In recent years, gluten-free foods have become available in restaurants and grocery stores. For those who suffer from digestive disorders and gastrointestinal diseases such as celiac, growing public awareness about how gluten affects certain people has helped to make everyday life a little easier, especially when deciding where to dine out. Cross-contamination is a major issue when eating out since an accidental sprinkle of wheat flour or a dash of soy sauce can make those who are extremely sensitive to gluten severely ill. In fact, unless a kitchen is completely gluten-free, some people won't be able to eat at a certain restaurant out of fear that gluten might somehow make its way onto their plate. But not everyone lives by such extreme rules, and for many living a gluten free lifestyle, dining out can be enjoyable and relaxing as long as the kitchens are careful and the wait staff is knowledgeable.
New Orleans' restaurants are currently showing an increase in "farm to table" menus. Emphasis on eating local in order to support our communities and lessen our carbon footprint has subsequently caused many restaurants to take an eco-friendly approach to food. With the help of local farmers and fisherman, our chefs have access to and are able to create dishes with ingredients that are so fresh and wonderful that the most natural way of preparation is one that is simple and healthy. For example, Chef Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette has created a watermelon appetizer with cherry tomatoes that doesn't contain any of the four gluten proteins (wheat, rye, barley or triticale) and yet, is missing nothing. Same goes for his charred peppers with buttermilk, which are part of the five-course tasting menu and feature bright green peppers that are charred until soft, then drizzled with a ranch-style dressing of buttermilk, fresh herbs and lemon. Who said eating gluten-free meant a lifetime of flavorless veggies?
Boucherie, the very teeny and much talked about restaurant on Jeanette Street, features a menu that is roughly 80 percent gluten free. Chef Nathaniel Zimet highlights international flavors in big ways while keeping the prices low. Begin your meal with a Local Arugula and Mizuna Salad with Tomatoes, Red Onion and Herb Vinaigrette; share some
Fresh Cut French Fries with Garlic Butter and Parmesan; or enjoy a Pulled Pork Cake (the pork cake has no binder or breadcrumbs) with Potato Confit and Purple Cabbage Slaw. The fish specials, scallops and duck confit are also gluten-free, meaning there are other options besides beef or pork. The servers/staff know(s) the menu well and can help diners make informed decisions about what to order.
Chef John Besh's Restaurant August has a reputation for being incredibly accommodating when it comes to special diet requests from their guests. Chef Mike Gulotta and his team are very aware of cross-contamination and go to great lengths to avoid it. Almost anything on the menu can be prepared gluten-free, but some dishes are made that way as a standard. The Gulf Shrimp and Louisiana Popcorn Rice Risotto with Covey Rise Heirloom Tomatoes features shrimp that are dusted in rice flour, giving them that perfect crispy crunch, and can be fried in a separate pot of oil on request to avoid cross-contamination. Some additional gluten-free appetizers are the House Cured Belly of Gulf Coast Lamb, Pickled Watermelon, Fried Heirloom Peppers (once again, fried in rice flour), and the Slow-Cooked Tête de Cochon with Grilled Alabama Peaches, Sweet Corn, Okra and Creole Mustard. For dessert, Pastry Chef Kelly Fields has a Goat's Milk Cheesecake with Algiers Honey Ice Cream, Almonds and Balsamic Caramel that's crustless, creamy and incredibly decadent.
For something a little more all-American, New Orleans has an impressive list of burger joints. But those sensitive to gluten often have to ask for a bun-less burger or opt for a lettuce leaf wrapper…until now. TruBurger on Oak Street offers a housemade gluten-free bun. It costs a bit more and is denser than a traditional bun, but is still a viable and tasty alternative that holds up nicely against the varieties of toppings and burger juice. However, it is worth noting that like most restaurants, truBurger's kitchen is not completely gluten-free, so there is a risk of cross-contamination.
As gluten-free eating becomes more mainstream, New Orleans restaurants are stepping up to offer dishes that not only reflect the changing seasons and a chef's creativity but that also are increasingly sensitive to those who are gluten intolerant. Gluten-free eaters, however, should always approach dining out with a plan. Online menus are a good start but aren't always up-to-date or reliable, so it's best to research dishes and call ahead to discuss options and possible accommodations. The unique flavors of New Orleans' cuisine no longer rely solely on roux and battered, deep-fried seafood - there is another side to local dining that focuses on maximizing flavor in lighter, healthier, gluten-free ways.