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Restaurant Review: GF Pizza at Wise Guys Pizzeria

2014 March 20
by Nicole Wang


This post has been a long time in the making. If you don’t know me, I grew up the daughter of pizza restauranteurs. My parents were owner/operators of 13 pizza restaurants for most of my childhood and into my adult life. At the age of eight, I recall being tall enough to stand on a milk crate to help place pepperoni toppings on pie shells and fill customer orders.  By the time I was 12, our family had moved to Illinois.  Working along side my parents in the family business was a daily occurrence.  Along with a strong work ethic, the restaurants taught me a lot about food preparation and just how versatile pizza “pie” can be!  To this day, pizza is at the top of my favorite foods list.  I have given much thought into writing about what it takes to serve gluten free food, especially pizza, so those who do not have a “back of the house, restaurant perspective” could understand the challenges.

When our family made the switch to a gluten free diet, oh so many years ago now, I recall the very first food I needed to figure out was pizza.  By that time, I had grown accustom to making my own “artisan” pizza dough at home as well as enjoying pizza at local restaurants or via delivery.  I literally think the first thought I had when the doctor told us to remove gluten from our oldest child’s diet was “but what will we do without pizza?”.  Silly it may seem, but I bet those of you who strictly follow a gluten free diet for health reasons know all too well what I am talking about.  Until this March, it has been almost a decade since I have eaten pizza at a local restaurant or requested delivery.  The last time we ventured into a pizza restaurant was in New York City during the summer of 2005 (a small dedicated gluten free restaurant called Risotteria on Bleecker Street).

“Why so long” you ask? First, finding any restaurant that is able to serve gluten free food is a challenge.  Only recently have we been able to “eat out” with confidence that chefs and restaurant staff will be able to provide us a safe meal.  Second, growing up making pizza for a living, I am keenly aware that it is very difficult to assemble, bake and serve a meal free of any gluten cross contamination out of such a “gluten filled” kitchen.  Pizza kitchen’s have wheat flour in abundance!  There are so many aspects to think of when it comes to cross contamination:

  1. Is the pizza crust made on site or in a dedicated gluten free kitchen?
  2. Where and how is it stored to keep the crust completely gluten free?
  3. Are separate pans/baking equipment used for the gluten free pie so it does not come into contact with equipment used to make the rest of the gluten-filled pies?
  4. Are there separate sauce, cheese and toppings stations for the gluten free pie assembly?
  5. Has the staff been trained in cross contamination awareness and did the staff remember to use a dedicated spatula and pizza wheel (cutter or knife) once the pie has been removed from the oven?

I could go on with more, but those five questions are enough to make your head spin.  They are the top five questions I ask of restaurant staff and chefs when someone tells me about a restaurant that serves “gluten free” pizza.  Until now, no one could answer any of those questions with confidence that their establishment could keep us safe… then I learned about Wise Guys Pizzeria in South Elgin, Illinois.  I was skeptical at first and stopped by to ask questions of the restaurant staff.  Amazingly they impressed me.  This restaurant seems to have it together and understands the serious risks of gluten cross contamination. The front of the house staff waited patiently on me and answered all of my questions (the 5 above plus many more) with lots of details.  Their gluten free pizza crust and bread is made in a dedicated gluten free bakery located in Chicagoland, frozen and stored in their kitchen freezers until a gluten free order is placed.  From there, the staff understands the importance of separate equipment (the pizza crust comes with it’s own pan), sauce & toppings, spatulas & cutters to ensure a consistent gluten free end product.  While the staff at Wise Guys would not be able to “guarantee” absolutely no cross contamination issues would arise (let’s face it, there is wheat flour in the air), they have done their homework!

Wise Guys Pizzeria S. Elgin, IL

Wise Guys Pizzeria S. Elgin, IL

So, after researching the dedicated gluten free bakery a little more, we decided to give it a try.  A few days ago, our family sat down to gluten free pizza in a restaurant!  It was a “pinch me” moment.  While the experience was not without fear, the staff at Wise Guys Pizzeria served a really good gluten free pizza and none of us experienced any cross contamination issues.  Restaurant style pizza can be a reality once again.  Thank you Wise Guys!gsgwiseguys2


Now, I do have a few recommendations for those of you who are like me and even the tiniest amount of gluten causes great distress:

  1. Timing is everything. Plan your dining experience during non-peak times.  We chose a late lunch, around 1:30pm.  This will ensure the staff serving you can have their full attention on the dietary needs for your meal.
  2. Talk to the manager, chef or other knowledgeable staff.  Don’t just take someones word for it.  Take the time and investigate.  It’s your health at stake.
  3. Do your homework. In our case, we had to wait until we could research the bakery where this restaurant purchases their gluten free pizza crusts and bread.  Think ahead so you don’t end up disappointed.
  4. Be polite and don’t have high expectations.  If the staff is not able to accommodate your request, politely offer suggestions for the future (teaching paves the way for success later on) and be grateful for their time.  You might just win a restaurant over towards serving you a meal you can safely eat in the future!

If you do not live in the Fox Valley area, have hope that you may just find a great restaurant that can meet your  dietary needs.  If you have found other restaurants that have been great at accommodating your needs safely, tell us about them!


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