My family has a new restaurant to enjoy together. I'm sure I have mentioned that my two boys, ages 10 and 12, are big fans of Olive Garden because of the unlimited bread sticks. I appreciate that Olive Garden offers a gluten-free menu, but honestly? Their gluten-free pasta is just so boring. I hate torturing the kids with my pick of restaurants, but sometimes it's got to be about me, right?
Last week was my 50th birthday. Jenn took me for an awesome and auspicious dinner at Alma de Cuba. The joys of Alma would definitely be lost on the kids, and sooo not worth the money to take them there. Our challenge then was to pick a restaurant for a different birthday dinner that would be birthday-worthy and please the entire family, bread sticks not withstanding. Enter the chain restaurant, California Pizza Kitchen.
As noted in this news story about gluten-free offerings on menus, CPK had a bit of a misstep in their original foray into the gluten-free market. Their toppings on their gluten-free crust weren't necessarily gluten-free, and the possibility of cross-contamination with wheat flour was high. They pulled the gluten-free options for over a year and worked with the Gluten Intolerance Group of North America to overhaul their gluten-free menu and gluten-free food handling procedures. New protocols include managerial oversight of preparation in a designated gluten-free area of the kitchen; packaged, sealed gluten-free crusts; clear labeling of utensils and ingredient bins that are strictly for gluten-free sauce and toppings; and a really big thing: Using rice flour to dust the regular crust so that the flour in the air doesn't cross-contaminate the gluten-free food.
CPK offers a designated gluten-free menu and I've had and very much enjoyed the Margherita Pizza and the White Corn and Guacamole and Chips. Good stuff! The pizza is definitely in the running for my "Best Gluten-Free Pizza Crust from a Chain Restaurant" award.
Rant Warning: But CPK also puts an amusing? disconcerting? note on their small plates menu, with a heading "Stuff Our Lawyers Make Us Say," which says (right above the gluten free symbol of GIG) that they might accidentally poison me with gluten: "'Gluten-free' designations are based on information provided by our ingredient suppliers. Warning: normal kitchen operations involve shared cooking and preparation areas. 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." CPK, I do believe that your lawyers encourage you say that, but for heavens sakes, who's really in charge there? Stand behind your obvious extensive efforts to make your restaurant safe for me to eat! End of rant.
And yes, I've eaten at my local CPK twice, had a great experience, and will go there again. So there.