What is gluten? Gluten is a composite protein that is found in wheat, barley, and rye, among other grains, and is responsible for the stickiness and elasticity that gives pizza dough it's texture. A small population is reactive to this protein, including myself. While I only have a mild intolerance, I avoid it all costs because it makes me feel like I have a brick in my intestine, which is really an unpleasant side effect.
So, when we talk about gluten-free pizza, we're referring to pizza with crust made without wheat, barley or any other gluten-containing grain. Examples could be corn, potato, tapioca, rice and arrowroot. Xantham gum is typically used as a sticky agent to help hold together the dough. However, in restaurants with gluten free options, there is generally only a thin crust option, which can real limit the tastiness.
So, on to to the pizza selection in St. Louis. Due to economic crisis and poor suburban planning, the other pizza chain that offered gf pizza has closed, and Pi Pizzeria with it's three locations in the Central West End, Kirkwood and the Delmar Loop is it for me and pizza. I've been a number of times, but I've waited to write a review until I have the taste in my mouth. And, as I went back again last night, here's what I've got say.
- The crust is really good. An excellent thin crust, and the specialty pizzas are not diminished by being gf in any way. I theorize they may even taste better than the regular thin crust.
- 3 kinds of gf beer!!! Wahoo! GF beer is really hard to find, and 3 different kinds is amazing. There's a con associated with this, but still.
- Nice atmosphere. They've got neat decorations on the walls, and I really love the use of the pizza stands as art on the walls (and on basically everything including the windmill outside).
- Focus on local, sustainable and green! They use a fair amount of organic and local produce, and they have options for vegans, which in my family is very exciting.
- Excellent mixed drinks. They've got a bunch of signatures and they're well worth it.
- Great happy hour specials, and they last all afternoon till 6 and continue after 10 PM. This is stuff like $1 PBRs and $2 rail drinks, and you can sit at the bar and read and no one will bother you. Nice afternoon hang out.
- Good place to run into people. Granted I've only ever been to the Delmar Loop location, in my neighborhood, but still. There's a lot of people coming in and out of this place.
- The pizza keeps well in the fridge, and you can heat it up in the oven for a still-delicious next day taste. Very important, because often GF pizza melts away into grossness.
- The GF pizza only comes in thin crust. Pi is known for their deep dish Chicago style, and there will be no partaking in that for the GF among us. Come on, chefs! I'm sure you can get creative enough to make a GF version of the deep dish. Get it together.
- The GF beer is $9 a bottle. NINE DOLLARS. NINE! That's 3 rail drinks with tips during happy hour. Totally not worth the cost, unless someone else is paying.
- $24 including tip for 1 thin crust specialty pizza?! Are you serious!? I can buy two crusts from Whole Foods for $5 and make myself a pizza for $7.5 with all the same ingredients. And have a beer for $2. That's hard to justify, friends. Again, get someone else to pay.
- It's always loud in there, and there's usually a wait. It's great that it's Barack Obama's favorite pizza place, but if you come in for dinner at 5 PM on a Tuesday, you'd hope you'd be able to hear your friend talk to you. On Saturday, there's no hope, and you may have to wait 30 minutes to eat (no reservations accepted).
- A little bit over rated. Yes, it's delicious. But no, it's not the best pizza I've had, not even the best GF. And it's expensive. But, when Barack loves something, the price goes up, so what can you do?
In summary, give Pi a try, but when someone else is forking over the dough (and try not to share your GF pizza with them). I particularly recommend the Cherokee Street, which is cheesy and spicy at the same time, or try a simple pesto pizza on the GF, and why not try them out between 11 AM and 6 PM and get yourself some cheap drinks while you're at it!