Trendy and suburban may seem as unlikely a pairing as chocolate and French fries, but in the unique neighborhoods surrounding the Windy City, several enterprising restaurants are setting the rather stylish standard in the popular new trend toward gluten-free dining.
As the number of Celiac Disease patients unable to tolerate a certain protein in wheat, barley, and rye has risen, the knowledge of locally owned—and even franchised—restaurants has increased, while the length of those once rare gluten-free menus hidden among the chefs’ “normal” offerings has grown . . . sometimes even to include potatoes crisped in a dedicated fryer and molten chocolate cake baked without the flour.
If, like most Celiac Disease patients, you’re nervous about gluten-free dining options in an unfamiliar locale, stock up on staples and snacks at the western suburbs’ only Gluten-Free Grocery (1922 South Mannheim Road, Westchester; 708/483-8785; www.gfgrocery.com). This two-year-old store, owned and operated by a Celiac Disease patient, offers a variety of flour-substitute mixes combined by area manufacturers and an abundance of frozen pies, brownies, and cookies prepared by local bakeries, leaving you nervous about only the calorie count. (Note: Unfortunately, the Gluten-Free Grocery closed at the end of 2010. Just in time, however, at least one local Whole Foods has expanded its gluten-free groceries . . . now including delightful individual gluten-free servings of Lincoln Park’s Swirlz Cupcakes.)
When so near a city with rich Italian heritage like Chicago’s, almost anyone on a gluten-free diet would crave a deep bowl of forbidden pasta. Fortunately, the acceptable options are myriad on the recently expanded gluten-free menu at the casual Biaggi’s Ristoranti Italiano (2752 Showplace Drive, Naperville; 630/428-8500; www.biaggis.com), one of several locations in 12 states. Here, the signature green spaghetti, color coded for gluten-free identification, tastes as authentic as any wheat version, and the various dishes featuring this staple complement the menu’s additional offerings of a delicately subtle thin-crust pizza, an emphatically bold caprese salad, and numerous other rich Italian flavors.
Most gluten-friendly establishments end a meal with a whimpered offer of sorbet or ice cream. Not White Chocolate Grill (1803 Freedom Drive, Naperville; 630/505-8300; www.whitechocolategrill.com). This restaurant, with three locations in three states, finishes—or, in this case, begins—with a bang: molten chocolate soufflé cake, a warm disc of soft sweetness surrounded by a circle of rich crème anglaise and topped with a mound of plain whipped cream. But while this flourless cake may prove to be the most delicious such item available in the Midwestern states, it’s no match for the equally rare find of gluten-free fries, prepared in a dedicated fryer uncontaminated by flour-battered items. “Some people who come here haven’t had fries in ages,” one of the servers reports, convincing even the most calorie-conscious guest to sample that unlikely pairing of fries and chocolate for the evening’s explosive finale.
BREAD ’N’ BREAKFAST
Even if you’re an early riser, wait until brunch to visit the charming northern suburbs—set above the rocky shores of Lake Michigan—and Rose’s Wheat Free Bakery and Café (2901 Central Street, Evanston; 847/859-2723; www.rosesbakery.com). Because, when you see the chalkboard menus and wide glass display cases filled with completely gluten-free temptations ranging from dairy-free cheesecake and vegan carrot muffins to crisp grilled-cheese sandwiches and smooth tomato bisque, you’ll want to try breakfast, lunch, and then several different desserts. Take a box of bakery for more dessert later in the evening, and be sure to buy a loaf of Rose’s soft, vegan Seeded Sandwich Bread, as well as a frozen pizza crust speckled with a mysterious aromatic herb, perfect for a delicious brunch on a future late—or early—weekend morning.
Go gluten free, and you’ll probably have little energy to go vegan or raw or green. But at Prasino (93 South La Grange Road, La Grange; 708/469-7058; www.eatgreenlivewell.com)—a new family-owned destination situated among chic shops in a bustling suburban downtown—green, gourmet, and gluten free all mingle on the same extensive and delicious menu. Although several items, including pancakes on the breakfast menu, boast a convenient GF beside their names, the exquisite gluten-free pasta with pistachio pesto and asparagus deserves your full attention. Just don’t neglect to admire the spare, eco-friendly décor after your green meal.
That rare breed of hip churchgoer, native only to the communities surrounding the overtly religious Wheaton College, is on full display during the Sunday morning rush at the equally hip Honey (499 North Main Street, Glen Ellyn; 630/469-0000; www.honeycafe.net), a modern comfort café serving its quaint suburban downtown area for the past two years. As you look out on the quiet streets and smile at the mix of hipsters and families around nearby tables topped with fresh flowers, you can enjoy an unparalleled breakfast of syrupy French toast, delicious despite the café’s reliance on frozen gluten-free bread, or you can sample one of the menu’s many lunch items and daily specials, either marked GF or appropriately converted, as in the case of Honey’s white cheddar and arugula grilled-cheese sandwich—itself a religious experience.
Perhaps the most attempted—and annihilated—gluten-free fare, pizza should be left to the pros: Aurelio’s Pizza (11 Calendar Court, La Grange; 708/579-0900; www.aureliospizza.com). With franchise locations in six states, this pizzeria recently upgraded from a small, somewhat sweet rice-based crust to a thick, personal-sized one topped with an appropriately sugary sauce and luxuriously chewy cheese. Served on a traditional red-checkered table, this pie has garnered Celiac patients’ admiration for “tasting like the real thing”—high praise applicable to all of these Chicago-area providers’ trendy new gluten-free fare.