Go gluten-free in the Twin Cities
A bag of green beans, a tube of pureed garlic, and a canister of sea salt: They're all items that regularly appear on my grocery list but lately have a different look. Food that is always, was always, and forever will be gluten-free is now being specifically identified that way. Apparently slapping a GF sticker on garbanzo beans makes them more marketable. Like it or not, gluten-free has gone mainstream, and for those who have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it's great news. However, if you are in that camp (or just a fair-weather devotee of the diet), you've no doubt experienced the frustration of being limited to steak houses and salad bars when eating out, or worse yet, being told to "just get the burger without the bun." Gluten-free options have certainly increased and improved to accommodate the rise in requests, but there are a few local spots that stand above the rest. From afternoon eats to after-dinner treats, here's our guide to gluten-free Twin Cities.
It takes willpower to pass up the rich croque madame at the Modern Times Cafe's breakfast. Thick slices of ham, bubbling gruyere cheese, and two organic poached eggs, all piled atop grilled gluten-free bread, but if you can manage it you'll be handsomely rewarded with some other fantastic gluten-free plates. The Beet Up, an egg scramble with Pastures a Plenty bacon, organic roasted beets, goat cheese, and thyme, is a definite standout that balances the earthy flavors with savory ones. For a more grab-and-go kind of morning, opt for a super-smooth coffee and a gluten-free lemon-scented muffin, heavy with whole blackberries and a bit of ginger, or creamy Greek yogurt with gluten-free granola at Groundswell in St. Paul. Seward Cafe's aptly named Righteous Pancake is wheat-, egg-, and dairy-free, made with a mix of gluten-free flours that somehow work together to produce a miraculously fluffy flapjack.
At lunch (and any time, really) Indian food is a perfect fit for diners with gluten issues, since much of that cuisine, particularly dishes from the Southern part of the country, is made with chickpea and lentil flours. Dosa King in Spring Lake Park is a bit of a hike, but how often can you get mini-doughnuts (the medhu vada are essentially a savory variation made with a lentil-based dough) or battered and deep-fried cheese when you're gluten-intolerant? Their paneer pakora is a mild homemade cheese dipped in a spicy chickpea flour batter and fried until crispy and golden and very worthy of appetizer attention. But as the name suggests, dosas are the lunch order of choice at this affordable spot. These fluttery rice and lentil crepes get loaded up with anything from cheese and chutney to cauliflower and green chiles. The whole menu is meat-free too, so bonus if you swing that way. Meat-ful Shish Cafe on Grand Avenue serves heaping platters of well-seasoned lamb, beef, chicken, and shrimp kebabs, all lightly charred, with fragrant saffron-cardamom rice and colorful stir-fried vegetables, totally gluten-free, though we do recommend double-checking if you add on sauces. Feeling a little more like a traditional deli lunch? For a couple of bucks extra, Cheeky Monkey will make any of their sandwiches on Udi's gluten-free bread. Ditto for Trotter's on Cleveland (extra points for them because they make their own GF rolls in-house), and Wilde Roast Cafe will put their Pat LaFrieda super-primo beef burgers on a gluten-free bun upon request.
Find you don't have time to sit down but still need a good, quick GF lunch? Look no further than the big pink truck with an entirely gluten-free menu. Celiacs rejoiced when Sassy Spoon debuted last year, boasting all gluten-free, nutritionally balanced dishes such as hearty tomato sauce-braised beef served with cauliflower mash; bacon and chive deviled eggs; wild rice and dried fruit salad with black beans and spinach; and Asian-style turkey meatballs with ginger and soy dipping sauce. Foxy Falafel turns its curry, beet, and original falafel sandwiches into GF-friendly platters by swapping out the pita for a serving of creamy hummus and a cumin-cabbage slaw. The dilly cheese curds and massive fried cauliflower steaks with saffron aioli are GF too, as are all of Foxy's sauces and housemade pickles.
The absolute first place I recommend to anyone, but especially out-of-towners, for a gluten-free dinner that doesn't feel like a gluten-free dinner is Brasa. If you skip the sandwiches and the cornbread (though if you can have the latter, get it), just about everything else on the menu is naturally gluten-free. Order up a family-style spread of pulled chicken in peppery gravy or dry-rubbed rotisserie chicken; smoky braised beef with barbecue sauce; sweet and mushy fried plantains; the lightest, brightest coleslaw; roasted yams with spicy and salty Andouille sausage; jalapeno-tinged creamed spinach; and the gloriously starchy fried yucca. Signature Cafe does a fully gluten-free special dinner menu every Tuesday night. You need to email the restaurant to secure seating, and the menu changes weekly, but in the past it has featured dishes like chicken picatta with quinoa risotto. Looking to have dinner out with kids? Pizzeria Lola and its newer, more casual sister restaurant Hello Pizza both use the same gluten-free pizza crust, and it's hands-down the best I've had in the Twin Cities. For a dress-up, drinks-first dinner experience, I'd suggest the recently opened Marin at the Chambers Hotel. Since their inspiration is the cuisine of NoCal and many of the entrees come in at under 600 calories, lentils, quinoa, and brown rice often stand in for dumplings, pasta, and croquettes. The results are restrained, beautifully presented dishes that make sure proteins play well with their vegetable pairings, such as lean and grassy bison strip with slightly sweet heirloom beans, or fatty seared tuna with the sharp and fermented flavors of kimchee. Start with delicate soba noodle spring rolls and plump shrimp ceviche before perusing the selection of entrees — all of which, save for one ravioli dish, are gluten-free. Bluestem Bar & Table at the French Meadow Cafe, a pioneer in the way of catering to customers with dietary restrictions, also has some nicely modified comfort foods like the cornmeal-crusted chicken and waffles with hot sauce and pink peppercorn syrup, and chocolate layer cake with crazy-good ganache and Chantilly cream spiked with triple sec.
Bluestem's GF desserts, especially the Milky Way tart, are definitely notable, but as the only fully GF bakery left in the Twin Cities, Bittersweet deserves to kick off the sweets section. Try as I might, I have never, ever had success with GF pie crust, but the folks at Bittersweet sell theirs already rolled out and pressed in a pan so all you have to do is fill it. Even less effort is required to pick up one of the fully GF banana cream, pecan, or lemon meringue pies; rosemary garlic breadsticks; or marble cupcakes. In downtown Minneapolis Angel Food Bakery above Hell's Kitchen makes GF blueberry oatmeal cookies and GF banana chocolate chip scones that have developed a cult following. Cookies and More, also in downtown Minneapolis, has gluten-free classic chocolate chip and snickerdoodle cookies, and you can buy gluten-free dough in bulk to take and bake at home.
And to give us all something to look forward to, the upcoming Burning Brothers Brewery, the Twin Cities' first brewery producing all gluten-free beers in a 100 percent gluten-free facility, has already had a few early tasting events. Opening is imminent, and gluten-free or not, we get pretty excited about new local brews.
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