Pizza without a layer of bubbling cheese is pretty much a no-go for most pie lovers — and that includes vegans. An increasing number of pizza restaurants are adding non-dairy cheese options, with varying success. We visited locations of two pizza chains with multiple locations around the Valley to check out their custom vegan creations and see which one's no-dairy pie fares best.
In This Corner: NYPD Pizza
The Setting: We got NYPD's signature vegan pizza, the Veganizza, at the restaurant's location at Camelback Road and 20th Street. Making the most of its strip mall setting, the New York Pizza Dept. does its best to make you feel as though you're having a slice in an old school NYC joint. From signage styled to look like subway directives to cityscape-adorned walls, this restaurant works hard to take you out of the desert as you wolf down eats from a menu that's filled with pizza, salads, subs, and pasta choices. The service was top-notch and the staff was really welcoming. There's the added bonus of plenty of parking.
The Good: This pizza had serious visual appeal. The Daiya brand vegan cheese covering the marinara sauce was as white as the freshest mozzarella and it brightened up the whole pie, making the bubbles in the brown crispy edges stand out. Sliced Roma tomatoes were generously placed about the pizza's top side, and the whole pie was covered with fresh spinach, basil, and garlic. The entire crust maintained a nice bit of crunch that gave way to an inner chewy fluff. The cheese melted well and added a creaminess to the whole experience. We got a large, which easily served four people and it cost just a bit over $20.
The Bad: Though the fresh herbs were indeed bright and crunchy, they weren't enough to add a desired textural component. We didn't notice the garlic as much as we had hoped and thought that its presence might have stepped up the crunch factor just a bit.
In This Corner: ZPizza
The Setting: For this vegan pizza, we visited Z's location on Thomas Road just west of Central Avenue for the restaurant's signature dairyless option, the Berkeley Vegan. This little neighborhood spot is in a tiny strip mall with an ice cream and coffee place next door. There's not a ton of parking, but it doesn't really seem to pose a problem. Plenty of booths and tables for dining in and some local art on the walls make the place feel extra homey. The staff was really attentive, even though everyone was busy and phones were ringing.
The Good: This one was a real eye-catcher, too. Slathered in marinara sauce and topped with the Daiya brand vegan cheese, this pie was loaded with veggie sausage crumbles, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, red onions, and bell peppers. The zucchini, onions, and peppers had a nice snap that played against the inherent tenderness of the tomatoes and mushrooms. The sausage crumbles gave it a meaty edge but we wouldn't have missed it with that array of tasty veg. Comparable in size to NYPD's large, this one also saw us spending just over $20.
The Bad: Though the crust tasted just fine, it had a little more crunch and a little less of the stretchy dough that we were hoping for. With all the crispy vegetables to sink our teeth into, it would have been nice if the crust had a more pillowy bite.
The Winner: NYPD's Veganizza. Though these were both delicious pies, it was NYPD's crust that won us over in the end. It's tenderness even lasted overnight and didn't become hard as a hockey puck after a good 10 hours of refrigeration, making cold breakfast pizza a real treat.