More Dairy-Free Pizza, Please

I’ve been dairy-free for over five years, and most of the time I don’t really miss “the deadly poison.” There are so many dairy-free alternatives now that there’s no reason to feel deprived. But every so often, I do. And usually it involves pizza.

You can get pizza with vegan cheese at “build your own” pizza restaurants like Blaze, Pieology, and MOD. But while those pizzas aren’t bad, they’re not the same as an old-school New York pizza, the kind with a thin but flavorful crust that leaves a powdery film on your hands after you fold a slice in half and sink your teeth into it.

To be honest, I haven’t had any true New York pizza in L.A. They say it’s something in the New York water that makes the pizza crusts (and bagels) so special, and that’s why you can’t get good pizza and bagels here. The closest you can get is at Mulberry Street Pizza, owned by Cathy Moriarty (the actress from Raging Bull), and Joe’s Pizza, a branch of the New York pizzeria on Bleecker and 6th Avenue that I used to live a block away from.

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In researching this blog post, I discovered that Joe’s Pizza in L.A. now offers Daiya vegan mozzarella on their whole pies. Finally! This is a recent development, and one that I hope more pizzerias follow suit on. (Mulberry Street, I’m talking to you.) It would be great if you could get these by the slice as well.

When I get a hankering for pizza, sometimes I don’t want to go to a “build your own” pizzeria and deal with the assembly line. Sometimes I want to go to an old-fashioned Italian restaurant with red-and-white checkered tablecloths and candles in chianti bottles. And sometimes I want to just pick up the phone and order a pie from the closest Domino’s.

I dream of a day when every pizzeria, from Domino’s to the fanciest Italian restaurant, offers dairy-free cheese as a matter of course. It’s really not that hard.

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So Delicious Dairy-Free Ice Cream Sandwiches

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The ice cream sandwiches that I used to get from the Good Humor truck still hold a nostalgic place in my heart. They were simple: vanilla ice cream between two rectangular chocolate cookies. Years ago, when I was on a month-long meditation retreat, we went on a day trip into town (the only time we left the monastery) and were given one dollar to spend on whatever we wanted. Other people bought a pint of fresh strawberries or dental floss. I bought a Blue Bunny ice cream sandwich.

A dairy-free ice cream sandwich like the classic has been surprisingly hard to find. (Tofutti Cuties are the closest thing, though they’re soy-based and I can’t eat soy.) But now So Delicious has come out with a coconut-milk ice cream sandwich that is very close to the classic Good Humor or Blue Bunny one. It’s smaller — about half the size — but that’s a good thing!

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Usually, I like my cookies crisp. But the cookies in those classic ice cream sandwiches were soft and moist, almost like cake, and their forgiving texture made them easy to eat. Have you ever tried to eat an ice cream sandwich that has hard cookies? When you bite down, the ice cream shoots out the sides. It’s frustrating and makes a mess.

The soft cookies, on the other hand, allow you to take a neat little bite.

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As for the dairy-free ice cream in the middle, it’s the right texture, but the flavor of coconut is too strong to fool you into thinking it’s real vanilla ice cream. If you like coconuts, this won’t be a problem. If you don’t, beware.

I’ve just discovered on the So Delicious website that they make an almond-milk ice cream sandwich. I suspect I’d like this one better. As soon as I can find it, I’ll try it and post my review.

Ben & Jerry’s Non-Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

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For me, this was the holy grail: Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. My favorite flavor — vanilla — with chunks of raw cookie dough throughout. This is how much I love raw cookie dough: Once, on a road trip from New Jersey to Virginia, a college friend and I devoured an entire batch of it straight from the mixing bowl. Ah, the good old days.

Ever since I gave up dairy, I’ve been on the lookout for a non-dairy version of my favorite Ben & Jerry’s flavor. So far, they’ve all been duds. Van Leeuwen’s tasted too much like coconut. Coolhaus’s, made from peas and rice, didn’t even taste like ice cream.

To my delight, Ben & Jerry’s has finally made a non-dairy CCCD! I don’t know why it took them so long, but the important thing is that it’s here.

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Upon opening the carton, I didn’t see much cookie dough. But it’s in there. And it’s delicious. Yes, you can tell the difference between the non-dairy CCCD and the regular one; the vanilla base of the non-dairy, made from almond milk, is not as rich and creamy as the dairy version. But it’s still pretty damn good. And when you hit a chunk of cookie dough, which you will do often, it makes up for a lot. The vegan cookie dough tastes just like the real thing.

Now I don’t want to be greedy, but I really think Ben & Jerry’s should bring back the Peace Pop and make it non-dairy. They’ve already got the non-dairy ice cream… just shove a stick in it and dip that thing in chocolate! That wouldn’t be so hard, would it?

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Paradis Basil & Lemon Sorbet

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It was an unseasonably warm day in the Inland Empire when my husband and I stopped in at Paradis Hand-Crafted Ice Cream, in the Disneyland-like neighborhood of Claremont Village, to see what dairy-free flavors were on tap. I’ve been to Paradis in Sherman Oaks and fell in love with their strawberry sorbet, which is so rich it tastes like actual ice cream. This time I tried the basil & lemon sorbet.

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I’ll admit this sorbet was one of the least flashy flavors in the case. Paradis is exceptional for its wide array of interesting flavors, like their “afternoon tea,” an Earl Grey-infused ice cream (sadly, the dairy kind). But after sampling several dairy-free offerings, I was most drawn to the subtle flavors in this refreshing sorbet. It’s less bitter and mouth-puckeringly sour than most lemon sorbets, and the tiny flecks of fresh basil give it just a hint of a savory, aromatic influence. It’s smooth as silk and not too sweet.

On a hot, sticky day, eating this sorbet is like resting under a big shade tree in a beautiful garden.

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Like the Paradis in Sherman Oaks, this one encourages you to sit and relax with your friends or family while enjoying your dessert. The interior is cute and cheery, and there are board games galore, including an oversized Jenga. They allowed us to bring our small dog inside (on a leash), and when they asked my husband what kind of milk he wanted in his milkshake, they didn’t flinch when he answered, “COW.”

Though he reported that his chocolate shake was excellent, he couldn’t help dipping into my basil & lemon sorbet quite a few times. That’s how you know a dairy-free dessert is a good one: It wins over even hardcore dairy lovers.

PARADIS, 1 N. Indian Hill Blvd. #101, Claremont, CA 91711

PG Tips Perfect with Dairy-Free Tea

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If you’re a tea lover, you probably know that PG Tips is the gold standard when it comes to English breakfast tea. I once had a British co-worker who always made sure the office kitchen was stocked with it. I usually like to drink organic teas, but every so often I make an exception for a box of PG Tips because it’s so delicious.

Most supermarkets in Los Angeles carry regular PG Tips, but if you want more of a selection, visit a store that sells British imports, like Ye Olde King’s Head Shoppe near the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica. I found a box of Decaf PG Tips there, and for weeks I enjoyed a guilt-free “cuppa” in the afternoons. Decaffeinated black tea is notoriously weak in flavor, but PG Tips’ decaf actually tastes just like the regular kind.

That’s when I discovered that PG Tips also makes a “Perfect with Dairy-Free” tea, specially blended for dairy alternatives. I love a splash of milk in my breakfast tea, but almond milk — my current go-to dairy alternative — is often too light to stand up to a strong black tea. So I wanted to see if PG Tips had cracked the code.

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I looked online for PG Tips Perfect with Dairy-Free and couldn’t find it available anywhere but Amazon. I ordered a box of 70 tea bags for about $7, not realizing that it was being shipped all the way from England and would take weeks to arrive. When it finally got here, I eagerly brewed a cup, letting it steep for a full five minutes, and added a splash of Almond Breeze Almondmilk Creamer, which is just slightly thicker than regular almond milk.

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I wasn’t blown away at first. I couldn’t really tell the difference between this PG Tips blend and the regular one. But I have to admit, it works. I’ve been having a cup of PG Tips Perfect with Dairy Free with this creamer every morning for the past few weeks, and I’d have to say I’m hooked.

That’s how PG Tips gets you. It sneaks into your life without making a fuss, and before you know it, you can’t live without it.

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Coolhaus Dairy-Free Cookie Dough Ice Cream

 

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I first came across Coolhaus ice cream sandwiches years ago when all they had was a food truck. Now they’ve got a scoop shop in Culver City and many, many more flavors, including a few dairy-free ones.

The night I visited Coolhaus, they had three dairy-free flavors: Mocha Marcona, Cookie Dough Lyfe, and Mango Sorbet. I sampled the mocha and wasn’t compelled to eat more. The mango sorbet… who cares? Everybody has mango sorbet. But dairy-free cookie dough — those are the magic words I long to hear.

I’ve been waiting for years for Ben & Jerry’s to come out with a non-dairy version of their chocolate chip cookie dough, and I just found out (like two minutes ago when I checked their website) that they have! I’ll be reviewing it as soon as I can get my hands on a pint. But back to Coolhaus.

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As you can see from the photo above, there aren’t many chunks of cookie dough in the Cookie Dough Lyfe (bottom right corner). But I ordered it anyway, hoping for the best. You can get straight-up scoops, but Coolhaus’s specialty is ice cream sandwiches, so I got my ginormous scoop of Cookie Dough Lyfe sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies. I was going for the full chocolate chip cookie experience.

Though this ice cream sandwich was a thing of beauty, I didn’t like it at all. The ice cream was smooth and had a nice texture, but it had no flavor. I couldn’t taste any vanilla. And the cookie dough pieces were sparse and bland as well. The chocolate chip cookies were okay but nothing special.

I ended up throwing out more than half of my $6 ice cream sandwich. That’s another thing: Why do they make them so big? You have to dislocate your jaw to take a bite out of it. So you end up eating it with a spoon, and what’s the point of a sandwich that you can’t eat without utensils?

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I look a lot happier before eating.

Later I asked the guy behind the counter what the dairy-free ice cream was made of. It didn’t taste like coconut or almond, the two usual suspects. He told me, “Peas and rice.” No wonder this stuff tastes awful! When it comes to dairy-free ice cream, the only decent choices that currently exist are coconut milk and almond milk. You cannot make an ice cream-like substance from peas and rice.

But here’s what’s great about Coolhaus: It was started by two women from Los Angeles, it’s got cute branding and packaging and, for those who can eat dairy, there are creative flavors like Fried Chicken & Waffles, Beer & Pretzels, and Passover (port and Manischewitz ice cream base with chocolate-covered matzo pieces). Back in my dairy-eating days, Coolhaus would’ve been a playground.

But now it’s just another ice cream joint I’m crossing off my list.

COOLHAUS, 8588 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232

The Stalking Horse Vegan Caesar Salad

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One of the dishes I’ve missed most since giving up dairy is Caesar salad. It’s one of those foods that is really hard to do without dairy because it relies heavily on cheese — Parmesan cheese, to be exact. You just don’t see a lot of dairy-free imitations of Parmesan. Who knows why? Maybe it’s a flavor that’s difficult to capture. This is why so much Italian food is now, sadly, off limits to me. I feel like crying every time I see spaghetti carbonara on a menu.

But The Stalking Horse, my favorite neighborhood pub, has a lot of vegan options, and one of them is a dairy-free Caesar salad. Most of the vegan dishes I’ve had there have been excellent. The Caesar salad, not so much.

I have to give it five stars for appearance, though. I mean, look at that thing! It appears to be the perfect, quintessential Caesar, dotted with fat croutons and heaped with a snowdrift of grated Parmesan… well, what looks like Parmesan. I ordered the optional white anchovy fillets, which were laid atop the salad in a criss-cross shape. I always say that how food looks is very important. If we eat with our eyes first, then my first taste of this salad was heavenly.

But my pleasure did not continue. This salad was like a guy who looks great on his Tinder profile but turns out to be boring as fuck IRL. The problem is that the fake Parm tastes nothing like Parm. There’s no sharpness, no cheesiness. It’s just… bland. If it weren’t for the toasty, crunchy croutons and the salty anchovies, this salad would’ve been a complete dud. A quarter of the way through, I started to feel like I was eating it for medicinal purposes only. You know, for the fiber.

I’d still recommend the Stalking Horse for many of their other offerings: juicy burgers (including the vegan Impossible Burger), meat pies with gorgeous flaky crusts, warm pretzels, dipping chips (thick-cut French fries) with vegan aioli. There are a surprising number of good things to eat there that are dairy-free. Just not the Caesar.

THE STALKING HORSE BREWERY & FREEHOUSE, 10543 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90064

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