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|| News Item: Posted 2002-12-31

California Pizza? The 'Pizza Guys' vote no
By Bob Larson, Contra Costa Times

Photo by

Vinny and Bob at the Tobacco Loft in Pleasant Hill with cigars in hand and Heinekens on the table before they're off to California Pizza Kitchen.
California Pizza Kitchen
Broadway Plaza shopping center
Corner of Main Street and Olympic Blvd./Walnut Creek

They have over 100 location all over the United States and four international locations.

On the way over to the Tobacco Loft for a quick cigar, Vinny and I decided we needed some help with this one. We needed a pizzachick, a women. So we asked Erin who runs the Tobacco Loft in Pleasant Hill and a California native if she would join us for pizza tonight at the California Pizza Kitchen in Walnut Creek.

Erin: Sure, no problem!
(Erin invites us to sit down in the back and have a cigar. Its perfect, low light, red leather chairs. Time to go over the game plan.)

Bob: Hey Vinny, I hear this is a chick place.
Erin: Yeah, you'll be seriously out numbered.
Vinny: I hear you don't go here for Monday Night Football.

(Erin is closing up the store and the bad boys of the food page are getting hungry.)
Erin: I need to put on some lipstick before we go.
Vinny: There goes a half and hour!
Bob: Laugh.
Erin: I'm ready, let's go.
Vinny: Unbelievable, less than 5 minutes.

We're in the car and gone. Downtown Walnut Creek. A nightmare for parking. We get lucky, we only have to walk a couple of blocks. California Pizza Kitchen is next to Crate and Barrel. They have great beer glasses. Buy your husband a bunch for Christmas.

Erin: No problem getting a table here tonight, its dead.
Vinny: It smells good in here.
Bob: Lots of chrome, I can see myself.
Erin: (looking over her menu) Hey! They got pizza here.
CPK: Would you like something to drink?
Vinny: Let's see, on tap they have BUD light ($3.69), Sam Adams ($4.69), Sierra Nevada ($4.69), Sam Adams, please.
Bob: bottle beer, BUD, MGD, Coors light, Corona, Miller light and Heineken. I'll have a Heineken (from $3.69 to $4.69).
Vinny: Chicks drink light beer or wine, don't they?
Bob: How bout a glass of wine?
Erin: I'm not a chick, I'm a WOMAN (with attitude). I'll have a Heineken.
Bob: All right, Erin!
Vinny: WOMAN, OK fine.

Erin: They also have a variety of other drinks, fresh lemonade ($1.99), IBC Root Beer ($1.99) Arizona Iced Tea ($2.49).
Vinny cuts in: Yeah PEPSI, No coke (and assorted soft drinks, $1.99)!

(Waiting for our beers, we take a minute to look the place over.)

Bob: Big place with lots of windows
Vinny: You think they like, yellow, black, white and chrome, CPK color thing?
Erin: It's very clean and they have the white tile thing going on.
Bob: Lots of tables and a counter with seating. Two big ovens and it looks like they prepare the pizzas behind the counter.

Bob: I'll be right back (as the beers hit our table).

(I want to check out the artwork on the wall. It's about 1/4 full and mostly chicks (women). I check out one table with what looks like a Chicken Caesar (Crisp romaine leaves, shaved parmesan cheese and garlic-herb croutons tossed in our Caesar dressing with grilled rosemary chicken breast. ($11.49 whole/8.59/half) with Sedona White Corn Tortilla Soup (Vine ripened tomato and tortilla soup with sweet corn and southwestern spices. Garnished with crispy corn tortilla chips $5.29 and $2.99 cup) Thinking to myself: looks and smells good. I check out the artwork. It's all self-promoting art, pizza kitchen art. I head back to the table where Erin and Vinny are scanning the menu.)

Erin: They have focaccia sandwiches, grilled veggie ($8.69), grilled rosemary chicken ($8.79) and grilled chicken Caesar ($8.79), alrighty then, they like to grill.
Vinny: Lots of pasta dishes, kung pao spaghetti, its Italian and Chinese, wow! (Tender pieces of chicken or shrimp with garlic, scallions, peanuts and hot red chilies in a classic kung pao sauce with chicken $12.29, with shrimp $13.69, with both $14.99).
Bob: Jambalaya, yeah baby, jambalaya (blackened chicken and shrimp in a spicy jambalaya sauce with crawfish, andouile sausage and tasso ham served on linguini fini and topped with fresh scallions, $13.99)
CPK2: Are you ready to order?

Vinny: I understand you have a Thai chicken pizza thing?
CPK2: Pieces of chicken breast marinated in a spicy peanut-ginger and sesame sauce, julienne carrots, cilantro and roasted peanuts
Vinny: I'm from New York, chicken on pizza, it's like breaking the law Bob; Breaking the law, fugeddaboudit!
Erin breaks in: I'll have the Jamaican Jerk Chicken (grilled Jamaican jerk spiced chicken breast with our spicy sweet Caribbean sauce, mozzarella cheese, nueske's applewood smoked bacon, mild onions, roasted red and yellow peppers and scallions, $10.49)
Bob: I can't take it, Jamaican Jerk Chicken pizza.
Vinny: I'll have the Rustica (Italian tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, garlic, crushed chiles, capers, olives and parmesan, $9.99) and the Margherita (Italian tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and parmesan, $9.49).
Bob: I'll have the Sweet and Spicy Italian sausage (Combo of sweet and spicy Italian sausage with our tomato sauce, roasted red and yellow peppers, mild onions and mozzarella cheese, 9.99) and my wife said to try the Thai Chicken, one of those.

Rick: Anything else, couple more Heinekens?
Bob: Sure, more cold ones
Vinny: Pepsi for me
Bob: Carrots and bean sprouts on a pizza?
Vinny: @#$% that!
Erin: It's on the Thai chicken along with a spicy peanut-ginger sauce, green onions and roasted peanuts.
Bob: This isn't pizza. Hey Vinny, how was the Sam Adams?
Vinny: Good, not flat, nice head, I don't like the pilsner glasses though.
Bob: As long as it isn't flat, I don't care what kind of glass it's in.
Erin: Just one size pizza here, looks like your average small, about 12 inches.
Vinny: What up with the music, ROD STEWART, "Do you think I'm Sexy"?
Erin: Don't you feel sexy?
Vinny: I'm old and I have bad knees
Erin: And the hat, if you're going for sexy, lose the hat!
(Bob grabs Vinny's hat off his head.)

Erin: Oh my god, he needs the hat, give him back the hat
Vinny's hair is sticking straight up
Erin: Vinny, work on the hair too
Right about that time the pizzas arrive as Love Stinks by J Giles cranks up in the room.
(Vinny sings out "Love Stinks".)
Bob: Let's eat, I'm hungry!
Vinny: Hey, nice looking pizzas, nice presentation, doesn't look like there's enough sausage on yours Bobby.
Bob: There's that carrot pizza.

(Erin looking for the rags --- good thick rags.)
Erin: Where's my napkin?
Bob: Rags are right here.
Vinny: We call them rags, this one is nice and thick, good rag!

(Vinny goes in for a slice of his Rustica.)

Erin: How is it?
Vinny: First of all, not enough sauce.
Bob: I have two different kinds of sausage on mine.
Erin: The Jerk doesn't have any sauce.
Vinny: There's no sauce on any of these.
(Vinny goes in for a slice of Erin's Jamaican Jerk Chicken.)

Vinny: Wow, tastes smoky.
Erin: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Vinny: Bad, but the crust isn't bad, it's what they put on it. Like my margarita, nice presentation, the tomatoes are good and the mozzarella

Erin: Bob, try the Thai Chicken.
Bob: This is the worst pizza I've ever eaten. It's bad; it's like a cracker with toppings. I'm moving back to Chicago, cold carrots and bean sprouts? Bad! Vinny, would you eat that thing?
Vinny: First of all, it's very sweet, the carrots. And it doesn't belong on a pizza
Erin: It's like a vegetable pizza with chicken.

Vinny: It's not very spicy, let's try some flakes.
(Vinny eating a slice of my sweet and spicy Italian sausage.)
Erin: How's that?
Vinny: A little better.
Erin: The crust on these pizzas reminds me of pita bread. It's got more kick with the flakes, my mouth is on fire, can I have one of those waters, pleaseeeeeee?

Bob: OK, lets talk about the crust first.
Erin: The crust isn't bad.
Vinny: I like the thin and crispy.
Erin: The sausage isn't bad, I don't like the idea of combo sausage, one or the other, please.

Vinny: If you want to go to California Pizza Kitchen, it's good for a snack, it's not pizza.
Erin: This is your 3pm snack while shopping in yuppie downtown Walnut Creek
Bob: I don't know if it's even good for a snack

Vinny: It's not wet, it's dry, needs more sauce.
Erin: Like Bob said, it's a cracker with toppings or thin crust focaccia with toppings, as a snack. Pizza is gooey with cheese and has lots of sauce.

Bob and Vinny and Erin high five each other.

Erin: I got a high five from the pizza guys!
Vinny: Erin, is this California pizza?
Erin: California has never had it's own pizza like Chicago or New York.
Bob: Maybe California doesn't have its own identity.
Erin: You're right, California doesn't have a pizza. We adopt things from other cultures, I've been to Italy, this is focaccia with toppings. Like I said before, a snack. I thought I wanted to be the chick who liked it, guess not.

Erin: NO!
Vinny: I wouldn't even come here for a snack, take the pizza out of California Pizza Kitchen and that's what you got.
Bob: NO food baby tonight, not even for the chick.

(Bob Larson is a staff photographer with the Contra Costa Times. His column for the paper, "The Pizza Guys" appears regularly in the paper' food section. Bob also does a regular stint on the KNBR morning program. You can email Bob and Vinny at:

Related Email Addresses: 
Pizza Guys:

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