In 2012, a nutritionist friend of mine suggested I go gluten-free after I had explained to her my life-long struggle with heartburn and nausea, bloating, and feeling tired. I talked with her about how doctors had prescribed medication, changed my diet, and run tests. How none of this worked. I was tired of feeling physically and emotionally uncomfortable. I wanted something to make my digestive system function. After careful thought and a little research, I decided to go gluten-free.
For the past several weeks, I have been consuming gluten-free pizza so that you, my wheat-free friends, can get just as much out of your Chicago pizza eating experience as our gluten-consuming cohorts. In no particular hierarchy, below is a list of 5 gluten-free Chicago pizzerias
Blaze, located below the Belmont Red and Brown Line, opened in December of 2013 and their sister store, on East Ontario, recently opened at the end of April.
I walked in and, as I approached the cafeteria-style line, was immediately greeted by a chorus of pizza makers shouting “Welcome to Blaze!!” It was a little overwhelming. Set up like Chipotle, you can choose to order one of Blaze’s signature pizzas or customize your own. Either way, you pay one flat price for as many toppings as you want.
First, I told the worker that I’d like the gluten-free crust. While she put on a pair of plastic gloves and walked to a shelf along the back wall, I surveyed the menu. Once she came back to the counter, the worker pulled a fresh piece of dough from a bowl. She then rolled the dough out on a giant, round panini press, closed the machine and voila! A medium-sized pizza crust was ready for me to personalize.
After the dough was complete, the worker spread the proper sauce on it and walked with me down the line as I specified which cheese, veggies, and meats I would like. As I paid, they popped my pizza in a brick oven where it baked for ten minutes.
I ended up ordering a signature Green Leaf pizza, which was comprised of a pesto base, chicken, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, mozzarella and arugula. The pesto was fantastic and considering the “fast-food” style of the place, all of the ingredients were fresh.
The only downside to Blaze was that the crust was ultra-thin, almost like a cracker or a soft melba toast. Still, for being a fast-food chain, Blaze was quite surprising. I’ll definitely be returning.
Taste: 4 out of 5
Crust: 3 out of 5
Pie Hole Pizza
A week after trying Blaze, I ventured to Pie Hole Pizza in Northeast Lakeview. Friends had raved about their regular pizza, so I was eager to sink my teeth into Pie Hole’s gluten-free option.
The restaurant itself is literally a pie-hole: a bar lines the front window, and three to four additional tables are crammed along the side and back of the restaurant. Unlike other places on the list, Pie Hole Pizza offers a small ten-inch and a medium fourteen-inch gluten-free pizza option. I ordered a small pizza with tomato sauce, chicken and pineapples. You know, something tropical to celebrate the sunny, 55 degree weather in Chicago that day! I was taken aback by how expensive the pizza was—over $17 for a simple two-topping pie—but I remained hopeful.
The pizza looked great when it arrived at my table. It was smoking hot, and there appeared to be an adequate amount of toppings. I added red pepper flakes to give my pineapple a kick. The first bite was a strange mix of joy and disappointment. The chicken was tender, the pineapple juicy, and the sauce wasn’t overwhelming. However, the crust went straight past the cracker category and right into flake. I tried really hard to enjoy myself. But, for the price I paid and the amount I was given, I would say skip the gluten-free pizza at Pie Hole and check out a different place on this list instead.
Taste: 3 out of 5
Crust: 1 out of 5
Price: $12 and up
Homemade Pizza Company
At Homemade Pizza Company in Andersonville, I did not dine in or order out. Instead, I picked up a frozen, gluten-free pizza from the restaurant. Homemade Pizza has seventeen locations throughout the Chicagoland area and their easy online ordering system and home-delivery option makes a night at home with your sweatpants on even more desirable.
Using Homemade Pizza’s online ordering system, I created my own pizza based off of their Italian Sausage and Caramelized Onion signature pie. I picked the pizza up half-an-hour after ordering. I took it home, popped it in the oven for twenty minutes and took care of some chores. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the couch, catching up on New Girl, and savoring the most amazingly complex crust I’ve ever tasted. It was like eating cornbread. Cornbread! How many of you people have gotten to enjoy a good cornbread since you went gluten-free? The subtly sweet crust was the perfect juxtaposition to the spicy sausage and savory tomato sauce. It complimented the caramelized onion and was fresh and fluffy. I had a hard time convincing myself that this pizza was gluten-free.
Taste: 4 out of 5
Crust: 5 out of 5
Price: $13 and up
As friends with Jeanee Malnati, Marc Malnati’s wife, I had already tried Lou Malnati’s back in February. It was the first gluten-free pizza I had ever tried. At the time, I was not sure what to expect.
One thing I always tell people who are trying gluten-free pizza for the first time is that the crust is going feel different because it is made from a different type of flour. Although the gluten-free crust at Lou Malnati’s was thin crust, it still had the same melt-in-your-mouth quality as their signature deep-dish butter-crust recipe.
As with most pizzerias, Malnati’s gluten-free dish only comes in a small. It is the perfect amount for one person with a couple pieces to spare for lunch the next day. You can order gluten-free version of one of their signature dishes such as The Lou—a delicious concoction of spinach mix, roma tomatoes, mushrooms, and three different kinds of cheese—or you can build your own and walk out of the restaurant having had your fill for under $15.
Malnati’s also offers a crust-less pizza. I have yet to try it, but the base is made of sausage instead of bread so I can only imagine it is fantastic.
Taste: 4 out of 5
Crust: 3 out of 5
Price: $9.50 and up
I could not review Lou Malnati’s without giving Giordano’s a try. I ordered a pizza to go after work and picked it up before hopping on the 147 Outer Drive Express bus. I tried to keep the pizza box closed the whole way home, but my senses eventually overtook. Ten stops away from home, I opened the box. My eyes and nose were immediately assaulted by the smokiest, cheesiest, vegetable-covered sustenance I had ever experienced. I could not resist it. I pounded two corner pieces on the bus and continued to eat four more slices once I was in my own kitchen.
Giordano’s pizza was amazing, and while the $21 price tag for a twelve-inch thin crust pizza seemed a little excessive, any gluten-sensitive, carbo-loading herbivore is sure to love Giordano’s gluten-free option.
Taste: 5 out of 5
Crust: 4 out of 5
Price: $15 and up
Tell us about the gluten-free pizza you’ve had in the Chicago area!