California Pizza Kitchen – West View Borough
Thank God for mobile phones and 3G coverage because now I can enjoyably pass the time while waiting for what seems like years as my wife tries on clothes at Loft. I was reading through Deadspin on a recent Saturday evening when I looked up and noticed our friend Dr. Lauren shopping in the store as well. Her husband Dr. Jason was also in the mall but he was smart enough to go off on his own in a search for jeans. I like to shop as much as the next straight male fashion blogger but I’m extremely fast when I look around and the mall store choices are severely limited for guys. Therefore I typically end up following my wife around as she looks for clothes. My four marathons have helped me build up my endurance so I can typically get through the experience without much complaining as long as my phone battery lasts.
We decided to turn the evening into a double-date since it was nearing dinnertime and neither we nor Lauren and Jason had dinner plans. The most convenient choices came down to the Cheesecake Factory and the California Pizza Kitchen. Both of these establishments are integral to Ross Park Mall so we would not have to travel and could eat fairly soon. And as far as soulless restaurant chains go these are two of the best especially when compared to most other options found in gentrified shopping areas such as Applebee’s, Houlihan’s, T.G.I. Friday’s or Chi-Chi’s.
Coincidentally not that long ago I had another unplanned dinner with Dr. Lauren and Dr. Jason when we ran in to each other at the mall. Since we went to the Cheesecake Factory then we opted for the California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) this time. Despite having a long-standing reputation on the west-coast, the CPK chain is new to the Pittsburgh area and this location in the North Hills is currently the only one we have. CPK has a very nondescript décor internally and externally and I actually can’t remember anything particularly noteworthy about its appearance to even write about. Its bland ambiance and featureless décor do nothing to combat the complaint of food snobs that chains such as this lack personality. CPK does have an open kitchen but I’m not really sure if this feature adds any vitality to the atmosphere. I’d also probably rather not see the guy covered in arm tattoos spread mozzarella on my pizza for fear that I’ll start questioning whether he looks like the type that really washes his hands after using the restroom. Sometimes it’s best not to know how the sausage is made and the fudge is packed.
The most important plus of CPK is that it has a liquor license which was a welcome relief after trudging hours through the mall looking for a cardigan to match a J.Crew No. 2 Pencil Skirt in an odd shade of purple-blue. The draft list isn’t expansive to say the least but after a personally fruitless shopping experience and a hectic weekend dealing with multiple Veterinarian visits, a Sam Adams (4.9% ABV - Lager) more than hit the spot. None of the appetizers on the menu grabbed me so I went straight to ordering a pepperoni pizza. CPK offers a thin crust version for most of their pizzas but I stuck to the regular crust.
By the time my pizza arrived I was already well into my second beer so I was able to easily get past its relative banality. It wasn’t bad per se, but pizza isn’t exactly a challenging dish and for a restaurant with pizza in its name I would expect it to be a little tastier. We all ordered different kinds of pizza so I was able to trade and get slices of the Greek, Sicilian and Thai Chicken. I would say that the innovative variety of pizzas CPK offers is one of its strengths because both the Thai Chicken and the Greek were really delicious. Next time I’ll be more adventurous and order one of their other novel options like the Pear & Gorgonzola or Habanero Carnitas. But that’s after I order a beer of course.
Final Call: I’ve actually eaten at a CPK in California and I don’t believe that there has been any drop-off in quality with their Steel City location. Their standard cheese and pepperoni pies are just average but there’s a number of unique options that should satisfy your taste buds and inner-food snob. I only hope someday that other establishments in the mall will get liquor licenses so I’ll have the chance to buy a beer from one of those Israeli hand-cream girls and drink while my wife searches for pants at Ann Taylor.