Pizza Confusion

Appetizers & Dips

My friend, Heather, and I had high hopes as we set out to review a new restaurant: Pizza Fusion. They call themselves the “greenest restaurant in America”. They use tables made from reclaimed wood sources, counter tops made from recycled glass bottles, paint without VOCs (volatile organic chemicals). More than 75% of the ingredients in their menu are organic. They use biodegradable utensils and packaging, and deliver their food in hybrid and fuel-efficient cars. They print their artwork and menus on recycled material, build with renewable resources, such as bamboo, use compact fluorescent bulbs, and use low-flow faucets and toilets. They use Certified Humane meat that’s free of
nitrates, nitrites, antibiotics. They even offer the option of gluten free (GF) crust.

Wow! What’s not to like, right?
Okay, first, the location. It’s way out in East Mesa, a trek for anyone living in central Phoenix, West Phoenix, Glendale, Ahwatukee, or Chandler. But wait, there’s more. So basically, most of the East Valley.

Their menu says they offer fresh, organic, earth-friendly food. We left still a little hungry, but it really went down-hill from the beginning. Our server took our drink orders. I asked for hot tea and Heather ordered warm water with lemon. They were out of lemons. That was a first for me, considering every restaurant seems to have endless supplies of lemon to garnish water with.

We ordered a Fusion Salad with a side of chicken and Caesar dressing. We decided to order a “Build Your Own Pizza” with a gluten-free crust. We asked for tomato sauce and ground beef on half the pizza, and pesto sauce with sun dried tomatoes on the other half and caramelized onions and mushrooms over the entire pizza. We assumed there would be a lot of veggies—since they seem to emphasize how healthy their menu is–so we didn’t want to go overboard on the toppings ($1.50/ea). They informed us they were out of sun-dried tomatoes too, so Heather asked for artichokes on the pesto side of the pizza. What’s an Italian restaurant without sun-dried tomatoes and lemons?

A belated Caesar6a00e552ad01da8834010537181129970b
The salad was supposed to have spring mix, cucumbers, Kalamata olives, tomatoes, red
onions, and feta. We’d been there for almost 30 mins before it arrived, and with the feta
mysteriously absent! The salad wasn’t much to share—really just a few handfuls of lettuce thrown on a large platter, and the dressing had more of a taste and consistency of ranch than Caesar. It lacked the salty, cheesy flavor we had hoped for. I don’t know if it contained any parmesan, but I’d guess it was bottled, not home made.

A charred awakening
After sitting with a clean salad platter for about 15 mins and hungrily awaiting the main
event, our pizza came to the table charred––black and crispy around the edges and along the bottom. Our waitress was embarrassed to even let us see it. She said she didn’t want to serve it and that she would have them re-do it. About a minute later, a guy who was probably the floor manager came out and told us something like “…without cheese the gluten-free crust burns easily.” He looked and sounded defensive and made it sound like it was our fault that it burned because we ordered it without cheese and that it wasn’t possible to get it to come out right without a big layer of moo-goo on top! He really made no sense in his defense of our burnt pizza. I shook my head politely and told him there’s
gotta be something in between raw and burned. We said we’d rather have it a little doughy than charred.

A second try6a00e552ad01da883401116852904d970c-320wi
While we waited for them to build and bake our new pizza the owner walked by and recognized me from a Celiac support group I’d recently spoken to. She said their GF (gluten-free) personal pizza crusts come from a local bakery and their large GF crusts come par-baked (that means half-baked) and they’re shipped (frozen) from Connecticut. They don’t make GF crusts in house because they want to avoid cross contamination with their wheat, a serious problem for people with Celiac Disease.

While it is commendable that they are aware of the serious dangers of cross-contamination for their Celiac guests, how “green” is it to ship pizza crusts from Connecticut to Arizona? I highly doubt they drive them cross-country in hybrid cars…and what about their emphasis on “fresh”?

6a00e552ad01da8834010537181173970b-320wi When our pizza finally arrived for the second time we’d been there for about an hour and 15 minutes, and we were starving. The first thing we noticed was the thin sauce that barely covered the crust and the scanty smattering of vegetable toppings. The side that was supposed to have ground meat had barely any. Heather asked for an extra side of pesto hoping to add more flavor. When it came, it didn’t look like pesto and didn’t really taste like it either. It tasted flat and without any of the traditional garlic, basil, cheesy, or salty flavors that make pesto pesto! And we couldn’t discern any pine nuts in it either, which is traditionally the base of most pestos.

Heather said, “What are those tiny bits? Do you think that’s garlic?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I said, “They’re long and thin bits and don’t look anything like garlic.”
“Do you think that’s spinach?” Heather asked.
“Maybe,” I said. “This is the weirdest pesto I’ve ever had.”
“It isn’t really even pesto. I don’t know what it is, or what it is supposed to be.” Heather finally stated.
We tried to dissect it with our forks and our taste buds. We were at the point of laughter
because we were trying our hardest to define what we were eating. A game that two foodies usually never have to play. We finally decided that it must be frozen spinach with commercially shredded flavorless cheese bits. That was the best we could do. The picture I took of it didn’t turn out so you’ll have to use your imagination.

We thought the pizza tasted flat. Heather said, “This crust tastes like something frozen from a box, like frozen pizza from when I was a kid, or school cafeteria lunches.” “Yeah, you’re right,” I said. “That is basically what it is since it was frozen and flown
from Connecticut!”

Impersonal pizza
The manager never came back to see how our pizza was or if we were enjoying it. The owner never came back to check to see how we were doing either. Normally if a restaurant screws up your order they give you extra attention to make you a happy customer. Not here. No one offered to comp our pizza. No one offered us free drinks or free dessert. Most places, at least, ask if you want dessert even if they don’t burn your food. They didn’t offer us a gift card to redeem on a future visit. We’ve been in other restaurants that have made amends when the kitchen made a mistake and had to redo the
order.  And looking back at those times, the amends made out-weighed the minor kitchen mistakes, and were given with a smile.

Now, you have to get that Heather eats out a lot. She’s generally very forgiving, and she knows what great service is. She’s worked in restaurants as a server and a chef, and she tips well when she gets good service, even if the food isn’t great (because it isn’t the server’s fault if the chef messes up).

I don’t eat out a lot but I’ve had more than my share of pizzas in my life and I’ve made more than a few pizzas from scratch, including gluten free pizzas. I worked i the kitchen of my own natural foods cafe in my early 20s and I recognize good service when I see it and I didn’t see it here.

We didn’t go away angry though. We had a great sense of humor (maybe the yoga class before lunch helped) and we laughed it off as I gave my credit card for our $24 pizza, $9 salad, $2 herbal tea, plus tax. So I spent $38 and we were there for nearly two hours and we had a mediocre meal. I was taking one of my best friends out for a belated birthday lunch, we were enjoying our time together and talking about where we would go next time we want gluten free pizza–––Picazzo’s Pizzeria or my house.

After my 45 minutes drive home I realized I left my jacket at the restaurant. I had work to do and I wasn’t about to drive back that day. I called and asked them to mail it to me. When the person on the other end of the phone sounded a little reluctant (I didn’t want to have to pay for shipping on top of the lunch bill), I said, my friend and I were served a burned pizza and we were there for almost 2 hours for lunch. The manager came on the phone, apologized, and agreed to send me my jacket. When it arrived a couple of days later I found a $15 gift card in the pizza box with my  jacket. I would have preferred that they comp our pizza or our meal that day.

“Will you go back,” Heather asked. “Yes, I said, but I’ll give them about 6 months to iron out the rough spots and I’ll make sure I have some other appointment in that end of town.” Stay tuned. I’ll report on my return visit.

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