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A Cheesy Cheeseless Pizza

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I must say that ever since I’ve become a vegan I’ve pretty much avoided pizzerias. (Okay, so maybe that’s not a term anyone uses anymore, but you know what I mean.) The idea of paying for the most expensive item on a pizza (cheese) and not getting it really galls me. But a few weeks ago I got a coupon in the mail that made me reconsider.

The coupon offered a “free 16-inch large pizza.” The idea of “free” sounded appealing to me. Plus, it was from a little restaurant in the most expensive part of town. Their website featured a classy picture of an Italian family eating at a big table circa 1920, and the slogan “Handcrafted Italian food—our recipes have been in our family for generations.” How bad could this pizza be, I thought? Plus, it was free!

Of course there’s no such thing as a free pizza. I went onto their website to check out the deal and, after I selected extra sauce (very important when ordering any vegan pizza) and a few toppings (mushrooms, roasted red peppers, and fresh basil) the price went up a little bit. Then, when I added in the delivery fee and a nice tip for the driver, my “free” pizza was costing me $12. That’s still a lot better than the $27(!) it would have cost without the coupon. I decided to take a chance.

The pizza-delivery dude arrived about an hour later. He pulled up in a large BMW. Not the latest model, but still very classy. As he handed me the pizza from the insulated carrier I was starting to expect great things. I carried it into the kitchen… opened the box… and laughed out loud.

This was easily the most pathetic pizza I’ve ever seen. The “extra sauce” looked like it had been spooned on in 2 seconds. It was so thin the crust was showing through in several places. There were a few pathetic slices of mushroom gathered at the center of the pizza, and a couple of extremely tiny bits of red pepper that I had to look very carefully even to see. The basil, as far as I could tell, was a complete no-show. Was this pizza worth the $12 I paid, not to mention the $27(!) regular price? Not a chance. The “family” should have thrown out this recipe “generations” ago!

I probably don’t have to tell you what I did next—what any vegan would do. I added spinach, I added sweet onion, I added Kalamata olives, I added vegan parmesan and vegan mozzarella, and I popped that sucker back into the oven to reheat. In the end it was a perfectly delicious and satisfying pizza. It was also very expensive. Next time, coupon or not, I’m making my pizza at home. From scratch. After all, there’s no such thing as a free pizza.

…but wait, there’s more!

Okay, so I had a bad experience that made me even more cynical than my usual cynical self about “pizzeria” pizza. I stayed cynical too—for the next week, until I found myself at a party where pizza boxes from a chain called Mellow Mushroom were stacked up in the kitchen. “There’s a vegan, gluten-free pizza over there,” the hosts told me.

Sure, I thought. This is going to be like eating cardboard. I opened the box and took a slice. It didn’t look too bad. I took a bite and… wow, this is good. This is really good! Moist, chewy, lots of vegetables, great crust. If my last pizza was worth $27, this one was easily worth $127! Who knows, it may have cost that much—I didn’t buy it. But it was nice to have my faith restored. Yes, Virginia, there is good vegan pizzeria pizza!

Mark is an attorney and author of ” The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater’s Guide To Vegetarianism“.  Mark lives in Denver and can be contacted via


Author: Mark W. Reinhardt

Mark Warren Reinhardt is an attorney and author who has been writing and lecturing on veganism and animal rights issues for longer than anyone can remember. His book, “The Perfectly Contented Meat-Eater’s Guide to Vegetarianism” was published by Continuum in 1998. Mark has previously served on the boards of the Vegetarian Society of Colorado, Rocky Mountain Animal Defense, and Divine Feline, as well as a number of other nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Mark holds degrees in engineering and law from Duke, Harvard, and the University of Chicago. He lives in Denver with his cat Elgie.