Fortunately for people with Celiac Disease -- and others following gluten-free diets -- restaurants offering gluten-free menus keep growing in number. But there's a difference between a restaurant offering "stripped down," bland versions of their regular offerings (often resulting in nothing more than a grilled chicken breast, baked potato and steamed veggies) and restaurants that really invest the time in creating amazing offerings especially for their gluten-free guests. Picazzo's Organic Italian Kitchen is an example of the later. With locations throughout Arizona, Picazzo's sets the standard for gluten free dining with their extensive gluten-free menu that includes house-made gluten-free pizza.
I had the opportunity to speak with Rick Freedman, the founder, owner, and Executive Chef of Picazzo's, earlier this week. His philosophy centers around offering his guests with the healthiest food possible. The result has been a new menu unveiled in the past year that incorporates more organic, local, and gluten free ingredients. Rick explained, "I'm all about eating healthy. And I want to be able to put bona fide healthy products out to our customers."
Currently, 85% of Picazzo's menu is gluten-free. In fact, if you view their menu on their website, you'll notice they don't have a separate gluten-free menu...the "regular" menu is just filled with "gf" notations next to most of the items. The offerings range from appetizers (including their wings and sauces that are all gluten-free) to unique entree salads to gluten-free pasta with a wide range of sauces (and even gluten-free homemade meatballs) to house-made gluten-free pizza. A nice range of dessert options is also available for those diners that still have room!
Picazzo's has been using Ancient Harvest gluten-free quinoa pasta but will also begin offering a gluten-free brown-rice pasta from Goldbaum's soon, just so that people can have a choice. In fact, Rick is so committed to helping his guests eat healthier that he is planning to phase out "regular" wheat-based pasta and solely offer the two gluten-free varieties.
Their hand-made gluten-free pizza and various gluten-free breads (including foccacia and flatbread) are made using a gluten-free flour blend from Tom Sawyer, an Arizona-based company that has worked with Picazzo's to develop its recipes. It was actually the chance encounter of meeting founder Tom Sawyer in Picazzo's Sedona restaurant years ago that launched Rick on his mission to introduce his first gluten-free offerings in the restaurant, something he'd already been thinking about for a while.
This serendipitous event was just the beginning. Over the years, Picazzo's had expanded their gluten-free menu, and their devoted gluten-free clientele continues to grow. Rick is fastidious about avoiding cross contamination, saying they are "very, very aware" of how important that is. They have a separate area of the kitchen devoted to building the gluten-free pizzas, and there is a special washdown process on all the mixers. They even have a special brick in their oven for gluten-free pizza. All staff members -- from kitchen staff to servers -- are extensively trained in person, and all gluten-free orders are "flagged" from when the order is taken until it comes out of the kitchen with a special American flag toothpick as an identifier.
When asked if they planned to take their successful concept to a wider geographic area beyond Arizona, Rick said he'd love to do that at some point, but expansion would have to allow for the same stringent requirements with regard to local, gluten-free, and organic sourcing. I, for one, will keep my fingers crossed that this fantastic concept makes its way eastward!
If you've been lucky enough to dine at one of Picazzo's locations, please take a moment to share your experience by posting a review to GlutenFreeTravelSite -- or sharing your comments below. And if you'll be traveling to Arizona, take a moment to search reviews of Picazzo's and other "gluten-free friendly" restaurants on our Search/Mapping page.