Eating out gluten-free gets less complicated

Sadly, Perch is no more, but it had a wonderful run. El Barrio has morphed into X-site Grill & Bistro, but I hear they still know how to take care of their gluten-free customers.

What could be better than living in a city with a diverse and affordable restaurant scene? Going out to eat is more common than home-cooked meals for a lot of city dwellers, and although I love to cook, I have to admit that eating out has always been one of my regular habits. But these days, eating out isn’t as easy for me as it once was, at least when I’m dining with my partner. He has celiac disease, which means that anything containing gluten is harmful to him. It’s much easier to make sure food is gluten-free at home, especially when you cook with whole foods. Restaurants, on the other hand, are gluten minefields for people with celiac disease.

Gluten itself is poorly understood, even by food professionals. It’s amazing how many misconceptions there are about what gluten is, what foods contain it and how to safely prepare gluten-free food. Since it doesn’t kill you on the spot, as an allergy may, celiac disease has often been taken less seriously by restaurateurs. Even when there is truly gluten-free food available, cross-contamination is difficult to avoid in most professional kitchens, since there are limited surfaces for food preparation.

We still go out, but there’s always a risk of gluten or cross-contamination, unless we go to a gluten-free establishment, like Panne Rizo or Quejos, both of which specialize in sandwiches and baked goods. We also have some favourite, trusted restaurants that do a great job of making sure that there are at least a few items on the menu that Kevin can eat. Still, there are foods he’s despaired of ever eating again, especially diner food and almost anything billed as comfort food.

But then he went out to dinner a couple of weeks ago, with another fellow who has celiac disease. They met at The Wallflower for pizza and beer. A gluten-free miracle, if you will. It certainly wasn’t a meal that Kevin was ever expecting to have again. If you’re not familiar with the gluten-free beer world, you’re generally pretty lucky. The ones that are available here are, for the most part, watery tasting. As for pizza, even when the pizza is gluten-free, the oven it’s baked in usually isn’t.

The owners of The Wallflower found a brand of beer that’s a great approximation of a pale ale and they bake their thin crust pizza in a celiac-safe way. They have a gluten-free menu (along with a vegan one), in addition to their regular menu. They even had their kitchen and cooking procedures assessed to ensure that their gluten-free food was truly celiac-safe. If you haven’t guessed, this is extremely unusual and really, really impressive. There’s only one other restaurant I know of in Vancouver that’s gone to such lengths for their gluten-free customers, El Barrio. It’s a favourite of ours, too.

There's a wheelchair accessible entrance at the back.

The owners of The Wallflower have extended their food philosophy to their new location, Perch. This is good news for us, because Perch is just down the road from where we live. Perch takes its pizza even more seriously than The Wallflower, baking it in an authentic pizza oven. And yes, there are shelves in that oven which have never known gluten, so their gluten-free pizzas are baked right on the stone. The food at both restaurants is good comfort fare, done very well. We’ll be eating there often.

If you have recommendations for celiac-safe restaurants, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

Wallflower Modern Diner on Urbanspoon
Eat, Drink & Perch at the ARC Cafe on Urbanspoon

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4 thoughts on “Eating out gluten-free gets less complicated

  1. two of my best friends are celiacs, so i’m aware of how difficult it is to be a celiac and eat out. one of my friends was always frustrated at the availability of vegan options, when that is usually a choice, versus celiac options, which is a disease. anyway, in portland (if you ever come south) many of the pizza restaurants are starting to have GF pizzas (inlcuding a pizza chain, Pizzicato). there’s also a midwest-style fish house (which delighted one of them, who was originally from the midwest) with great crispy fish and fries (all GF!). is PF Chang’s up there, because they have a (small) GF menu that has been good to my friends.

  2. Thanks for the suggestions! Kevin’s planning to go to Portland in the next few months, so gf-friendly Portland restaurant suggestions are really timely.

    We’re finding that there’s more and more awareness around celiac disease and gluten-intolerance here and that it’s slowly translating into better options at restaurants.

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