Friday, January 31, 2014


From Left to Right:
Danielle Workman, Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber Membership Manager
Maria Medoro, Cucina Medoro; Joyce Weiss, Joyce Weiss Training and Development

It all started with a status update on Facebook raving about the gluten-free options at Cucina Medoro, a small café with freshly prepared Italian specialties by owner Maria Medoro. But with Birmingham Restaurant Week this week and next, a number of people have asked me about restaurants that understand food allergies and the growing concern of gluten intolerance. 

My own journey navigating dining out with a gluten-free diet started three years ago, and has certainly become easier as restaurants have addressed diners’ dietary needs. But to aid in this story, I have inquired about the gluten-free trend to some Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber Member restaurateurs.   

When asked how often diners are requesting gluten-free menu options, nearly every restaurateur responded emphatically that they are being asked multiple times daily to serve or modify menu offerings for the gluten intolerant.  This is a good time to address the distinctions about the level of gluten sensitivity, since wheat flour and other ingredients containing gluten can become airborne and cross-contaminate gluten-free foods.  Not a single restaurant responding indicated that their restaurant was certified gluten-free, rather that they take precautions to avoid contact with gluten.  A person with any severe food allergy should call ahead before dining out. 

Noodles & Company shared that they always retrieve gluten-free ingredients out of the walk-in pans and utensils direct from the dishwasher to avoid exposure to allergens and The Stand Gastro Bistro utilizes a “prep kitchen away from any gluten containing products to avoid cross contamination,” said Chef Paul Grosz, whose sister has Celiac’s disease, heightening his awareness of the illness and leading him to state, “I am very pleased to accommodate anyone with any special dietary need, so as to make their dining experience special and enjoyable.”

I’ve always found it best to inquire upfront about the availability of gluten-free options, and restaurants are catching on by designating GF or with a wheat-free symbol on their menus, offering a separate allergy guide, training servers to assist with modifying dishes or even sending the chef right to the table as Maggiano’s in Troy does to ensure their scratch recipes are modified to contain no gluten ingredients.

Dessert is also an option in places like Bella Piatti, where gluten intolerant and diabetic Chef de Cuisine Matt Cassell, offers a flourless chocolate cake or can create any menu item free of garlic, onions, olive oil, nuts, dairy, cheese or gluten because of allergies.  Or visit SweetEarth to create your own gluten-free, non-dairy, vegan, nut or other allergy-free frozen yogurt with one-on-one customer consulting from highly knowledgeable and trained staff.

Pizza is also not a forbidden food for those with gluten issues.  Newcomer Extreme Pizza offers a great gluten-free crust and some rather unorthodox topping combinations, but you might have guessed that from the name.  Ordering is easy with their online and mobile app options. Or if you have any questions before ordering, you can give them a call.  While salad is often the way to avoid gluten at restaurants that don’t generally cater to food allergies, you do have to be careful about dressings containing traces of gluten.  Not so at The Big Salad where they are proud to offer many allergy free options including gluten-free soup and a large variety of dressings that fit the bill.

Chefs Shawn Wright and Lea Schofield created the menu at CaféML with gluten-free and vegetarian diners in mind. Chef Nick Janutol at The Forest Grill offers many gluten-free entrees or can modify recipes for vegans, vegetarians and those with various dietary needs.  Manager Nickolas Scott said that Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse offers an extensive gluten-free menu and will send chef or manager to the table to confer with the guest before their meal is prepared. 

Often, I am simply floored by the extra mile some restaurants will go to assure a great gluten-free experience, even for a plated business meeting.  The Chamber Board of Directors met last week at Fleming'sPrime Steakhouse & Winebar and upon learning of my gluten intolerance, the server brought me a beautifully wrapped box of truffles especially prepared with my dietary concerns in mind.   The Townsend Hotel and The Rugby Grill and The Corner Bar have always taken good care of me and other guests at events whether gluten-free, vegan, Kosher, or any other special dietary consideration. It’s always best to notify the venue or event hosts ahead of time since plated meals for large groups require advance preparations.

Gluten-free substitutions can vary greatly, from the use of corn tortillas at ROJO or rice flour for rouxs, bread and pasta at The Stand, which also reports use of gluten-free soy sauce on their braised short ribs.  

Danielle Workman is the membership manager of the Birmingham Bloomfield Chamber.  She welcomes feedback at

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