Lots of people don’t want to eat gluten, a protein found in wheat. But many can’t eat gluten because they are sensitive, allergic or among the growing number of Americans with the autoimmune disease celiac.
Gluten is most obviously found in pasta, bread and pizza crust. It can also be hidden in foods like soy sauce or coat shredded cheese. It can even end up in non-wheat grains like oats because the crops are harvested by the same machinery or in french fries through shared fryers.
Dining out and takeout can be tough, especially for those of us in the celiac category. My daughter was diagnosed more than five years ago. It takes some planning and calling in advance to both warn them and satisfy you that the busy waiters, counter staff and cooks who man the usually small city kitchens can feed you safely.
Question we must. The advocacy group Beyond Celiac says on its website: “It doesn’t take very much gluten to make you sick. Even just a crumb of gluten is enough to start the autoimmune response in people with celiac disease, even if symptoms are not present.”
We appreciate hearing that there is a fresh scoop or knife at the ready, that clean prep surfaces and a piece of foil in the toaster oven are separating us or our family members from tummy distress or even intestinal damage.
Where are my go-to places within the confines of Baltimore to get a meal or a treat that I feel reasonably assured is safe?
123 W. 27th St., 410-464-7211
Sweet 27 is a corner place in Remington that is all gluten-free. That makes for a big exhale. No asking about baking processes or surfaces. It also has vegetarian and vegan options.
The food is multicultural, spanning tacos to General Tso’s tofu to Indian saag paneer, bending to all the cravings. It also serves french fries in chickpea batter that pair well with Indian dipping sauces.
There’s traditional breakfast for the more traditional breakfast types in my house, and breads and rolls available from a set of freezers ready to take home. And they make a pretty good pizza.
But the big appeal for my daughter is the display case of cupcakes. Sometimes we buy only cupcakes (Hostess, carrot, Nutella, German chocolate) and french fries.
3446 Chestnut Ave., 410-235-3870
This Hampden storefront always has a line by the time it opens on the weekends. Harmony has donuts, cookies, muffins and cupcakes on the sweet side, and breads, pizzas and tarts on the savory side. All are gluten-free and vegan.
It’s worth going a bit early on weekends to make sure they don’t run out of donuts, which are usually dipped or smothered in chocolate and sprinkles or cinnamon. There is often a special donut; one recent day it was creamsicle, which involved a generous swirl of creamy orange frosting.
It’s mostly a takeout place, but there is a little seating if you can’t wait to get home.
710 S. Broadway, 410-522-0000
The Fells Point pub isn’t exclusively gluten-free, but waitstaff seems happy to offer a gluten-free menu and assurances that the food is prepped on separate surfaces. The plates at Alexander’s generally come from the kitchen with a little “gluten free” flag for good measure.
Some foods naturally have no gluten, but they will replace sandwich bread with gluten-free versions, so no need to limit choices. You can order pizza and grilled cheese and take home leftovers.
The restaurant is a nice spot for regulars. But it’s in the heart of one of the city’s vibrant waterfront neighborhoods, so it’s also a good choice if you have family or friends who want to see some of what Baltimore has to offer and also eat a local crab cake.
Daniela Pasta & Pastries
824 W. 36th St., 443-759-9320
This is an Italian restaurant on the main street in Hampden that isn’t exclusively gluten-free but provides the assurances you need. Be sure when making reservations at Daniela (or anywhere) to alert them that you need to be fully gluten-free; multiple waiters have thanked us for the extra prep time.
This way, you get to have the full restaurant experience, with a basket of fresh gluten-free bread and olive oil and a big plate of pasta. They make their own pasta, so you need only decide what you want on top. We normally surprise the waiter by ordering an extra full meal for the variety.
We go here for birthdays, and when you call ahead you can also order a whole tres leches cake with strawberries and whipped cream.
We’ve also found that lots of restaurants will make you something safe to eat if you ask nicely, and usually ahead of time, like fish or chicken, if you explain the need for a fresh pan or plate.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but there are some other restaurants and bakeries that regularly offer gluten-free foods or treats:
- Federal Hill has a bakery called Dulceology (1138 S. Charles St.) that bakes gluten-free treats, from cookies to cupcakes to whole cakes.
- Riverside has a breakfast and lunch place called Mindpub Cafe (554 E. Fort Ave.) that will put any sandwich safely on gluten-free bread or bagel, and they usually keep treats (often moonpies) in the freezer, too.
- Miss Shirley’s Cafe in the Inner Harbor (750 E. Pratt St.) and in Roland Park (513 W. Cold Spring Lane) and Golden West Cafe in Hampden (1105 W. 36th St.) have gluten-free meal options, and the staffs are up on cross-contamination protocols.
- Little Havana in South Baltimore (1325 Key Highway) has been a nice place to sit outside and enjoy Cuban food, much of which is naturally gluten free, though we confirm the prep each time.
- And a last nod to Bmore Licks in Federal Hill (901 Light St.), which carries gluten-free ice cream cones.