Posted March 19, 2014
By JESS SWANSON
It arrived on a circular metal tray like the rest of the pizzas being bussed to the different tables at Harry’s Pizzeria in the Design District. The pesto was slathered on, fresh tomatoes were cooked on top, and homemade ricotta and mozzarella cheese bubbled in patches throughout.
You couldn’t tell it was gluten-free by looking at it. I salivated in anticipation just as much to this gluten-free pesto pizza ($15) as I had to its wheat-filled counterpart, pesto pizza ($13).
Harry’s Pizzeria opened in late 2011 to mediocre reviews. Chef-owner Michael Schwartz was selected for the James Beard Award for excellence in the Southern Chef category for his flagship restaurant in the Design District, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. He opened Harry’s (named after Schwartz’s son) five years after he opened Michael’s Genuine.
At the time, most found the new pizza joint to be average, but felt Schwartz could have done better. The staff was criticized for not being as attentive as Schwartz’s other restaurants, the menu wasn’t original others said, and some even claimed that Pizza Volante (the previous pizza spot in that location) served better pies.
But that was almost five years ago. Since then, the staff has grown more attentive. On a Wednesday afternoon, a smiling young girl greeted my friend and I at the door immediately. She introduced herself and sat us down promptly, but only after giving my friend and I choice over our seats. The capacity was one-third full, which was surprising considering the time we arrived was in the awkward lull between lunch and dinner. We pointed to a booth in back.
Before we had even realized our waitress had left our side, she reappeared, still smiling with jugs of water which she pouted into glass cups. She told us not to rush, but to be aware that they were closing early that evening for a private party that evening. She seemed sincere.
I delved into the menu looking for a separate section for the gluten-free pizzas. But there wasn’t one. Instead, there is an option to prepare any of the available pizzas with gluten-free pizza dough for an additional $2. I was surprised and already knew to order my favorite pesto pizza, but this time with the gluten-free dough. My friend opted for her favorite, the gluten-free rock shrimp pizza ($18).
Our waitress was excited when we placed our order. “You know we just got the gluten-free dough recipe last week!” she said wide-eyed.
She told us the pizza would be ready in 10 to 15 minutes (which was nice because we were hungry). As we waited, we noticed how dark the room was. While the wooden chairs, metal counter, and brick stove gave a rustic feel, the room had no lights on. I was surprised I hadn’t noticed sooner.
Sure, it was a sunny day and natural light poured in from the floor-length windows overlooking North Miami Avenue, but sitting in a booth in the back it felt as if the place had lost power. Suddenly a bell rang and one of the chefs, a jolly older man, winked at me from behind the prep counter as our waitress shuffled to the counter to bring us our now-ready order.
Our pizza arrived on time as promised. Our water glasses were filled even though they weren’t half-empty yet. I started with the pesto pizza, which as I described earlier, looked just as its wheat-filled counterpart I had ordered many times before. However, when I went to break the pizza along the slice tears, the tear ran off-course ripping the top of my slice off. I quickly noticed the gluten-free crust was chewier than the wheat.
My friend had been using a fork and knife to eat her Rock Shrimp gluten-free pizza (as she had done before with the regular Rock Shrimp pizza) but quickly abandoned her cutlery for her fingers: the gluten-free rock shrimp pizza crust was chewy, too.
While the consistency was different, it wasn’t bad. I had always thought the crust at Harry’s was too thin and crisp. In the past, when I had tried to fold a slice in half, it would snap like a piece of plastic. I have always preferred pies on the fluffier end of the spectrum, but have frequented Harry’s because it was close to the office and was the most reasonably price option for lunch in the neighborhood. It was also pretty good pizza.
The wheat-filled pizza was too light and crisp, the gluten-free counterpart was doughy and chewy without the bland fluff of a chain’s crust. You couldn’t taste the lack of wheat when you bit into the pizza. It tasted like the wheat had destroyed Schwartz’s master pizza plan, as if this new gluten-free crust was missing from the recipes all along.
My friend and I finished both our pizzas, which was impressive since it came with eight slices and was about 12 inches in diameter each. Even though we were aware the store was closing soon, when our waitress offered if we wanted to try a new gluten-free beer, my friend and I agreed to split one.
It was called Omission’s Lager ($7) and surprisingly tasted no different from a wheat-filled IPA. When our waitress noticed our discussion on the taste, she snuck over, and whispered that it was a malted barley used as the wheat substitute.
Our check was delivered promptly and decorated in our waitress’s bubbly handwriting to come back soon. When our waitress returned the receipt to sign, she informed us that famed pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith was finalizing a gluten-free biscotti recipe for Harry’s.
In a time when gluten-free options are simply mediocre and concocted for dietary needs, Harry’s uses the challenge of substituting the wheat as an opportunity to improve its menu. Our waitress didn’t have to tell us about the new gluten-free biscotti, we were coming back either way.
- Harry’s Pizzeria
- 3918 N. Miami Ave., Miami
- All major credit and debit cards accepted.
- Hours: Sundays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Mondays-Thursdays 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Fridays-Saturdays 11:30 a.m.-12 a.m.
- Rating: 4/5