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Enjoy gluten-, dairy- and soy-free crusts

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In my youth, Fridays and pizza went together like Thursdays and The Cosby Show. There simply was not one without the other. When the show was cancelled in 1992, there was only one tradition I knew that I would carry on with my own family: pizza night.

Then I was blessed with not one, but two children with severe food allergies. Their combined allergies to wheat, dairy, eggs, nuts and soy threatened to knock pizza off our menu.

I scoured grocery aisles, labels and cookbooks for allergen-friendly products and recipes that could re-create that familiar Friday night routine. I have literally spent hundreds of dollars through the years trying flavorless frozen crusts, rubbery cheeses and unsatisfying sauces. Once, after watching my 3-year-old daughter burst into tears when she was served a baked potato as the rest of us ate pepperoni pizza, I attempted to make a crust out of pressed baked potato and onion. Yuck.

So I was intrigued when a friend mentioned that Z Pizza in Raleigh offered gluten-, dairy-, soy- and egg-free crusts along with dairy-free cheese. I called ahead to verify, and we rushed over for dinner. Talia dove into her first restaurant pie like it was a mirage in a dessert. To our delight, the cheese actually melted and it looked like a real pizza. It was worth every bit of the $10.50 for a 10-inch pie.

We returned recently with friends. William Townsend, 9, and his mother, Kristen Randall, loved the crust, but they didn't care for the sauce.

Luckily, Z Pizza sells the frozen GF crusts for home use. (Go light on the sauce, as it can weigh down the crust and make it soggy.) At the Falls of Neuse store, the crusts cost $2 for small, $3 for large.

Another day, we met friends Margaret Stroud and her three sons at Mellow Mushroom on Peace Street in Raleigh. They've eaten safely there numerous times, and we ordered two gluten-free pizzas. William, 7, ate three pieces, but Andrew, 10, said the crust was bland, "tasted different" and didn't finish his slice. (The crusts contain egg, but no dairy or soy.)

Owner Karen Halsey says the recipe hasn't changed, and the crusts are shipped in frozen and stored separately. Just as they do at Z Pizza, the cooks at Mellow Mushroom wear gloves and prepare the pies in a separate area with specially labeled ingredients and utensils. They also bake the pies on special trays, and at separate times, in a shared oven to reduce the chances of cross-contamination. If you have celiac disease, you'll have to decide if it's worth the risk.

Both Mellow Mushroom and Z Pizza offer dairy-free Daiya soy cheese.

At Bella Monica Flatbread Co. in Olde Raleigh Village, my friend Susan Ebbs enjoyed a gluten-free Margherita "flatbread" pizza. Her family has been gluten-free for nearly a decade, and Ebbs was impressed that the crust was perfectly crisp, something that's hard to attain with gluten-free products.

In addition to precautions the other restaurants take, Bella Monica serves its gluten-free appetizers and entrées on distinctive orange plates and its pizzas on triangular plates. They wrap gluten-free leftovers in foil instead of the regular pizza box. Bella Monica's flatbread pizzas can be bought preassembled at grocers such as Whole Foods and Earth Fare.

Where can I get these pizzas?

Z Pizza

Offers vegan soy cheese and gluten-, dairy-, egg- and soy-free crusts

www.zpizza.com

Raleigh: 421 Fayetteville St., 919-838-0681. 9630 Falls of the Neuse Road, 844-0065.

Cary: 96 Cornerstone Drive, 919-465-9009

Mellow Mushroom

Offers gluten-, dairy- and soy-free crusts and dairy-free cheese

www.mellowmushroom.com

Raleigh: 601 W. Peace St., 919-832-3499. Durham: 410 Blackwell St., 919-680-8500. Wake Forest: 2125 S. Main St., 919-556-8884

Biaggis

Gluten-free pizzas

www.biaggis.com

1060 Darrington Drive, Cary, 919-468-7229

Bella Monica Flatbread Co.

Gluten-free pizzas

www.bellamonica.com

3121-103 Edwards Mill Road, Raleigh, 919-881-9778

Brixx Wood-fired Pizza

Gluten-free pizzas and nondairy cheese

www.brixxpizza.com

Chapel Hill: 501 Meadowmont Village Circle, 919-929-1942. Raleigh: 8511 Brier Creek Parkway, 919-246-0640

Cafe Harmony

Offers gluten-, dairy-free and vegan crusts

www.cafeharmony.net

5645 Creedmoor Road, Raleigh, 919-590-6910

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