510 Bloomfield Avenue, Verona NJ 07004 (map); 973-857-2584; salugopizzeria.com
Oven type: Deck
The skinny: Smartly sourced and well-prepared toppings bring flavor to gluten-free pizza
Price: $10-$13 for a 12-inch pie; $3 extra for gluten-free crust
Since I began writing about New Jersey pizza for Slice, I've been canvassing friends and neighbors for personal recommendations throughout the state. It's not surprising to discover that everyone has a different opinion and a personal favorite. But for some friends, pizza is a source of frustration instead of an everyday pleasure.
Carol, a born-and-bred Jersey Italian, has been incrementally adopting a gluten-free diet over the past two years. Pizza is one of the things she's missed more than anything—more than cakes, cookies, or any of the small indulgences that used to be easy to eat mindlessly, but now require advance planning and baking. "It's so hard to find a crispy gluten-free crust," she laments. "Usually the base is dense and too chewy—my jaw has been killing me, attempting to get through some of the stuff I've tried!" So I had to ask: where does she eat gluten-free pizza?
Turns out she found a good spot right around the corner from her home in Verona. Salugo keeps things local, sourcing its gluten free crusts from Sogni Dolci, a Bloomfield-based bakery that provides gluten-free products to New Jersey pizzerias and restaurants.
Because the crust is pre-made and par-baked before getting finished in the Salugo ovens, it's more akin to a DiGiorno-style crust than dough that's freshly made. Crispier, slightly thicker, and (hate to say) blander than the regular Salugo crust, the gluten-free version is good enough to fool someone not forewarned about a switch-up, but obviously different when compared side-by-side with the yeastier glutinous crust.
It's the toppings and sauce that bring new life to the otherwise middling crust. The signature Salugo pizza ($13), with smoky scamorza cheese, spicy soppressata, and slivered rounds of hot Italian peppers, had me reaching for a glass of iced tea a few times. But that's a good thing; a pizza that promises heat and doesn't deliver is an even bigger disappointment than an underwhelming crust. The white pizza with lightly sautéed spinach ($14) takes the opposite tack, piling on creamy ricotta and mozzarella. The fresh spinach, crispy in bits from the heat of the oven, was nicely seasoned with garlic and salt. I'll admit I added a few shakes of red pepper flakes to one of my slices, but it really wasn't necessary to round out the flavor profile.
If it sounds like I'm giving the pizza a free pass, or the equivalent of an A-for-effort in the crust department, I suppose it's partially true. I feel like you have to judge gluten-free dough on a sliding scale; as a home cook and baker, I've worked with a number of blends and mixes, and it's no joke how difficult it is to attain the right texture and mouthfeel without major failures. And I know how hard it is to eat gluten-free at restaurants and still be satisfied. I've seen how food allergies can significantly alter my friends' lives and I'm thankful that I'm able to eat and drink without fear.
No one wants to be a hermit and miss out on kicking back with a pizza and a few (gluten-free) beers on a Friday night. If Salugo and Sogni Dolci are making strides to make it possible for Carol and I to enjoy our slices side-by-side, then I'll support their efforts. And with more time and refinement, I hope gluten-free options for pizza will be better and more numerous, and no one will have to settle for second best.
About the author: Casey Barber is the editor of Good. Food. Stories. and the author of Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats. Find her on Twitter: @GoodFoodStories