More local restaurants are going gluten-free
Little "GF" logos are showing up on local restaurant menus– and they don't mean food for your girlfriend.
That's because more and more local restaurants are retooling their menus is to accommodate those with gluten and wheat intolerances, which vary. While all come with bummer side effects, celiac disease is most life-threatening out of the group.
"The problem with celiac disease is if you continue to ingest the wheat, you can be at an increased risk for certain kinds of cancers in the stomach lining and the G.I. tract," said KarynGell, a doctor at Grand Rapids Allergy, which specializes in asthma and allergy care.
That's not all. In addition to cancer risks, people with celiac disease suffer from some of the most unglamorous side effects possible: diarrhea, bloating, gas, constipation, depression, fatigue and that dreaded hangover feeling, says one person who went gluten-free a year and a half ago. More than ever, businesses in the food industry recognize the pain and discomfort those with intolerances face and adjust menus accordingly.
"We're very respectful of other people's allergies," said Ted Watson, general manager at Brick Road Pizza in Grand Rapids, which offers nearly every menu item in a gluten-free option. "They come here trusting that we're not going to make people sick."
Not everyone who chooses to go gluten free has celiac disease, however. Many have gluten intolerances, which are not as serious as celiac, but still result in those nasty side effects.
"If somebody has celiac disease or is really allergic, those people call days in advance," said Josef Huber, corporate executive chef at Amway Hotel Corporation."They take a stand and they're worried about it."
Within the past two years, the diet has grown not only locally, but on national levels. Just last year, the gluten-free diet came in at No. 2 on Time magazine's top 10 list of food trends. That same year, Miley Cyrus endorsed the diet on Twitter and in 2010, after going on the diet, tennis star Novak Djokovic won five Grand Slam titles. Such celebrity endorsements lead to more interest in the diet and more tweaks to recipes and menu items. Now it's even common to see a gluten-free aisle at grocery stores.
"It's getting better and better," said Christina Klunder-Meuser, co-owner of Grand Central Market in Grand Rapids."When we were looking into gluten-free options two years ago, the products were not that awesome."
GCM stocks its shelves with gluten-free products such as beer, pasta and snacks, and also uses gluten-free meats from Dietz &Watson and breads from Gordon Foods, a large supplier to area businesses.
"There has been incremental interest in gluten-free products for the past six years and more so in the past two years as consumers have become more aware of gluten," said Andy Maier, spokesperson for Gordon Food Service.
And yes, even though gluten is found in wheat, the protein can sneak into a lot of meat items – mostly processed products.
"Processed meats have to be shelf-stable, so gluten is included as a stabilizing agent," said Cheryl Powell, co-owner of GCM, who says Dietz & Watson's meats are all natural, which make them gluten-free.
Since gluten can hide in certain foods such as meat, soy and teriyaki sauces and hard candies, reading labels and talking to restaurants about their menus is important, Doctor Gell says.
"That's a problem with eating out – you don't have a label to read. And our motto here is every label must be read before that food goes in your mouth," Gell said."If it doesn't have a label, then you're taking a chance."
Luckily for those with gluten intolerance, there are local businesses that educate their staff on customer dietary needs.
"We provide explanations and options for our service and kitchen staffs," said Matthew Burian, president and partner at The Millennium Restaurant Group in Kalamazoo. "Another key point in our education is that 'gluten-free' and 'celiac' [are] not the same thing."
Martell's, one of Millennium's 10 restaurants and catering businesses, went as far as to create a separate gluten-free menu separate from its lunch, dinner or beverage menus.
"Rather than strictly treating an ailment, diners now seem to be selecting gluten free as a means to greater fitness and health," Burian said.
Aaron Smith, who is executive chef at Millennium's Epic Bistro, learned about the health benefits from his dietician sister-in-law, who is on the gluten-free diet, along with the rest of her family. He says the diet not only boosts energy, but people that go gluten-free are more aware of what they're putting in their bodies.
"Your body is a machine. If you put cheap gas in it, you might have problems with." – Aaron Smith, Executive Chef, Epic Bistro
At Amway, Huber makes sure to have gluten-free options ready for diners, but says the recent rise in dietary needs has made catering for large-scale banquets a little more difficult.
"Over the last 15 or 20 years, when I did banquets, we maybe had one out of 100 requests, now we have 10-15 percent special meals."
But that's only until it's time for dessert.
"A lot of people out there are 'I'm gluten-free until it comes to dessert.' People can eat cake all day long," Huber said."You know how many gluten-free cakes I make? Zero."
1 cup butter
1 cup white onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1 cup shallots finely chopped
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole tomatoes
2 cups vegetable stock
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon of cayenne
1 1/2 cups crumbled tofu
In a large saucepan, melt butter and sauté onion, celery and shallots until tender. Add garlic and cook one minute more. Stir in flour and stir constantly until golden brown. Add tomatoes and brown. Blend in stock and simmer 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, cayenne and tofu; cook slowly 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with dirty rice.
By Denise Miller, executive chef at Fuel Vegetarian
Four pork chops, one inch thick at least
6 ounces dry polenta
24 ounces chicken stock
4 ounces milk
2 ounces butter
2 ounces grated parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces cornstarch
2 ounces soda water
2 teaspoon baking powder
Baby kale and baby mustard greens
Extra virgin olive oil
First, take the pork chops and sprinkle generously on both sides with salt. You can do this up to a day ahead. Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock, milk, butter, and teaspoon of salt to a boil. Whisk continuously while you sprinkle in the dry polenta. Continue to stir as the polenta thickens. Reduce heat and stir often. Cook for 30-45 minutes. Add grated cheese and add more salt to taste. Grease up a 9x13ish baking dish and pour in the polenta. Cool completely in the refrigerator.
Get out the largest pot you own, something that the pork chops will fit into all together, fill one third of the way to the top with lard and heat to 350F. Turn the heat up all the way and carefully put the pork chops in. Fry for 8-12 minutes, but be sure to check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer. The FDA recommends 145F.
Mix the cornstarch, soda water and baking powder. Slice the apples and coat in the tempura batter. Fry until lightly browned and crispy.While still warm, toss the tempura apples in a bowl with the baby greens, oil and vinegar.
Cut the polenta cake into your favorite shape, squares, rectangles, circles, triangles. Deep fry until lightly browned and crispy.
Serve the pork chops with the fried polenta and topped with the apples and wilted greens. Add a little bit more vinegar and oil over the whole thing.
By Mathew Green, executive chef at Reserve. Photo: Katy Batdorff
We present three former food fixtures with cult followings whose flavors are gone, but not forgotten. We attempt the impossible with the next best thing.
RIP Mr. Fables, 1963-2000
Survived by The Filling Station
West Michigan was once dotted with Mr. Fables, renowned for its onion rings and Mr. Fabulous Burger, the olive burger of olive burgers. It closed its final door in 2000. Although Yesterdog Owner Bill Lewis (and former Fables worker) owns the trademark, there are not any definite plans for the future. Former Fables competitor and Mr. Burger off-shoot The Filling Station offers up its own Mr. Fabulous and many diehards swear by it. Sit in the cafeteria-style dining room and let your taste buds take you back. The Filling Station, 4750 Alpine Ave. NW, Comstock Park; (616)784-6706
RIP Little Mexico, 1968-2008 & 2010-2013
Survived by El Granjero
Besieged by a fire in 2008 from which it never fully recovered from after reopening in 2010, Little Mexico finally passed out of this world in March. Finding a west-side Mexican eatery that serves up the best American comfort food, one automatically assumes Maggie's Kitchen, however, Maggie's isn't open into dining hours, of which Little Mexico was a premier destination during its heyday. Enter El Granjero Mexican Grill. Open 'til 9 for the dining crowd, you'll find a more casual experience with the flavors you miss in the familiar form of fajitas, tacos, burritos, tortas and more. Be sure to check out the one and only "El Molcajete" for a massive plate of steak, chicken, grilled cactus, chorizo and cheeses. El Granjero Mexican Grill, 950 Bridge St. NW, Grand Rapids; (616)458-5595
RIP Schnitzelbank, 1934-2006
Survived by AlpenRose Restaurant
A staple of German cuisine for more than 70 years, the Schnitzelbank shuttered its doors in 2006. Unfortunately, yet luckily, there is one restaurant open that captures bits of the 'bank's magic in Holland. Austrian Chef HelmuttKlett provides the only real German deals at AlpenRose Restaurant. Although not exclusively German, AlpenRose has the best schnitzel, sauerkraut and sauerbraten around. For some real treats, try the Tafelspitz, a thin-sliced NY strip in a horseradish cream sauce, or the Pork Provencal in its herb-roasted pork tenderloin glory. For the beer swilling, brat chomping Bavarian in all of us, the Bratwurst Plate hosts two beef and pork white brats with house-made sauerkraut and beer mustard. AlpenRose Restaurant, 4 E. 8th St., Holland; (616)393-2111, alpenroserestaurant.com