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Flour power

Bobby O’s tosses pizzas for all dietary demographics

A signature pie from Bobby O’s featuring pepperoni, mushroom, and pesto.

Greg Bollinger

For the millions of Americans who experience digestive malaise or autoimmune reactions after consuming wheat, gluten-free substitutes for traditional foods have done well to tame our cravings for ordinary, wheat-based products. While the market has provided passable gluten-free sliced breads, crackers, cereals, and English muffins, a soft, delicate pizza crust with an elastic snap is one of those delicacies that most gluten-intolerant diners agree hasn’t yet been mimicked with anything close to mastery.

Bobby Oertel, founder and owner of Bobby O’s Slices and Pies, wants to change this. Oertel doesn’t himself suffer from celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, but he has family members who do and understands the severity of the problem. “I knew the only way to do [gluten-free] right was to have a separate kitchen,” he said of the pizzeria’s two cooking areas. The utensils, ovens, and ingredients from each kitchen are isolated from one another by multiple walls and a sizable dining room, eliminating the threat of cross contamination.

For Tulsans whose gullets don’t get along with wheat, rye, or barley, a pizzeria like Bobby O’s is a godsend. Many Asian and Mexican restaurants can nimbly maneuver around wheat-based ingredients, but American eateries and pizzerias have struggled to fill in the blanks between salad and steak for GF diners. And in defense of the purists, it’s understandable why pizzerias are arriving late: well-made dough is a thing of beauty, an ancient product that balances a few simple ingredients in absolute harmony. Shift the foundation and the entire chemical structure collapses—literally.

Made from a proprietary blend of gluten-free flours, honey, coconut milk powder, and a few mystery ingredients, Bobby O’s GF dough succeeds where most others fail. While producing an alternative crust with the stretchiness of a traditional dough is still an industry pipe dream, Oertel’s commitment to freshness is what makes his GF crust a cut above the rest. True, Bobby O’s GF crust doesn’t have the stretchiness of its springier cousin, but this hardly detracts from the pizza’s holistic ability to please.

Bobby O’s traditional dough is used to make NY-style slices ($5), 18- and 24-inch pies ($18 and $28, respectively), calzones ($8.50), and thick pies—a rectangular, Sicilian-style pizza featuring a focaccia-like crust ($20). In a refreshing move, the gluten-free dough can also be ordered by the slice ($7.50) or in a 14-inch pie ($18). Made in-house daily, both doughs rise to the occasion—no surprise given that Oertel’s pizza slinging roots began over 25 years ago with the Kansas-based chain Papa Keno’s.

Too many GF pizza crusts—whether made from alternative flours or pureed cauliflower—are factory produced, arriving at the point of sale pre-baked and frozen to improve shelf life. These premade crusts suffer from the effects of processing, storage, and transport, but Bobby O’s crust never deflates into a listless cracker. The freshness of the dough helps the crust stay light, soft, and airy when baked, avoiding the common pitfalls of turning dense, soggy, or gritty.

In addition to being allergy aware, Bobby O’s is also attuned to the concerns of vegans and vegetarians. The menu boasts a veritable bonanza of produce, with all the standard fare plus some unconventional options like zucchini, sunflower seeds, caramelized onions, and the Roasted Root 66 blend—a combination of red and golden beets, turnips, parsnips, and carrots that sneaks in some additional nutrition while paying homage to the restaurant’s location on the historic highway.

An industrial designer by trade, Oertel conceptualized Bobby O’s to accommodate sensitive diners while retaining as much of the building’s original façade and style, which previously housed the Speedometer Service Company. Efforts have also been made to reduce consumer waste by eliminating single-use items like plastic cups, straws, and plates, and even the to-go boxes are recyclable. So in addition to being allergy friendly, Oertel is dedicated to supporting environmentally friendly practices.

But any review of Bobby O’s that depicts the eatery as exclusively catering to the food-allergic, the animal-averse, and the tree-hugging would be misleading. With nine different meats and as many cheeses to choose from, the possibilities for omnivores are manifold. Choose from signature pies, like the Swamp Thang (Andouille sausage, spicy pepper mix, pepper rings, caramelized onions) and the Roasted Root 66 (root medley, caramelized onions, Italian sausage, feta cheese), or dream up your own creation.

And how does the original crust stack up against traditional NY-style? Tensile tests showed that the thin, bubbled crust had a crackly exterior and a stretchy interior with the right amount of resistance and spring. The bake was evenly brown with lots of cavernous bulges, and the mild yeastiness provided just enough aroma and flavor to balance the subtle sweetness of the wheat starch. In short, it was sublime.

Bobby O’s did not—like most pizzerias—leave this gluten-free diner feeling burned. I was not left with nostalgia for my amber-waving days, and my stomach was not left an empty and angry beast. Quite the opposite. In truth, there was nothing to be beastly about at all.

Bobby O’s is currently open for business but will host its grand opening party on Pi Day, March 14. The restaurant will also be hosting a blood drive on Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14). Those who donate will receive a free slice of pie.

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