Friday, September 16, 2011

California Pizza Kitchen, Restaurant Review Update

I first posted about California Pizza Kitchen's gluten free menu back in January, see earlier review here. If you have been following blogging news you are aware that CPK has launched a new gluten free menu this summer that includes an offering of gluten free pizza crust. There have been many questions raised about the possibility of cross contamination in the food preparation area prior to one actually receiving their "gluten free menu item". In fact California Pizza Kitchen protects itself by stating the following information on it's menu
“Gluten-Free” designations are based on information provided
by our ingredient suppliers. Warning: Ingredients or production
methods used by our suppliers may change, or there may be
product differences among regional suppliers. Additionally,
normal kitchen operations involve shared cooking and preparation
areas, or we may need to substitute ingredients in menu items.
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.

I would like to suggest that really any time a gluten free diner chooses to eat out side of one's own home, there are risks of cross contamination. So how do you reduce this risk?
1. Do your homework before going to the restaurant, gluten free menus help with menu selection
2. Visit the restaurant at non busy times. Friday night 7:30 pm at a pizza restaurant really increases the chance of cross contamination.
3. Talk to your wait staff and the manager. If you have Celiac Disease or severe gluten sensitivity explain your condition as a medical necessary diet. With gluten free diets being somewhat of a fad these days, it is difficult for restaurants to understand how a patron can order a gluten free meal but perhaps still eat a piece of bread from the bread basket!
4. Thank those establishments that follow sound procedures for reducing the chance of cross contamination: different preparation areas, changing gloves, different marked plates for gluten free items, gluten free testing of products, etc.

So my family decided to go check out this gluten free pizza offering one non-busy evening last week. We visited the California Pizza Location at South Point. We ordered two different gluten free pizzas and thought the taste and quality were excellent. As far as we know we were not "glutenized", we had no reactions after enjoying our pizza. So what is a gluten free diner to do? Do you take risks on eating out? How do you minimize these risks? I would love to hear comments on how other gluten free folks approach this dining dilemma?

UPDATE 9/17/2011:  California Pizza Kitchen has pulled the gluten-free crust option from its menu at all locations. CPK says that it is reviewing the pizza prep methods with an eye toward bringing it back in the future.

Bravo to CPK for taking responsibility to correct their prepartion practices so that a gluten free pizza order, has a chance to arrive at your table as really gluten free!

Stay tuned....


M said...

I think the best customer service at a restaurant that has a gluten free menu is PF Chang's.

I'm not celiac, although my husband's sister is. I do have a life threatening allergy to oranges, and ginger gives me migraines.

Every time I've gone to PF Chang's, the manager has come over to the table to let me know that 1. The kitchen takes ALL allergies and even sensitivities seriously 2. They cooked my food in a freshly washed wok separate from other dishes that have orange or ginger 3. They come back by to make sure that my order was correct and orange free.

--my tongue starts to tingle before the other anaphylactic symptoms start, so I take a small taste first, just in case, because whenever you're eating food prepared by someone else. I've avoided eating contaminated food by taking just a bite, and not just shoveling the food down.

I've noticed more and more restaurants having gluten free menus, but you're right about questioning kitchen preparation procedures.

There are some restaurants, like Bahama Breeze for instance, that I don't risk eating at because they grill everything in a citrus glaze, and even though my food may be orange food, it doesn't mean the grill is clean or my food was cooked away from all the other orders getting brushed down with sauce and handled with the same utensils.

I do think that a lot more restaurants are becoming celiac and allergy friendly because of awareness and customer demand. It makes me happy that I can go to more restaurants without as much fear, and that there are more restaurants for my SIL and husband's family to enjoy.

Debbie Jongkind,RD,LDN said...

M- It sounds like, you know first hand what is like to navigate special dietary needs that are medically necessary and not just a preference. It is always good to ask specific questions of your server (in a kind way of course). I love eating at PF Changs, it is one of my favorites.