131 N. Clinton Street, Chicago IL 60661 (map); 312-831-2729; chicagorawfood.com
Getting There: Metra to Ogilvie Station; Brown, Purple, Red or Blue Line to Washington
Pizza Style: Defies categorization
Oven Type: N/A
The Skinny: Pizza's versatility does not extend into the world of raw-food veganism
Price: $11, feeds two
Raw is a vegan raw-food stand at the Chicago French Market, the "European-inspired" indoor market in Ogilvie Metra Station. I have been in the market countless times, but as nearly every meal I eat is cooked and/or made with animals, Raw had never been on my radar. But last week when I had some extra time to wander as I waited for my train, I looked a little closer at Raw and saw they had something they were calling pizza. After a gluttonous weekend at Chicago Gourmet, healthy food seemed like a good idea. So I headed to Raw yesterday to try a creation from vegan raw food evangelists Carole Jones and Polly Gaza.
I am not in Raw's target market by any stretch, but one of the things I love most about pizza is its adaptability. So I was actually excited to try Raw (a name that doubles as an acronym for raising awareness worldwide) even if the following list of ingredients made me skeptical: sprouted wheat berries, hazelnuts, tomatoes, flax seed, jalapeños, lemon, raw hand-cracked cashews, garlic, salt, extra virgin olive oil, nutritional yeast, agave, olives, and onion.
My first reaction after taking a bite was one of confusion: It looked like a deep dish pizza but was similar to it in neither taste nor texture. There was some overlap with regular pizza in that the layer of rich tomato paste dotted with dried herbs and covered in fresh tomatoes and heatless jalapeños, but the "crust" and the "cheese" were radically different. The crust, made primarily of wheat berries, had the flavor and texture of thick, moist, and grainy all-grain bread dough. It was kind of like a thick graham cracker crust but with a totally different flavor. The taste was OK, but made no sense as an overly flavorful pizza crust.
As odd as the crust was, it had absolutely nothing on the raw vegan cheese. How do you get cheese without milk? Why, with cashews of course. The texture was gummy and the taste was akin to a sugarless nut butter, a flavor fine on its own but not one that mixes well with tomatoes. Making matters worse, the thick layer of cheese provided the strongest aftertaste of any pizza component. Eating something called pizza but then only being able to taste all-natural cashew butter was like some sort of bad molecular gastronomy nightmare.
On a positive note, adding the olives and olive oil that come as sides made the pizza appreciably better, thanks to the much-needed salt, but it was still so far removed from pizza taste that I cannot recommend it. I recognize that I'm not Raw's target market, so I shared the pizza with two friends who are vegetarians who dabble in veganism. While they were more satisfied with the sauce and crust than I was, the "cheese" proved to be a major problem for them as well — it was just a taste and texture none of us could identify with pizza.
Raw food vegans have made a choice that I hope will bring them tranquility and I suspect will bring them, on average, a much longer and healthier life than the rest of us. But based on my first and likely last experience, I fear they have also chosen a life without good pizza.