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Chattanooga’s restaurants offer increasing alternatives
If you’ve set foot inside a grocery store, farmer’s market or been within earshot of Gwyneth Paltrow in the past five years, then you’ve heard the phrase gluten free. You’d t hink that in a city like Chattanooga, where the majority of residents were weaned on buttermilk biscuits and red velvet cake, that such a high level of continued exposure would render most residents as immune to gluten intolerance as Miley Cyrus to criticism. But the Scenic City has its share of gluten-intolerant folks, and businesses offering gluten-free foods are showing up in every corner of the city.
Information about the medical and nutritional aspects of celiac disease and the various incarnations of gluten intolerance are easy to find (see “Giving Gluten the Boot” in this issue). But one aspect of gluten-free foods that is not discussed as freely is taste. If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of encountering mass-produced, low-quality, gluten-free bread or one of those circular affronts to humanity called a gluten-free bagel, then you may be under the impression that eating gluten free means tossing your taste buds under the bus. The absence of gluten can certainly have an effect on the taste and texture of many foods—but recent innovations prove it will take a lot more than a lifelong, inherited autoimmune condition to stop us from eating delicious cupcakes and crunchy baguettes.
Gluten is a sticky protein that makes pizza dough stretchy, helps pasta hold together and works to trap gas within baked goods, giving them their light, airy structure. Baking or cooking without gluten’s assistance means finding substitutes that can provide those stretchy, sticky, airy properties we all love, while maintaining the flavors we expect.
A wide variety of gluten-free flours, starches and baking aids, such as xanthan gum, eggs, and rice flour can be used to produce high-quality baked goods and pasta—but taste and texture were a tragic casualty in many early attempts, often resulting in textures indistinguishable from the packaging they came in and aftertastes more bitter and off-putting than Taylor Swift fresh from a breakup. Now, however, there are gluten-free options appearing all over town that are almost indistinguishable from their gluteneous brethren.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I am not gluten intolerant. I can tolerate enough gluten to fill the stockroom at an Olive Garden. However, I do have a growing number of friends and family members that are, so I periodically find myself sampling gluten-free items that they always swear are “as good as the real thing.” Most of the time I politely smile and try not to react like Tom Hanks eating caviar, but there are times when good taste, good texture and gluten free all miraculously come together.
Crave Cafe and Bakery's Turkey and Cranberry sandwich is a great example of how you can have a flavorful, quick, 100 percent gluten-free lunch. Tender roasted turkey, lettuce and tomato are piled on Crave's house-made bread and topped with their from-scratch cranberry sauce for a comfort food win. The folks at Crave have done a good job of creating gluten-free breads and baked goods that have excellent flavor and don't crumble like last year's fruitcake. The great news is they serve equally tasty breakfast, soups, salads and desserts that are all 100 percent gluten free.
Places like Artisan Bakery in Hixson and the eateries at the Bluff View Arts District use their extensive knowledge and dedicated gluten-free spaces to produce some of the best GF breads and pastas you'll find anywhere. As a self-described carbonara aficionado, I was pleasantly surprised at the richness and creaminess of Tony's Pasta Shop and Trattoria's gluten-free spaghetti carbonara—and how it left no gritty aftertaste like so many GF pastas do.