Bay Area Dining: Tony and Alba’s Gluten-free Pizza in San Jose

January 31st, 2011 yum Posted in Bay Area, California, Gluten Free Dining, Gluten Free On the Road, Pizza 6 Comments »

Tony and Alba’s
3137 Stevens Creek Blvd.
(Stevens Creek & Winchester)
Phone: 408-246-4605
Hours of Operation:
Sunday- Thursday 11am to 9pm
Friday and Saturday: 11am to 10pm

It never would have occurred to me to check out Tony and Alba’s for Gluten-free Pizza if it hadn’t been for the recommendation of a pizza-enthusiast friend of mine who wrote a lovely post on her favorite pizza joints in the Bay area. It is a great article, and you should check it out. This afternoon as the DH and Baby Yum and I were on our way to Santana Row, we passed Tony and Alba’s in a strip mall on our left. I had never given it a second thought before, but thanks to my friend, I knew they had a gluten-free pizza available. So, after we browsed the mall and let Baby Yum run wild in the children’s play area, we went out for pizza together. Yay!

They use the French Meadow gluten-free pizza which comes in its own baking tin. Don’t freak out when you walk in the door and the gluten-free pizza isn’t listed on their menu. I have to admit, I like it when a company offering gluten-free food plasters notices all over the restaurant. However, when you say gluten-free pizza to the staff, they are completely aware of what you are talking about and it is printed in nice, clear letters on your receipt. And, when they bring you your pizza, the waiters announce “Here is your gluten-free pizza.” These things make me feel better. I get a little twitchy in a pizza joint, and I was reassured by their gestures. I didn’t order the pizza any special way and it was nice and crispy, so perhaps they’ve made it standard to pre-bake the pizza a little before adding toppings.

What did we order? Well, we started with a MARGHERITA, and were glad that we did. The nice, thin crust had a lovely amount of tomato sauce (or very well baked tomatoes?) and cheese, and then was sprinkled with julienned basil. Now, it isn’t quite like how I do a margherita, which is without tomato sauce, whole slice tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and tons of basil, but isn’t the reason you go out to have things a little differently than you would make them at home?

An unexpected bonus was that Baby Yum was delighted by the thin crust and ate almost a whole piece single-handedly, with a little help from her mama. Prior to this, she’s always been a little unsure about layers of flavor on her food. I think getting her used to quesadillas and the recent ravioli fest have gone a long way to warming her up to pizza. Whatever, the reason, she liked it!

After we all devoured our margherita pizza, we decided to order a vegetarian. The vegetarian has Mushroom, Zucchini, Tomato, Black Olive, Artichoke, Garlic, Bells, and Onion. All the toppings seem to be put on raw, and there are a lot of them. There is especially a lot of garlic. I won’t be having trouble keeping vampires at bay after a slice of that pizza, that is for sure! I am fairly picky about my pizza toppings and like a lesser volume. I also like to grill veggies before putting them on pizzas, so I was a little overwhelmed. The DH also grumbled about the veggies he didn’t like (zucchini etc) and Baby Yum wouldn’t eat it, but I think her petite toddler tummy was full. Next time I’d design my own pizza with fewer toppings, and/or try the Bianca (No Sauce, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Provolone, Feta, Sun-dried Tomato, and without the usual garlic). I hear that it is possible to order gluten-free pasta and polenta at Tony and Alba’s too, so that might be fun another time.

I think meat lovers and fans of cozy, family-style restaurants will be very happy with the gluten-free pizza and other offerings at Tony and Alba’s. There are many options for vegetarians, but their house special is very non-veg, and gets rave reviews. The price is also fantastic, with a typical pizza costing around $12 for a medium-size pizza. For our family of two and a nibble-prone toddler, one pizza would be a light meal, and more than (two) is a nice meal with maybe some leftover slices to take home. If you’ve been missing feeling “normal”- this place is for you. We were surrounded by families and pizza fans at this cozy neighborhood pizza joint, with a television playing lightly in the background as we watched the rain outside. It felt pretty good. The owners seem really sensitive to gluten-free issues. They began preparing gluten-free pizza because a very good family friend’s daughter had Celiac and the owner’s wife wanted her to be able to come to their restaurant. Also, their daughter was dating a guy with a wheat allergy. When they researched it, they saw the need for a down-home family style option for gluten-free folks, and so a menu was born! Both the gluten-free pizza and pasta is made in a dedicated area, with a separate cutter and pan, spoons, etc.), and the pasta is made in a dedicated gluten-free pasta. They purposefully bought rotelli-spiral gluten-free pasta so it would never get confused for the gluten pasta. Gluten-free polenta and beer are also available. To my knowledge, they don’t have a dairy-free or soy-free cheese, so if you have sensitivities you might call ahead and see about the pizza crust ingredients as well as topping options.

They do prepare a lot of gluten-containing foods, and the kitchen is open to the seating area so you might want to eat outside if it is a nice day. Overall, I was pleased with my experience at Tony and Alba’s. I am delighted that there are so many gluten-free pizza options for us in the Bay Area and I can’t wait to try them all!

Coming soon: a very positive review of BJ’s Brewhouse, their gluten-free menu and amazingly crisp pizza.

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Gluten-free Dining in San Francisco Part 1: The Plant

October 26th, 2010 yum Posted in California, Fellow Food Bloggers, Gluten Free Blogs, Gluten Free On the Road, Restaurant Review, San Francisco 6 Comments »

It has been a long time since I could eat anything interesting in a restaurant on my allergen/everything-free diet undertaken for love of Baby Yum. You might have noticed that restaurant reviews dropped dramatically here at the Book of Yum. Instead of “what epicurean delight can I experience today” it became “what the heck can I eat today?” as I struggled to find breads and other starchy staples to keep myself going. I guess it just shows that a mother’s love is one of the strongest forces out there- and the force behind many a gluten-free blog! Fortuitously for me, shortly before the Blogher Food 2010 conference, it became clear that Baby Yum had outgrown her protein intolerance issues, and I could start partaking in some of those long-forbidden top-eight allergens. Oh how I had missed them! But, most importantly, I missed the freedom of eating out. It is hard enough to eat out gluten-free, but tack on “dairy, nut, soy, corn, rice” free – and preferably vegetarian- and the choice becomes lettuce, lettuce, or lettuce. Granted, I was a bit hardcore about it and didn’t even eat soy lecithin or soybean oil, both of which generally do not provoke an allergic response. That took out a lot of restaurant dishes. I remember a particularly bleak meal at Claim Jumper where they couldn’t decide if the potato was gluten-free and the roasted veggies were basted in soybean oil. I can’t remember what I ate, but it certainly wasn’t blog-post inspiring. (They seem to have figured out some things since then- here is their gluten-free menu listing both potato and sweet potato as gluten-free.

Anyway. On to happier times. Fast forward to Blogher Food 2010, where I impulsively got a ticket and then found myself surrounded by my gluten-free people. It is nice when you are used to being the only weird “special diet” person to suddenly find yourself surrounded by others with your same concerns. To make it even better, our intrepid Gluten-free scout Mother, Diane of the W.H.O.L.E. Gang, had made special plans for us gluten-free folks both before and after the event.

Left (front to back): Wendy, Shirley, Nancy, Diane, Alisa*, Tia
Center: Lael of The Educated Palate*
Right (front to back):Ali, Me, Amber of Blue Bonnets and Brownies*, Lauren, Kim
*Not gluten-free bloggers
Thursday Night Out with the Gluten-free Girls
The Plant
Pier 3, The Embarcadero
Diane made reservations at a very special organic restaurant in the Ferry Building called The Plant. This place has gorgeous food, warm, welcoming and courteous staff, and clearly labeled gluten-free food on their menu. The DH dropped me off early, so I had some time to kill. My policy as a transplanted Seattlite; When in doubt, drink coffee. The Plant has two sides. One, a chill cafe with a small bakery case full of both gluten and gluten-free desserts. Many of the desserts were raw desserts and so naturally gluten-free and vegan but not nut-free. The (non-raw) Mocha roulade made me weak at the knees just from reading the dessert title. I ordered a simple but lovely organic soy latte and sat in front of the window to wait for my party to arrive.

Before long, they arrived and we filed into the crowded but chic restaurant to find a long table waiting for us. The menu inspired. There was an extensive wine list and clever fresh non-alcoholic drinks. I couldn’t resist the napa cabbage salad with sesame lime dressing (sans peanuts). I found it very flavorful, refreshing and delicately balanced. Hungry after her plane ride, Ali of Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen got some coconut yams as a side dish and I was in serious side-envy. They looked so creamy and sweet! And then it came time for the main dishes. I was torn between the Spicy Green Curry or the Ginger Miso Quinoa. I loved the fact that they had main dishes with quinoa instead of the typical rice as the side starch. Green Curry is one of my favorites, but the helpful waiter said that it is not actually very spicy, and the lemongrass is somewhat fibrous. He recommended the Ginger Miso Quinoa. I was relieved to have such a difficult decision made, and tucked into my meal with gusto. It was full of umami, with a lovely blend of vegetables and (optional) fried tofu. This all was nicely contrasted by the crunchy sprouts. I was enjoying my meal when it came out that Ali hadn’t thought that dish was gluten-free, and so hadn’t ordered it for that reason. Have you had this happen? My heart dropped into my shoes. After all this time being so careful, had I poisoned myself with gluten and possibly set myself up to “poison” my breastfeeding baby with sick Celiac mama milk? Of course the menu was gone at that point, so I couldn’t easily verify. I asked the waiter, and he reassured me that it was ok, but that little worrywart voice in my head just wouldn’t be quiet. So, I sidled over to the reception desk to peruse the menu for myself. And, there it was, in discreet lowercase letters, my favorite abbreviation of all. (gf). The waiter noticed my sidled dance with my own neurosis and came over. Not as I thought in my paranoid little brain, to mock me, but to kindly reassure me once more that the dish was ok. It is amazingly nice when waiters take the time to provide peace of mind as well as a plate of food, and in that moment the Plant scored big with me. I could only eat part of my meal, perhaps due to that filling coffee beverage I started with, so I had to take the rest to go. I think it was Nancy who ordered some decadent looking eggplant with mushrooms that gave me plate envy. I love a restaurant that has so many gluten-free options I can’t order everything I want to try! Many of the others ordered yummy desserts, but I abstained. I could not refrain from taking a tiny taste of Shirley’s mocha roulade. One bite had me wishing I’d ordered my own, but that heavenly dip made up for quite a few months of restraint, let me tell you. To conclude, the Plant is a great hip restaurant in a beautiful location (step out the door and have a great view of the bay) with an amazing vegetarian-friendly, gluten-free menu. I wasn’t ordering especially allergen-free (I did skip the peanuts) but they were very flexible about that modification, and many at our table had additional restrictions and seemed very happy. Health aficionados, vegans, and gluten-free diners (or even those who are all three) are well served by The Plant. I’d go there again in a heartbeat. In fact, I just suggested it to the DH as our next “special-celebratory-night-out” restaurant choice. If you have eaten there, share your experience in the comments! If you haven’t, why not try it, and tell me about it!

Definitely last but not least, won’t you meet my gluten-free friends? I’d like to introduce you to the people that made this meal such a pleasure.

The warm and lovely Shirley of the site Gluten-free Easily brightened the day with her gracious Southern charm.

The vibrant and beautiful Kim of Cook it Allergy Free has a lot to offer the gluten-free community, not the least of which is her charming personality.

The striking and dynamic Tia of Glugle Gluten-free has burst upon the gluten-free blogging scene recently with a witty and attractive blog.

I felt that thoughtful and passionate published cookbook author Alisa of the wonderfully informative Go Dairy Free site and personal cooking blog, One Frugal Foodie (*not gluten-free but useful for anyone on a restricted, especially dairy-free diet) was a kindred spirit, and am thrilled to find she’s practically local!

I enjoyed getting to know the radiantly healthy and down-to-earth Ali of The Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen blog and author of The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook better, and felt that we had a lot in common. Her husband was also a charming lunch companion the next day!

Intelligent, genuine and thought-provoking blogger mom Wendy of Celiacs in the House has been a faithful participant in Adopt a Gluten-free Blogger and a good online friend.

The extremely nice and friendly Nancy of The Sensitive Pantry was a lovely dinner companion.

Diane Eblin is great fun and pure dynamite; a force to be reckoned with both in person and in her blog the WHOLE Gang, and she has brought all of the gluten-free participants together time and again at conferences. Thank you, Diane!

I first noticed the very impressive Lauren, the Celiac Teen, through her valiant participation in Daring Bakers. This very genuine, sweet, and remarkable teen is a delight both online and in person. I can’t wait to see what great things the future has in store for her!

This is the end of this first post on my BlogHer Gluten-free Dining Experience. Stay Tuned for a review of Pica Pica!

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