12 Original California Pizza Kitchen Items No Longer On The Menu

You don't see many lawyers-turned-restaurateurs out there, but that's the story of the founders of California Pizza Kitchen. Larry Flax and Rick Rosenfield were both federal prosecutors before opening the first CPK location in Beverly Hills in 1985. Over the decades, that single pizzeria has grown into an international chain with hundreds of locations.

We're turning back time and transporting you to the very first CPK location in 1985. Helping us on this journey is Chef Paul Pszybylski, the company's senior director of culinary development, who answered our questions in an exclusive interview. We also got to look at the chain's original pizza menu to see what has changed and what has stayed the same over the chain's nearly 40-year history.

As it turns out, most dishes from the chain's first menu are gone now. The restaurant's famous invention, barbecue chicken pizza, has been on the menu since day one, but not every opening-day dish was a hit. Despite this, CPK's founding mission has never wavered. Per Pszybylski, "Rick and Larry saw an opportunity to showcase all the innovation that was happening in the dining scene in LA at the time and also create something completely new with California-inspired pizzas. New York and Chicago had their own styles of pizza, so why couldn't California?" We'd say the company has succeeded at making Cali-style pizza a thing. Here's a look at some dishes from CPK's earliest days.

1. Spicy marinated shrimp pizza with lime

Shellfish and pizza aren't a combination we see all that often (except in New Haven clam pizza, of course), so this marinated shrimp pie really stands out from the pack. The current pizza menu has no seafood, not even the classic (and controversial) anchovies.

But the shrimp isn't the only topping that sets this pizza apart. It also comes with a long list of veggies, including onions, zucchini, tomatoes, and bell peppers. Zucchini's another topping we don't find at many standard pizzerias, but it's still served at California Pizza Kitchen on pies like the California Veggie.

The finishing touches may be the most special part of the marinated shrimp pizza. The pie is seasoned with fresh mint and lime juice. While neither of these ingredients is traditional on pizza (we'd never think to pair lime juice with the mozzarella that came standard on every CPK pizza in 1985), we can see how they'd complement the shrimp beautifully. The lime and mint would bring acidity and herbal freshness to the dish overall, lending the pizza a sort of Thai or Vietnamese flavor profile. At $8.75, which is $24.73 in 2023, this pizza was tied with a couple of others as the most expensive served by California Pizza Kitchen in 1985.

2. Rabbit sausage pizza

California Pizza Kitchen continues to serve inventive pizzas unlike anything else on the market, but the chain does seem to have become less experimental with its proteins over the years. These days, the meat pizza topping are all made with the standard three American animals: chicken, pork, and beef.

This wasn't the case in 1985 when original chef Ed LaDou and founders Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax seemed intent on putting any animal they could think of on top of a pizza. Perhaps the most interesting alternative protein on California Pizza Kitchen's original menu was rabbit sausage, which came served on a pizza with fresh spinach and roasted garlic. The rabbit sausage pizza also had sun-dried tomatoes, which would have been a fairly new and trendy ingredient for American consumers in 1985.

While we think the combination of toppings on this pizza sounds great, it didn't last long on the menu. Very few original pizzas are still around today, and Pszybylski told us the rabbit sausage pizza was one of the first to go. It took some practice for the chain to find the right balance between tradition and experimentation, and rabbit sausage was apparently a bridge too far.

3. Calzones

Today, while you can get a variety of fun toppings on your pizza from CPK (or choose an extra-thin or gluten-free cauliflower crust), you can't play with your pizza's shape. Every pie is a classic flat, circular pizza. Back in the day, however, you could order a calzone if you preferred your pizzas in pocket form.

Calzones were just one option on the extensive menu at the first California Pizza Kitchen. According to Pszybylski, "The earlier menus were even bigger than our current menu." And even though calzones are no longer a part of the chain's offerings, they counted among Pszybylski's favorites. Specifically, he was a fan of the moo shu pork calzone. Since moo shu pork is typically served in crepes already, it seems natural that it would taste good in a different type of starchy wrapping — in this case, pizza dough.

And while the moo shu pork calzone is now just another member of CPK's extensive recipe graveyard, the chain continues to sell pizzas that blend Italian and Asian flavors. The Thai chicken goes all-in on Asian fusion, with a peanut sauce base, melty mozzarella, and a salad of bean sprouts, carrots, scallions, and cilantro that gets applied after its trip through the oven.

4. Smoked gouda and Gruyère pizza

A cheese pizza is typically the plain option at any pizzeria, perfect for children and other picky eaters. Despite the company's preference for interesting toppings, California Pizza Kitchen offers a traditional cheese pizza topped simply with tomato sauce and two types of mozzarella. While we're sure this option pleases families who struggle to find restaurants that parents and kids will all enjoy, it wasn't on the 1985 CPK menu. The restaurant did offer a cheese pizza back then, but it was anything but basic.

In addition to standard, relatively neutral-flavored mozzarella, this pizza was topped with two other kinds of cheese that packed a ton of personality: smoked gouda and Gruyère. The gouda added a ton of smokiness as well as creamy richness, but we bet the Gruyère asserted itself even more. Gruyère is a type of Swiss cheese, but it's nothing like the bland stuff with giant holes from the deli counter. Instead, unlike any other cheese type, it has a robust earthy, nutty flavor. It also melts beautifully without separating because of its high-fat content, making it a great pizza cheese when you want something different from regular old mozzarella.

The original CPK menu also had a cheese pizza with mozzarella, garlic, and basil, which sounds very similar to the chain's current Margherita pie. But for our money, we'd have loved to try the funkier smoked gouda and Gruyère.

5. Pancetta and mustard green pizza

The original pizza lineup at CPK played with some challenging adult flavors, and this pie is no exception. Mustard greens are a love-it-or-hate-it type of food. They're the leaves of the same plant whose seeds are used to make brown mustard, and just like that condiment, they can have a sharp, peppery, bitter kick. However, when prepared properly and combined with the right seasonings, they can be quite delicious, and they're super healthy, with lots of vitamins C and K (via Healthline).

In the South, mustard greens are often braised together with some kind of cured pork, typically a ham hock. This pizza plays with a similar flavor profile by pairing the mustard greens with pancetta, a type of unsmoked Italian bacon. The fat and smoke from the pancetta would help mellow out the bite of the mustard greens a bit. However, the chefs at CPK clearly wanted this pizza to have a serious bite, as they also included cracked black pepper and sliced red onion in the recipe.

6. Ginger black bean angel hair pasta

In addition to pizzas and calzones, early California Pizza Kitchen menus also featured salads and pasta, a tradition that has continued to the present day. Pszybylski told us that while the old mustard-tarragon fettuccine pasta was one of his favorites, a different pasta was an early best-seller: the ginger black bean angel hair pasta.

This dish has long since disappeared from the chain's menu, but an ingredient list for it lives on in a cookbook written by California Pizza Kitchen's founders. It looks more like a Chinese noodle dish than anything in an Italian restaurant; the sauce is made with scallions, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger. The black beans mentioned in the dish's name aren't the type you can find in the canned vegetable aisle of your local grocery store. Instead, they're Chinese fermented black beans, a kind of salted, dried soybean. The beans would add a ton of umami to the dish. The black bean angel hair is gone but not forgotten; just a couple of years ago, a customer commented on a CPK Facebook post wishing they could still taste the dish.

If you still want to eat Asian toppings on Italian noodles, CPK has you covered. The chain's present-day pasta menu includes a kung pao spaghetti made with hot chiles, peanuts, scallions, and garlic alongside more traditional fare like spaghetti bolognese and chicken piccata. The longtime favorite chicken tequila fettuccine is still on the menu too.

7. Lamb sausage and marinated grape leaves pizza

We've arrived at another critter turned into a pizza topping on CPK's 1985 menu: lamb. This pie seems to be an attempt to put an entire Mediterranean-style dinner on top of a pizza. Marinated or pickled grape leaves are a classic part of Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine; they're typically stuffed with rice and sometimes meat to make dolmas. The original CPK menu makes no mention of the grape leaves being stuffed, so we'll assume that they were just cut up and added to the pizza by themselves. However, we bet the lamb sausage they were paired with would add a little bit of a meat-stuffed dolma flavor to the pizza.

Pimiento and goat cheese rounded out this pizza's list of toppings. The pimiento would contribute some roasted red pepper sweetness and the creamy goat cheese would lend some zing to the cheese blend. Goat cheese also goes with the Mediterranean flavor of all the other toppings. If you're looking to recreate this pizza today, you'll have to do it at home. The only topping from this pie still available at CPK is goat cheese.

8. Gorgonzola, pine nut, and radicchio pizza

Another example of early CPK's penchant for bold, divisive flavors is the gorgonzola, pine nut, and radicchio pie. If you think mustard greens are too bitter, you really won't like radicchio, an Italian purple leafy vegetable with a seriously sharp, bitter kick. That bitterness remains even when you cook it, though it brings some sweet flavors out of the vegetable.

On this pizza, the radicchio is matched up with another powerful ingredient: gorgonzola. This Italian blue cheese is often mild and creamy compared to other types of blue cheese (especially when it's eaten before it has spent too much time aging), but it's still full of the funky flavor that blue cheese haters despise. Like Gruyère, gorgonzola melts smoothly, so it's another great pizza cheese. The gorgonzola's creaminess would help tone down the bitterness of the radicchio, and the pine nuts would reinforce the nutty flavors already present in both toppings. This may not be a traditional Italian pizza, but these ingredients would transport you to Italy, nevertheless.

9. Grilled chicken or duck sausage

California Pizza Kitchen wasn't Rick Rosenfield and Larry Flax's only restaurant idea. As Pszybylski told us, "They also created a concept restaurant called L.A. Food Show. The menu, which was basically everything but pizza, was inspired by what Rick and Larry wanted to eat and what food trends they were seeing." In addition to being standalone restaurants, the two L.A. Food Show locations were also used as labs to help come up with new recipes for CPK. While pizza is the food that gets namechecked in the business name, the team behind CPK has always devoted a lot of energy to non-pizza items like pasta as well.

Back in 1985, if you wanted to add some extra protein to your pasta, you could choose between grilled duck sausage, grilled chicken sausage, and chicken breast. The duck sausage would have had a gamey flavor that we could see working quite nicely with tomato-based sauces. Pszybylski said that duck showed up on multiple menu items in the restaurant's early days, including a duck sausage pizza that used to be a best seller. The Peking duck pizza, however, was dropped from the menu rather quickly, despite being a personal favorite of Pszybylski's.

10. Lamb sausage and wild mushroom pizza

Lamb sausage is the only protein that shows up twice in the original 1985 CPK menu; Ed LaDou must have been a big fan. But don't think this pizza would be too similar to the lamb sausage and marinated grape leaves one — the other toppings on this pie take it to a completely different place.

While the grape leaf pizza leaned toward Mediterranean flavors, the lamb and wild mushroom pizza seems like it would taste very French. The sausage and mushrooms would combine to create a big punch of umami, while roasted red peppers would bring some sweetness. The thing that made it really French, however, was the sauce. Instead of a typical tomato sauce, this pizza was spread with Madeira mustard sauce. Although this sauce's main ingredient, Madeira wine, is named after the Portuguese island where it is produced, Madeira sauce has a centuries-long history in French cuisine. It's typically made by reducing Madeira, mixing it with demi-glace, and mounting it with butter. Madeira sauce is a classic accompaniment for mushrooms and versions with mustard work well with red meat, too, so this nontraditional pizza sauce sounds like it was the perfect choice to complement the other toppings on this pie.

11. Zucchini and pesto pizza

When we think of California cuisine, we expect a lot of fresh vegetables, so it makes sense that CPK has served veggie-forward pizzas since the very beginning. The zucchini pizza in 1985 was relatively simple, with tomatoes being the only other vegetable on the pie. The twists came from the cheese and sauce used on the pizza. The Gruyère brought nutty, Swiss/French-influenced flavor, while the pesto screams Italy. Gruyère and pesto isn't a combination you see every day, but if the founders of the restaurant thought the pairing worked, we trust them.

While CPK has become a little more conservative in its meat selection over time, its current veggie pizza is way wilder than the zucchini and pesto from 1985. The California veggie somehow manages to cram broccolini, mushrooms, zucchini, corn, red onions, and cherry tomatoes all on the same pie. You can add goat cheese if you really want to take it over the top.

12. Roasted garlic, shallot, and onion pizza

This would not have been the pizza to eat on a business lunch or a first date. Onions on pizza are already pungent on their own, and this pie tripled down on the alliums by adding garlic and shallots to the mix. That's a lot of onions and garlic, but the sharpness of those ingredients was cut by roasting them, which would neutralize their bite a bit and add a lot of sweetness. The result would be a sweet, savory, and complex vegetarian pizza.

On top of the allium mix, this pizza came with fresh oregano and smoked gouda. The combination of oregano and garlic brings to mind pizza marinara, a classic Neapolitan pizza variety, but a traditional marinara uses raw rather than cooked garlic, giving it a sharper taste. Marinara pizza also doesn't have any cheese, let alone two kinds of cheese, as this original CPK menu item did. The roasted garlic pizza also had smoked gouda on top of the mozzarella, making it rich and creamy, perfect with the sweetness from the roasted alliums.