Raleigh, N.C. — If you’re familiar with gluten-free food, you know what a challenge it can be to find, make or enjoy even the most simple and traditional of foods with special dietary needs.
This is especially the case for those suffering from celiac disease (an auto-immune response), non-celiac gluten-sensitivity (a multi-symptom condition) and/or a wheat allergy (an Immuno-globulin E or IgE response). All of these affect people differently.
Going out with friends and family to enjoy a slice of great pizza can be more of a fantasy, due to both the environment and the high potential of cross-contamination. It's not uncommon for a merchant to offer "gluten-free pizza" on a specially-made (often pre-ordered) crust only to watch them use the very same wooden or stainless steel paddles as regular pizza and pop them unceremoniously into the oven directly on high-gluten, wheat flour-crusted surfaces.
That will cause at least two weeks of pain and suffering, on average!
But does that mean the gluten-free public is limited to frozen, shrink-wrapped pizza or endless experiments on the kitchen counter? No.
Having eaten around the Triangle extensively, here is a list of pizza restaurants which go above and beyond in their attempts to serve gluten-free customers safely. This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it a guarantee of continued quality. These are our current favorites.
Treforni Pizza in Durham - UPDATE: As of September 2017, this restaurant is no longer offering gluten-free pizza.
Treforni was, by far, the best in the area! Blogger friend Amber Watson alerted me to this establishment. This is both a perfect spot to dine-in or to call ahead and pick up a great pizza on the way home. Treforni offers wait service and has patio dining.
The restaurant, which just celebrated their one-year anniversary on May 6, serves wood-fired Neapolitan pizza with premium-quality toppings such as real tomatoes that come directly from San Marzano and cheese that comes from a dairy maker in Naples that also supplies the world's most famous pizzeria (L'Antica Pizzeria Da Michele, established in 1870, which is where Julia Roberts' character eats in the movie Eat, Pray, Love).
The owners have a delicious history, too -- co-owner Dave Diggins learned how to make Neapolitan pizza from mentor Roberto Caporuscio, who mastered his craft at Italy's Pizzeria Starita (the oldest pizzeria in Naples).
Treforni has a dedicated gluten-free pizza oven clearly marked, and the doppio zero flour sacks are contained in a glass enclosure for the actual dough making of their regular Napolitano pizzas. Transparency is no problem, as you can easily see what staff is doing.
Speaking with co-owner Dave Diggins was revealing. As he spoke about the dough, I cautioned him that he didn’t have to reveal too much. “Oh it really doesn’t matter. I could give you the list and no one could duplicate it. It’s the technique that is important," he said. It certainly is that!
The proof is in the pizza. The dough is double-risen, which gives it fantastic flavor, and the chefs aren’t afraid of salting the dough. It’s fired in super-heated ovens for the prescribed length of time, and the result is nothing short of an astonishing hand-tossed style pizza. When I asked for a recommendation, Diggins suggested the Sarita with hot soppressata and basil. This is not the thin-crust most gluten-free places are made of. This is the real deal.
Don’t forget dessert! Treforni has a calzone stuffed with melty sweet ricotta and hazelnut chocolate that is out-of-this-world good!
Patrick Jane's in Cary
I've been to Patrick Jane's numerous times, and the amount of care and concern they put into gluten-free pizzas and desserts is easy to observe. Owners Ngiare and Kevin Hubbard went to great lengths (also to Italy) to source ingredients for the gluten-free pizza crust, and they source seasonal ingredients for many of their toppings from organic North Carolina vendors.
During past visits, this transparency was notable on menus and chalkboards. In addition to pizza, Patrick Jane's also sources a variety of gluten-free craft beers, ciders and beverages. They have vegan-friendly toppings and luxurious gluten-free desserts prepared by a specially-trained pastry chef with rotating menus. Prices are reasonable for a seasonal menu, but expect to pay more for specialty items like vegan cheese options.
Be sure to look for daily and weekly specials, live entertainment and special events. Patrick Jane's has both patio seating and a large glassed-in area in addition to inside seating. Although prices are slightly higher based on menu items, sizes are offered for any price point.
Rosalini’s Pizza and Subs in Rolesville
Rosalini's is a quaint "mom and pop" style family eatery run by Greg and Tara Brelinsky and has received numerous rave reviews from many in the gluten-free crowd. It may be a drive for some, but it's conveniently located near Wake Forest and Zebulon for those in the area.
When I went, I had the gluten-free pizza with veggies since a friend was vegetarian. It was delicious. According to Greg, he himself is gluten-free.
“I was suffering from psoriasis and was getting arthritis in my hands. We couldn’t figure out why," he said. "I stopped eating gluten and dairy cold turkey, and the symptoms improved. Now both have cleared up. We use separate utensils for gluten-free and keep everything clean. We’ve been here almost a year and a half and have won awards from Wake Living for Best Pizza in 2016. We’re about to win another again."
Greg originally visited a chain for their gluten-free pizza and was so disappointed that he set about experimenting on his own. His result is great! Rosalini's also offers gluten-free pastas and subs with dedicated gluten-free baguette rolls from a local bakery. I tried the gluten-free chocolate torte, which was a good idea to have on menu and quintessentially dreamy.
Bella Monica in Raleigh
Bella Monica has been making gluten-free pizza and pastas for a long time now. Owners Corbett and Julie Monica have been open since 2000 and have a special gluten-free menu with a six inch pizza still available. The pastas and options are fairly comprehensive. They are a crowd favorite and full-service family eatery well-known for gluten-free service.
Bella Monica hosts special wine dinners and participates in many local events. They recently opened Stellino’s Italiano in Cary on May 12. The manager at the new restaurant plans to have gluten-free service well settled before commenting in-depth but anticipates having some gluten-free options in the future. We’ll check back. Congratulations on the opening!
Amante Gourmet Pizza in Durham, Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Morrisville
Amante Gourmet Pizza is a small, casual dining concept with four Triangle locations run by Michael Villopoto. Amante has standard size 10-inch gluten-free pizza crust options that you may find in an establishment that offers gluten-free crust. This is a larger size personal pizza size with a couple of servings, depending on your appetite.
I talked with manager Ben Harrison, who confirmed that they do indeed keep the pizza separate from surfaces in the cooking process. This was music to my ears! Several other establishments near or on Franklin Street claim “gluten-free pizza”. After some research, though, most of the others do not use separate or special handling in any way to prevent cross-contamination, and two actually caused us gluten-related illness due to this. Amante has patio dining available, regular specials, and televised Tarheel and Duke games.
Those on this list have demonstrated a higher degree of care and safety in their production of gluten-free pizza, and I hope you enjoy them!