Local pizza chainlet &pizza has, since its first restaurant opened on H Street NE, let customers dictate what makes a great pie. Want a wheat crust? Pesto? Ricotta? The chain's personal-sized oblong pizzas are built to customize. But while vegan Daiya cheese and other vegetarian-friendly options have long been available for diners, what's been missing since &Pizza launched in 2012 is a gluten-free crust, the kind so many other pizzerias have been adopting.
Developing a crust that the chain liked took a year, says Steve Salis, &pizza's chief executive officer. For the past couple of months, the restaurant has been quietly testing the resulting gluten-free option at its Bethesda location, which opened this spring on Old Georgetown Road.
The restaurant expects to roll it out across its five current locations in the next several weeks. For now, you'll have to head to Bethesda for pizzas made with the gluten-free option, which cost the same as pizzas with standard crusts.
The crust, made with a mix of tapioca, brown-rice flour, chicory root and yeast, is crackery and light, as likely to appeal to carb-watchers as the gluten-intolerant. The crust is prepared separately from the regular pizza doughs, with different utensils, but Salis notes that those with severe allergies should know that flour is still used widely in &pizza's kitchens.
The Bethesda kitchen is also the testing ground for a new meat-like vegetarian protein that customers can sub for the real thing on meaty pizzas. (The pea-based protein uses powdered egg whites, which means it might not be considered vegan.)
We caught up with the chain's culinary director, Steven Roberts, to try a few pizzas the chain thinks work well on the gluten-free crust. Roberts served up a version of &pizza's vegetarian Grecian Market, using the new faux beef in place of the usual falafel, and a version of the sausage-heavy Red Vine that employed a spicy faux chorizo.
Our favorite, however, was a mushroom-laden pizza with marinated eggplant, basil and chili oil, and a light mix-in of vegan Daiya cheese (pictured above); the thinner crust put the emphasis on the summery vegetables.
&pizza Bethesda, 7614 Old Georgetown Rd. 240-800-4783.