Reader Report: Austin, Texas

Every Reader Report that comes into my mailbox is a welcome find, but Susan Mack’s report on gluten-free Austin is extraordinary. While I knew that the capital city of Texas was a paradise for music-lovers (Asleep at the Wheel, one of my favorite bands, is based there), I had no idea it was a mecca for gluten-intolerant people, too. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use the information in Susan’s report when I visit Texas on my book tour in October. (I’ll be discussing and signing my debut mystery novel, The Damage Done, at Houston’s Murder by the Book on Saturday, October 30th at 5pm; I’m hoping to add an Austin event to my schedule soon.) A huge round of applause for Susan’s incredibly helpful report, and a heartfelt thank-you to her for taking the time to share so much information!

Susan’s Report on Austin, Texas: Gluten-Free Mecca

I’ve lived in Austin for seven years, and have had to go gluten-free in the past six months. In talking to friends from other cities, I have to say that if you have to be gluten-free, Austin seems to be the place to do it.

If you’re looking for a vacation spot – Austin is famous for our Austin City Limits music festival in October (where you will find carnival food stands with GF options) and our SXSW music, film and interactive festival in the spring. But any weeknight of the year, you will find at least 75 live music events, several local theatre production, some UT sporting event, or a great organized athletic group. Plus, in the spring, we have wildflowers in the Texas Hill Country.

We have a plethora of good, locally owned restaurants in a wide variety of price ranges. Almost every one of them is sensitive to gluten intolerance.  There is no reason to go to a restaurant that doesn’t have a gluten-free menu. If your waiter doesn’t understand your needs – walk out.  You can find a perfectly good option within a couple blocks. And although I’ve picked out several places that I think are particularly good or sensitive – I’ve even gone to food trailers that had gluten-free lists. Almost any restaurant is going to have safe options.

We have a strong locavore culture. We’re the headquarters of Whole Foods. And until recently, the local Whole Foods was dwarfed by another store: the HEB chain flagship – Central Market. In addition, we’ve recently gotten Sprouts, the Natural Grocer, and Sunflower Farmer’s Market – all of which join the local People’s Pharmacy in delivering gluten-free options.

So, without much ado, here are some gems that you can find in Austin.

Entirely Gluten-Free Restaurants:

  • Wild Wood Art Café — 3663 Bee Caves Road, #4A Austin, Texas 78746. Wild Wood is an entirely gluten-free bakery and café. Imagine walking into a restaurant and ordering a sandwich or lasagna! But really, it is their tamales, salads and desserts that shine. Their gluten-free ding dongs are to die for — even if you didn’t want to eat ding dongs in your gluten-eating days.
  • TalkHouse — 1221 W. Sixth Ave, Austin, TX 78703.  This small café connected to a beauty salon serves food that tastes so good, you might not even notice that it’s good for you!  A raw food restaurant that is entirely gluten-free, TalkHouse is shocking. Their ‘pizza’ and chile rellenos are so good that my gluten-eating, meat-eating husband wants to eat there more often!  No gluten comes through the door.
  • MyFitFoods — Various locations. This place serves single serving meals that you can reheat in the microwave. They specialize in supporting a 21 day cleanse — but they have many quick meals that are worth saving for a hotel-room breakfast or lunch on the go. No gluten or soy enters their facilities.

Diner-ish Restaurants With Good Gluten-Free Selections

  • Galaxy Café — Various locations — A local chain run by an owner sensitive to gluten intolerance. You can get breakfast wraps in gluten-free rice tortillas and a wide variety of menu options. They can’t utterly promise to avoid cross-contamination, so they don’t claim their flourless chocolate cake is gluten-free. But if you can risk a few grains in your food it is to die for.
  • Kerby Lane Café — Various locations — One of the more extensive GF menus in town. Open 24 hours. They are sort of like a Denny’s that offers enchiladas and local produce selections. Salads are incredible, as are their enchiladas.
  • 24 Diner — 6th and Lamar — A new ‘locavore’ restaurant. They don’t have a GF menu, but can tell you what is safe. They make their own sausage in house and can tell you which farm the produce came from.
  • Counter Café — 626 N. Lamar Blvd — “Counter culture” reigns here. A small diner that serves local produce while you sit at the counter. Their eggs are absolutely to die for – as is their quail salad on the lunch menu. The hipster staff is completely aware of food intolerance issues and will very carefully cook your food separately to take care of you.

Mexican

  • Maudie’s — Various locations — Ask for the gluten-free corn chips and they will help you out. A wide variety of gluten-free options and utterly conscientious.
  • Torchy’s Tacos — Various locations — This place will make you rethink your definition of taco. They raise tacos to a gourmet form of art. And they have a list at the register of which items are and are not GF. You might have to skip the fried avocado taco, but the grilled fish, barbacoa, or green chile pork are all safe when you eat them on one of the best corn tortillas you will find.
  • Zocolo — 1110 West Lynn Ave, 78703 — Fresh Mexican? Really? This place offers goodies like vegetable stew, jicama salad and an amazing black bean soup in addition to fresh tacos and amazing enchiladas. As long as your corn tortillas stay out of their deep fryer, you have a lot of great GF options — and they are aware of cross contamination issues.

Burgers, Pizza and More

  • Terra Burger — 10611 Research Blvd. — Organic burgers. Gluten-free buns. Organic shakes made from real gluten-free ice cream. Unbreaded fries made from real potatoes. And a playscape. And a water park. Need I say more?
  • Austin’s Pizza — Various locations — Gluten-free pizza delivered. And the toppings are amazing.
  • Brick Oven on 35th — 1608 W. 35th St — This Italian restaurant advertises and offers a wide variety of gluten-free pastas and pizzas. If you want to go out, sit down and eat — this is a great option!

Four- to Five-Star Dining

  • La Condesa — 2nd and Guadalupe — If the menu is not gluten-free, they will make it so. This is one of the best restaurants in Austin and a huge part of the local food movement. They do a Mexico-City inspired Mexican Fusion cuisine that is not to be missed. And their pastry chef can put together gluten-free treats if you are interested.
  • Olivia — 2043 S. Lamar — Rated one of the best new restaurants of 2009 by Bon Appetit, this place is worth a splurge. Home-made ice cream, home-made charcuterie and just good food. They will prepare something special if you challenge them with GF.

Grocery Shopping

  • Whole Foods Corporate Headquarters — Lamar between 5th and 6th — If Whole Foods married Costco, you might get the impression of the sheer floor space of this place. With an entire grocery store aisle and an entire frozen food aisle dedicated to GF products, you can find most of what you want from cookies, to breads to beers. If a flour isn’t in the GF aisle, it might be in the standard cooking aisle. And you can find pure buckwheat soba, and GF cooking sauces in the Asian aisle. If it can be done GF, you can probably find it here.
  • Central Market — 35th and Lamar — The major competition for Whole Foods and possibly the inspiration for their floorspace. There is a full aisle and frozen section with GF goodies. They frequently host GF cooking classes for the uninitiated.
  • Fresh Plus — 12th and West Lynn — If you don’t have time for a big store, and just want to pick up some staples, this neighborhood market is very impressive. With high end cheeses, goats milk ice cream, kambucha tea and a gluten-free aisle — you will be pleasantly surprised. It looks from the front like a convenience store, but the selection is incredible. And you can get in and out in five minutes!
  • Sprouts — 2 locations — New to Austin, Sprouts Natural Foods is giving the big guys a run for their money. They recently ran a 25% off all gluten-free products special, and most of the store had GF signs all over it. Several bargains to be had from this natural foods competitor.
  • Wheatsville Co-op — In Austin for more than 30 years, this small co-op ‘gets it’ about GF. In addition to the standard products, they do ‘Wheat-free Wednesday’  where their bakery goes GF and they sell home-made goodies.

Reader Report: Machiavelli in Montreal

When I read this Reader Report, I realized that it’s been more than six years since I visited Montreal. I’m long overdue for another trip to one of Canada’s most beautiful — and historic — cities. When I do, the first place I will have to check out is Machiavelli, which Alice writes about below. Thanks for sending this in, Alice!

Alice’s Report on Machiavelli in Montreal, Quebec

Machiavelli Restaurant is a wonderful restaurant that serves delicious fusion cuisine dishes. Machiavelli’s talented chef Raymond is very knowledgeable about dietary restrictions and prepares all his soups and gravies from scratch (no pre-packaged bases). They are able to offer delicious gluten-free meals as well as cater to other allergy restrictions.

Machiavelli offers a varied dinner menu with choices of beef steaks, pork, chicken dishes, fish and pasta.  Unfortunately, they do not keep gluten free pasta in stock. Machiavelli offers a different menu every day, with their special offerings listed on a black board. Their daily menu consists of a choice of soup, escargot, Caesar or garden salad.   For a main course there is always a choice of different meats, fish and a pasta dish. The chef uses local produce and fresh herbs from the nearby Atwater Market. The dishes are presented very attractively and with flair. Their prices are very reasonable and include both courses, as well as all local taxes. In other words, the price you see marked on the menu is the price you will pay, plus the customary tip to the waiter, of course.

Machiavelli is a “bring your own wine” restaurant, so do not forget to bring your own wine or beer. Machiavelli has a charming décor & in the summer offers outside garden dining, weather permitting. The restaurant has three small dining rooms so it makes it an ideal place to host a small party. Machiavelli Restaurant is situated at 2601 Centre Street (corner Charlevoix), Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3K 1K2.  Their telephone: 514-315-9981; fax: 514-315-9979; machiavelli.mtl@gmail.com. Machiavelli can be easily reached by subway from any downtown hotel, as it is situated right across the street from the Charlevoix subway station.  On the South East corner there is a liquor store where you can purchase a good selection of wines, but unfortunately the liquor store is open late in the evening only on Thursday & Friday evenings, weekdays it closes at 6 PM and Saturdays at 5 PM. Machiavelli Restaurant is open every day for dinner, except on Mondays.

Reader Report: São Paulo, Brazil

I love getting Reader Reports for a variety of reasons. It’s always wonderful to have people share what they’ve found on a trip, or in their hometown. Reader Reports also reinforce my belief that gluten-intolerant people can travel anywhere and eat well. And they give me previews about places that I’m dying to visit. This report, by Fernando de Barros Pereira, is a perfect example. São Paulo, Brazil, is the largest city in South America, and one of the most dynamic cities in the world. Friends who have visited all come back raving about it. I’m not sure when I’ll get there — especially because the next few months are going to involve a lot of travel in the US and Canada for my book tour — but I know I will soon. In the meantime, a heartfelt thank you to Fernando for this wonderful report!

Gluten Free in São Paulo, Brazil

Since 2003 there is a national law that obligates the food companies to declare whether their products contain gluten or not. It is written on the label: Contém Glúten (this product contains gluten) or Não Contém Glúten (does not contain gluten). This law is extremely helpful, making it easier to buy food in any supermarket in Brazil.

In São Paulo, there are a lot of places you can buy gluten-free products like pasta, bread, cookies, snacks or cereal. The best one is called Mundo Verde. It has many locations and their website is www.mundoverde.com.br. In www.specialgourmets.com there is a wider selection of stores that sell gluten-free stuff.

Although there aren’t many restaurants with gluten-free menus in São Paulo, our cuisine isn’t really based in wheat/gluten. The following list is based on my own experience, since I eat in restaurants frequently:

  • Eau French Grill (Av. Nações Unidas, 13.301 – www.eau.com.br): Definitely one of the best restaurants in São Paulo. It is located inside the Gran Hyatt Hotel. The staff is extremely well trained and familiarized with the gluten-free diet. Although it can be a little expensive, dining there is a memorable experience for sure.
  • Wraps (Several locations – www.wraps.com.br): They are one of the few restaurants that have a gluten-free menu. A very nice place with reasonable prices.
  • Steak Houses: The Traditional Brazilian Barbecue is served in the Rodizio Style. It’s similar to the all-you-can-eat system: you pay a price and can enjoy the salad bar and the different types of meats that the waiters offer you. Our barbecue only has salt as seasoning, so it is definitely a safe place to eat. There is a “Rodizio” Steak House on every corner, but I can say that Fogo de Chao (www.fogodechao.com.br) is one of the best.
  • Japanese Places: In São Paulo there are a lot of sushi restaurants, that could be a safe option for a nice lunch or dinner. Just talk to the waiter and stick to the traditional choices like sashimi, sushi and temaki. The majority of our soy sauce brands use corn instead of wheat, making it safe for celiacs, but it is prudent to ask the waiter/manager about it. Some places I can recommend: Aoyama (www.aoyama.com.br) and Gendai (www.gendai.com.br), a franchise that is available in many shopping centers and in São Paulo’s two airports.
  • Baked Potato (www.bakedpotato.com.br): Fast food place that serves baked potatoes with different stuffings. The only stuffing that I know for a fact that is gluten-free is the Requeijão (it is like a cream cheese, but a lot more flavourful).
  • Galeto’s (www.galetos.com.br): Great chicken, has a great salad bar too with 95% of the foods there being gluten free. The chicken has a “secret” seasoning and it is gluten-free (I talked to the manager and he showed me the ingredients, mostly herbs and olive oil).