"Are you here for gluten-free pizza?" the young woman at the door of Pizza Fusion (2233 Peachtree Road, Suite M, 404-351-9334) asked us.
"Of course," I said. "Isn't that the main selling point about this place?"
"Well," she said, "I need to tell you that we have sold out of the gluten-free crust."
Wayne and I looked at one another and gasped. The young woman tilted her head and cooed, "I'm so sorry."
Actually, neither of us has celiac disease, the intestinal disorder for which a gluten-free diet is prescribed. It's common. As many as one in every 133 Americans can't digest gluten, a protein in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten also occurs frequently as a secondary ingredient in all sorts of products.
The increasing diagnosis of the disease has caused many restaurants to add gluten-free dishes to their menus or, like Shaun's, to sponsor regular dinners for people with celiac disease.
But Pizza Fusion is, as far as I know, the only restaurant in town to offer gluten-free pizza, at least when they have it. Two days after our visit, the restaurant was still waiting for a shipment of the mysterious flour necessary to make the gluten-free crust.
But Pizza Fusion, a franchise out of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., also advertises itself as "green." Vegetables are mainly organic. Meats and poultry are free of chemicals. The restaurant's interior is built from recycled this and that. You can recycle your pizza boxes. The toilets are "low-flow." Food is delivered in "hybrid, electric and fuel-efficient vehicles." I could go on. In short, the restaurant calls itself "the greenest restaurant in America."
We took a seat in front of the window before the open kitchen and our server reiterated the news about there being no gluten-free pizza crust available. She took our drink orders. Meanwhile, another server stopped by the table and announced that there was no gluten-free pizza.
"Are you ready to order?" the initial server asked.
"Yes, I'd like the Founder's Pie, and I want it made with the gluten-free crust," I said.
I looked up at her and beheld a gaze that said, "You are the stupidest person alive" and "I am going to kill myself." I laughed. I could hear her eyes rolling in her skull as she walked away.
The food is pretty good. You won't get to experience a great deal of variety if you dine with only one or two others. The pizzas are all built for one or more, except at lunchtime when three comparatively uninteresting "personal" pies are available. Ditto for any of the salads except one.
We started with a salad of pears, gorgonzola, walnuts, spinach and, mainly, mixed greens. We also ordered a mix of "multigrain and organic white" breadsticks with the usual side of marinara and an extra side of tapenade. The salad's pear was unripe but it was otherwise fine. Tossing the salad with the balsamic vinaigrette served on the side was kind of messy since it nearly filled the plate on which it was served.
The breadsticks were the usual irresistibly chewy, empty calories. While the restaurant's marinara would hold its own against most others in the city, we preferred the tapenade's oily, salty, slightly garlicky taste.
You can build your own pizza here, but there are also 10 specialty pies. The Founder's includes chicken, tomato sauce, gorgonzola, mozzarella, kalamata olives and red onions on a multigrain crust. It was oval-shaped, 18-inches-by-9-inches, served on a wooden plank. The pizza overall had good flavor but its cubed chicken was mealy and dry.
Dessert is vegan, gluten-free brownies, garnished with organic berries. We were way too full to even consider dessert, and we took a third of our pizza home.
Service at the 2-month-old restaurant was attentive and just quirky enough to be entertaining. I look forward to returning when I can try a gluten-free pie. I'll write an update for our blog, OmnivoreAtl.com.
Meanwhile, Wayne and I continue to show up many Saturday nights at Dynamic Dish (427 Edgewood Ave., 404-688-4344) for its pizza night. Don't even try to get a table without a reservation. Last Saturday, we couldn't get anything until 8:30.
What makes the pizza at this green café so popular? It's the organic ingredients and novel combinations hatched in the brain of owner/chef David Sweeney. No, the pizza crust is not gluten-free, but all the toppings are organic and usually local.
Our most recent visit turned up a pie with eggplant, kalamata olives and anchovies. We also ordered one with corn and feta cheese. The latter – a tingly contrast of sweetness and slight sourness – had a faint, earthy note that turned out to be cumin, probably the only spice I routinely dislike because it's usually grossly overused. But it was subtle enough on the pizza not to turn me off.
The eggplant pizza, obviously Greek in its inspiration, had very few anchovies on it but a preponderance of salty flavor nonetheless.
Other favorites I've had here include one made with Blue Hubbard squash, hot peppers, nasturtium blossoms, mozzarella and tomato sauce. I've also had a Turkish pizza topped with chopped baby collards, mozzarella, feta and garlic. My favorite of all time was last summer's pie topped with fresh organic figs.
Speaking of collards, we ordered a bowl of the greens, picked the morning before in East Point, for our starter. I've seriously never tasted collards so delicious. Sweeney braised them until tender and tossed them with olive oil and umeboshi vinegar.
We've also been enjoying the pizza specials at the new Stella (563 Memorial Drive, 404-688-4238). My favorite of late has been a white one featuring caramelized pear slices with prosciutto and balsamic reduction.