gluten allergy take note.
Pieology also has many veggie options, though they leave out my favorites, zucchini, sautéed onions, and sun-dried tomatoes. Here you can have extra olive oil without having it spoil the crust, and this place works like a well-oiled clock. Mostly young student-types on staff, and they have had sufficient training. I was also advised not to have the meatballs, but my server didn’t seem to have GF knowledge past that. Drinks available are the usual high fructose pops, with tea, local craft beers, and wine.
Pieology crusts are ordered from outside the company, so they are identical with all other Pieology restaurants (one in Grand Rapids and a handful in the Detroit suburbs). The crust tastes good, but they must be a millimeter thicker than other gluten free crusts, so they have more crunch. At least it’s not going silly putty on you. I didn’t want to eat the edges as I did the other places I tried. The leftover cold pizza tastes more chewy than freshly baked, but I definitely didn’t want to finish the edge pieces, which were really hard.
Cottage Inn Pizza
The next place I found GF pizza was surprising. In my experience, the biggest names are the last ones to be progressive because they think they can make money without the bother. Cottage Inn Pizza is different. Begun at the Ann Arbor William Street location, Cottage Inn has spread to other states in the U.S. and as far away as China.
If you tried their first stab at GF, you may have been turned off. But within the last year they have found a new supplier of GF shells. It’s made by Senza Glutine, an Italian maker and purchased by all Cottage Inn locations, so you can be sure of uniformity. And they have a trick to insure that the crust will not be soupy: they actually bake the underside first before adding the toppings while covering the bottom side, which will be browned when the toppings are in place. The crust is also vegan, free of egg, dairy, soy.
If you’re from Ann Arbor, you already know that Cottage Inn has about everything for toppings. The only things missing that I like are sautéed onions and zucchini, but that’s not unusual. On every table is placed a whole bottle of olive oil for a drizzle, which you may use without a problem, but sparingly.
Here all the managers are trained in the need and reasons for being GF, and I appreciated that I didn’t have to go through my entire explanation of the hows and whys of GF eating. Hopefully soon all the workers there will receive this same GF training.
But now to the “meat” of the matter: the crust! Oh, the crust! It tastes so good that I could eat it by itself as breadsticks. By adding olive oil, it's as delicious as potato chips. I would suggest they offer it on the menu, perhaps as a GF appetizer.
I want to encourage those who stay out of restaurants for fear of the GF pizza to give dining out another chance. Though there is a caution: don't expect a GF pizza to be as good the next day. Alas, if you cannot finish a whole pizza on the spot, the best plan is to bring a friend along for the treat!
Dawn Swartz has been happily gluten free for almost two years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.