Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, April 25, 2002
Pies in the Sky

Everyone’s catching on to California Pizza Kitchen’s vision.


California Pizza Kitchen

1051 State Hwy 114 at William D. Tate, Grapevine. 817-481-4255. Sun-Thu 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-11pm.

Fashion and food trends seem to start on the East and West Coasts and work their way toward Middle America. Some peter out and die around Dayton, Ohio, or Denver, Colo. A few make it all the way to Fort Worth. Still others skip Fort Worth altogether and head straight to the Tarrant County ’burbs. That’s what happened when the non-traditional pizza craze arrived in Tarrant County several years ago. California Pizza Kitchen found a plot of land at State Highway 114 and William D. Tate Avenue, set up shop, and waited for the rest of the city to grow up around it. The patience paid off as this highway off-ramp developed into a bustling, congested dining triangle near the city’s crowning glory, Grapevine Mills Mall.

The original California Pizza Kitchen was developed in the most trend-conscious city in the sunshine state, Beverly Hills. The company’s official history notes that two lawyers, Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax, gave up their law library, staffs of legal assistants, and the courtroom to open a restaurant back in 1985 when the latest trend in pizza was 30-minute delivery.

Rather than try to improve on what was already available, the legal eagles began twisting the concept of pizza as if it were the California Penal Code. The wood-burning oven in their casual establishment began cranking out what would become their signature dish, the BBQ Chicken Pizza. They also put Asian ingredients, Indian tandoori, pears, and salad ingredients on pizzas and scored a financial victory as sweet as a felony not-guilty verdict.

Almost 17 years later, there are more than 125 California Pizza Kitchens around the world. There are plans to expand into Fort Worth — but not anytime soon. If you want a slice of the West Coast, head north to Grapevine.

The company has made concessions over the years, adding a few traditional pies to the lineup — but not deleting any diversity. The menu boasts 28 different kinds of pizza, including that original BBQ Chicken number. For a big reward an small financial sacrifice, order the mushroom-pepperoni-sausage. But if you really want to enjoy your visit, be a little more daring — like us, on our most recent visit.

We went around the world, starting with the garlic shrimp pizza. It was blissful. Garlic shallot butter studded with bits of creamy roasted garlic replaced the usual tomato sauce. The aromatic base was topped with fans of fresh onions, mozzarella cheese, oregano, Italian parsley, white wine, and plenty of grilled shrimp.

We then tried the Philly cheesesteak pizza, an exceptional blend of flavors. Thinly sliced steak, sautéed red and green peppers, onions, and mushrooms were topped with American and provolone cheese. Chopped, cool-yellow banana peppers spread on top just before the pie arrived at the table gave the pizza plenty of eye appeal and just the right amount of tangy bite.

An appetizer order of Singapore Shrimp Rolls was served cold on a triangular, mustard-yellow plate. The rolls were stuffed with shiitake mushrooms, shrimp, carrots, broccoli, green onion, bean sprouts, and cilantro. They were wrapped in a wimpy rice-noodle paper that, unfortunately, resembled a prophylactic. The rolls were heavy on the cilantro, but that was easily overcome with liberal doses of the dipping sauce, a slightly sweet mix of soy sauce, ginger, sesame, and red pepper.

Salads are not just an afterthought here. Giant bowls of crispy greens topped with everything from croutons to salami to barbecued chicken are available. An array of pasta dishes, a smattering of soups, and three varieties of focaccia sandwiches round out the entrée offerings.

There is an extensive kids’ menu too, featuring pizza, pasta, and salad. This is definitely a place you can bring the kids.

Dessert is where the pizza poets turn prosaic. There are comfort foods such as apple crisp, chocolate soufflé cake, and tiramisu, along with key lime pie, their most popular after-dinner treat. Talk the kids into getting the brownie. It’s less than a buck and is topped off with a mound of real whipped cream.

The Grapevine location, like all California Pizza Kitchens, is decorated in yellow, black, and white with an exposed kitchen, black vinyl booths, and a patio for warm-weather dining. Beer, wine, specialty coffees, and teas are available.

The staff was super-friendly. Even the guy washing the windows was asking customers on their way out if they’d enjoyed their meal.

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