Saturday, February 5, 2011

Gluten Free Chicago!

I just returned from almost a week in Chicago to attend a family event- including an extra day snowed in by a blizzard. It turns out Chicago, especially the northern  suburbs is a great place to be gluten free. We had some incredible eats, and some disappointments. I'll do my best to summarize here.

Pizza!
Of course I will start with the results of our pizza tour. Unfortunately we were unable to try *all* the offerings, but that was due to there being too many options out there- such a great problem to  have.

Marcello's
The top honor for best Chicago pizza goes to Marcello's. We visited the restaurant in Northbrook and were offered a full gluten free menu including pizza, pasta, salads and even a dessert "pizza". We ordered one thin crust (for the Giggler), a pan pizza with sausage, a side of roasted vegetables and a berry "dessert pizza".

Marcello's pan pizza is a bit on the small side, but very flavor packed. Next time we're in town we'll be back and each get our own. The crust appears to have some cornmeal in it and a hint of sweetness. It was the perfect crispy yet tender consistency with delicious toppings. A home run for sure. If only they had stuffed pizza too!

Here is the pan pizza-
 Marcello's thin crust pizza was just OK - the sauce and cheese were tasty but the crust itself was sort of rubbery in the middle. The Giggler wasn't interested either- I guess we have successfully bred a pizza snob, oh, I mean connoisseur. Here is the thin crust:

The roasted veggies were a great combination of red bell pepper, carrots and zucchini - a perfect complement to the pizza.

The dessert pizza was the same delicious crust but topped with fresh berries and some sort of syrup. We had thought we had ordered a brownie pizza but must have misspoken - we will have to check that out next time. 

We will DEFINITELY return to Marcello's!

By far our best gluten free meal of the trip was at Wildfire. After tasting the fresh warmed ROLLS, (yes, fresh gluten free bread at a restaurant!) I went to make a reservation for the following night but alas, due to the blizzard they called us the next day to cancel. At any rate, Wildfire rocks. Please please please Wildfire - open a restaurant in Silicon Valley - PLEASE! 

Here are the rolls:

We spent some of our time chatting with one of the Lincolnshire's owners - Ross Buter, who explained how Wildfire became such a great place for the gluten free to dine. The north side of Chicago has a large percentage of Eastern European Jews (both myself and my husband also have this ancestry BTW) - and in case  you haven't figured this out when you meet up with other celiac's/gluten sensitives, celiac disease is quite common in this population. So after several years of getting repeated requests to alter certain menu items to be gluten free, Wildfire decided to officially create a gluten free menu. In terms of bread, they started out with the Kinnikinnick rolls but later decided to come up with their own recipe -and at that they succeeded. In fact, after the hubby took his first bite of bread, he exclaimed" You have GOT to be kidding me!". It was that good.

We then decided to try the pizza, because we are pizza snobs - and they keep part of their wood oven gluten free. The verdict: a tasty pizza but probably not something we'd order again. It's more of a "California Pizza Kitchen" type pizza with a soft crust, a lot of cheese and virtually no sauce. But still good stuff. 


Wildfire also has a pasta dish on the menu - see below. It was fabulous. Penne pasta with shrimp, tomatoes, Parmesan, some sort of white wine sauce -really good stuff. The Giggler was downing this big time. I will definitely order this again. Mind you, Wildfire is known as a meat and potatoes kind of place and we were thrilled without even tasting their staples. But we will be back!
 Now the hubby is going to kill me but I did not snap a photo of the flourless chocolate cake. I think he went into a depression when Wildfire called to cancel our reservation for the following night due to the blizzard because he could not eat that dessert again. A delicious molten mound of gooey chocolate goodness with extra sauce and a mound of ice cream on top. The perfect ending to a perfect meal. Thank you Wildfire!

Chicago's Pizza and Pasta
 OK, here was the trip's gluten free disappointment - during my extensive research prior to the trip, I found the only place on the planet (I think) where you can order a gluten free stuffed pizza. So of course it was our first stop - and the worst. The crust was a decent consistency - crispy, but exuded that gross beany aftertaste. We are just not fans of the garbanzo based doughs. The sauce and toppings were fair but overall that crust was just inedible. And for pizza freaks like us to say that, it had to be pretty bad. But I'll give Chicago's snaps for trying - I always appreciate anyone who will offer safe food to us, but it was a disappointment.

The thin crust we ordered for the giggler was also disappointing - same nasty aftertaste, and a rubbery crust. We won't be back, but thanks for trying.



We also dined at the local Red Robin - a place we frequent out in Silicon Valley so I won't mention the details. When Wildfire canceled our reservation we ended up at Champps for dinner that night - they have a gluten free menu as well but the food and service was quite disappointing - that and despite putting a "gluten allergy" warning on our order, they delivered our steaks with crispy onion strings on top - so needless to say the meals were sent back and the Giggler got quite cranky as it ended up being a very long night for mediocre steak.

Deerfield's Bakery
My sister in law was kind enough to leave a basket filled with gluten free goodies at the hotel - many varieties of Glutino's pretzels plus 2 packages of cookies from Deerfield's Bakery. My pre-trip research alerted me to Deerfield's and I was thrilled to get to try their goods. All in all fine offerings, although I do prefer my own creations. After hearing about the impending blizzard I decided to stop at the local Deerfield's to stock up on more goods: 2 more kinds of cookies, a big brownie, blueberry coffee cake, granola and 2 baguettes. One thing to keep in mind: Deerfield's gluten free goods are all frozen so if  you are on the go, be sure to have some toasta bags and aluminum foil in hand just in case you need to use a gluten-laden oven or toaster. Although most refreshed nicely on a plate in the microwave. The biggest winners: the granola  - finally, gluten free granola as yummy as the stuff I make from scratch, the chocolate dreams cookies - fudgy cakey consistency, and the mini-baguettes. I heated the baguettes before leaving for the airport, filled them with cheddar and turkey breast, then wrapped them in foil. We ate them at the gate - very satisfying - good chewy crust. The disappointments? the triple chips cookies - too whole-wheat like (could be from quinoa flour?) and the blueberry sour cream coffee cake - too crumbly- I much prefer my recipe. But even with the misses, I wish there was a Deerfield's around here.

I never had time to try Sweet Ali's bakery in Hinsdale - next time.

Grocery Shopping
I visited a Dominick's and a Sunset Foods supermarket- both had great selections of gluten free goods.

So dear readers, where have you eaten gluten free in Chicago and where do you recommend we visit the next time we're in town?