What Vegan Pizza Actually Tastes Like (According to a Non-Vegan)
About a month into my maternity leave this summer, I learned the hard way that my son, Noah, can’t tolerate dairy. Our first indicator: I ate ice cream, breastfed him a couple of hours later, and then my husband and I spent the entire ensuing night dealing with an inconsolable kid, whose stomach was hard as a rock and was clearly in a boatload of pain. The doctor confirmed the allergy a week later. Whoopsie.
So I haven’t had a lick of dairy since. All in all, the dietary switch hasn’t been too challenging — I’m using soy creamer in my coffee (thank God he can deal with soy) and Earth Balance vegan butter in cooking and baking — but I have missed a few things. Top of the list, of course, is pizza. Sausage pizza, if I’m being perfectly honest.
The craving started last week. I tried ignoring it, but every night around dinnertime, all I could think about was sinking my teeth into a big ol’ slice of pizza. Healthy? No. Hey, even your intrepid health and fitness editor needs some junk food from time to time. But alas, I knew downing even one slice would set Noah off, so good mother that I am, I abstained.
Last night the craving reached a fever pitch. I needed pizza, and now. I remembered a post from a while back, written by our resident sometimes vegan/always vegetarian, Adjua Fisher, about the best places to get vegan pizza in Philly. I also remembered lots of vegans over the past few years raving about the goods at Blackbird Pizzeria. But I’d always secretly wondered: Did they think the pizza was good because it was all they could eat? As in, “It’s good! (For vegan pizza.)” Or was it actually good, no subtext or qualifiers needed? I was suspicious.
So I looked at the menu and asked Adjua for ordering advice. “Blackbird is amazing,” she said. “But just know, I’ve had pizza with Daiya cheese” — that’s the animal product-free cheese that tops most of Blackbird’s pizzas — “and it is NOT the same. It’s not bad, and it will satisfy your pizza craving, but don’t expect it to be the same.”
Hmm. Interesting advice. All it really did, though, was make me even more skeptical. What was I getting myself into here?
Still, pizza called. I needed it, badly. So I turned to Twitter and asked Be Well followers what I should order at Blackbird, and the resounding consensus seemed to be the Nacho pizza, a pie topped with avocado, caramelized onions, Jalapeño peppers, tomato sauce and cheddar-style Daiya cheese. Intriguing, no? I thought it might be a good pick, too, because I wouldn’t expect it to be like the pizzas I’m used to ordering, meaning I could approach it with fresh tastebuds. It’s all about managing expectations, am I right?
Somehow, I also convinced my not-remotely-vegan, pepperoni-with-extra-cheese-pizza-loving husband, Chris, to order a pie, too. To my surprise, he went the more traditional route and ordered the Haymaker, which comes with seitan sausage, red onions, garlic butter, tomato sauce, Daiya cheese and fresh oregano. “JUST DON’T EXPECT IT TO BE LIKE A NORMAL PIZZA,” I practically bellowed. Because, you know, expectations.
The pies arrived and we inspected them. They sure looked like pizza. And they smelled like pizza, too. One bite and we both looked at each other in shock: This stuff was good. Really good. Like, so-good-you-don’t-even-have-to-manage-your-expectations good. It’s good pizza in its own right — dairy and meat be damned.
The Nacho pie was the perfect balance of spicy and creamy and, as I expected, unlike anything I’d ever had before. The Haymaker checked all the right boxes, too. The seitan sausage was pretty darn close to the crumbled sausage I’m used to on my pizzas, and that white Daiya cheese Adjua warned us about was surprisingly delicious — not exactly like mozzarella, as she’d said, but really, really good.
And the crust — oh, the crust. I love, love, love a nicely charred thin-crust pizza, and this was more than on point. It held up to the toppings and lent a nice salty crunch. I think I dreamed about it last night.
All in all, it was a dinnertime success, even in a house not normally accustomed to vegan cooking. My pizza craving was more than satisfied and, even better, my kid didn’t pay the dairy price later on — every dairy-deprived mother’s dream come true.
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