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Felix Adamo / The Californian

Although other fast-cook pizza places are on tap, Red Brick Pizza was the first joint in town to use the 1,000-degree, gas-fired red stone oven.

Sometimes it helps to be ahead of a trend. As Boss Pizza downtown serves quick pizzas and a national chain, Pizza Rev, prepares to open in the southwest, Red Brick Pizza has been popping them out for seven years and is still going strong.

Red Brick, in the northwest, was the first joint in town to use the 1,000-degree, gas-fired red stone oven, which the company website brags can cook a pizza in three minutes. Reality check: In my visits over the years it doesn't get to the table that fast, so don't expect super-fast dining as at Boss. (For example, at a recent lunch visit to Red Brick, it was 17 minutes from ordering until the pizza was brought to the table.)

Red Brick has four specialties: chopped salads, pizzas, gelato and Fhazani sandwiches. The emphasis on food quality is very Chipotle-like: fresh ingredients, no MSG, olive oil on practically everything.

Let's talk salads. They make their own croutons. Point for that. Olive oil and trans fat-free dressings. Another point. We ordered a small chopped Greek ($4.95), which featured cucumbers, romaine lettuce, artichoke hearts, real Kalamata olives, feta cheese and a respectable Greek dressing. They had ham on it. Why? Must meat be on every salad? (The regular Caesar and chopped garden are animal protein free.)

There are 18 "gourmet favorites," or you can custom order your pizza, choosing from five crusts (sundried tomato basil is special). On our first visit we chose the garlic chicken ($13.95 for a medium), which I love because it has four cheeses (Parmesan, white cheddar, mozzarella and provolone), lots of garlic, chicken breast chunks and fresh tomatoes on top.

The crust is dark brown on the bottom, has the unmistakable taste of fresh-made dough and the toppings are a bit thicker than at Boss Pizza. One of my many bosses here at the paper recently returned from Italy and asked where he could get the spare style of pizza he had enjoyed in that country. I thought of Red Brick. Most Americans want a robust portion of toppings, but they do a nice job balancing it here between what the big chains offer and what the Italians like.

On another visit, I ordered the small bacon cheeseburger pizza ($7.49) and a small tiramisu gelato ($3.25). The pizza seemed to have more bacon than ground beef, but I doubt anyone would complain. We were down to three cheeses (no Parmesan, but you can add that yourself), and the purple onions were plentiful. The gelato is made with hormone-free milk, and you can count on at least eight flavors in the case near the cash register.

On to the sandwiches, which are made with a fresh-baked flatbread and stuffed with a great portion of chilled vegetables (lettuce, tomato and cucumber). We sampled the club ($7.50), made with chicken, bacon, ham, mozzarella, red sauce, ranch dressing and pesto. On paper it looks like sauce confusion, too much noise, craziness.

But every bite seems different, and though my companion had some intentions of saving half of it for lunch the next day, we sacrificed it to the Hunger Gods and saved it from a night in the take-home box.

Value alert: For lunch, they have three $5 specials available 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday: small, one-topping pizza, a medium salad or a Fhazani sandwich. Such a deal.

The absolute must order here, especially if you like spicy food, is the fire-roasted toast ($3.95), a thin and crisp crust topped with roasted garlic, olive oil, Parmesan cheese, herbs and a spicy chipotle sauce. It's better than the regular breadsticks. And I should mention that Red Brick has been all over the gluten-free kick, offering that option in pizzas, promoted by a big sign near the door.

Service was decent; our night visit featured a young man with glasses who looked like he just loved his job and was so welcoming. I began to wonder if he owned the place. He acted like he truly cared about our business, and that's refreshing.