Going Against the Grain
Check out 10 gluten-free restaurants in New Orleans that local foodies who have celiac disease would recommend as safe, accommodating, and enjoyable.
"It comes upon you at any age," Cassie Zimmerman, an Algiers resident who was diagnosed with celiac disease at age 43, said. Recalling her symptoms, Zimmerman said, "I kept having recurring ear infections for about a year and a half." She also noticed that when she ate something with gluten, she would have an upset stomach and a trip to the restroom.
After blood work and endoscopy, Zimmerman learned that she had celiac disease, a chronic digestive and immune disorder. "When I went gluten-free, my ear infections went away," she said. "Luckily it was caught relatively early because my endoscopy showed little damage."
Like more than two million Americans, Zimmerman experienced an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. Over time, celiac disease can cause inflammation that can damage the small intestine's lining. It can also stop your body from absorbing certain nutrients from food. The exact cause of celiac disease is unknown and the symptoms can differ from person to person.
"New Orleans has a big celiac group," Zimmerman said, who's also the owner and administrator of the Facebook group Gluten-Free Crescent City (New Orleans). "We created this Facebook group to answer questions for those who are gluten intolerant, which is more than an allergy to gluten."
According to Zimmerman, the purpose of the Facebook group was to assist those with celiac disease to find safe places to eat around the New Orleans area. Zimmerman's top five gluten-free restaurants are:
1. Capulet Sandwich Shop
3014 Dauphine St.
"The owner has a family member who has celiac disease," Zimmerman said. "So the fryer for gluten-free is separate from the other fryers. I love their gluten-free fried chicken sandwich and French fries."
2. GW Fins Restaurant
808 Bienville St.
Zimmerman pointed out that GW Fins is gluten-free friendly because their kitchen and wait staff are very accommodating for special requests.
3. Holy Crepes
1100 N. Peters St. (Unit 23)
Zimmerman recognized that they use regular and gluten-free vegan batter to make their tasty crepes and waffles. "We prepare the crepes in front of the customer," Kaisha Daley, owner of Holy Crepes, said. "Any crepe can be made gluten-free. The ingredients are kept separate and are prepared in a separate area."
4. The Catch Seafood Restaurant
3010 Cleary Ave., Metairie
Zimmerman frequents the Catch for their delicious gluten-free fried seafood. "They have a separate fryer for the seafood," Zimmerman said. "I always order the seafood platter and onion rings."
516 Julia St.
An Italian restaurant located in the Central Business District known for its old-fashioned pizza oven and gluten-free pizza. "I usually get the gluten-free pizza with the meat," Zimmerman said.
Other popular gluten-free restaurants which have multiple locations around the New Orleans area are:
6. The Daily Beet
A healthy dining place for breakfast/brunch.
7. El Gato Negro
An authentic Mexican restaurant with a separate gluten-free menu. "We try to accommodate those with celiac disease," Johnny Contreras, the general manager at El Gato Negro's French Quarter location, said. "We make sure nothing is cross-contaminated."
Celiac disease also troubled Heather Heaton, who was diagnosed in 2016 at age 25. "I have had gastric distress all my life," Heaton, who is now 32, said. "Then I started getting more severe symptoms like psoriasis, where my entire body was itchy, and [I had a] bad brain fog."
Realizing that her ailments may be triggered by food, Heaton asked her doctor for a celiac test. "I wanted to get to the root of the problem," she explained. "I felt so isolated in a city that is all about food and drink."
Like Zimmerman, Heaton had started a Facebook group in January 2017 and compiled a map of New Orleans' restaurants that are gluten-friendly. "The map is a combination of myself and other Facebook group members suggesting eating places where we have had good experiences," Heaton said.
With the increase in membership and participation, Heaton decided to create a website called Gluten Free New Orleans (gfnola.group), which provides the map of gluten-free restaurants, forums for any inquiries, and an annual guide of places to buy gluten-free king cakes.
Similarly, Heaton named Capulet and GW Fins as two of her favorite gluten-free restaurants in town. However, Heaton added these three other gluten-friendly restaurants to her list:
8. Addis Ethiopian Kitchen
2514 Bayou Rd.
"Everything is naturally gluten-free at Addis, except the fried foods." Heaton said. "They even make delicious bread, injera, gluten-free to scoop up your food."
9. El Pavo Real Restaurant
4401 S. Broad Ave.
"This is a family place that makes Mexican food that tastes like central or southern Aztec dishes," Heaton said. "When it's cold outside, I really enjoy the chicken soup, as well as the tacos anytime."
10. Carmo Caribbean Cuisine
527 Julia St.
"Carmo has an interesting and inventive menu," Heaton said. "They are very helpful with modifications." Her dish of choice is "Rico," which is pressed plantain tostadas with pulled pork.
If you check out Heaton's website or join Zimmerman's Facebook group, you will discover many more restaurants that have been touted as gluten-friendly. If you are trying a new restaurant and are doubtful about certain menu items, Heaton and Zimmerman both advised to talk with the wait staff and/or manager. "I like food," Heaton said. "Celiac has made me have to stick up for myself and hold firm my boundaries. Most places tend to train their staff but you can always talk to the manager who will check with the kitchen staff and make sure you're ordering something gluten free."