When Gabe Hertz was growing up, he liked to sit in the kitchen watching his mother and grandmother cook, using 50-year-old family recipes from Hungary. His mother, Maria, was a professional caterer as well as a skilled home cook.
Never did he imagine that many years later, he would be adapting some of her recipes so that his daughter, Renee, could enjoy them too. Diagnosed three years ago with severe and life-threatening food allergies triggered by gluten, Renee had to be carefully monitored. She has celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine) and eosinophilic esophagitis (an allergic inflammatory condition of the esophagus). Taking her out to dinner at restaurants with the family was almost impossible.
Hertz decided to do something about that and set out to make gluten-free dishes at home in Southfield. “We were guinea pigs,” says his wife, Wendy.
“I spent a lot of time and made a lot of mistakes,” Hertz admits, but he was able to come up with enough adapted recipes to open his own restaurant — a place where he knew Renee and others with food allergies would be safe no matter what they ordered.
Renee’s Gourmet Pizzeria opened in mid-February in Troy’s Cambridge Corners shopping strip, offering gluten- and nut-free fare, principally an array of specialty pizzas and calzones, salads including Greek and antipasto, and desserts such as cookies and cinnamon sticks.
There’s no Hungarian goulash on the menu, but there is goulash soup, made with chicken and gluten-free dumplings. No products containing gluten (or nuts) are involved at all. In fact, when a customer arrived carrying a wrapped sandwich from the sub shop next door, she was politely asked to put it in her car, for fear of cross-contamination.
Hertz and his partners Gil Stebbins and Tim Karapici (who presides over the brick pizza oven) have already attracted a following, not all of who need gluten-free fare.
The place has a family feeling. Hertz left his previous company, Relax the Back, to run Renee’s full time, helped out occasionally by his wife in the front of the house and his 18-year-old son, Donovan, who gets the not-so-glamorous job of dish washing as well as delivery duties when not at college.
The titular Renee, doing well now at 14, stops by regularly. Her favorite pizzas? The Veggie Lovers, topped with spinach, broccoli, green peppers, and mushrooms; and the Greek, a no-sauce pizza with feta cheese, Kalamata olives, garlic, and spinach. No pepperoni for this teenager.
Renee’s Gourmet Pizzeria, 1937 W. Maple Rd., Troy; 248-280-7800; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat. reneesgourmetpizzeria.net