The Pizza Plant may be the one pizza joint in which not a single patron will be found dabbing at the surface of their slice with a napkin. Completely vegan and organic, this brainchild of co-founders Marvin Acuna and Ravi Choudhry was born of the idea of clean and healthy living just last December, coming to fruition mere weeks ago as part of The Commissary in Pasadena. I am sure many of you share my concerns at the haphazard tossing around of the term “pizza” with all this gluten-free, plant-based mumbo jumbo. I mean, pizza is pretty perfect as is. Crust, sauce, cheese. It’s a science with a proven formula. Admittedly, the grub served up at The Pizza Plant might make a Sicilian grandpa faint, but just because this “pizza” breaks the mold a bit doesn’t mean it isn’t worth eating. In fact, it very much is.
Once I redefined The Pizza Plant’s pies in my mind as “open-faced focaccia sandwiches,” I enjoyed myself a great deal more. Gone were my expectations of greasy triangles with foot-long cheese pulls, and full was I of mouthful after mouthful of guilt-free, vaguely pizza-like indulgence. With this mindset, vegans and carnivores alike can appreciate the flavorful fare. Creamy pesto, unique vegan cheeses and well-prepared, high-quality ingredients constituted some highlights across our three pizza selections.
First up, a classic: Not Your Grandma’s, essentially a margherita pizza with a sweet balsamic drizzle. Refreshingly, Chef Rachel Carr at The Pizza Plant is not lazily vegan. By this, I mean that components of a dish that are already traditionally vegan still get the attention they deserve. The San Marzano Marinara blanketing the crust was expertly balanced and fragrant with oregano. As for the cashew mozzarella, the house recipe including nutritional yeast offered a welcome savory punch. Unfortunately, we decided to try out the gluten-free crust (an added $2.50 charge for our personal pie) on this pizza. Like so many of its gluten free brethren, the rice/tapioca/quinoa-constituted base fell victim to goopiness. Perhaps the crust was undercooked or perhaps it was just too dense, as many GF items are, but it formed paste in every available mouth crevice, ruining what could have been a respectable plant-based pizza. The dough’s flavor was good, but not worth the regrettable texture. With luck, the young business will work out this kink to serve the celiac-afflicted community with pride.
Still, crust in general does seem a hurdle left for Pizza Planters to clear. Our other two pizzas came on a moderately tasty but overly doughy rye. I’m open to thick, chewy crust, but this focaccia facsimile lacked any textural intrigue or particular airiness. Luckily, the toppings saved the day. Well distributed veggies seasoned with accomplished nuance give the Green Goddess her grace. Where the crust lacked in crispness, asparagus came to the rescue. Herbaceous pumpkin seed pesto and perfectly ripe avocado filled the mouth with luxurious creaminess and depth, a rarely perfected evocation in vegan dining. Generous touches of roasted broccoli, lemony cashew mozzarella and sprouts made for a balanced and filling dish. However, the crowning glory of this pizza was the plant-based ricotta. The vegan cheese was, indeed, ricotta-like in texture, but beyond that it was superior in its cheesy endeavors. There was a salty, creamy funkiness that all humans deserve in fine, complex cheeses, vegan or otherwise. I was excited to know that Choudhry and Acuna’s plans for the future include marketing some of these original recipes commercially as Plant Craft Foods, LLC. I’ll have that cashew ricotta in my fridge as soon as it hits the shelves, please and thank you.
Our final pizza, christened Yes, We Will Take You To Funghi Town, was similarly delicious with its plentiful pesto and mozzarella, the main gamechanger being a medley of roasted mushrooms. Perhaps even more so than imitation meats, mushrooms are a great way to allude to savory, umami meatiness, and the toppings on this mouthful of a pizza were no exception. Speaking of, it’s a good thing orders at The Commissary are kiosk-operated so there’s no need to say “Yes, We Will Take You To Funghi Town” aloud to a live human cashier. It does make the space a little lonely, but that’s all right. The Pizza Plant storefronts plan on being exclusively carry-out and delivery, a business style that obviously lends itself well to pizza. Fortunately, the pies at Pizza Plant travel fairly well and do stand the test of overnight refrigeration. Let that be known to all my fellow cold-pizza-in-the-morning advocates.
As if three pizzas weren’t enough to satiate the few of us, we also ordered some Buffalo Cauliflower Wings (gluten free here). Normally, I’d pick this vegan alternative over wings any day: lots of vitamins, less fat, no bones to pick around, no weird sinewy bits. Just a reason to douse your vegetables in vinegar and chili and call it healthy. Buffalo-style cauliflower is, in my experience, a crowd-pleaser and a personal indulgence. However, I have always made them coated in flour-based batter and baked to crispy brownness, which is no bueno for someone gluten free. While the “wings” at The Pizza Plant are safe for those with dietary restrictions, they were also just … fine. There was a yummy and unexpected pickle-y aspect to the morsels, perhaps from the apple cider vinegar in the sauce, that made them unique, though not altogether mouthwatering. The real letdown, though, was the side of house-made ranch. It is possible the salt and sugar in the kitchen were switched or maybe someone bought sweetened almond milk on accident, but the flavor was akin to spoiled tzatziki or dill-flavored whipped cream. We happily munched on the cauliflower without it and returned to our superior pizzas.
Along with serving consciously sourced and nutritious food, The Pizza Plant plans on serving the community. For each pizza sold, another is given to the Union Station Homeless Services. The large carryout boxes are designed by a local street artist. There’s even a rewards program for patrons: every twelfth pizza is free with your stamp card. A venture that stemmed from the pursuit of good health has evolved into a great community support system. Choudhry says there are big plans to expand to 1,000 locations in the next three years, to be the Domino’s of plant-based pizza. Personally, I don’t think that’s giving The Pizza Plant enough credit. Domino’s is food for very sad and/or very drunk college students. While a sad and drunk college student would no doubt enjoy a slice of The Half Baked (boasting just about every topping plus CBD oil), my physique and my friends would thank me much more if I showed up to the function with a stack of Pizza Plant pies over Domino’s. With a little time and attention, The Pizza Plant will surely iron out their few and forgivable imperfections and do great things. Maybe they should aspire to be the Amazon of vegan pizza: be kings of delivery and bring Whole Foods to mind.