Restaurant: Charlie’s Pizza, Utica, New York
It’s the second weekend in July…and that means one thing when you live in Utica, New York.
Confused? Don’t be. The Boilermaker 15K Road Race was established in 1976 and has grown to become the largest 15K road race in the United States. Not only that, the Boilermaker is ranked as the most competitive 15K in the world, drawing people from all across the United States as well as from other countries. It’s a big freakin’ deal. And that was why I found myself in Utica, New York this past weekend. I was running in The Boilermaker 15K.
And…as we have established from blogs past…before any major road race, my fuel of choice is a gluten-free pizza.
Lucky for me, a lot of the guesswork on this trip when it came to food was taken out of the equation. My high school friend, Jean, lives in Utica and she was the one who really directed me toward this race. I was going to run it the year before, but…I had a conflict in the schedule. Not this year. So, when I told her that I would require a gluten-free pizza the night before, she was sending me two different local Italian places that both offered gluten-free pizza. They both sounded good, so my roommate and I flipped a coin.
And the winner…Charlie’s Pizza.
Jean said it was her favorite place to grab food, so this was already sounding promising.
After a long day on the road, getting reacquainted with old friends I hadn’t seen in 15 years, hitting up the race expo, and taking my friend Jenn to Florentine’s to place an order for delicious baked goods she used to get when she lived in Utica…we all were rather hungry. So, our next stop was dinner. And that meant we all piled back into Jean’s car and headed toward Charlie’s Pizza.
Looks can be deceiving, and when you first catch a glimpse of Charlie’s Pizza in Utica…well…you might be tempted to go elsewhere. Located next to the Big Lots, it’s a little strip mall sort of joint. It looks like a dive at first glance, but I’ve learned, sometimes these “dives” are the gems of the area when it comes to food. I wasn’t casting judgment. I was going to get my pizza! We walked in to Charlie’s Pizza and it reminded me a lot of those establishments that are run down but for all the right reasons. They’ve got longevity. They’ve been there awhile. One of the ladies behind the counter asked if we were dining in. We said we were so she told us to take a seat anywhere. As we were a party of five, we took the big table at the back, underneath the television. Soon, menus were passed our way and we began to peruse the selections while our drink orders were taken. This allowed the rest of us to decide what we were going to order. Cathy and I were definitely splitting a gluten-free pizza. Jen W. and Jean were going to split a large pepperoni pizza ($14.99). And Jenn went for an order of their Stuffed Shells ($9.99).
All Cathy and I needed to do now was choose our toppings. In the end, we went for what is becoming one of our favorite pizzas to order when all ingredients are available. We settled on a Gluten-Free Pizza with Onion, Mushroom, and Pineapple ($15.50 – small cheese pizza: $9.00, made gluten-free: add $3.00, with two extra toppings: add $2.00; with one premium topping: add $1.50).
With orders in, we settled back into talking. Jean and Jenn W. were high school friends of mine, and when I moved away in 1998, I hadn’t been back to see them. We had lots to talk about and to catch up on, so you can imagine the conversations we had while waiting on food. With their pizza and pasta, there were side salads and soup for “The 3 J’s” at the table. Both Jen and Jean got the tossed salad (minus the olives) and Jenn went with the Italian Wedding Soup. It was a nice way for them to calm their rumbling stomachs. And not too long after they polished those off…food began to arrive.
Everyone’s food looked great. Jenn had expected more than just three stuffed shells with her order, but she said it turned out to be just enough. Jean and Jen’s pizza looked amazing.
But this gluten-free vegetarian was ready to dive into her own pizza creation.
Charlie’s Pizza offers up the usual gluten-free crust…cracker crust. I am not a huge fan of cracker crust when it comes to pizza as it can go wrong so easily. However…Charlie’s Pizza got it totally right. For one thing, the waitress informed us that they pre-bake the crust before they top it and put it in the oven again. This helps get the right amount of crispness to the dough so that it doesn’t remain soggy toward the middle. There is nothing worse than a soggy gluten-free pizza crust. And trust me…I have had my share of those! The cheese was melt-in-your-mouth good. And it really paired well with the fresh vegetables and the pineapple that topped the pizza. The onions and mushrooms were baked in to perfection, so that the flavors melted into the cheese and crust instead of being too bold and standing out. And the sweet pineapple was ripe and added the right hit of sweetness. The sauce was fantastic. And I loved that, while it took a bit of time to eat, the crust never once grew soggy as it sat on the tray. Not once. It remained crisp and a beautiful golden color. No burned edges. No struggling to get the pizza out of the pan. This was easy…simple…and totally delicious. I was impressed.
Much thanks to Charlie’s Pizza for the amazing gluten-free eats the night before what turned out to be a fun, but grueling 15K the following morning. I felt well fueled for the run and have them to thank for not making me break my pre-race-night food tradition. I felt completely safe eating there as it came highly recommended by Jean. The pizza wasn’t greasy…which means everything sat well in my stomach. And it was honestly just really good food made by a great family-run business.
Thanks for the suggestion, Jean. Outstanding pizza to compliment an outstanding trip!