Most restaurants offer plenty of items on their menus that are gluten-free, whether they know it or not. But for people with celiac disease, allergies or just a mild intolerance to gluten, eating out can be a constant, annoying struggle.
Gluten is a combination of proteins found in products made with wheat and other grains, and is almost diabolically pervasive. It not only appears in obvious foodstuffs like bread, pasta and cereal but can pop up in store-bought sauces and other items where gluten based derivatives are used as stabilizers. As a result people who eat a gluten-free diet tend to inspect labels very carefully.
When eating at a restaurant, the diner is removed from the process of purchasing and preparing food. He must rely on the clarity of the menu and the knowledge of the owners, cooks and waitstaff. When information is lacking on a restaurant menu, celiacs typically engage in a lot of dialog with the waitstaff to determine what is safe to eat. More and more, however, restaurants are catering to the dietary requirements of this crowd.
Jack Gage American Tavern on Main street just south of The Plaza offers sixteen items on its menu that are entirely gluten free, and many more that can be made gluten-free with minor adjustments. “The only reason our egg dishes aren’t gluten free is because we serve an English muffin on the plate,” said Chef Richard McPeake. One of McPeake’s cooks teaches classes on gluten-free cooking and serves as a sort of resident expert on the subject. Together they compile a listing of menu items that fit the gluten-free bill.
While gluten-free items do not have their own section of the menu, the servers at Jack Gage will be able to help identify appropriate dishes. “I keep a menu posted each time it changes, with highlighted items that are gluten free or can be made gluten free,” said McPeake, “this way the servers know.” Many of their best-sellers, including the Wood-fired rotisserie chicken and the pan-seared scallops with portabella mushrooms are gluten free right out of the box.
McCoy’s also has a gluten-free menu that is quite sizable. The offerings include side dishes, soups, salads and even a few beer and cider options. For a $1 upcharge you can also order one of the burgers on a gluten-free bun or a pizza with a gluten-free crust.
Speaking of which, Waldo Pizza is the go-to spot for gluten-free crusts, which are provided by local bakery Olivia’s Oven. Waldo’s sizable gluten-free menu (PDF) also includes sandwiches, wings, garlic cheese bread and a half-dozen desserts. Five kinds of gluten-free beer are available for carry-out.
Other restaurants advertise gluten-free dishes even more prominently. These dishes have gained a lot of traction in vegetarian and vegan restaurants, probably because these places are accustomed to bringing peace of mind to people with dietary restrictions. A small group of health-conscious people–many of whom may already be vegetarian–also subscribe to low/no-gluten diets out of choice, not medical necessity which makes it a natural fit.
Naturally our local places are no exception. FÜD not only tells you whether or not a dish is gluten free, but why it is or isn’t gluten free. This way you can identify what ingredients need to be omitted from a dish if you decide to order it. Those who want to avoid sugar, nuts, salt or soy can do so easily at the new-ish little westside spot, as can those who want to eat entirely raw, local or organic. FÜD’s menu is the ultimate exercise in transparency; you will know exactly what you are eating. Similarly, Eden Alley on the Plaza reveals the components of almost every prepared ingredient, such as their poppy seed dressing, falafel patties or the tomato basil coulee.
Eating a gluten-free diet out on the town is not difficult if you have complete information and a little bit of cooperation from restaurants. Providing assurance to these customers is a smart business move and saves them the tiring ordeal of interrogating servers and chefs.
Other places for gluten-free food:
BRGR Kitchen + Bar has gluten free buns available. Lawrence’s Local Burger offers a ton of gluten-free dishes, apart from burgers. With four locations in our area, Ingredient is also very sensitive to gluten-free diets and has a specific menu (PDF) available. If it’s just a muffin or pastry you crave, stop by One More Cup in Waldo who serve products from Olivia’s Oven. Or sample a homemade gluten free cupcake from Le Petit Rouge inside Reading Reptile in Brookside – call ahead to make sure they are available.
originally published on KCFreePress.com, 2010