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
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
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)
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
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.
I left feeling embarrassed for the restaurant. There was plenty of tasty food last Saturday night at Menu/MBK with Mr. Green Bean and our good friends, The Oreos. But, oh, I cringe recollecting our dining experience. Let’s start from the beginning…
Menu/MBK is Chef Frederik De Pue’s second attempt at reviving the old Café Atlántico space in Penn Quarter. He shuttered his seafood-themed Azure six months ago and reimagined the four story space into a layer cake of culinary delights. The ground floor of Menu/MBK features a Market open 9am to 9pm for gourmet grocery items, prepared foods, fancy sandwiches and coffee to go or to enjoy with free wi-fi on the third floor living room lounge. At 5pm the lounge and forth floor dining room become BistroBar, serving Belgian inspired beverages and thoughtful European fare. The frosting in the middle is the second floor open Kitchen with a six-seater chef’s counter serving a special prix-fixe menu that changes daily.
On that particular Saturday night, we were led up to the top floor via the service stairs, avoiding the large private party at the bar. The view from up top reveals eclectic decor with a homey, loft feel. Bare bulbs and bird cage assemblages dangle down the central cavity as if inspired by Maurizio Cattelan’s 2012 retrospective installation at the Guggenheim, NY. We were seated and perused the drink list for what felt like eons until a server finally approached and opened with an apology. They were out of the three signature cocktails Miss Oreo had her eye on, and beverage service was likely to take longer than usual due to one bartender and a thirsty bar crowd.
The Bistro menu is small (literally…the card could fit in my back pocket), and divided into price categories ranging from $8 to $34. I asked the server if he would mind going through the gluten-free options with me and he preferred I ask him specifically about the dishes that interested me. I was interested in everything. He seemed fairly knowledgeable, but proceeded with caution, looking at me wearily after every “you can’t eat that”, as if I my head might implode after too many disappointments. To his relief, we managed to find some gluten-free options that appealed. We started off easy with a cheese and charcuterie plate that arrived with three sad looking toast corners on the side, one for each wheat-bellied guest. Sensing the table’s dissatisfaction the server quickly supplemented with more toast. We slowly nibbled, waiting an uncomfortable amount of time before we saw our server again to place our food order. He asked my three dining partners if they would like homemade parker rolls with bits of bacon baked into the center, as if any gluten and pork-eating American would say “no” to that!
Cheese and Charcuterie
As our main course was served the Chef De Pue I know and love from Table finally performed. Mr. Oreo and Mr. Green Bean both ordered the Chapel Hill Farm Veal Meatballs with panisse (chickpea fritters, though not gluten-free here) and cucumber mostarda. The masculine dish was plated daintily and apparently tasted “really, really good”. Miss Oreo’s Crispy Cod with lemon parsley remoulade and fennel looked and tasted just as our server had described/warned: like a fish and chips egg roll. According to Miss Oreo, the rolls’ potato and fish filling could have used some classic tartar sauce to combat the dryness. Neither dish was fair game for my fork. Luckily I was perfectly happy with my Artic Char, served skin-side-up over artichoke hearts and diced vegetables in a light broth with dabs of what the menu calls “lemon puree”, but I call butter. The fish was delicate with a crispy skin and mild flavor that allowed the artichokes to shine.
Artic Char with artichokes and lemon puree
We were enjoying the last bites of our entrées when our server reappeared to apologize for the tardiness of our Peas and Carrots side. Once they arrived, it was clear they were worth the wait. These buttery, plump, green peas with carrot and potato slices redefine the TV dinner’s most common filler.
Peas and Carrots
Pre-dessert we spent a few minutes analyzing how Miss Oreo and Mr. Green Bean’s second round of tea-infused, beer and gin based cocktails varied significantly from their first glasses and didn’t quiet resemble each other either. One bartender, really? I ordered a coffee for my second round and finished the mug before the milk appeared (they were out of cream). I was quickly distracted by the dessert menu’s Sundae with caramel popcorn and nougat ice creams, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle. Our server was happy to finally bring some good news: the sundae could be served gluten-free without the unnecessary cookie crumble garnish. Of course, it was delivered with the glutenous crumbles anyway and soon disappeared to melt sadly in the kitchen while an actually gluten-free version was prepared. The ice creams and brittle were unanimous winners while the sorbet looked and tasted more like a 7-Eleven Slurpee.
Sundae with caramel popcorn and nougat ice cream, Coca Cola sorbet and peanut brittle
We ended the evening filled with good food but a bad taste in our mouths. Even after all the hiccups, not one reparation was made. A simple courtesy dessert or on-the-house peas and carrots would have spoken volumes. Instead I am left to hope that Menu/MBK was just having a bad night but fear that De Pue’s recipe for this multipurpose space has a couple of bad eggs.
I can cook. I can paint and draw too. However, I am a much better spokesperson for others’ artistic creations. So, nearly two years ago when Glutie Foodie was born, I chose to write about my adventures in restaurants rather than in my own kitchen. That was before The Green Spoon came to town, an Arlington based upstart delivering chef-cooked, gluten-free, healthy meals to local living rooms within hours of their preparation; now that’s a TV-dinner worth writing about.
The Green Spoon’s founder and owner, Hanson Cheng, grew up on gourmet food with his family in the restaurant industry. It was not until he benefited first-hand from a strict Paleo diet that he realized the positive affects of healthy, clean eating and his mission became clear. Cheng explains, “People in DC work hard, sit for hours in traffic, have families, have schedules so packed that they barely have time for themselves or their families. If I could help people eat great food and make it convenient for them, I felt that would be very valuable….They would have access to healthy food that tastes great!
Cheng designed a weekly meal program to include 100% gluten-free dishes that borrow from his Paleo practices. He interviewed a couple dozen chefs before finding Donn Souliyadeth, who was working as a private chef at the time and has cooked with celebrity chef Morou Ouattara at both his Farrah Olivia and Kora restaurants in Northern Virginia. “I’ve never met someone that works as hard as he [Souliyadeth] does” Cheng admires. “He puts his heart and soul into his food. For our tortillas, he probably made six to seven versions of them before we found one we were happy offering to our clients.”
From the first taste of a Green Spoon meal, Souliyadeth’s talents are clear. He is a pro at preparing well-balanced, packaged meals that taste as delicious re-heated the next day as they would right off the pan. Souliyadeth shops for his locally sourced produce and proteins once the week’s orders are in, to ensure the freshest ingredients with nearly no waste. The seared haddock with a “soy sauce” glaze, cauliflower rice, baby bok choy and sweet peppers spent 15 minutes in my 350 degree oven, right in the eco-friendly container in which it was delivered. Another 15 minutes later, that container was licked clean, tossed into the recycling bin and I had the rest of my night to…well, work on this post.
Seared haddock with a soy glaze, cauliflower rice, baby bok choy and sweet peppers
The salmon filet I received was served with a mound of sweet and tangy mango salsa atop a bed of brown rice that crisped on the edges after its 15 minutes in the oven.
Salmon filet with mango salsa and brown rice
The lunch menu’s napa cabbage salad with grape tomatoes, red grapes, pistachios and avocado was accompanied by a hearty portion of mahi mahi and a balsamic vinaigrette that Mr. Green Bean and I nearly drank! We spent the entire meal trying to figure out how to replicate our new favorite dressing.
Napa salad with mahi mahi and balsamic vinaigrette
The Green Spoon caterers to little people too, with a separate kids menu that tempts the Mr. Green Bean in all of us. I was particularly intrigued by the almond crusted fish sticks served with broccoli, carrots, and a cauliflower mash that kids will never know isn’t the starchy staple they’re used to. The accompanying tartar sauce tasted so fresh I actually felt good about eating it. Beware that this finger food is meant to be eaten with a fork, due to the fish’s delicate texture. In fact, all the fish portions were cooked to a perfect, flaky consistency after their second rounds in an oven, a virtue I wish I could replicate with my own leftovers.
Almond crusted fish sticks with cauliflower mash, broccoli, carrots and tartar sauce
It was a week filled with fish, as you can tell. Mr. Green Bean was a good sport to put up with the fresh ocean smell that engulfed our apartment. Our Kashrut observance prohibited us from bringing in dishes like the Green Spoon’s Jerk chicken with sweet plantains and spanish brown rice, or Kofte (Meditteranean meatballs) with tzatziki, chickpeas and spiced spinach, which my husband surely would have loved, and I have no doubt make for delicious dinners.
Though The Green Spoon sought me out to taste test their cooking, I am a new fan of the company on my own volition. I am convinced after tasting multiple dishes that what I initially thought were steep prices for “take-out” meals ($13 per lunch and $17 per dinner), are more than fair considering the product’s quality and quantity. The Green Spoon makes major efforts to support organic, local, and sustainable farming as much as possible and has no minimum order requirements or membership fees. Orders are taken the week before they are cooked and delivered, and meals are meant to be eaten within a couple of days of their arrival.
The Green Spoon eco-friendly containers
Hanson Cheng has big hopes for The Green Spoon, and there certainly is room for growth. The company is working on marketing the gluten-free, clean eating philosophy more prominently on the website and has plans to add organic juices, designed by a top DC mixologist, to their repertoire soon. Not surprisingly, there are still some limitations for the young company: While customers can list allergies on their user profile, specific food needs other than gluten-free are subject to the week’s offerings and may not be able to be accommodated. Delivery is currently only available in NW DC, Arlington, and Old Town Alexandria. Cheng hopes to expand the delivery radius once the kitchen can support the expansion without compromising quality. But anyone is welcome to our apartment where The Green Spoon will be making regular delivers from now on.
Glutie Foodie is on the job! Read this month’s issue of On Tap Magazinefor 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.
It took two years, but I finally recalibrated my taste for pizza. Gluten-free pies are readily available in the DC region, I can’t complain about that. But a crust made from rice, chickpea or sorghum flour is just a different animal than its wheat-based counterpart. Gluten-eating sympathizers will often compare and acknowledge that g-free is “not bad” or “actually pretty good!” But that “pretty good” pizza is mine forever. Now, when I crave pizza, I salivate thinking about the thin, delicate and often soggy kind. How delish.
One of the better options around town is the gluten-free crust at HomeMade Pizza Co. The DC and Illinois based company is unique to begin with. Gourmet pizza’s are prepared in-house using fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, and packaged with instructions for baking at home. It’s brilliant, actually. After 15 minutes in the oven you have a piping hot pie that taste like a lot more at-home labor.
Gluten-free HomeMade pizza ready to be baked
The HomeMade Pizza Co. menu allows customers to build their own pie if the pre-curated combinations don’t strike it just right. Start with a choice of crust (regular, whole wheat, deep dish or gluten-free), then add a base (tomato sauce, olive oil, BBQ sauce, ranch, pesto), and a selection of toppings from cheeses to meats, vegetables and herbs. The gluten-free crust, offered since 2011, is comprised of rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch and corn starch. The dough is prepared, rolled out, and sealed in an off-site, certified gluten-free kitchen, then delivered to HomeMade locations to be topped off.
A “Build-your-own” creation with some leftover roasted veggies thrown in
Unfortunately the tiny storefronts do not accommodate separate work stations. While staff is careful to keep gluten-free crusts contamination-free, a thin coating of wheat-flour dusts even the cash register at the 14th Street location that I frequent. If I appear antsy when I pick up my orders it’s because I’m anxious to get back outside for a full breath of fresh air! At least the baking takes place in the safety of my own kitchen. Mr. Green Bean’s cheese pizza (sometimes on whole wheat to justify eating a slice too many) goes on the bottom rack. My HomeMade favorite, the Spinach Pie with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, pine nuts, Kalamata olives and oregano over an olive oil glaze, sits daintily on the top. The result: well, thin, of course, with a crispy “crust” (indistinguishable from the rest of the pie, except that it’s topping-less) and a light, buttery flavor. Toppings are fresh, plentiful, and easily modifiable (think light-on-the-cheese, extra saucy or added anchovies for free).
Spinach Pie with feta cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, roasted garlic, pine nuts, and oregano
Rated relative to other gluten-free pies, HomeMade definitely wins a spot on my fast food rotation. However, the company should make some improvements to avoid cross-contamination and control the wafting flour that us gluties avoid like second-hand smoke.
My birthday rarely goes unnoticed, thanks to Mr. Green Bean’s love for throwing parties in my honor. This year I somehow convinced my husband to let me fly under the radar. On the evening of my birthday, we found ourselves wandering around town in a Car2Go, hungry and hoping to feel inspired. We were in front of a very dark Red Hen (closed on Monday nights) when I realized it would be the perfect occasion to try Kapnos. Mike Isabella’s newest Greek-inspired mezze restaurant was pleasantly quiet, and we jumped at the opportunity to sit at the chef’s counter overlooking sauté pans, prep stations, and two pigs rotating slowly on spits. It just so happened to be the sous chef’s birthday as well. I felt a pang of guilt for celebrating while he worked and silently hoped he wouldn’t sabotage our food.
At first glance, the interior of Kapnos has that ever-popular, industrial-chic look. But a closer examination reveals embellishments such as arched niches, lamps, tchotchkes and floor patterns inspired by ancient Greek designs. The menu draws from Northern Greece, focusing on spreads, an abundance of vegetable mezze, and wood roasted and spit-roasted meats. Servers are well informed and trustworthy guides through a menu that is largely gluten-free. I assuredly let down my guard after making clear my limitations, knowing whatever we ordered would be properly modified to meet my needs. Our server proved herself when she retracted our order of Greek Fries after checking on the contamination in that day’s oil bath, saving me from morning after birthday woes.
We started with Mr. Green Bean’s favorite Greek dip, Tzatziki, and Kapnos’ take on hummus, Revithosalata, made with chickpeas, tahini, and a sultan chutney. Both spreads give new life to the basic Greek recipes. The tzatziki is topped with a bright pink pile of sweet watermelon that compliments the cool, cucumber yogurt perfectly and almost made me forget about the $7.00 price tag. While the house-made flatbread looks torturously delicious, Kapnos offers gluten-free patrons an accompaniment of lemon-sesame green tomatoes and kohlrabi, free of charge (unheard of in the gluten-free world). The crunchy vegetables are satisfying enough to be a dish all on their own.
Tzatziki and revithosalata with lemon-sesame tomatos and kohlrabi
Left to my own devices, I would have ordered every dish on the very intriguing, predominantly vegetarian, left side of the menu. But alas, there was my dining partner to consider. We stuck with the Farm House Vegetable Salad and Charred Brussels sprouts. From the right side of the menu, I ordered the signature wood-grilled, Charred Octopus with green harissa and eggplant, and Mr. Green Bean voted for the wood roasted, Marinated Spring Lamb with lemony potatoes instead of the ancient grain salad. The farm house, or should I say “full house” salad, arrived first, packed with zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onions, olives, capers, and large chunks of creamy feta cheese, tossed in a red wine vinaigrette. Mr. GB picked through the “foreign” objects to find all of the cucumbers and then pushed the bowl in my direction.
Farm house salad
A large, hooked octopus arm covered in popped amaranth quickly took my attention away from our salad. It was almost too beautiful to cut through; I got over that quickly. The meat is the tenderest octopus I have had, accented by toasty grains that crackle in the mouth and a smokey, spicy eggplant purée. The chefs behind the counter and I begged Mr. Green Bean to try a bite, thinking this dish would surely convert him. Mr. GB argued that fried calamari is the closest he would ever come to grilled octopus, which the birthday chef took as a challenge. Moments later we were presented with a small plate of lightly fried octopus. Mr. GB tried it reluctantly and was polite enough to swallow.
The charred brussels sprouts are prepared with black garlic, kalamata olives, capers, onion, red pepper, hearts of palm, mint, white anchovy, and a citrus vinaigrette. The dish bursts with salty and zesty flavors that match the brussels’ boldness.
Charred brussels sprouts
The marinated lamb is…soft as a lamb, and rich in flavor. Camouflaged fat might catch you off guard (and if you’re like Mr. Green Bean, turn you off). But there is no denying this hearty dish is cooked patiently and with love.
Marinated spring lamb
We opted out of ice cream and sorbet (the only gluten-free dessert option), and headed home for a surprise final course of gourmet chocolates from Bryan Voltaggio’s Range candy counter, one of the few delicacies Mr. Green Bean and I can agree on.
My impromptu birthday dinner pleased beyond my expectations. I look forward to trying Kapnos again for more unusual garden mezze, such as gigandes beans with onion seeds, bulbs, stems and flowers, and salsify with turnips, baby carrot, sweet potato and dates. More gluten-free friendly than Isabella’s American-Italian hot spot, Graffiato, Kapnos is worth the trip from north of U to Northern Greece.
Cava is a permanent item on my grocery list. No, Mr. Green Bean and I are not popping the Spanish sparkling wine on a regular basis (we prefer Prosecco for cheap, bubbly thrills anyway). I’m talking about Cava Mezze’s variety of Greek-inspired dips and spreads, now sold at Whole Foods and other select grocers along the East Coast. This sounds like a paid endorsement. I promise it’s not. We just really love the stuff! It was one of Mr. Green Bean’s proudest moments the first time he returned home from a food shopping expedition with Cava’s traditional hummus in hand, like an accomplished hunter with a prized kill. Our friends can attest that dinner parties at our apartment always begin with a platter of Cava hummus and tzatziki, baby carrots and some variety of gluten-free crisps.
We were introduced to the spreads at Cava Mezze on Capitol Hill (now one of three Cava Mezze locations). It was one of our first dining experiences in DC. The hip, Greek tapas restaurant by trio Ike Grigoropoulos, Ted Xenohristos and chef Dimitri Moshovitis quickly became our go-to spot to bring out-of-town guests for reliable, quality food in a festive environment. But where the Cava Mezze enterprise really succeeds is with their take home products and casual fast-food spin off Cava Mezze Grill.
Cava opened its first grill concept on Bethesda Row in 2011. Mr. Green Bean and I frequently trekked from Cleveland Park until two locations opened in more convenient neighborhoods, Tenleytown and Columbia Heights. Doors have also opened in Virginia’s Tysons Corner (McLean) and the Mosaic District (Merrifield). Cava Mezze boils down their industrial-chic restaurant look for the grill’s more casual atmosphere with reclaimed wood surfaces and heavy metal detailing. The menu concept is familiar, thanks to Chipotle: start with a base and add dips and toppings of your choosing. The well curated selections from chef Dimitri’s oeuvre all play nicely together, making it impossible to mess up an order. A wall decal as you enter lists all of Cava’s ingredients with allergen information, breaking down which items are gluten-free, soy-free, vegetarian, vegan, etc. Gluties will happily note that most ingredients are gluten-free, save for obvious culprits such as pita, meatballs and falafel.
Power greens salad bowl with chicken and lots of toppings!
Gluten-free diners can choose from a variety of greens for a salad bowl or a brown or white basmati rice bowl. The power greens mix, with shredded brussels sprouts, kale, and other crunchy leaves, starts the bowl off with a nutritious kick. Gluten-free protein options such as chicken, braised lamb and braised beef make for a substantial meal; but I am often just as satisfied forgoing animal meat. Those renown spreads and dips come next, with a choice of tzatziki, traditional hummus, red pepper hummus, jalepeño-infused “crazy feta”, eggplant/red pepper, and spicy harissa (which I cautiously order on the side). Lastly comes an assortment of chopped salads, pickled onions, olives, herbs and more. Dressings are available but the flavorful concoctions never really need more than a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Spicy Harissa…on the side
Gluties should be aware that while Cava Grill has the best intentions of accommodating gluten-free patrons with a variety of meal options and readiness to change gloves for an allergy, cross-contamination is a problem. Knives are used to spread the dips onto pita bread and placed back into the same bins that are used to scoop dips for the bowls. Food containers are closely packed together, making it easy for occasional droppings here and there. In part, the nature of an open preparation space reveals much of what happens behind the scenes at many restaurants. And fast-food is never the safest venue for highly sensitive individuals. But Cava Grill is certainly making an effort. Any place where I can get a hearty salad, stat, with a glass of wine to wash it down, ranks high on my chart.
For quite some time now, DC area residents have rejoiced over a burgeoning restaurant industry. Not so welcome, however, are the slowly rising menu prices. Fabio Trabocchi is an anomaly among his peers. The chef and restauranteur opened Casa Luca this past summer as an “accessible” alternative to his more upscale trattoria, Fiola. The menu at his new osteria represents the simpler delicacies of Italian cuisine at more reasonable (though still not cheap) prices. Trabocchi chose decor elements from his hometown in Le Marche, a region in central Italy along the Adriatic coast, to create a warmer environment than the space’s former tenant, British gastropub Againn. He curated a menu that encourages sharing in the tradition of Le Marche, with piccoletti (small plates), antipasti, salumi, formaggi, pastas offered in half and full portions and family-style entrees. Mr. Green Bean and I arrived at Casa Luca primed to share an indulgent evening with our friends Mr. and soon-to-be Mrs. Potato Salad (I’m told to pronounce their name with a Fonzie-esk, Italian-American accent).
Wine was the first item on the agenda, this was a Friday night after all. Casa Luca’s wine menu makes it easy to keep the vino flowing. A selection of quality Italian varieties are offered at $28/bottles or $12/glass (who’s not going to order the bottle?). We began with a Sangiovese as we perused the menu. I was well aware before arriving that Casa Luca offers gluten-free pasta. One would assume, therefore, that the staff would be proficient in attending to gluten-free diners. Yet, I found myself faced with a blank stare as I probed our server for some guidance with the menu’s gluten-free offerings and suggested pasta preparations. The kitchen stocks both rice and corn based pastas (not house-made like their wheat counterparts). When I asked our server why they offer both and which one he recommends, he hesitated, then shared, “the corn is chewier and more popular.”
Our server agreeably made repeat trips to the kitchen to discover what else I could eat. The meatball appetizer contains breadcrumbs (disappointing but not surprising); the salsa romesco in the lobster crudo antipasti contains breadcrumbs (somewhat surprising); and as we discovered later on, the affogato on the dessert menu also contains breadcrumbs (um, surprising!). With the server’s help and some compromise on my part, I muscled together a safe and mouth-watering order, sharing the misticanza of winter citrus salad and salumi with the table, a modified lobster crudo and roasted cauliflower side with soon-to-be Mrs. Potato Salad (she’ll lose the pesky prefix in April), and a half portion of the oxtail ragù with corn pasta to be shared with no one.
Chef’s pick of 3 salumi
First to arrive was a wooden plank filled with a generous serving of sliced meats and a small cup of olives. Mr. Green Bean and Mr. Potato Salad quickly notice the absence of accompanying bread and were pointed to the breads listed on the menu for an additional charge. The men ordered grilled Italian toast, lest they should have to eat their meats without a crusty base. The table guzzled the meatballs while I shared my winter salad, packed with leafy greens, radishes, grapefruit, Mandarin orange, green apple, red grapes, pomegranate seeds, and pistachios. The dressing was light and the salad refreshing, though a bit schizophrenic.
Misticanza of winter citrus, with all the fixings
Our lobster crudo with pickled vegetables and toasted hazelnuts was prepared with a barely noticeable pesto sauce instead of the glutenous salsa romesco. The lobster was plentiful and fresh, though slightly overpowered by the vegetables spiced with cloves like a man doused in too much cologne. The roasted cauliflower side with pine nuts and parsley was cooked perfectly, florets peeling apart with the encouragement of the fork. They sat on a creamy puree, adding a textural juxtaposition. I did miss the sweet punch of golden raisins that the menu promised but our dish seemed to lack.
My bowl of corn pasta with oxtail ragù was filled with large pieces of tender, slow-cooked meat, and a deep red tomato sauce, sans pine nuts and golden raisins the menu described (raisin shortage perhaps?). A little fatty for my taste, the ragù had a deliciously rich flavor, disguising any characteristic qualities (for better or worse) of the almost too al dente corn pasta. I give the kitchen credit for not crossing over into mushy pasta territory, all too easy with gluten-free varieties. I’d rather crunchy to gooey any day.
Gluten-free corn pasta with oxtail ragu
We were all sufficiently stuffed, and I had more red meat in me than I’d had in weeks. But that didn’t stop us from another bottle of red and a look at the dessert menu. We confirmed that the panna cotta was gluten-free and placed our order with a few extra scoops of sorbet to go around the table. The cup of thick, creamy, lightly sweetened custard was topped with a tart cherry/strawberry sorbet. Each spoonful tasted sinfully amazing. Our accompanying deep, dark chocolate sorbet lent itself perfectly to double dipping for a combination of flavors that excited every taste bud.
Panna cotta with cherry/strawberry sorbet
Casa Luca succeeded in bringing friends together for jubilant time over delicious food and drink in a comfortable, relaxed, yet sophisticated environment. Though a few missteps with food preparations and some gluten free education in order, Casa Luca is a wonderful addition to the transforming landscape of Penn Quarter and a noteworthy restaurant among the droves.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 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!