A few years ago, no one really knew what gluten was, but today the word is part of most people's vernacular — and excluded from a lot of their diets.
As with carbs or fat in generations before, some now see gluten as something to be avoided at all costs. Its infamous reputation started with more frequent diagnoses of a gluten intolerance known as Celiac disease. After that it wasn't long before celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Lady Gaga helped vilify the protein found in wheat and some grains, making it dieters' new enemy.
The problem is that gluten is present in a lot of delicious things. Breads, pasta and donuts are just a few of the crave-worthy foods forbidden to gluten-free eaters. So are they supposed to just live life deprived of all of those treats? A life without the occasional slice of New York Style deliciousness seems too sad to imagine. There has to be some other way!
So driven by compassion, sympathy and curiosity, I set out on a quest for gluten-free pizzas in Tampa Bay.
Google led me to Pizzeria Gregario in Safety Harbor and, as it turned out, that was the best place to start. While owner and pizzaiolo Greg Seymour made my chickpea-crust pie in house, he explained exactly what made the gluten-free version different.
For starters, gluten-free crusts are always smaller because gluten is what gives them elasticity. Without gluten, the crust doesn't stretch when it bakes, and that means it falls apart easier. A smaller pizza equals a less messy pizza. Because the crust won't rise, a gluten-free pizza also looks and feels more like a flatbread.
At Pizzeria Gregario, the gluten-free pizzas (starting at $12.50) are all 9 inches, making for about five to six personal slices. The very thin crust is prepared away from the usual counter so no contamination occurs, and the firewood oven gives it a crispy and light finish.
Across the Howard Frankland Bridge in Tampa, the crusts are a little thicker and crunchier. Your Pie on Dale Mabry offers a crust made by Senza Glutine, a gluten-free bakery. The ingredient list includes rice flour, tapioca flour, olive oil, sugar, salt and yeast, and the toppings can be individually picked to make a completely unique pie. Thanks to its thicker base, the pie (starting at $6.50) can also withstand the weight of its toppings, and eating it doesn't require utensils.
Gourmet Pizza Company uses the same crust, and those with food allergies can feel extra-relaxed knowing the restaurant uses rice flour to dust and stretch all pizzas, so your chance of contamination is even slimmer. The place originally started having a gluten-free option (starting at $10.95) after one of its first customers was diagnosed with Celiac disease and now it proudly carries a banner on the window of its Hyde Park location saying it's been "Serving Tampa Bay's gluten free community for over three years."
Since the best way to eat pizza is probably on the couch watching Netflix, though, finding a place that delivers was a must, and Westshore Pizza was it. The local chain has its own 12-inch gluten-free option (starting at $11.99) and it is buttery, with a slight crunch on the outside and softer inside almost reminiscent of a croissant.
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Is it the same as a regular gluten-filled pizza? No. But different isn't a bad thing. All the gluten-free options were still filling, and their crispier and thinner crusts added a gourmet touch to the casual dinner. Whether those avoiding gluten are doing it because they have to or because they choose to, the options in the pizza department in the area won't make them feel deprived.