Glutie Foodie

Adventures of a Gluten-Free Gal Dining Out


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Getting to Know Goldilocks Goodies

Goldilocks Goodies      Spoons_FIVE

It is the holiday season and the air is abuzz with shoppers, travelers, and partiers. No wonder our carb and sugar consumption peaks in November and December. How else would we keep our blood flowing and feet moving. These merry months are an especially busy time for Emily Robins, who can be seen dashing around DC, capitalizing on our sugar dependencies.

Actually, the truth is, since the inception of her gluten-free baking business, the Goldilocks Goodies founder has not stopped moving. She splits her time between Lancaster, PA, where she sources her fresh, locally farmed ingredients and bakes in her family’s kitchen, and Washington DC, to make deliveries to boutique coffee shops and set up camp at weekly farmers markets.

Two years ago, Robins’ fruitless quest for a nourishing, satisfying, gluten-free cookie ended at her stand mixer. Out of desperation she created Goldilocks Goodies’ signature, grain-free, nut-butter cookies, made with a short list of ingredients you can actually pronounce. They are chewy, sweet, fresh, and taste like real food, rather than artificial flavors and preservatives.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip with Himalayan Sea Salt

Signature peanut butter chocolate chip cookies with Himalayan sea salt

From cookies Robins’ repertoire quickly grew to brownies, muffins, whoopie pies, crusted pies, coffee cakes, quiches, loaves and more. She has mastered the ever-challenging gluten-free sandwich bread with a recipe that holds together when eaten fresh and toasts beautifully out of the freezer. The cinnamon-raisin bread with a hint of cardamom is more versatile than it sounds. Stuff two slices with turkey for a sweet and savory lunch or spread them with peanut butter to get the day started.

Cinnamon-raisin sandwich bread with a hint of cardamom

Cinnamon-raisin sandwich bread with a hint of cardamom

Not surprisingly, Goldilocks’ hand-made goodies do fetch a higher than average cost. With local, preservative-free ingredients, quality and freshness demand the higher price. The one-woman machine is baking for hundreds and delivering while the goods are practically still hot. Who wouldn’t pay an extra few bucks for that!

Back in November, Sister Seitan and I snagged seats in Emily Robins’ holiday cookie making class at the Living Social headquarters. We baked dozens of delectable gingerbread and sugar cookies that my family inhaled after Thanksgiving dinner.

Gingerbread cookies ready for the oven at the Living Social holiday cookie making class

Gingerbread cookies ready for the oven at the Living Social holiday cookie making class

I caught up with Robins a few weeks later at Pleasant Pops for tea and a Goldilocks Goodies brownie. She was exhausted from her final Living Social class but enthusiastic as ever to gab with me about starting a business from scratch, her Lancaster roots and future plans. Here is Glutie Foodie’s first published interview, Getting to Know Goldilocks Goodies:

Glutie Foodie (GF): What was your transition to a gluten-free lifestyle like?

Goldilocks Goodies (GG): I had just moved back to the States after living in China for 4 years. I was accustomed to not eating sandwiches, cereals and desserts, so I imagine it wasn’t as hard of a transition as it is for most people. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t miss a great, chewy, thick pizza crust, though!

GF: Tell us about the moment you decided to share your “Just Right” cookies with the world by starting a g-free baking business.

GG: I was having dinner with a friend and business mentor of mine when I came up with the name Goldilocks Goodies. After a year of thinking about what I wanted to do with my life, and another year of coming up with a business plan and deciding how to transition, I knew I was ready when I had the name picked out. It perfectly fits my story of trying a lot of ready-made gluten-free foods and finding them too dry, too sugary, too grainy, or too processed with preservatives and flavors. My products are not any of those—they’re just right! And the alliteration of Goldilocks Goodies is an added bonus for the bookworm/nerd in me. I decided to keep “gluten-free” out of the name. My goal is to provide treats everyone can enjoy that just happen to be gluten-free for those of us that check labels!

GF: You bake in the kitchen in which you were raised, on land owned by your family for generations. How have your mother and grandmother influenced your current career path?

GG: My mother and grandmother have both been a huge influence for me. Every meal was homemade from local ingredients, and my mom was baking all the time—just little things—but we always had homemade cookies, pies and treats. It was a great gift to eat locally and seasonally and I aim to do that with my line of baked goods as well.

Of course, everything my grandmother makes is wonderful, and she doesn’t use any recipes. She learned by watching her mother-in-law in the kitchen so that she could help prepare for large gatherings: holidays, corn roasts or pig roasts, barn raisings, Sunday dinners, and harvest days when neighboring farms would pool their labor. Most farmers would eat very simply through the week, but there would always be plenty of variety when folks got together. These women are extremely hard-working and have very talented hands in the kitchen, both of which I aspire towards.

GF: What is the best thing to come out of your grandmother’s kitchen? Have you adapted the recipe to be gluten-free?

GG: I’d have to say her Chocolate Caramel Cake is the most requested and most famous of all. The caramel icing—made in an iron skillet—requires a lot of love and patience and was my great-grandmother’s recipe (who probably got it from her mother). Every grandchild wants it made for their birthday and it would be the most coveted dish at a picnic or potluck. I HAD to convert this to gluten-free and I make it by special order for other special occasions.

GF: That’s true! You and Mr. Green Bean conspired earlier this year to surprise me with gluten-free birthday cake. You baked your famous Chocolate Caramel Cake and Carrot Cake (a personal favorite) for the occasion. Both were utterly delicious. My guests would never have guessed the cakes were gluten-free were it not for Glutie Foodie stuffing her face with seconds…and thirds.

Nowadays there are many options for gluten-free birthday cake. How do your products stand apart in the growing gluten-free food market?

GG: The common opinion is that gluten-free foods are sub-par in taste, texture and quality. I refuse to buy those products currently on the market and strive to make ones that are gluten-free AND delicious. I’m proud to say that some customers of mine don’t need a gluten-free diet; they just appreciate something fresh, natural and locally sourced. My treats aren’t made with cheap fillers, lots of added sugar or artificial ingredients like a lot of other products are that are allergen-free.

GF: What has been most challenging about starting Goldilocks Goodies?

GG: The most challenging part, by far, is the amount of energy it takes to start a baking business. I have had chronic Lyme disease for over 10 years now, and while most of my symptoms are much better managed now than at the beginning of my illness, I still fight aches, pains, and fatigue that make 12 to 14-hour days of baking, driving, delivering, marketing and paperwork a struggle.

GF: What has been most rewarding about starting Goldilocks Goodies?

GG: The feedback that I get is truly what makes this all worth it. I’ve received the sweetest comments and emails from people saying they are fans for life, or that their daughter had a very memorable birthday cake that year because of me, or from a food writer letting me know I “single-handedly elevated [his] opinion of the potential of gf baking for non-gf diners.” Yeah, that was a good day!

GF: What do you envision for Goldilocks Goodies 5 years from now?

GG: My goal is to have nation-wide distribution within 2 years. There’s no comparable cookie on the market that’s free of the top 7 allergens and is as satisfying and delicious as mine. I want to reach fans around the country and then, who knows? Maybe I’ll end up selling my cookies in China!

I also have goals of making a cookbook based on seasonal produce for each region of the US. Fixing the broken food chain in the States is integral to my hometown, the preservation of farmland and the way of life of my neighbors, and, I believe, the health and environment for each and every one of us.

Emily Robins of Goldilocks Goodies

Emily Robins of Goldilocks Goodies

Goldilocks Goodies’ savory and sweet treats are available at select locations throughout the DMV, online, or by special order. 

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Almost Paradise

Pizzeria Paradiso     Spoons_TWO_76x25

I am officially a food writer. Every meal I eat is analyzed down to the last detail. My hyper-focused taste buds are constantly at work critiquing each bite. My family likes to think of themselves as sous-food writers. They love offering their unsolicited opinions when dining with me, in exchange for a potential mention on the blog. I appreciate and welcome the assistance. If nothing else it makes for interesting dinner conversation. Following Medium Rare and a few other major meals the weekend of my family’s visit, we decided to take it easy Sunday night and order in Pizzeria Paradiso, one of the most reputable artisanal pizza restaurants around, with three locations between DC and NoVA.

Pizzeria Paradiso

Pizzeria Paradiso

Known for their big crust, thin pie, and gourmet toppings, Pizzeria Paradiso debuted a gluten-free crust in the winter of 2012. I was one of the first to try the gluten-free pie and was underwhelmed with the product at the time. However, unwilling to believe that such a successful pizzeria could fail at their gluten-free option, I was willing to give it another try.

The 8-inch gluten-free crust costs an additional $2 more than a regular individual pie. Fellow glutie, Sister-in-law Scotch, and I ordered two to share and made sure to pack on the toppings just in case the crust was lacking. The Siciliana was an easy selection, loaded with zucchini, eggplant, capers, minced garlic, oregano, sweet peppers, red onion, mozzarella, pecorino, and Paradiso’s signature chunky tomato. (Note to those like Mr. Green Bean, who prefer their sauce as a backdrop: make sure to replace the default Paradiso Tomato with Birreria Tomato Sauce, a smoother choice.) The Siciliana succeeded in piling the long list of ingredients onto each slice without completely flopping under the weight. For our second pizza, we created a sauceless pie with pesto, marinated artichokes, spinach, sundried tomato, mozzarella and feta. Bravo to us for a superb combination of bold flavors, serving as a nice contrast to the light and fresh Siciliana. The absence of saucey tomatoes kept both crusts from getting soggy, a typical concern for wheat-free pizzas.

Siciliana with Paradiso Tomato, Zucchini, Eggplant, Capers, Minced Garlic, Oregano, Mozzarella, Pecorino, Sweet Peppers and Red Onion

Siciliana with Paradiso tomato, zucchini, eggplant, capers, minced garlic, oregano, mozzarella, pecorino, sweet peppers and red onion

Paradiso makes their gluten-free crust on-site, and rather than par-baking the crust as they first tried, they now freeze the rolled out dough until ready to pop in the wood-burning stone oven. The result is a thin body with a thick, chewy crust that doesn’t stick to your teeth (you know what I’m talking about fellow gluties). What a novelty to have a hefty edge to hold onto, something to sink one’s teeth into. How rare to have extra bread leftover after all the cheese, sauce and veggies are gone.

Our own creation with

Our own creation with pesto, marinated artichokes, spinach, sundried tomato, mozzarella and feta

The crust recipe calls for a combination of buckwheat, tapioca, white and brown rice, fava and garbanzo flours. The dominant buckwheat nuttiness reminded me of the days when I could enjoy a hearty wholewheat crust, with a certain wholesome flavor that makes one feel less guilty for her meal choice. This dough proved a refreshing change from flavorless, cracker-like, gluten-free flatbreads that call themselves pizzas.

Now the reason for Paradiso’s two-spoon rating. After further research into the pizzeria’s gluten-free precautions and preparation methods, I am sorely disappointed and am having second thoughts about returning to the establishment. Paradiso seems to have sacrificed safety for a winning product. While commendable that they make their gluten-free dough in-house, it is prepared in the same kitchens as the wheat dough with flour flying freely about. The pizzas are assembled using the same topping containers and cooked in a shared stone oven, sliding in and out on the same surface as wheat pizzas. Cross-contamination is inevitable. The restaurant covers themselves by warning of their cooking practices on their website and instructing their waitstaff to do the same at the table. Pizzeria Paradiso took a piece of the gluten-free pie, but isn’t truly serving those who need contamination-free wheat-less crust. What a tease.

I end by sharing my family’s two cents on their regular pizzas. Pa Glutie Foodie likes his pizza saucy and found Paradiso’s too dry. Brother Bourbon thought that for the hefty price there was too much crust. While Sister Seitan loved the unusual Genovese pie topped with pesto, potato and parmesan, Brother Bourbon preferred the very cheesy Quattro Formaggi with gorgonzola, pecorino, fontina, mozzarella, minced garlic and parsley. Surprise, surprise, Mr. Green Bean stuck to the simple cheese pizza with smooth Birreria Tomato Sauce. And easy to please Ma Glutie Foodie was so elated to have us all together around one dinner table, the pizza could have been cardboard…but she loved it!

Pizzeria Paradiso, 3282 M Street NW, Washington DC (see other Locations HERE)


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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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Pulpo-tential

Pulpo     Spoons_TWO_76x25

Bravo to Pulpo. Last summer, Cleveland Park’s modern American/Spanish tapas restaurant successfully transformed the former Tackle Box space with minimal interior reconstruction. My memory has faded of the picnic tables and steamed clams, replaced by elegant, dark wood, ruffed-up brick, and sweet sangria. Mr. Green Bean and I patronize the under-publicized neighborhood establishment on occasion. We always arrive happy to see the restaurant pleasantly packed. Yet Pulpo is still trying to find just the right formula for success, switching up the menu frequently, offering an all you can eat and drink brunch, advertising extended happy hours and drink specials, and most recently making a staffing change with newly hired general manager David Hansen and executive chef Billy Klein, formerly of Café Saint-Ex. The $25 bottomless brunch smells the most desperate, a ghost of past management that Hansen and Klein are hoping to restructure soon. On a recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Green Bean and I gave it a go, meeting our newly wedded friends, Weg-Man and Wife, for a midday feast that had its ups and downs.

If there were ever a question of how excessive American culture is, Pulpo’s brunch makes it quite clear. Our waiter, a quiet and mysterious type, handed out menus and allowed us a quick glance before he offered to do the picking on our behalf. He would choose an assortment of tapas from all the menu categories:  breakfast items, lunch items, salads and vegetables, taking into account my gluten allergy. Mr. Green Bean was the only one with premonitions about relinquishing our ordering control. The rest of us happily leaned back and awaited our mimosas.

What unfolded from that point was a never ending ensemble of plates, arriving one at a time, in no particular order, and too slowly to explain why requests—such as coffee, milk for our coffee, spoons for stirring the coffee, hot coffee to replace the now cold and milk-less coffee—were granted in a much delayed fashion, or not at all. It turns out that a number of the brunch items contain gluten. Most surprisingly the frittatas, typically a gluten free alternative to quiche, are made in flour-laced pans. The slow service was partly due to chef Klein’s gracious attempt to modify dishes for my diet while keeping up with a restaurant full of expanding stomachs.

We were given a number of naturally gluten-free items to start, including the white bean salad with cucumber, roasted red pepper, olives and feta,  the spinach with citrus, and the mushrooms with garlic. While most of the lighter dishes were predictable and forgettable, the golden quinoa made an impression, with perfect pearls of toasted quinoa slightly sweetened by apricots and honey.

Golden quinoa with apricots and honey

Golden quinoa with apricots and honey

We were served a fleet of modified gluten-free dishes such as the shrimp salad without the roll (a preparation preferred by our waiter anyway), meatball sliders slipped off the bun, crostini-less smoked salmon with lemon goat cheese, eggs benedict with smoked salmon served over rice pilaf without the orzo, and pan-fried (rather than deep fried) patatas bravas with garlic aioli.

Meatballs with manchego cheese

Meatballs with manchego cheese

Most of the plates faired rather ordinary. However, a highlight of the group was a gluten-free version of the roasted pork belly and black bean tostada, a hearty bowl of pulled pork with corn tortilla triangles for scooping. Unfortunately the dish arrived too late to fully enjoy, our stomachs cramping from overindulgence.

Roasted pork belly and black bean tostada

Roasted pork belly and black bean tostada

The onslaught of food left us confused and disappointed. We would have been better served with a few standout dishes and not all subpar fill-ins that resulted in both overeating and wasted leftovers. Unfortunately, the meal’s only sparsities were refills of our mimosas. Oh, and hot coffee.

Mr. Green Bean and I parted ways with Weg-Man and Wife and walked home reflecting on our more positive dinner experiences at Pulpo. I can’t say I have ever had flawless service at Pulpo, and with a menu that has been restructured a few times it’s difficult to keep up. But I have been pleased on every dinner occasion by more refined menu items that are executed quite well. One ingredient Pulpo makes sure they get right is the sea creature for which the restaurant is named. Pulpo’s newest menu features four octopus dishes. Though I have yet to try them out, my guess is they will fare well based on the success of past octopus preparations .

Octopus with citrus quinoa

Past menu item: Octopus with citrus quinoa

Pulpo continues to wave around its tentacles hoping something will catch. What has been consistent since the restaurant’s opening is its romantic and cozy interior that sets the mood for a pleasant experience regardless of flaws in food and service. Now that chef Klein has been on board for a few months, perhaps this rocky boat is bound for some smooth sailing.

Pulpo, 3407 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington DC


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Crowd-FUN-ded

Gluten-free Biergarden by SourceHorse

You say, “come enjoy gluten-free donuts and beer to support the Celiac Disease Foundation,” and I say “hell, yes!”. This past Saturday night’s sold out Gluten Free Biergarden was organized by SourceHorse, crowdfunded through EventStir, and held at the multipurpose event space, Tabula Rasa. Guests donated $30 to enjoy gluten-free savories by Ridgewells Catering, sweets by Dough: A District Bakery, kegs of cider from Magners and Woodchuck and endless bottles of gluten-free beer from Bard’s, Dogfish Head and New Planet. I attended the event not only to enjoy all of these delectables, but also to grow awareness of my humble blog. Funny thing is, you get together a bunch of gluties in their 20s and 30s, offer them gluten-free treats, a pumping DJ and an outdoor courtyard on a beautiful October night, and the last thing they want to do is talk about being gluten-free. So I worked my mouth on the food and drink instead of the crowd.

Ridgwells Catering      Spoons_TWO_76x25
Bethesda based Ridgwells Catering must not have expected such a terrific turn out. The buffet of small bites ran out in the first half hour, well before Mr. Green Bean showed up. I arrived early enough to taste everything, in order to report back to you diligently, of course. The display included a Mediterranean skewer bar with grilled chorizo and spiced Shrimp that satisfied, and overcooked lemon oregano chicken that turned to sawdust in my mouth (harsh, I know, but true).

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Mediteranean skewer bar with (left to right) chorizo, shrimp and chicken.

Vegetarian options included artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade, grilled vegetable rollers with guacamole and black bean spread, and tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers. Though the food didn’t offer much to get excited about, I was impressed by the soft, chewy wrapper used for the veggie rollers, maintaining a pleasing texture and holding together nicely.

(Left to Right) Vegetable rollups; artichokes with sun-dried tomato; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers.

(Left to Right) Grilled vegetable rollers; artichokes with sun-dried tomato tapenade; tomato, mozzarella and basil skewers

Dough: A District Bakery    Spoons_FOUR
Dough’s baked goods were also tough to come by, mainly because guests couldn’t get enough of the bite-sized red velvet cupcakes, pumpkin spice donut holes, and miniature eclairs! The new DC bakery has yet to establish a store front, making accessibility a bit of a challenge. Founder and baker, Hilary Nelson, has utilized Tabula Rasa for a couple of Saturday pop-up events and is happy to take orders online. Nelson is all about fostering DC culture by sourcing local ingredients to supply the community, both gluten-free and not, with soulful sweet treats. I certainly tasted the love. Each piece I sampled was light, airy, fluffy…all adjectives typically used to describe what gluten-free is not! The oblong pastry of the eclair closely resembled that of a conventional eclair, filled with a touch of vanilla custard and decorated with a sweet chocolate frosting. My favorite was the donut hole, bursting with pumpkin flavor and enhanced by a glistening coating of cinnamon and sugar. Catch Dough if you can as she grows her budding business through upcoming local engagements.

(Left to right) Mini eclairs, red velvet cupcakes, and pumpkin spice donut holes

(Left to right) Mini eclairs; mini red velvet cupcakes; pumpkin spice donut holes

Once the food ran out, beer and cider flowed. I sipped on Dogfish Head’s Tweason’ale, a twist on traditional gluten-free brews, made with fresh strawberries, sorghum and honey. It was a refreshing choice for the night’s lingering summer air. I’m not a personal fan of Magners or Woodchuck cider, but red solo cups kept filling up. Good marks were also given to New Planet’s Blond Ale, a sorghum and corn extract based beer.

Dogfish Head Tweason'ale

Dogfish Head Tweason’ale

Stay tuned for future gluten-free crowd-funded events by SourceHorse. The young company aims to make  planning, funding, and promoting events of all kinds a cinch. The millennial generation to which SourceHorse caters is known for creative mindedness. SourceHorse brings their ideas to fruition. In the gluten conscious world we live in, it’s no surprise this g-free event drew such a crowd. Though SourceHorse admits that high overhead left little profit to be donated to the Celiac Disease Foundation, building awareness is worth a great deal.


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Mexican Dating Game

El Centro D.F.     Spoons_THREE_76x25

Growing up, taco night was my favorite night. Ma and Pa Glutie Foodie would have to cut me off after a messy 5 or 6 Old El Paso shells filled with ground beef or beans and cheese. Mexican cuisine is still one of my most beloved. Give me spicy salsa, fresh avocado, and crispy tortillas and I’m a happy glutie. There are plenty of mediocre Mexican offerings in the DC area; but following a trip to Richard Sandoval’s El Centro D.F., I thought I had met my Mexican soulmate.

El Centro and I met a few years back, when my good friend Lox (of Bagel and Lox) and I stopped in for nourishment after an evening of art reception hopping. We sat on two stools in the casual taqueria’s open seating area and were helped by a jovial server who informed me that the menu is nearly completely gluten-free. We gulped down house margaritas made with fresh lime and agave nectar (as apposed to sugar filled, artificially flavored and potentially gluten-containing mix), and I enjoyed every bite of my Chipotle Shrimp, served with black bean puree, market vegetables and white rice. El Centro offers delicious corn based, authentic Mexican comfort food in a hip, upscale environment, at more reasonable prices than many of its 14th street neighbors. I enthusiastically introduced El Centro to Mr. Green Bean. And Mr. GB and I returned with Sister Seitan, The Muffins, Souper Girl, Irish Coffee, Breakfast Blend… We met friends for frozen drinks on the lively rooftop bar and for more formal dining in the dark and sexy basement tequileria. It was a blissful time.

Guacamole prepared tableside

Guacamole prepared tableside

Then came the visit that left me wary. Miss Zin and I were excited to gorge on guacamole mashed table-side and perfectly salted tortilla chips fried in gluten-free oil. I began to explain my gluten “allergy” to the server as I always do, and instead of the usual rap, “just avoid the empanadas and dessert”, he started to scrunch his nose, wrinkle his forehead and pierce his lips. “Hmmmm, you can not eat anything”, was more or less his unapologetic response. He had to be kidding. You mean, the Mushroom Huarache (flatbread) I ordered last time has flour in the dough they swore was gluten-free? And the soft taco tortillas I’ve now eaten on multiple occasions are not 100% corn? He double checked with the kitchen and returned with more bad news. I could eat the ceviche. That was it. Feeling nauseous just thinking about all the gluten I had consumed over the past months, raw fish in an acid bath was the last thing I wanted. Miss Zin felt terrible and I was embarrassed. Was it possible my Mexican crush was breaking up with me?

But alas, on this very evening, the manager was making the rounds and stopped by our table to ask how everything (my ceviche) was. “Actually…”, and I told her my tale. Shocked, she apologized and rescinded the server’s misinformation. El Centro’s menu has always been nearly 80% gluten-free. So why the server’s certainty of quite the opposite? Was it a language barrier? This is not the first time I have had major confusion in a Mexican restaurant. But I never expected it from mi amore. The manager treated me to the Grilled Skirt Steak Huaraches I would have ordered had this alarming experience not occurred, and I ate it tentatively. We exchanged few words with our server after that.

I have since returned to El Centro and learned how to trust again. Just last week Miss Lox and I shared another indulgent dinner after burning all our energy at a schmoozy networking reception. After we were seated, I glanced at the menu, slightly modified since my last visit, and quizzed a clearly new employee, waiting for another alarming incident to begin. But to my relief, he understood my food restriction and was confident that the crispy shrimp tacos were safe for me to eat. Lightly fried baby shrimps are stuffed into three soft, 100% corn shells and served with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeño, roasted corn and mexican rice. My usual favorite, the baja fish tacos, now have major competition.

Crispy Shrimp tacos with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeno, roasted corn, and mexican rice

Crispy Shrimp tacos with aji amarillo aioli, pickled jalapeño, roasted corn, and mexican rice

Baja tacos with grilled market fish, Mexican slaw, tomato, corn, avocado and chipotle aioli

Baja tacos with grilled market fish, Mexican slaw, tomato, corn, avocado and chipotle aioli

Despite it’s imperfections, El Centro has a magnetic pull. And with his new location in Georgetown, it will be even more difficult to stay away. Though I try to play hard to get, he remains a strong favorite in my restaurant rotation. Oh, El Centro, cómo te quiero.

Chips, salsa and guacamole

Chips, salsa and guacamole

El Centro D.F., 1819 14th Street NW, Washington DC
El Centro D.F. Georgetown, 1218 Wisconsin Ave NW, Washington DC


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City of Gluten-Free Love

Mrs. Refined Sugar and I have been friends for a long time, back when we were both unrefined. We shared some strange food adventures in our younger years, the details of which I will spare you, except to divulge that we chewed paper and analyzed various pulp qualities. Besides a few odd adolescent experiments, we ate very well between our two houses and experimented with our own cooking once we could be trusted. Now grown and living a few cities apart, we support each other’s independent culinary explorations, her’s being the highly successful ice cream blog, 365 Scoops. It was a true feat to steal away Mrs. Refined Sugar from her eight month old baby, Sugar in the Raw, to meet for a day in one of East Coast’s most advanced gluten-free foodie cities, Philadelphia.  For weeks we looked forward to indulging our now more sophisticated palettes with some quality grub. Between Refined Sugar’s vegetarian habits and my gluten-free demands, we narrowed down our options to a few recommended locations. I knew we were on the same page when we arrived wearing the same black, elastic waistband leggings: make room for food!

HipCityVeg      Spoons_FOUR
We started our eating tour with a light lunch at HipCityVeg, a locally sourced, environmentally friendly, vegan sandwich and salad joint. This fast-food spot has just one location off of Rittenhouse Square. I imagine the concept would make for a highly successful chain. The menu airs on the healthy side with a few treats mixed in, such as sweet potato fries and a few desserts. There are a number of gluten-free options and the staff is extremely versed in parsing ingredient lists to help navigate allergen-free choices, refreshing for a fast-food establishment. Mrs. Refined Sugar and I both ordered the Bistro Bella sandwich, mine deconstructed on a pile of arugula instead of the bun. The salad contained herb glazed portobello mushrooms, olive tapenade, tomato, artichokes and red onion, a unique alternative to my tired salad repertoire. With fuel to burn we were off to shop, what else?

HipCityVeg (image courtesy of hipcityveg.com)

HipCityVeg (image courtesy of hipcityveg.com)

Sweet Freedom Bakery      Spoons_FOUR
By late afternoon we were ready to recharge at Sweet Freedom, Philadelphia’s only bakery free of (long inhale) gluten, dairy, egg, corn, soy, peanut, casein and refined sugar (no offense to my companion of the same name). As we entered this sweet treat mecca, I checked my gluten-guard at the door and surveyed the cupcakes, donuts, cookies, brownies, oat crumbles, cake balls, etc. Mrs. Refined Sugar left the ordering to me, a weighty task. The friendly associate recommended the strawberry shortcake cupcake, yes please, and I couldn’t resist the chocolate salted caramel cupcake. Our fruity pick was a creative combination of classic shortcake and trendy cupcake. The dense, vanilla flavored, scone-like cake was layered with dairy-free cream, fresh strawberries and just a touch of strawberry syrup. This not-too-sweet delectable paired nicely with the rich and chocolaty cupcake, oozing gooey caramel from its center. A fudgy chocolate frosting was sprinkled with flakes of sea salt, rounding out a most stimulating feast for the taste buds.

Strawberry shortcake cupcake

Strawberry shortcake cupcake

Chocolate salted caramel cupcake

Chocolate salted caramel cupcake

Before leaving we felt it our duty to sample the newly released bread loaf that Sweet Freedom has worked diligently to perfect. Toasted with a smear of apricot jam, it was quite satiating. However standing alone, the slice was slightly too dense and bitter in flavor for my taste. Not bad for a first run, but perhaps in need of some more fine tuning.

Sweet Freedom's new loaf of bread with apricot jam

Sweet Freedom’s new loaf of bread with apricot jam

Zahav      Spoons_FOUR
After a quick visit to The Barnes Foundation’s world-famous art collection in its new Philadelphia home, we rushed to make our dinner reservation. The final stop of the day was Zahav, a gem tucked away on quiet St. James Place. Chef and owner Michael Solomonov was born in Israel and raised in Pittsburgh, PA. At the age of 19 he returned to Israel, fell into the culinary world, and later returned to work in the restaurant industry in Philadelphia. The death of his brother in the Israeli army clarified for Solomonov his mission to share the flavors of his native land, and Zahav was born.

Stepping into the airy, limestone laden dining space and peering into the open kitchen, Mrs. Refined Sugar and I both had the same first impression: We’ve just entered Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Yet Zahav offers its own interpretation of the the little country’s big flavors. We were greeted by an enthusiastic server who was unperturbed by our many dietary restrictions. She grabbed a pen and swiftly lined through items to avoid on each of our paper menus. Not surprisingly, Mrs. Refined Sugar’s vegetarian sheet was more marked up than mine. The server then explained the restaurant’s sharing style and pointed out the tempting $39 Tayim tasting menu, which offers a generous sampling from each section of the menu. We weighed our should’s and could’s over a Lemonnana cocktail and Israeli Salad Martini and decided the day called for an indulgent finale.

Our tasting menu began with half a dozen fresh salatim (salads), hummus, freshly baked pita for Mrs. Refined Sugar, and cucumber slices for me. Small bowls filled with beets in house-made tahini, pureed eggplant, sliced fennel, spicy green beans, chopped cucumber, and creamy hummus were all gluten-free. I avoided the tabouli salad, a cracked wheat based dish. The first course alone would have left us buzzing about Zahav. But there was much more to come.

Salatim

Salatim

Aware of our limited time, our server kept the food rolling with a second set of dishes: the watermelon salad with marinated cobia, israeli olives and smoked honey; the roasted zucchini with bulgarian feta, hazelnuts and zucchini babaganoush; and the heirloom tomato salad with matbucha (roasted tomatoes) and house-made ricotta. We ferociously tasted each plate’s complex combination of flavors and textures. A symphony of “mmmm’s” hummed from our table.

Watermelon salad, roasted zucchini and heirloom tomato salad

Watermelon salad, roasted zucchini and heirloom tomato salad

The Al Ha’esh (grilled over coals) course followed with spiced eggplant, prepared with harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina, and the highly recommended hanger steak with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug. (I channeled Mr. Green Bean for my one meaty choice.) Our server graciously treated us to the trumpet mushrooms, which we had been eyeing, served with shakshuka, fried egg and legumes. A dozen or so dishes now crowded our little table, and we attempted to take it all in (figuratively of course, we couldn’t possibly clean our plates).

Spiced eggplant, accompanied by harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina

Spiced eggplant with harissa, black lentils and garlic tehina

Hanger steak with with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug

Hanger steak with babaganoush, mushrooms and spicy schoug

With our elastic waistbands fully extended we made room for just a few bites of dessert. I ordered the tahini semifreddo, a rich and creamy mousse with hints of nutty sesame flavor, accented by sweet cherry compote topping. I melted over a couple of spoonfuls and still regret not taking the rest home.

Tahini semifreddo with a cherry compote

Tahini semifreddo with a cherry compote

Overall, elaborate preparations and beautiful presentations of fresh produce, hearty grains and quality proteins resulted in an impressive representation of the melting pot of Israeli cuisine. I am critical of the kitchen’s heavy hand with salt and weak pour for expensive cocktails, small crimes for an otherwise first-rate meal.

Although the establishments we visited offered some pretty delicious items, credit must be given as well to Mrs. Refined Sugar. Some dining partners just make food taste a little sweeter and a little richer. Before we parted ways, we made plans for a reprise rendezvous in The City of Brotherly (and gluten-free) Love.

HipCityVeg, 127 S 18th Street, Philadelphia, PA
Sweet Freedom Bakery, 1424 South Street, Philadelphia, PA
Zahav, 237 St. James Place, Philadelphia, PA