Restaurant: Pizza Ranch, Apple Valley, Minnesota
This will teach me to allow my roommate to make changes to the original plan. Because, judging by the reviews that I’ve read since just working on this blog, I never would have gone to Pizza Ranch for my night-before-a-big-race gluten-free pizza tradition when a place like Pizza Luce existed within a short drive from my grandpa’s home. Let me tell you…next time I pick the place and we stick to the plan…because when I eat gluten-free pizza…I expect a really amazing gluten-free pizza.
But Pizza Ranch, right off the bat, I could tell wasn’t going to be a place to get something amazing to eat. Too bad. The line was pretty long and we had 10 people in our party as my cousin Molly and her hubby and two kids joined us, as did my cousin Andy and his significant other as well. My friend Heather came over and joined us for dinner as well. Big group…and not everyone quite sure how this place worked.
But my aunt figured it out. We had to either get the buffet (not gluten-free) or go place an order at the front desk. Everything was paid for in advance, and you could have all the pizza you wanted, or a specialty pizza made and brought to your table in its own box. After a little discussion, Heather, Cathy and I decided that the perfect toppings for our pizza that night were best kept mild…so mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and onions ($12.99). We all got fountain drinks, although I simply got water in mine.
Now, this was not how I wanted to start out Heather when it came to gluten-free foods. We had to wait awhile to actually get our food. Which…is fine. It’s okay when food takes some time to prepare. And yes, it was actually brought to the table in its own box. But by them, my family who had all opted for buffet and my grandpa, who had ordered some 2-piece chicken dinner ($5.49), all had pretty much finished off their meals. So, the pizza got there in time for us to make a show of eating it.
And a show it was. Opening the box it looks like the cracker-crust pizzas I get at every other small chain pizza place that is getting into gluten-free. And that’s fine. If it is done right. At first glance, this one seemed to be, even if a bit charred on the edges. When you’re working with such a thin crust…it happens. However…that being said, Cathy went to snag the first piece from the aluminum sheet it was cooked on, only to find it completely baked onto the disposable pan. I mean…crusted on there good. She managed to get her fork and knife in to hack away at the charred edge that held it in place and finally freed her piece. This made it easier for Heather and I to snag ours, but I was completely mortified. Remember…Heather hasn’t had gluten-free pizza before and this was already scaring me…a patron of the gluten-free pizza scene.
I scraped my piece out of the tray and onto my plate, gave it a little shake of crushed red pepper and sliced off the very tip with my fork. One bite. Instant disappointment. I mean…instant. It wasn’t that the pizza was bad. It wasn’t. It just…wasn’t all that good either. The crust, while crispy and maybe a little too done on the edges, was pale and soft on the inside. It was cooked through, but you couldn’t easily pick up this pizza to eat. It had to be eaten with a fork and knife because the crust was just…mush. Pale, ungolden, uncrispy…mush. And where it was crispy…it was a little too done.
Yeah…I think my disappointment showed. But at that point, you’ve paid for it, everyone else has eaten…so you sort of just eat what you have and be thankful that you’re at least getting your pre-race tradition done. We thought the toppings were fine. The vegetables were fresh. The onions were raw, not caramelized…but…we were at a place called Pizza Ranch. So…such luxuries are not exactly what you should expect. I’m okay with raw onions though. And they tasted fine. It was just too bad that crust ruined the entire pizza experience for me. I was so unimpressed and unhappy with every bite of that pizza. And the fact that the three of us had to literally fight to extract each piece from the tray was only making it worse. My heart was heavy. My pizza was…meh.
And my runner’s spirit was sort of crushed. As was my chance to really show Heather what the food I eat is all about. But…I have a feeling I can fix all of that when we hit up Chicago in October. She just needs to trust me.
Anyway…I had three pieces, Cathy and three, and Heather stuck with two (I don’t blame her). And we all left, discussing how the pizza wasn’t awful it just wasn’t…noteworthy or…good. It was underwhelming. And it honestly made me sad. When you are known for pizza…I don’t care if it is gluten-free…you make a damn good pizza. Even if you are a small, regional chain, only available in nine states…when you make a name off your pizza…make all of your pizza good. Not just the dough you make from scratch. The toppings were really good…the gluten-free crust, however, was not up to my standards. I eat a lot of gluten-free pizzas (because I run a lot)…and this was one of the worst yet.
Thank goodness it wasn’t an omen for race day. And thank goodness we all survived. I don’t think we’ll mosey over to Pizza Ranch again next time I visit Minnesota to run. I think I’ll go where everyone raves about the food and service. Pizza Luce…I’m looking at you. Pizza Ranch…I intend to let you fade from my memory. While I appreciate that you have gluten-free pizza available, we in the gluten-free community prefer to have as good a pizza as those who can dine normally. And, sadly, that wasn’t the case for me.