California Pizza Kitchen Gets an Overhaul: New Flagship Location at Sawgrass Mills Mall (Photos)

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Over the past few years, pizza has become quite the serious thing. Yeah, to New Yorkers and Chicagoans it has always been a contentious issue, but to the rest of the country Dominoes and Pizza Hut used to suit just fine. Not so much anymore.

It's no secret, Americans are becoming more aware of good food. Credit the Food Network, Top Chef, Gordon Ramsey, or any other number of culinary tv programs. Point is, the country is a changing and it's definitely benefiting our food. 

Well, one of the better pizza chains has cottoned on to the change in culinary mindset and has decided to jump onboard. California Pizza Kitchen is getting an overhaul and the new flagship location is opening in Sawgrass Mills Mall: today.

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California Pizza Kitchen was bought out by Golden Gate Capital in 2011 for $470 million. G.J. Hart was brought in as C.E.O. and he has been trying to refocus the brand back to its "California roots" ever since. Wondering why the flagship location of the California chain is in Sunrise, rather than, well, California? According Hart, the site was chose due to the "international market and diverse demographics of the area, plus Simon [the company that runs the mall] has always been a great partner." Although from what we hear, the location was already chosen before the company decided to enact the makeover. The chain has a strong base in south Florida with seven restaurants in the region. This will be the third location in Broward. 

The aesthetic of the new restaurant is a stark contrast to the old '80's feel of other California Pizza Kitchens. Reclaimed trestlewood planks from the Great Salt Lake railroad trestle line the entrance and patio walls of the restaurant. Inside, reclaimed unfinished oak planks salvaged from old barn-houses make up the bar and the inner walls. Even the communal tables, seating up to sixteen people, are comprised of reclaimed American white oak. Picking up on design trends, the restaurant is trying to pull off a more organic 'California' feel.

Another notable change: the menu. While the restaurant is still focusing on California-style pizza and pastas, the chefs have changed some fundamentals components of the dishes. The pizza is one of the major overhauls. The restaurant has changed the recipe and has gone back to hand-tossing the dough. The dough, which has been designed to cook at a higher temperature, to ensure a better crust, is less sweet than the previous formula. Apparently, Americans are starting to move away from the pension for all things sugary. According to Brian Sullivan, Senior Vice President of Culinary Innovation, "We've been around for a long time, but with the amount of artisan pizzerias that have been sprouting up, they were nipping at our heels a bit." In keeping with the trends of small pizza shops and even other large-scale chains, CPK is now touting higher quality ingredients, including artisanal toppings. 

Another trend the restaurant is trying to follow: farm-to-table. CPK is also trying to focus on local seasonal offerings in restaurants, as well. The first phase of such is being implemented at the Sawgrass location. Currently, the restaurant is offering local pea tendrils, beets, and lettuces in some of their dishes. Not exactly, a full farm-to-table menu, but hey, it's a bit of a start.

The bar has also been overhauled. Craft beers, wine flights, and new cocktails have been added to the menu. According to Sullivan, "Over the past few years we had fallen behind in some areas. We're reinventing who we are. Our cocktails needed some updating, so we partnered with some mixologists. Craft beer is sweeping the nations, so we got with local people to see what they want to serve. With our wine, we want to focus on boutique California wines with different varietals. California is known for creativity and we want to make CPK a bit more relevant." By jumping onboard with a bunch of current restaurants trends, this chain just might be able to do so. The real question however: can they actually stay on trend and make it last?

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