Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Socca, So Good

Mintwood Place     Spoons_FOUR

It was 8:00pm on a Saturday night, and Adams Morgan was just beginning to stir. Bartenders along 18th street cleaned their tap lines and took their places as the night’s early birds trickled in. Mr. Green Bean and I met up with Weg-Man and Wife at Mintwood Place, a more mature establishment tucked away on the quieter Columbia Road. By the time we finished dinner, the streets were flooded with short skirts, tight jeans, and jumbo slices. We walked back to Cleveland Park grateful for our jumbo stomachs filled with top quality cuisine.

Mintwood is fabulous. It helps that the GM was anticipating our arrival. It helps that we were seated at the best booth in the dining room. It helps that I reviewed sister restaurant, Perry’s, a while back and have become facebook buddies with owner, Said Azali. However, the TLC and delicious food delivered that evening is just the way it goes at Mintwood Place. Since its inception in 2011, the restaurant has been repeatedly praised as one of the best nationally and internationally. Chef Cedric Maupillier’s Franco-American comfort food is served in a warm, friendly environment that attracts Washingtonians of all generations. (A second location to service the younger residents of Shaw is planned to open in 2015.)

We started the meal in typical fashion when dining with Weg-Man and Wife—cheese plate and cocktails. Mr. Green bean and I shared a simple mixed green salad with a zesty mustard vinaigrette.

Mixed greens salad with vinaigrette

Mixed greens salad with vinaigrette

We nibbled and sipped and placed our entree orders after the server and I dissected the menu together. I decided on the skate wing with caponata and socca. It was that last component that grabbed me. These chickpea pancakes are a new favorite in our apartment. I have been frying them to Mr. Green Bean’s delight as a side to hearty stews or a “crust” for Sunday morning frittatas. The server assured me the night’s skate dish, including the socca, was gluten-free. He should have assured the chef. When my plate arrived, adorned with a colorful sprinkling of edible flowers, I searched high and low for that socca. The beautifully fanned skate wing looked a little flat, and the caponata appeared runny. I pointed out this oddity to our server who left the table confused. He quickly returned with a steaming hot garbonza flatbread, again confirmed to be gluten-free. It seemed a misunderstanding was to blame, though I am left slightly baffled. In any case, the skate wing was light and flaky and the eggplant salty and smoky. The socca? Amazing: rich, nutty and just thick enough to soak up the caponata juice.

Skate wing with caponata and socca

Skate wing with caponata and socca

Weg-Wife offered me a bite of her gluten-free, cast-iron, wood-oven roasted chicken, which was moist and flavorful, a different creature entirely from the one that regularly exits my oven either burnt or dry. Our side of broccolini with balsamic and hazelnuts offered a salty crunch, though was overshadowed by our generously portioned entrees.

Socca (chickpea flour pancake)

Socca (chickpea flour pancake)

Dinners with Weg-man and Wife end as predictably as they begin given Weg-Wife’s tremendous sweet tooth. Spoonfulls of house-made French vanilla gelato balanced out the sodium-filled meal.

French vanilla gelato

French vanilla gelato

Our digestive systems thanked us for the leisurely stroll home. Mr. Green Bean and I said goodbye to Weg-man and Wife by the zoo and continued on to Cleveland Park. As we approached the strip, our intentions of making it an early evening quickly turned into a night cap at Ripple followed by a competitive round of pool at Atomic Billiards. So take that, young’uns of Adams Morgan. We still got it!

I could not have been happier when my head hit the pillow much later that night.

Mintwood Place, 1813 Columbia Road NW, Washington DC


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Around Town for On Tap

Glutie Foodie is on the job! Read this month’s issue of On Tap Magazine for the Gluten-free Griddle Report, where Glutie Foodie reveals the area’s best gluten-free pancakes. Quinoa, buckwheat and rice flour batters offer something special for brunch, lunch and even dinner. Get the full report HERE.

Let us know what you think and if there are other g-free flapjack shacks gluties should know about.

Happy flipping!

Glutie Foodie

Quinoa Coconut Pancakes from the Silver Diner.

Quinoa Coconut Pancakes from the Silver Diner


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A Rare Occasion

Medium Rare     Spoons_THREE_76x25

A couple of weeks ago, as the turning leaves reached their most colorful hues, a northerly wind swept my family in for a visit. This epic weekend brought Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie and long overdue guests, Brother Bourbon and Sister-in-law Scotch, named for their fondness of the brown spirits. My older sibling and his wife trekked from NYC with my adorable 8 month old nephew, Mr. Bean.  Saturday night we would be joined by my aunt, uncle, cousin and his girlfriend for a big family night out. The pressure was on to come up with a restaurant that could accommodate our large crowd, be suitable for the vegetarian and gluten-free among us and impress with quality food and service, all while not burning a hole in Pa Glutie Foodie’s wallet. The Cleveland Park steak frites restaurant, Medium Rare, is one of Mr. Green Bean’s favorites and has been enjoyed by many of the Glutie Foodie characters, including Miss Zin, Irish Coffee and Weg-Man and Wife.  I deemed it the perfect choice for our party.

Medium Rare’s success over the past two and a half years can be attributed to an all-star cast, including owners Tom Gregg and Mark Bucher (founder of BGR The Burger Joint), manager Brian Zipin (last seen at Ray’s The Steaks), and consulting chef Cedric Maupillier (formerly of Central Michel Richard), who came together to design the well packaged experience. For $19.50 (plus tax), diners enjoy a first course of bib lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette, followed by sliced top sirloin cap steak cooked to your liking, drizzled with “secret sauce” and accompanied by crispy hand-cut frites. Servers circle the table as soon as plates are cleaned to deliver a second helping from a sizzling hot grill pan. While some indulge in the encore, many box it up to go. Gluten-free diners are in for a treat, as the meal is entirely gluten-free, minus the homemade bread served right when you settle in, and which I gather from Mr. Green Bean is quite delicious.

Bibb lettuce salad with mustard vinaigrette

Mixed green salad with mustard vinaigrette

The atmosphere is far more charming than the space’s former tenant, Yanni’s Greek Taverna. Medium Rare chose simple decor, with dim lighting, white paper table liners and vinyl flooring that tends to be slippery (I have come frighteningly close to falling right on my butt several times). The music selection (think classic rock) seems a little out of place, but the bathroom soundtrack, lessons in French pick-up lines, reminds visitors of the restaurant’s French influence.

Medium Rare does not take reservations on weekends. But call 30 min ahead and they will add your name to the wait list. On this rare occasion, a fluke in their system (i.e. a new employee who made a mistake) won us a reservation for 11 at 7:30pm on a Saturday. Awesome. We arrived, were promptly seated and debriefed by our waiter on how our meal would work. No time is wasted on a menu, no long-winded inquisition of gluten ingredients necessary, just state how you like your meat cooked and Voilà.

Brother Bourbon, a fairly savvy carnivore, summed up his meal just as I would: The steak is good, but the salad, fries and gravy really make the meal. Medium Rare doesn’t serve up the finest, most flavorful cut, and they don’t always get the temperature perfect—just ask Mr. Green Bean about his very pink portion—but they do enough right that it truly doesn’t matter. You get just what you pay for, and at a fair price, I’m fine with that.

Culotte steak and hand-cut fries with "secret sauce"

Culotte steak with “secret sauce” and hand-cut fries

Where the restaurant fails is in their accommodations for vegetarians. The non-meat option is a grilled portobello steak with a red pepper sauce, priced the same as the regular meal. The mushroom does a nice job of acting like a meat steak, but doesn’t quite satisfy in the protein department. Sister Seitan took one for the team and didn’t complain…too much. I often use the vegetarian option to my advantage by ordering it and stealing a few slices of Mr. Green Bean’s steak for a perfectly well rounded meal.

Grilled portobello steak with red pepper sauce and hand-cut fries

Grilled portobello steak with red pepper sauce and hand-cut fries

The process is so efficient that tables turn quickly. It’s a great place to grab dinner before catching a movie at The Uptown, but often feels rushed for a leisurely meal. However, our large party slowed the service down, giving us plenty of time to enjoy several bottles of wine. The carefully curated wine list offers half a dozen reds and whites well suited for this particular cut of steak. We further extended our meal by ordering a few notoriously enormous desserts. The House Specialty hot fudge sundae is gluten-free if ordered without the chocolate crunch balls, and is well worth the extra trip to the gym the next morning.

House Specialty: hot fudge sundae

House Specialty: hot fudge sundae

The bill arrived with a glass full of bubblegum, a sweet something to soften the blow of a final tally unsurprisingly inflated from the $19.50/person base rate. Large parties beware of the ambiguous “Dine In” fee, a 20% tip added to the bill that can easily be missed. The family departed chomping on our gum with full stomachs and smiling faces. By the time they visit again, the restaurant will have opened its impending second location on Barracks Row. Well-done, Medium Rare.

Double Bubble gum

Double Bubble gum

Medium Rare, 3500 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington DC 


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Night Crawling

As an epicurean with celiac, I’m like the kid left out of the sandbox when it comes to culinary adventures. I dream to participate in chef tastings, secret supper clubs and the newest trend, underground restaurants with no menu, all challenging experiences when one has a severe “allergy”. But one foodie venture is capitalizing on the rise of celiac and gluten-sensitive diners by offering a gluten-free experience not to be missed. Dishcrawl was founded in 2010 in San Jose, CA, and now has chapters in numerous cities throughout the country. It hosts ticketed progressive dinners that take participants to four restaurants for four different dishes over a three hour period. The DC chapter, led by ambassador Qui-Juan Jones, organizes themed crawls in various neighborhoods around the District and surrounding areas, to acquaint a group of strangers both to each other and to the many sides of DC’s gourmet kitchens. Last week’s first ever gluten-free DC Dishcrawl in Barracks Row attracted 17 hungry individuals on all spectrums of the gluten-free diet (strict observers, occasional subscribers, and loyal supporters). I couldn’t wait to mingle with fellow gluties on a mystery food tour of Capital Hill.

The Chesapeake Room     Spoons_THREE_76x25
We began our journey at the The Chesapeake Room, a small, casual restaurant with an interior dominated by a long narrow bar, a couple of horseshoe leather booths, and a few high tops. A large outdoor patio offers more seating, but certainly not on this scorching hot DC summer evening. The bar brought in a selection of Omission Beers and Angry Orchard Cider just for the occasion and are considering keeping one gluten-free bottle option on the menu. We were served our first dish by the executive chef who explained that their American/French/Italian fusion menu offers several gluten-free options. Our plates, winning for best presentation of the night, included a trio of tastings starting with a seared scallop over a fava bean and mushroom risotto. While the scallop was over-salted it was nicely seared to produce a caramelized surface while retaining its soft interior. In the middle of the plate was a scoop of crab salad on a slice of raw tomato with an avocado dressing (adapted from the menu’s fried-green tomato version). A sprinkling of greens added texture to the mayo-heavy yet fresh tasting crab. The final element was a watermelon gazpacho, a refreshing choice for the heatwave we were in. The addition of orange juice to the recipe pushed the chilled soup too far on the sweet spectrum. But overall the variety of flavors between all three items and the well portioned plate made for a successful first stop.

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho

The Chesapeake Room: Seared scallops over fava bean and mushroom risotto, crab stack, and watermelon gazpacho


Pacifico Cantina
     Spoons_THREE_76x25
For our next dish, the group crossed 8th Street SE to Pacifico Cantina for some Tex-Mex flare. We were greeted by festive Mexican decor and music and servers ready to take our margarita and mojito orders. Fresh guacamole was served family style at our table, accompanied by salsa and corn tortilla chips fried separately from anything glutenous. The guac was heavy on the salt, but the salsa had just my speed of heat. We were then served a cup of shrimp ceviche with jicama, corn, tomato, cilantro and cucumber over a touch of spring greens served with a few chips (not a regular menu item). Around me my fellow diners started reaching for liquid relief from the spice. I seemed to get a mild batch that was well balanced and tasty. Our plates were cleared and we prepared to move on when surprisingly another fleet of dishes headed our way…then turned on its heels and disappeared. The manager embarrassingly explained that the kitchen accidentally prepared a chicken taco on a flour tortilla, this after his speech on how gluten-free friendly Pacifico Cantina is. The staff quickly rebounded and soon delivered a soft corn tortilla topped with chopped chicken, pico de gallo, salsa verde and cilantro. The double layered tortilla was crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside, and folded nicely over the slightly overcooked yet flavorful chicken. We walked away stuffed after that plentiful sampling of average tasting Tex-Mex. Overall, Pacifico Cantina is a fun spot to sip on sweet drinks and nosh on addictive tortilla chips.

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco

Pacifico Cantina: Chips and guacamole, shrimp ceviche, and chicken taco


Cafe 8
     Spoons_THREE_76x25
We hobbled just a couple of doors down from Pacifico Cantina to our third location, Cafe 8, which offers unpretentious Turkish/Greek cuisine in an authentic, Mediterranean atmosphere. Unfortunately the air conditioner was having technical difficulties, but we filed into the bar area and were served cold water on the spot. Plates soon arrived with plentiful helpings of shaved doner meat over white long grain rice, covered with tomato sauce. The meat heavy dish made up for its unrefined appearance with its rich, salty flavor (notice a trend?) and tender consistency. The kebab is made in-house with 80% lean beef and 20% lamb that marinates for days in milk and spices before being pitched on the spit. The dish was a crowd pleaser, even given our full stomachs. I forced myself to stop after a few bites for fear of impending button popping. Cafe 8 offers a number of gluten-free options, as is often the case with Mediterranean menus. The quaint restaurant’s low key, eccentric vibe and quality, reasonably priced food tempts me to return for another try on a cooler night. Pleasing carnivorous Mr. Green Bean will be the true test.

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice

Cafe 8: Doner kebab over rice


Pitango Gelato
      Spoons_FIVE
We had one more stop to go and luckily it was dessert. After all that high sodium food, I relished the thought of something sweet. We walked toward Eastern Market to bombard the tiny storefront of Pitango Gelato. A young, spirited associate was prepared to manage our group and pitch us the spiel about Pitango’s direct line to fresh milk from Mennonite farmers, pistachios sourced from the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna in Italy, and nuts roasted with infrared light for the most natural flavor possible. Pitango now has five locations in DC, Maryland and Virginia, all serving the highest quality, seasonally changing gelato and sorbet. We were thrilled to learn that everything in the store is gluten-free accept for the cones. But the tiny colorful spoons are so fun, who wants a cone anyway? Our server’s patience astounded me as she allowed each of us to try multiple flavors before ordering. I am a frequenter of this gelato joint and can vouch for every flavor I’ve tried, which is many. The classic Pistachio di Bronte is nutty bliss, the Green Tea is subtly herbalicious, and the Chocolate with Chips is born-again classic. The vegan sorbets taste nearly as creamy as their dairy counterparts. Nothing compares to the mango, which you’ll swear is packed with fat. When the rush to order was over, we passed around cups and swapped spoons. Gelato has a way of making even strangers fast friends.

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

Pitango Gelato: White grapefruit and rhubarb sorbets

On that sweet note, I solicited some reflections on the night and received overall positive responses. While the food was not the finest Barracks Row has to offer, it is a challenge to find committed and enthusiastic restaurants given the size of the group, our food limitations, and the logistics of the program. Thanks is due to Qui-Juan Jones, Dishcrawl DC, and the participating restaurants for providing us gluties the opportunity to let down our guard and dine out free of the usual hassle and stress. It should be mentioned that these pre-set, traveling dinners may still be a challenge for those who are less adventurous or more limited in their eating habits. While Dishcrawl makes every effort to take into account food restrictions, the substitutions seemed lacking (in other words, had Mr. Green Bean accompanied me, he may not have gotten his money’s worth). But for someone like Glutie Foodie who will eat anything (gluten-free), I enjoyed myself immensely knowing that our Dishcrawl ambassador had done all the work, asked all the tough questions, and cleared a safe and healthy path for a night of culinary indulgence.

The Chesapeake Room, 501 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pacifico Cantina, 514 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Cafe 8, 424 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Pitango Gelato, 660 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC


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Bienvenue à Washington

Le Diplomate     Spoons_FOUR

I walk past the northeast corner of 14th and Q streets five days a week. Of all the construction projects in Logan Circle, this corner has been particularly fascinating. Over many months, a long-abandoned laundromat building was slowly gutted and reborn into the dazzling French bistro that now stands pompously as the new emperor of 14th. Starr Restaurants’ Le Diplomate has been bursting with activity from the second it openend. Mr. Green Bean and I wanted to see for ourselves what the buzz was about and were happy to find an open reservation on a recent Friday night.

Entrance to Le Diplomate

Entrance to Le Diplomate

If you can elbow your way through the crowd at the entrance of Le Diplomate, you will find yourself transported to something between an elegant Parisian brasserie and a casual French cafe. A central bar is flanked by expansive, split level dining spaces packed with simple cafe chairs and tables lined with white paper. A handfull of burgundy leather booths accent the dark woodwork and salt-and-pepper tiled floor. Murky mirrors reflect the globe lighting fixtures hanging from high ceilings. A green tiled garden room off to the side transitions into a spacious outdoor patio filled with bright yellow folding chairs. Too hungry to wait for an outdoor seat, we opted for a cozy two-top by the window. Yet the interior space is so alluring, even the finest of days may not draw me outside. We settled in and perused the menu.

I began composing  questions for our server, planning to challenge the new restaurant’s gluten-free preparedness and bracing myself for an arduous process. To my amazement, our server didn’t blink an eye as I waited for his reaction to my “I’m a special diner” introduction. “Have you had many gluten-free customers yet?” I prodded further. “Of Course! No problem.” was his response (in a French accent) as he took me through the menu. I was stunned that flour is not a key thickening agent in items such as Friday’s special, Bouillabaisse, and that the Frites are fried separately from glutenous ingredients.

Tempting hors d’oeuvres, such as the Steak Tartare and Tuna Carpaccio, are free of gluten. All four starter salads are either gluten-free or easily adaptable. Entrees offer a number of options in steak, chicken, veal, lamb, skate, scallops, etc. I was repeatedly distracted by the towering platters of raw seafood whizzing by, as our server continued to list dishes I could eat. Mr. Green Bean’s meal decision was easy. When in Rome (or Paris, rather)…it would be the Steak Frites for him. I followed his lead and ordered another French staple, the Moules Frites. G-free frites are impossible to pass up.

To start, Mr. Green Bean and I shared the Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette. Large, crisp bibb lettuce leaves were sprinkled with Mr. Green Bean’s favorite veggie and thin slices of magenta radishes. The dish was light and fresh, a welcome beginning to the richness that lay ahead.

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

Salade Verte with haricots verts, radishes and red wine vinaigrette

Mr. GB’s Steak Frites arrived as requested, without the wad of maître d’ butter on top. The thick, generous, cut of hanger steak is smothered in butter before pan roasting and needed not a bit more. He sliced me a piece to taste (the dish is g-free). The beef was cooked to a perfect medium (although Mr. GB thought slightly too pink), with a crisp exterior sealing in all the juices and flavor. I later went back for second and third bites.

Steak Frites

Steak Frites

The moules are prepared marinière style, which I learned at Le Diplomate means white wine, fresh herbs, and plenty of butter. The sauce was aromatic and well balanced with the subtle flavor of the mussels. While not a huge serving, the dozen or so mussels were each plump, flavorful, and situated loosely in open shells. There was not a bad egg in the bunch. I paired my meal with a glass of the house’s unusually yellow-toned rosé, light and refreshing.

Moules marinière style

Moules marinière style

The frites were everything I hoped they would be: double fried for an extra crispy shell, and just thick enough to maintain a soft potato interior. I alternated dips between the creamy mussel broth and the accompanying mayonnaise sauce (I can only stomach mayo when it is house-made French style and not squeezed from a plastic bottle). The serving was huge, surely I would not eat them all. Somehow, 30 minutes later, I reached back in the cup and found only crumbs.

Frites!

Frites!

Both of our meals left Mr. Green Bean and I little room for something sweet. However, it should be noted that astonishingly more than half of Le Diplomate’s desserts are gluten-free, or can be with slight modifications. That isn’t even counting cheeses and dessert wines. From what I hear the desserts are belt-loosening worth it and I will definitely be back to try the Milk Chocolate Pot de Crème and Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée.

Le Diplomate has done everything right. Executive chef Adam Schop’s solid food is almost besides the point when considering how seamlessly this zoo is managed. I was impressed with the service from the on-her-toes hostess, to our confident and knowledgeable server, to the sommelier hand delivering my  wine, to the general manager’s visit to check on our experience. The authentic French ambience allows diners an opportunity to escape, relax and enjoy good food and drink in Parisian fashion. Bienvenue à Washington, Le Diplomate.

Le Diplomate, 1601 14th Street NW, Washington DC


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Self-Centraled

Central Michel Richard     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Whimsical: An adjective often used in describing downtown DC’s Central Michel Richard. Yet, whimsy doesn’t quite capture what is at the heart of this James Beard Award winning restaurant. Indulgence seems the foundation of a menu that takes American food’s most pleasurable staples and gourmetifies them with a French twist. What results is an amusement park for fine diners. Yet, with American classics come fried finishes, flour coatings and wheat filling, deeming us Glutie Foodies unfit to board the best rides.

I arrived at Central on a recent Saturday night with my girlfriends, Mrs. Muffin, Miss Zin, and Zin’s childhood friend, a new arrival to DC. The scene by the bar was boisterous, with seats filled by couples making a night of it, and diners waiting for tables attempting a pre-dinner cocktail. The dining room was filled with creamy light, reflecting off the warm wood tables and chairs and earth-toned marble floors. Michel Richard’s face graces a large wall by the wine cellar, reminding visitors who’s the boss.

We ordered our wine and a dozen oysters as I divulged my “allergy” to the server.  It did not surprise me, this being a high profile restaurant on a busy Saturday night, that the server seemed slightly put-off by a complicated customer and did not offer much guidance. I decided to survey the menu further and strategize my questioning. When he returned, I asked a handful of questions, most of which he had to check on. We discovered together that besides the obviously breaded items, many of the sauces and marinades contain either soy sauce or flour. The tuna carpaccio, mussels in white wine, miso salmon, sea scallops with bellpepper sauce, and rotisserie chicken dishes are all off-limits. Most of the sharing plates and starters either have to be adapted or skipped altogether, and the tempting ahi tuna and lobster burgers are both glutenous, even without the bun. With my options severely limited, I took the server’s advice and ordered the 100% gluten-free loup de mer (sea bass) with mushrooms.

Oysters!

Oysters!

Central is lucky it has quality on its side.  Patrons know that regardless of what is ordered, it is always terrific. The freshest ingredients are used in the most complimentary combinations. Complicated preparations are perfectly executed to create consistently superior food. Needless to say, the sea bass was fantastic. The flaky 10 inch filleted fish was served skin side up, topped with a heap of rosemary infused mushrooms, and accompanied by a side of arugula, simply dressed with olive oil, lemon and shaved parmesan. The dish was light, fresh, healthy and hearty.

Loup De Mer with Mushrooms and Arugula

Loup de Mer with Mushrooms

The pleasant surprise of the night were the French macaroons on the dessert menu (not always available), made in-house and definitely gluten-free. I treated our figure-conscious table to one of each flavor, just a few bites each to finish on a sweet note.

French Macaroons

French Macaroons

My meal was delightful enough to almost forget my earlier anxieties. While I will gladly return to Central for another first-rate dinner, I was disappointed with the server’s aloof attitude and the menu’s limitations. I suppose a chef as renown as Michel Richard doesn’t have to be concerned with accommodating little ol’ me.

Central Michel Richard, 1001 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC


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Petit Fources

The Happy Tart      

As a health conscious eater, I have mixed feelings about the improvement of gluten-free ingredients and recipes for sweets and savories. I think back to pre-g-free meals, more like battles between me and the bread basket, reserve forces called in to fight dessert. Dining has actually become far more peaceful in the past couple of years! But now my new enemies are growing strong in number and  temptations are lurking.

I am especially conflicted when it comes to The Happy Tart Gluten-Free Pâtisserie in the Del Ray neighborhood of Virginia. This entirely gluten-free bakery that opened in January of 2012 makes products that are so tasty, I wonder if the world even needs gluten anymore! Chef and owner, Emma Cech, discovered her gluten-intolerance while enrolled in the Professional Pastry Arts program at L’Academie de Cuisine. Her mission soon became perfecting gluten-free French pastries, and she has returned to Virginia armed and ready.

I was intrigued when I learned about the bakery and their supply of fresh breads, pizza crusts, cakes, cookies, and fancy schmancy European delicacies. Now that I have an obligation to my blog followers to seek the best of the best, a visit was imminent, and I knew just the companion to bring along. She’s got a sweet tooth the size of Texas, an insatiable appetite, high standards for quality treats, and, though blood related, is a huge fan of gluten. Ladies and gentleman, I introduce to you Sister Seitan (pronounced “sey-tan”, as in the wheat-gluten meat substitute common in vegetarian dishes. It is, however, deliberately mispronounced “satan” by vegetarian celiacs.)

As we entered the bakery and deliberated over our selections, our eyes widened and mouths watered. A must-have for me was the Sunday special: sweet, gooey, sticky buns. The doughy layers doused in cinnamon syrup and covered with sugared walnuts satisfied every craving I’ve been having for the past couple of years. Sister Seitan, and later Mr. Green Bean who accompanied me on a return visit, concurred that the sticky buns are a hit and undetectably gluten-free. Sister and I also shared an apple turnover, as I never say “no” to an apple dessert. The Happy Tart crust used for the turnover, as well as all of their pies, holds together beautifully, with a light, buttery crumb and just a hint of sweetness, leaving the sugar to the filling. We also munched on crispy baguette chips in cinnamon/raisin/pecan and parmesan/garlic varieties. Though the Happy Tart is not technically a dine-in establishment, they offer coffee and tea, and Adirondack chairs just outside for those customers who can’t wait to dig in. That is where you could find me and Sister Seitan on that sunny afternoon, licking our lips, and the plates, in disbelief at how delicious everything was.

Apple Turnover, Baguette Chips, and Sticky Bun

I recently had another opportunity to taste a variety of The Happy Tart’s delectables. Emma Cech graciously provided some of her petit fours and tartlets for the Glutie Foodie launch party last week. The launch, held at my second home, Hemphill Fine Arts, celebrated not only the beginning of my blog, but also a new business venture by Josh Goldman, DJ G Events. DJ G provided the tunes while guests sipped wine, admired the work of Artist Linling Lu, and praised The Happy Tart products. For the sake of research, of course, I took bites from others’ plates and stashed a couple of treats away to make sure to try them all. The rich Chocolate Raspberry and five layer Chocolate Decadence petit fours are moist on the inside, with chocolate shell armors that crack easily with the invitation of a fork. My favorite was the Tea Time petit four, made with joconde almond cake, layered with apricot jam and earl grey tea mousse, and dipped in white chocolate. The subtle almond and earl gray undertones offer a unique flavor, sweetened by the apricot and white chocolate. For sweet and sour fans, the lemon meringue and lime curd tartlets are bursts of flavor, not to be underestimated for their small size.

I reserve judgment on The Happy Tart’s selection of breads. Ready-made pizza crusts are waiting in my freezer, and one of these weekends I’ll rush over to snag a fresh bagel before they’re gone. But if the crowds that flock to this tiny storefront are any indication, I’m sure the breads will not disappoint.

So, I surrender to The Happy Tart, a force much more powerful than my will. I admit that I am grateful for Cech’s contributions to gluten-free baking and have even tried my hand at her crostata recipe, using the rice flour blend sold in the bakery. Her crust recipe alone is enough to crumble my defenses. And when my Thanksgiving table tries the apple pie I plan to bring, it might just turn them all into gluties.

Happy Tart Gluten-Free Pâtisserie, 2307A Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA