The Simple Gluten-Free Guide to Pittsburgh
It's possible to find gluten-free foods locally that are worth devouring —regardless of whether you intend to cut out gluten completely.
GLUUTENY PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
Here’s something that will surprise you: About 1 in 3 Americans are trying to shun gluten. That many?! Yes, that many. And some researchers indicate that this has yet to peak.
It has overtaken that other dietary restriction minority — vegans, heck even vegetarians — with alarming speed.
Roughly 5 percent of the population is vegetarian, 2.5 percent vegan and on the other end of the spectrum, 1 percent are Paleo. The Paleo diet is gluten-free, and there are the subsets of gluten-free vegans.
Only 1 percent of the population has been diagnosed with celiac disease.
While this may prompt some polarization, huffing and throwing down towels —“gluten-free” has become so commonplace that declaring, “I am gluten-free” often prompts nods of understanding (and, gasp, even admiration: “How do you do it?! I’ve been trying to go gluten-free!”)
Gluten-free devotees enumerate many reasons for avoiding gluten (the protein found in grains such as wheat, barley and rye, among others). Non-celiac individuals may have demonstrated gluten-intolerance, which can be evident via a constellation of symptoms from digestive issues, hormone imbalance, auto-immune response, acne, low-energy and so on.
Because there is no hard and fast test for intolerance, many roll their eyes at professions of its life-changing effects. It’s beyond the scope of this column to discuss the pros and cons (feel free to email me!), but one way to think of it is that going gluten-free — or at least cutting down consumption of gluten — is a GREAT way to explore other whole grains and a convenient denominator when gauging which foods to avoid. How is that? If you avoid gluten, you’re generally avoiding the most easily accessible sweets and white-flour products — foods that do not contribute to your health. That’s why many experience such radical weight-loss after they go gluten-free. No more simple sugars. This is one good reason to ditch gluten.
Picking what to consume is getting harder, as food producers are coming out with just-as-bad-for-you analogs that are gluten-free. This is NOT the way to go gluten-free. Most gluten-free products out there are chock-full of additives and preservatives, even the simplest things such as bread.
If you are gluten-free-curious, the best way to approach it is to have a bias toward going back to simple, basic food. (aka food that is good for you). Replace gluten-containing foods with whole grains (fully intact, if you can — meaning not in baked goods, etc.) and vegetables — nothing like sweet potatoes to replace all the starch cravings. Many cuisines have naturally gluten-free food.
Approach it this way and you will not be surprised at how much better you feel.
Going gluten-free also is a great way to jumpstart an expansion of your culinary horizon. I personally love Japanese noodles made from buckwheat (which does not contain wheat, despite its name) and, of course, rice. Mung-bean noodles often found in Korean dishes have a delicious texture. The Ethiopian bread injera can be made without wheat fairly easily. And, of course, opting for a corn tortilla at a taco joint is a completely delicious option.
When shopping, stock up in the produce aisle and read ingredient lists — there’s some good stuff out there.
Here is a list of Pittsburgh food purveyors to check out as you start exploring gluten-free eating. And, of course, almost all Brazen Kitchen recipes are naturally gluten-free — because I want you to explore and expand your culinary world!
EAST END FOOD CO-OP PHOTO BY JOHN ALTDORFER
There are a number of grocery stores that focus on stocking up on gluten-free goods. In the North Hills, Naturally Soergel’s is a great stop to peruse on your summer trips to the farm. The store just celebrated its sixth year in business and keeps getting better. In the South, Sunnybridge Natural Foods in McMurray not only offers groceries, but it also has its own café. Eden’s Market in Mt. Lebanon is a nice little store that offers a great selection of specialty products. In Oakmont, Today’s Market, while not all gluten-free, has a good selection to browse. In Murrysville, Ali’s Marketplace has some groceries, baked goods and prepared food.
In the city, gluten-free products are not hard to come by. Giant Eagle Market District locations have a good variety of goods. Marty’s Market, the pair of Whole Foods Markets and the East End Food Co-op are great sources for quality products as well as international ingredients that are naturally gluten-free. Trader Joe’s, which has three area locations, even has a product guide that you can print out to make shopping at the store easier.
I personally love Frankferd Farms in Saxonburg for the selection of organic grains and flours. You can get crazy with their catalogue. Frankferd makes it so easy and —get this — can deliver right to your door.
PHOTO VIA AUROCHS BREWING'S FACEBOOK PAGE
Summer is BEER SEASON, and in our city’s craft-beer boom, there is one local maker of gluten-free beer: Aurochs Brewing in Ambridge. For many, beer is the last frontier. But the good news is that brewers are getting the formula down pat. The gluten-free beer is world’s away from what it was years ago. And Aurochs makes some fine brews.
For those who want to check out other gluten-free beer options, Sharp Edge has a great selection.
PHOTO COURTESY GLUTEN-FREE GOAT
We all need some treats in our lives from time to time! Gluuteny is the city’s outpost for gluten-free baked goods and bread. It even sells its own mixes in-store and in specialty food stores. I love the almond cupcakes and the brownies. Decadent. For those of us who need to get our coffee-shop fix every day, Gluten-Free Goat has been a godsend. The apple-cider doughnuts are so good that even those who are non-gluten-free get them! What’s even better is that Gluten-Free Goat products are organic and all-natural! No funky additives.
PHOTO COURTESY AMAZING CAFE'S FACEBOOK PAGE
OK, let’s be real and start with pizza, probably the bane of everyone who go gluten-free. And don’t start talking about cauliflower crust, you Paleo crazies. Thank goodness for Mandy’s Pizza (but RIP their Squirrel Hill location!). For those who are not in the North Hills, more and more pizza places are offering gluten-free crusts as an option; just ask for it.
My favorite restaurants that offer naturally gluten-free options are Amazing Café, Eden (the waffles! I could go on and on), Habitat at the Fairmont Pittsburgh hotel and Randita’s Grill. Franktuary, Square Café, Double Wide Grill and Hello Bistro have great options. Even Eat’n Park offers gluten-free bread.
One of the cuisines that makes it easy to go gluten-free is Mexican — check out Verde, Mad Mex, tako, Las Palmas, El Burro Comedor, La Palapa and the host of other taco joints that have exploded in the city.
Asian food makes it easy — not if you are celiac, though, as soy sauce is fermented with wheat — with rice as the primary starch option. The mung-bean noodle dish Jap Chae at local Korean restaurants, such as Nak Won Garden, are amazing. Also, try the jelly noodles are Chengdu Gourmet for a mind-blowing new experience.
Going gluten-free is getting easier and easier — which is a relief to those with celiac disease who had to deal with brick-hard bread for years and a boon to those who are gluten-intolerant or those who just want to minimize their consumption of white flour and sugar.