There are a slew of dietary restrictions out there I would be pretty upset to have to deal with. Diabetic? Give me my chocolate. Lactose intolerant? I’ll die before I give up cheese. But having to turn gluten-free might be my version of a slow, painful death. No pasta? No bread? No beer? What am I supposed to eat? Lettuce and ice cubes? Well, that’s what I thought before I delved in to the seedy underbelly of the D.C. gluten-free world and found that, well, it might not be as bad as I thought.
Chefs around town seem to have two approaches to dealing with the gluten-intolerant. The first, and most popular, is the aggregated menu. It may seem a little bit like a cop out for restaurants to just group together their current menu items that are compliant with a gluten-free diet instead of coming up with new ideas, but as most celiac disease sufferers will tell you, it takes a lot of the guessing out of ordering when you are confident the dishes don’t have any hidden landmines in them. Leading the way in this department is Firefly. In fact, they were just commended by the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness for finishing an extensive training and education program on gluten issues. They are taking that distinction seriously and color coding each of their menus to highlight the gluten-free dishes. I appreciate that since you practically don’t have to read the menu to make your selection. You’ll also find clear gluten-free classifications on the menus at Zengo, Peacock Cafe, P.F. Chang’s and Austin Grill.
There’s another restaurant group in the area making strides in this department – Jose Andres’ ThinkFoodGroup. At Oyamel and Zaytinya, there are separate menus available to guests that group together all the gluten-free dishes. By virtue of their cuisines, these two restaurants offer tons of gluten-free options including my very favorite tinga poblana tacos at Oyamel. Cafe Atlantico takes things one step further by listing the allergy restrictions on all their menu items. We are talking dairy, soy, peanut, tree nut, shellfish, egg AND gluten allergies. You and all your friends in your allergy support group will be able to eat there worry-free.
But I’m sure there are times when you miss those gluten-filled foods. Pasta. Pizza. The pasta in a bread bowl from Domino’s. Can’t help you with the pasta/bread bowl thing, but there are some restaurants that are looking out for your carb craving interests. New kid in town Carmine’s has a surprisingly extensive (for an Italian joint) menu, featuring not only the standard menu items that already are gluten-free, but also their gluten-free pasta, made from cornmeal. Potenza also has you covered when it comes to pasta. They’ve got two kinds (spaghetti and fusilli) made from corn that are available to be subbed in to any of their pasta-based dishes on the menu. And there are alternatives for pizza too. Rustico, Pete’s Apizza, Z Pizza, and Comet Ping Pong all have a gluten-free crust option on their menu.
I know there are plenty of other things the gluten-averse must miss. Cupcakes? Hello Cupcake, Buzz Bakery (they’ve got brownies too!) and Curbside Cupcakes have got you covered. Croutons? The salads at Legal Seafood have what you’re looking for. Beer? Both Rustico and Birch & Barley have about six gluten-free brew offerings. Cake? Try Cakelove, of course. Chocolate chip cookies? Head to Sticky Fingers Bakery.
After my research (and extensive Googling) I’ve learned that for those with severe wheat allergies, there is always the issue of cross-contaminated cooking utensils and oils in kitchens that most gluten-free menus do not take in to account. Though Ceiba does not have a daily printed gluten-free menu, they do offer four or five dishes (think Jamaican spiced salmon, Brazilian seafood stew and a seafood Cobb salad) at both lunch and dinner that fit the bill. They also guarantee that everything is made-to-order and that there is never a trace of gluten or soy that sneaks its way in to the meal.
So what have I learned from all this? Though I probably wouldn’t choose to go gluten-free, there are plenty of options out there for folks that are. And its not just lettuce and ice cubes.