The “Unchain” Chain: California Pizza Kitchen in Paramus

Disclosure: The food/beverages covered in this post were provided to Jersey Bites for free. As always, all views and opinions are the writer’s own.

California Pizza Kitchen, or CPK to its legion of fans, is transforming into a sort of CPK 2.0. Started in 1985 in Beverly Hills by two former federal prosecutors, with a vision of combining high quality ingredients with hearth-baked pizzas, the idea took off, becoming a hot spot for both business and family gatherings. Now with more than 291 locations in 30 states and 15 countries, they felt it was time for a menu and restaurant makeover.

I spent time sampling some of the new offerings at the Paramus location recently. Chatting with Jesse Eyrich, general manager, I learned how CPK is focused now on getting back to its roots. That includes ramping up the training for service staff, bringing in better quality meats, fresh herbs for cocktails, and “reimagining” the menu. This location is one of the first on the East Coast to undergo this transformation to the menu and restaurant design.

Some of the interesting items on the new menu are dishes that perhaps you wouldn’t expect to find at CPK. There’s the fire-grilled rib-eye steak, a delicious hearth-roasted halibut, served with grilled asparagus, butternut squash faro and baby kale, and the table favorite, the roasted garlic chicken. Part of the seasonally inspired menu group, the chicken came to the table bathed in a lovely, aromatic chicken stock peppered with heirloom carrots, fingerling potatoes, and mushrooms. Not being a fan of white meat chicken, I was leery of finding this dish dry and bland. But CPK chefs produced a super moist breast with wonderful crispy skin and won me over. It’s summer now, but I can see this chicken becoming a staple on their fall/winter menu.

Another new menu item is the Maine lobster flatbread. Nice chunks of gorgeous lobster mixed with chives and arugula on crispy Parmesan flatbread!

We loved the avocado club egg rolls. Crispy wontons filled with avocado, chicken, and apple wood smoked bacon – these rocked! They came with two dipping sauces, which were delicious, but I didn’t feel these little rolls needed any embellishment.

A great gluten-free option was the quinoa arugula salad, to which we added grilled shrimp. The half portion was large enough to share.

CPK+20222164902_aa02523b47_zOf course, I couldn’t resist trying a couple of the new CPK cocktails. Loved the blueberry ginger smash (Jack Daniels, agave nectar, Domaine de Canton ginger, fresh blueberries, lime, and cranberry juice) and the hand-shaken agave mojito (Bacardi Superior rum, fresh agave sour, fresh mint, lime, and organic Hawaiian sugar cane)! Let me tell you, I consider myself a mojito maven. If there’s a mojito on the menu, especially in the summer (or when I need it to be summer), I’m ordering it. And the mojito I had at the Paramus CPK was one of the best ever!
My dining companions were determined to order dessert, and I did feel it was my food blogger’s duty to at least try a dessert so I could report back to you: We ordered one of CPK’s classics, the key lime pie. This tropical beauty arrived with a garnish of house made whipped cream, on a graham cracker crust, bursting with creamy lime-y flavor. It was a tad too tart for me but my friends loved it.

Longtime fans of CPK should not fear – the much-loved BBQ chicken pizza is still on the menu (along with many of the original favorites) and probably not going anywhere.

CPK_20042399240_d5f412af70_kEyrich and I chatted about the kickstart that their service model is getting. Unlike the generic, blah, chain service you might be accustomed to (“hello, my name is _____, and I’ll be your server today”), CPK encourages their wait staff to be professional, but have fun and “be who they are.” This was evident with our server, who gave us great info about the dishes we were considering, but also provided a bit of his restaurant industry background to make it more personal. In addition, as part of CPK’s reinvention, management has installed an “idea line” that any employee can call with a suggestion for a new dish, which may end up on the menu.

The new CPK menu encourages diners to seek unique and seasonal flavor combinations with a Menu Adventure Guarantee: If a guest tries a new dish and is not satisfied, it will be replaced with his or her favorite item from the CPK menu. CPK diners with dietary restrictions can choose from vegan and vegetarian, gluten-free items as well as meal options under 650 calories. CPK also provides allergen information to those with food sensitivities.

This all adds up to why the CEO has taken to calling CPK “the unchain chain.” He may be on to something.

California Pizza Kitchen
Westfield Garden State Plaza
1 Garden State Plaza, #1160
(Near Neiman Marcus)

11:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday
11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. Friday, Saturday
12:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday
(Hours subject to change)

Online ordering and curbside pick-up also available.