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Vegetarians in Paradise

 Vegetarian Restaurant Review

Pizza Cookery Restaurant R: One step into the vegan-friendly Original Pizza Cookery in Woodland Hills is like taking a time machine tour back in time. My first impression was to pinpoint the date in the 1950s. The ambience has a warm retro vibe with its sawdust-covered floors, brick walls, rich wooden paneling, and wooden booths trimmed to the max with more string lights than the average house at Christmas time.

Z: Owners Jordan and Barbara Paul have created a memorable ritual with the string lights that turn bright orange in the autumn to welcome Halloween and Thanksgiving. Following the Pilgrim celebration, the lights are replaced again to shine with bright reds and greens for Christmas and blue for Chanukah.

Pizza Cookery Restaurant R: It took only a moment and one deep inhale to identify the Italian offerings in this restaurant. Rich with irresistible aromas that waft into every corner, this large restaurant can accommodate up to 150 diners. Though I was genuinely hungry when I came in, I was soon comforted by the fragrant scent of Italian herbs, melting cheeses, and simmering tomato sauce that are so much a part of what we love about Southern Italian cuisine. While the restaurant is not all vegetarian or vegan, it is impressively vegan friendly.

Z: Warmly greeted and sitting at a comfortable booth, we settled in to study the multitude of menu offerings. We mentioned we were vegan and were quickly brought a separate menu that listed gluten-free vegan items. Aware of the growing interest in gluten-free foods, we asked how it was possible to manage both gluten free and wheat-based pizza dough in one kitchen.

Pizza Cookery Restaurant R: Jordan proudly escorted us into a special area in the storeroom where the gluten-free dough is measured and mixed in a separate giant mixer to avoid contamination with the regular pizza dough. Because flour dust from regular pizza dough can remain in the air for two to three hours after it is prepared, the rice-based gluten-free dough has to be kept completely separate. To meet the standards and receive a certificate from the Gluten-free Group, the restaurant must use a separate refrigerator, separate and clearly labeled containers, utensils, tongs, and bowls for the gluten-free items to prevent contamination. The kitchen staff even has to change gloves to work with the gluten-free dough.

Z: We found it refreshing to discover a restaurant, with a history of 35 years in this same location, still aiming to please customers by stepping into the vegan and gluten-free arena. Barbara is a nurse and is keenly aware of the need for celiacs to avoid gluten-containing foods that make them intensely ill. Few restaurants have moved into this territory and made the effort to provide foods celiacs can feel secure about eating. How special it must be for someone with celiac disease to be able to order a gluten-free pizza, penne pasta, breadsticks, and croutons without worry!

R: Because we are not suffering from celiac disease, we were able to thoroughly enjoy the basket of hot, yeast-raised Garlic 'n' Cheese Rolls oozing with vegan cheese in the middle. Melt in the mouth delicious, these tasty, but naughty, little rolls actually made me reach for a second one. They were a great start and a delicious accompaniment to the robust, colorful House Salad of torn romaine, slivered red onions, chopped tomatoes, garbanzos, and shredded vegan cheese.

Pizza Cookery Restaurant Z: We were even able to taste three of the creamy vegan dressings, each with a subtle hint of spice: Vegan Caesar, Balsamic Vinaigrette, and Honey Mustard. The Honey Mustard is reminiscent of the classic version, yet doesn't overwhelm with its delicate sweetness. Both the Balsamic Vinaigrette and Vegan Caesar are well seasoned and thick enough to cling perfectly to the veggies.

R: Curious about the Gluten-free Penne Pasta with Marinara, we tried a half order with a side of Steamed Veggies. One bite of the pasta with that thick, rich, basil infused tomato sauce and we were tasting the riches of Sicily.

Pizza Cookery Restaurant Z: It was more like Sicilian nirvana! That sassy tomato sauce leaps to the top of my A-list! The flash-steamed veggies made a bright, colorful display that highlighted cauliflower and broccoli florets and angle-sliced orange and yellow carrots.

R: Waiting briefly for our pizza, we spent a few moments wall gazing while sipping water from our giant 22-ounce old-fashioned Coca Cola glasses. Nearly every inch of the cozy paneling is decorated with some memorabilia like a Route 66 shield, old orange crate labels, photos, and hand-drawn fashion illustrations of a bygone era, as well as small and large mirrors, Coca Cola signs and more well-seasoned, collectable décor than one can name. Near the front of the restaurant we noticed cigarette dispensing machines (non-operable) and three old-time Coca Cola dispensers from the 50s that wore their well-aged paint with sexagenarian dignity.

Pizza Cookery Restaurant Z: Hanging on the wall near those Coke dispensers is a 2010 Daily News certificate indicating the Pizza Cookery is the readers' favorite choice. From wall gazing we moved to lamp gazing at the many colorful hanging lamps including several Tiffany lamps that gave the rooms a very cozy, intimate, warm glow.

R: Our two small pizzas arrived oozing with cheesy aromas and were well endowed with a thick roll of outer crust. The mixed veggie pizza was piled with green bell peppers, fresh tomatoes, purple onions, and black olives in a sea of perfectly melted Follow Your Heart Vegan Mozzarella. Our other pizza was topped with bits of smoked vegan chicken and Daiya cheese available on request. What a meal!

Z: The more than ample portions of this tasty meal ended up in a doggie bag whose tasty contents we'll enjoy tomorrow. While we only sampled a small portion of the restaurant's offerings, vegan diners can choose the House Salad, small, medium, or large from $6.55 to $15.35 or a Caesar Salad from $8.75 to $11.95. Minestrone and soup of the day are $4.50 and $4.75, while pizzas range from $10.25 for a small cheese to $28 for the large Cookery Works. Pasta is priced from $9.95 to $14.65 with dinner specialties ranging from $11.50 to $16.50.

Pizza Cookery Restaurant R: Jordan and Barbara plan to add several gluten-free vegan items to the menu in the near future. Diners can look forward to a succulent Gluten-free Vegan Eggplant Parmesan and an irresistible Gluten-free Vegan Lasagna and several gluten-free sandwiches. On another occasion, we were fortunate to enjoy a preview sample of the lasagna and the eggplant Parmesan, two outstanding dishes with flavors Italian enough to please the aficionados.

Z: Anyone planning a large gathering can reserve the comfortable party room that seats 45. The room at the back of the restaurant is cozily adorned with the same warm wooden furnishings, glimmering string lights, and Tiffany lamps. The warmth of the ambience in the restaurant genuinely reflects the warmth of the owners. Jordan told us many of his 45 employees have been working at the restaurant for 10 to 15 years and have come to know their regular customers' preferences. Former employees who worked at the restaurant while attending college, often return just to visit with Jordan and Barbara.

R: Comfortable ambience, reasonable prices, friendly service, knowledgeable servers, and a growing menu of vegan offerings make the Original Pizza Cookery an ideal place to savor tasty vegan Italian food.

Original Pizza Cookery
6209 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills, CA 91367
Phone: 818-887-4770
Hours: Monday through Thursday 11:00 a. m. to 9:30 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Sunday 12:00 noon to 9:00 p.m.
Website: http://www.pizzacookery.com

Reviewed September 2010

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