The big review: Pizza Fusion ***
This health concious pizza parlor feels your gluten pain.
By Victoria Pesce Elliott
After countless doctors' visits and more blood work than even Twilight's Edward Cullen could tolerate, this restaurant critic came to learn that her now- 8-year-old daughter -- her greatest partner in eating -- was allergic to wheat and dairy products. But even the best home cooking doesn't make life any easier outside of the house. So, when Pizza Fusion opened in Broward, monthly treks to Sunrise Boulevard became a must.
The chain is super-green, catering to vegetarians, vegans, celiacs and organic fans. Delivery cars are hybrids or Smart Cars. Countertops are made of old bottles, ceiling tiles of aluminum cans, utensils of potato starch and insulation of old blue jeans. When the North Miami Beach branch opened, we were rewarded with an even better experience than in Broward. The menu is more varied and the earth-tone space quite sexy. But it is the food that carries the day. A great way to start is with a trio of dips: white bean, bell pepper-artichoke and a delightfully peppery olive tapenade. Sure, it would be nice to have a whole-wheat flatbread instead of plain white, but the crispy, cracker-like triangles are fine.
Salads are fresh and large, with a beet and feta version with baby arugula and candied walnuts taking the prize. And though I admit (but not to my daughter) that the gluten-free crusts are not as good as the real thing, they're far better than no pizza at all. Pizza Fusion's are made with a mixture of garbanzo bean, fava bean and rice flour and, though slightly pallid, are convincing and delicious. (A terrific wheat-based crust is
also available.) Toppings go way beyond the usual with lovely sausage, steak, bacon, artichokes, cremini mushrooms, peppers, sautéed spinach, eggplant, red onions, zucchini and pineapple plus lots of fresh herbs and lovely cheeses including goat, feta, Parmesan, provolone and a soy-based nondairy alternative.
Specialty pizzas include combos such as the decadent Founder's Pie with juicy hunks of free-range chicken, salty Kalamata olives, roasted red onion and fresh, melty mozzarella. Individual rounds are big enough for one, and the long, rectangle, large pie will feed at least three adults with some sides. Meats are all hormone- and preservative-free, though that doesn't keep the pan-roasted steak from being a bit stringy and Steak Umm-like. I'd go instead for a juicy portobello mushroom sandwich on a puffy focaccia roll served with a peppery arugula salad.
A slim list offers drinkable international wines, but the micro-brewed beers, including some gluten-free options, are a better choice. A hearty Weaver's Pumpkin ale with a kick of spice and a thick head was a great match for the well-seasoned pizza pies. Prices are slightly higher than at generic pizzerias but certainly less than a splurge at Whole Foods. Servers are of the young and idealistic ilk -- not always sharp but consistently sweet. End with a surprisingly rich, gluten-free chocolate brownie or the pastry with ricotta, strawberry, honey and pistachios and you have your-self a dinner that has to feel good, allergies or not.
Pizza Fusion, 14815 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami Beach; 305- 405-6700. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily (later on weekends). Salads $9-$12, pizzas $7-$21, sandwiches $9-$10, desserts $3-$5
FYI: All-organic beer and wine list. Free parking. Takeout and local delivery. AX, DN, MC, VS.
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