The gluten-free craze that’s sweeping the nation is a welcome sight for those who have a hard time digesting wheat, barley and rye.
In the previous century, you would have been hard-pressed to find anything on a restaurant menu or in a grocery store labeled gluten-free. You just didn’t hear much about it back in the day.
People with celiac disease and those who are sensitive to gluten-based foodstuffs were left to navigate the sea of gluten-free all on their own — without the help of salient menu verbiage pointing them in the right direction.
“There’s way more awareness now,” says chef Dustan Bristol, owner of Brick 29 Bistro and On the Fly deli. “So many menus are marked with gluten-free options these days.”
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It’s estimated that celiac disease (an autoimmune disorder that causes the ingestion of gluten to damage the small intestine) affects close to 3 million people in the United States. That number is widely believed to be much higher (around 18 million) for people who have some form of nonceliac gluten sensitivity.
Then there are those who just feel cleaner by not consuming any wheat products at all.
Whatever the reason, restaurants and grocery stores across America have surely taken notice of this desire for gluten-free foods in the new millennium.
Most restaurants now make an effort to offer gluten-free items for their diners. Even some pizza joints around town are dishing up pies made with gluten-free crusts. Imagine that.
This shift in the American diet has spiked the popularity of gluten-free, grain-like seeds — think quinoa, teff and millet — that have become part of our collective culinary lexicon.
“People are definitely asking for quinoa. It’s an excellent alternative to wheat-based grains,” Bristol says.
Corn and rice have always been safe bets, meaning that Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants are obviously good places to dine.
To play it safe, though, it’s always best to ask if the menus aren’t clearly marked whether items have gluten or not. Did you know that many soy sauce brands contain wheat? You have to be careful out there.
Here’s a look at several restaurants and bakeries around the Treasure Valley that go above and beyond when it comes to taking care of the gluten-free crowd.
Kibrom’s Ethiopian and Eritrean Restaurant (3506 W. State St., 208-917-8005) became instantly popular when it debuted at the Boise International Market in 2014. But, as you may remember, a devastating fire gutted the building last summer, and owner Kibrom Milash was one of the many vendors displaced by the blaze.
Earlier this year, Milash opened a full-service restaurant near the corner of State Street and Veterans Memorial Parkway to the delight of his ardent followers, who file in for injera, a spongy teff-based bread the size of a hubcap. Diners can order a variety of gluten-free offerings served in colorful dabs on the large flatbread — meant to be eaten with fingers not forks.
Good picks include zigni (tender beef morsels in a curry-like sauce), gomen (potatoes, kale and lots of garlic) and a cumin-kicked ground chickpea dish called shiro. Each costs $8.50.
Just down State Street, the diminutive Cloud 9 Brewery (1750 W. State St., 208-336-0681) does a remarkable job in the the gluten-free department, considering the menu is so small.
Expect to find street tacos ($5), quinoa-black bean salad ($4), hand-cut fries ($4), a kale Caesar salad, flourless chocolate torte with fresh berries ($6) and macaroni and cheese made with quinoa pasta ($11.50), to name a few.
“People really dig our gluten-free mac and cheese. It’s been a hit,” co-owner Maggie Lake says.
The nanopub goes above and beyond by using a separate deep fryer for its fries, so there’s no cross-contamination from breaded items such as fish and chips.
Cloud 9 Brewery doesn’t brew any gluten-free beers, but they are kicking around the idea of making one in the future. The brewpub offers two gluten-free bottled beers produced by Omission (Widmer Brothers Brewing) in Portland.
Also on State Street, Kind Cuisine Café (4628 W. State St., 208-367-9000) is a safe haven for meatless and gluten-free types. The menu here is clearly marked so everyone gets exactly what they order without any surprises.
In the morning, expect to find several egg and tofu scrambles, a veggie frittata made with chickpea batter ($9.75), and toasted seed bread baked with chia, sunflower seeds, hemp and flax ($2).
Later in the day, you can score appetizers and shared plates such as sesame kale crisps ($6) and a Greek-inspired platter arranged with hummus, feta, spinach salad, quinoa salad, kalamata olives and garlicky tzatziki yogurt sauce ($12).
And you can’t go wrong with miso soup or quinoa tabouli ($9.50). The eatery also has a full-service juice bar where you can score assorted fresh juices and smoothies.
Finding gluten-free items on menus in the Downtown area is not a problem, either.
Juniper (211 N. 8th St., 208-342-1142) clearly marks gluten-free options on its seasonal menu so there’s no confusion when it comes time to order.
Besides a few soups and salads, don’t be surprised to find dishes such as gin and honey-glazed salmon ($13), red beans and rice (with smoked kurobuta pork shoulder, $14) and a fragrant seasonal veggie curry ($11).
Kitty-corner from Juniper, Bittercreek Alehouse (246 N. 8th St., 208-429-6340) trains its wait staff well about the nuances of gluten-free. There are several obvious picks on the menu such as the bacon and sage popcorn ($5.75) and rosemary-seared trout with hard cider beurre blanc ($17.75). When in doubt, though, just ask your server, and they’ll point you in the gluten-free direction. The same goes for Red Feather Lounge, the pub’s sister restaurant next door.
On the Fly (800 W. Main St., 208-344-6833), a rotisserie-style deli in the Eighth and Main building, has plenty of grab-and-go gluten-free offerings in the reach-in coolers out front.
Besides various green salads, diners also can score miso salad, black bean-quinoa salad ($2.75) and more.
For those wanting a sandwich made on gluten-free bread, simply ask the friendly folks behind the counter for a custom job. Good sandwich picks include the creamy egg salad with sweet and smoky bacon jam ($4), rotisserie-roasted Angus beef ($6) and chicken salad mingled with shaved fennel, raisins, blue cheese and toasted walnuts ($5). Many of the seasonal soups are gluten-free as well.
Head up Capitol Boulevard to Vista Village to Yokozuna Teriyaki (824 S. Vista Ave., 208-377-3064), where you will find an aromatic teriyaki sauce made with wheat-free soy sauce.
“Soy sauce is a hidden source of wheat, for sure. People now know that we have gluten-free teriyaki sauce, so they specifically ask for it,” owner Geoff Surbeck says. (In addition to gluten-free teriyaki sauce, the restaurant also serves teriyaki sauce made with wheat-based soy sauce.)
Much of the affordable menu, which ranges from $1.95 to $9.49, is intrinsically gluten-free. It includes teriyaki rice bowls, marinated and grilled meats (chicken, pork, steak, beef short ribs, salmon and shrimp) and flavorful curries served with sticky rice and veggies.
But you will want to skip the yakisoba noodles and panko-crusted chicken katsu, both of which contain wheat.
Yokozuna Teriyaki also has a store in Meridian, at 2031 E. Fairview Ave. For to-go orders, call (208) 888-9699.
Speaking of the West Valley, Le Coq d’Or at Chateau des Fleurs (176 S. Rosebud Lane, 208-947-2840) in Eagle has several French-inspired gluten-free dishes on its seasonal menus. Expect to drop some bucks at this upscale dinner-only restaurant.
Currently, executive chef Franck Bacquet’s spring menu has starters such as prosciutto carpaccio ($16) and asparagus croque madame with a sunny side-up egg and syrupy balsamic reduction ($15).
The farm-to-table restaurant clearly marks the gluten-free items on the menu, which also boasts plenty of inventive entrées.
Did you know that Jakers Bar and Grill (3268 E. Pine St., 208-288-0898) in Meridian has a separate gluten-free menu?
Besides big steaks and baked potatoes (you surely can’t go wrong there), the breakout menu features appetizers, soups and salads, and even burgers and sandwiches made on gluten-free bread. How does a prime rib melt with gooey fontina cheese ($19) sound?
Enjoy other entrées such as charbroiled Idaho trout ($16 half/$22 full), garlicky shrimp scampi ($25) and smothered chicken ($15/5-ounce, $19/8-ounce). Sides include rice, baked spuds and sautéed veggies. The old-school salad bar has a plethora of gluten-free offerings as well.
In Nampa, Brick 29 Bistro (320 11th Ave. S., 208-468-0029) in the Masonic Temple building clearly marks what’s gluten-free on its seasonal menus, and chef and owner Dustan Bristol trains his staff well in that regard.
“We educate our servers so they can field the questions on the floor instead of having to run to the kitchen and ask,” Bristol says.
Expect to find seasonal bisque, a bright strawberry salad ($9), bistro chicken with grilled polenta ($16) and a dry-aged Angus rib eye sided with roasted fingerling potatoes, crispy onions and blue cheese fondue ($33) — sans the roux.
Bristol currently is in the process of remodeling the building by adding a top floor. The restaurant will move into that penthouse-like space later this year.
As the name suggests, the Grub Hut (324 3rd St. S., 208-880-0152) is a little shack that serves grub. Not just any grub, though. The drive-thru business, in the parking lot of the Nampa Gusher Sinclair convenient store and gas station, has earned a loyal following for its healthy, fast and affordable fare.
Here you will find a thoughtful, creative selection of paleo, vegan and gluten-free offerings dished up during the daytime hours.
Good gluten-free choices include the organic quinoa oatmeal ($6, served with plump blueberries, nuts, maple syrup and a side of whipped coconut cream) and the always-changing veggie burger plopped on a wheatless bun with all the fixings ($7).
Email James Patrick Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Gluten-free bakeries in Boise
Amaru Confections (217 S. Roosevelt St., 208-991-2253) has become all the rage around town with its tasty gluten-free and vegan specialty cakes and huge cupcakes. Pastry chef Aimee Wyatt even has a separate kitchen in its own building solely for producing gluten-free baked goods so there’s no cross-contamination from the wheat-based flours.
Jake’s Gluten Free Market (12570 W. Fairview Ave., 208-322-5935) is Idaho’s only totally gluten-free grocery store and bakery. Check out the large selection of sweet and savory baked goods, including muffins, cupcakes, fruit pies, cookies, high-fiber breakfast bars, loaves of rustic bread and much more.