The vegan, one of the many selections on the menu at Earth Pizza, below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
By SUSAN ERICSON
When Paul and Lisa Finkler opened a Pizza Fusion franchise in Red Bank in 2010, they may not have foreseen the niche their restaurant would fill. But the Broad Street restaurant was an immediate draw, and soon customers were asking for more gluten-free and vegan dishes.
Three years ago, tired of the parent company’s rules on menu changes, the Finklers bought out their contract, redubbed the restaurant Earth Pizza and did as asked.
A three-dip flatbread starter that can be ordered with gluten-free chips, above, and a gluten-free pepperoni and mushroom pizza, below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)
Catering to special dietary needs, Earth Pizza finds a devoted and appreciative clientele. Most everything on the menu is offered in both gluten-free and conventional form. Organic vegan and vegetarian choices make it a simple matter for just about everyone to find a worry-free dish here.
Diners with special dietary needs keep the place busy, said Harrison Bern, a restaurant employee of three years.
“We specialize in [serving] people who have celiac disease,” an auto-immune ailment, said Bern. “There is no cross-contamination, so nobody worries about getting sick,” he said.
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Rushing in to pick up his pizza, a man in a suit tells PieHole that he orders lunch here a few times a week because he doesn’t have to worry about allergic reactions. Former Daily Show host and borough resident Jon Stewart, who spoke about his son’s celiac condition on his show, is a regular customer.
Stewart “comes in here several times a week,” said Bern. “He says without us, his kids would starve.”
All ingredients are organic, except sometimes the lemons, which are “hard to find” in organic form, said Bern. Rice oil is used for frying, and the chicken tenders are made with potato flakes, not a bread coating, he said.
Seated at the bar in the large, airy dining room, PieHole perused the many options on the menu and decided to try the vegan personal size pizza ($9). The restaurant, after all, has pizza in its name.
Just how close is the flavor of a vegan pizza made with soy cheese to a traditional pie? The organic wholewheat crust was crispy. A bright, full-flavored tomato sauce added an acidic zip, and the “cheese,” which happens to be Follow Your Heart Smart soy cheese, was delightfully creamy. Studded with fresh mushrooms and garlic, this is a pie we’d be happy to order again.
Customers sliding into a booth told PieHole that they come in whenever they get together for a visit. One of them, Carolyn Crisanti Lang, who lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, has celiac disease.
“You don’t know how freeing it is to come to a restaurant and order whatever you want,” she said. She calls the three-dip flatbread starter as “a must.”
Bern brought a cone of gluten-free chips to their table with the elected artichoke dip, pesto, and olive oil, but said there are other dip options, including marinara, olive tapenade and hummus.
Aside from the extensive menu of pizza, soups, salads and sandwiches, Earth Pizza offers daily specials, appetizers and desserts.
Earth Pizza is open every day from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.