Gluten-Free in D.C.

Photo courtesy of
‘Gluten Free Bread’
courtesy of ‘@joefoodie’

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘DSC_0058′
courtesy of ‘AskDaveTaylor’

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘Purple and Silver Wedding Cupcakes’
courtesy of ‘clevercupcakes’

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.

Ashley Messick

Ashley is a born and bred Washingtonian who left for college but came running back to the District as fast as her little legs could carry her. By day she is a Capitol Hill brat, but by night she is a lean, mean, eating machine. It’s her goal in life to steal Anthony Bourdain’s job…by whatever means necessary. Contact her at Ashley (at) welovedc (dot) com or follow her on Twitter.

19 thoughts on “Gluten-Free in D.C.

  1. What a useful post! I live with someone who has recently gone gluten-free and it’s a daily struggle. I think these suggestions will make it a little easier. Thanks! :)

  2. good quick little write up. yeah the cross contamination issue is the biggest issue, for those with gluten intolerance it ends up more as an inconvenience as apposed those of us with celiac where the gluten ends up being a full blown poison basically.

    its great there really have been a lot more people/companies paying attention to this (there is an estimated 20 million gluten intolerant people in the US and around 2+ million with celiac, most undiagnosed) however many claim to try and be gluten free then add a nice footnote of “we use the same grill that we use for everything else too”… yeah, no, not gona work.

    it always comes down to what ends up seeming safe to you as an individual and researching/checking everything you eat… but its 100 times more easy when the companies are actively trying to help you.

    saving this for the next time i travel to the DC area :)

  3. Frosting A Cupcakery in Chevy Chase has amazing gluten free chocolate and chocolate with cream cheese cupcakes. Check them out!

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  7. I went to Potenza last night with an out of town family member that is gluten free. Aparently they only carry the gluten free pasta some of the time. They were really nice about making a mushroom rissoto that was off the menu, but still, it was super embarassing since I had taken us out of the way gotten hopes up for the corn pasta.

  8. I was pleasantly surprised to find out recently that the Melting Pot (there are a couple around town – we were at the one in Dupont Circle) also offers a gluten-free menu. Just ask!

  9. Lindsay, so sorry to hear about that. I just confirmed with the restaurant and they do usually have their gluten-free pastas available every day. They said that the night you were there must have just been a fluke. Still, so sorry about that bad luck!

  10. I’ve been gluten free for 5 years, but I’m really stoked about this post, cause I didn’t know about the pasta options! Also, a number of high-end restaurants (Cityzen and Restaurant Eve, as 2 examples I’ve personally experienced) will bake you gluten free breads and desserts if you call ahead and let them know your dietary issue.

  11. Filomena’s Restaurant in Georgetown also offers gluten free pasta. Having lived in Italy, and discovering my gluten intolerance while there, I can say even with the gluten free pasta version their food is the closest thing I have eaten to true Italian food in D.C. They also had tips for which sauces were gluten free, and accommodated me during restaurant week. I highly recommend this place.

  12. Open City in Woodley Park also makes a GF pizza and it is GOOD! I live in the area and they have a new GF menu and Wednesday GF happy hour for pizza and GF beer…Redbridge I think.

    This is a great post. The awareness seems to really be picking up.

  13. check out the list of GF friendly restaurants maintained by the Washington Area Celiac Sprue Support Group- on our page under “members favorites”. Members also have access to our database of restaurants with gf friendly options, which currently has over 800 listings

  14. Its great to see more and more places offering true GF menus.Cross contamination has always been my biggest issue as I have a terrible wheat allergy. Good succinct post about an important subject (for me anyway)

  15. Kudos to you for this article. I found out I was gluten intolerant about a year ago and it felt like a death sentence. Since then, I’ve discovered that most restaurants are happy to make something gluten free off the menu for me. Also, the more people that request gluten free items, the more likely it is that restaurants will turn some of there more popular items into gluten free treats.

    I agree with some of your other commenters – it’s much easier to be gluten intolerant than to suffer from full blown celiac. Those unfortunate souls really have a challenging time due to cross contamination.

  16. It’s great to see ‘soy’ being acknowledged as an allergen that people need to be free of. I say that as I have problems with soy and am coeliac and here in Oz, things can get very difficult like getting pizza (the major GF pizza base supplier to outlets and restaurants in Oz uses soy flour as the primary ingredient, DARN!) or other GF bread based products.