Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gluten Free in Chicago

Last weekend, we stayed two nights at the Renaissance Chicago Downtown Hotel.  We loved the location, and would stay there again, even though we had some issues with our room the first night.  Somehow, we were assigned to a room with one king and no sofa bed for four people, and we discovered this when we arrived at 11:00 at night.  We ended up receiving a discount on our stay, and spent the night in a beautiful club level room with incredible views the second night.  My daughters have decided we need to get club level rooms from now on....yikes!

I spent some time researching gluten free options in Chicago on other blogs, and asked my blog readers for advice.  One place that was consistently recommended was Do-Rite Donuts, which has several locations in Chicago.  I pre-ordered my donuts online a couple of days ahead of time, and my husband walked to their Randolph Street location to pick them up when we woke up.

I had high expectations, because so many people were saying Do-Rite Donuts are the best gluten free donuts they have ever had.

I ordered one of each of their gluten free options - birthday cake, cinnamon & sugar, and Valrhona chocolate glazed.

Sadly, all of them were not worth eating, because they were dry, either from overcooking or not being fresh.

When I posted about my donuts on Instagram, Do-Rite Donuts quickly responded and offered to replace them.  When my husband went to pick them up the next morning, no one at their Randolph store had any clue about our replacement order, but they did give my husband one of each of the gluten free donuts they had in stock.  The cinnamon sugar was horribly dry again, but the birthday cake was better than on day one, so I ate half of it.

After breakfast on the first day, we walked over to see the Cloud Gate Sculpture, which is also known as the bean.  We had fun exploring the bean, and taking pictures of ourselves reflected in the sculpture.

Because I did not have much for breakfast, and we could not get a reservation, we decided to walk over to Frontera Grill before noon, to see if we could get a table for brunch.  Frontera Cocina in Disney Springs is one of our favorite restaurants at Disney World, so we were excited to try Frontera Grill, because their chefs helped develop Frontera Cocina's menu.  Unlike Frontera Cocina, Frontera Grill does not list major allergens on their menu, so a manager came out to speak to me about gluten free options on their brunch menu.

We love the queso fundido at Disney, so we ordered two of Frontera Grill's classic queso fundido with jack cheese, garlicky roasted peppers, and homemade chorizo.  We all prefer Frontera Cocina's version without the chorizo, and with the peppers and onions in the cheese, but we all enjoyed the queso on the corn tortillas they brought us.

I have a slight obsession with bacon, so I could not pass up the red chile-glazed Gunthorp apple smoked bacon.  It was good, because it is hard to go wrong with bacon, but it was not spicy like I expected.

The highlight of my meal at Frontera Grill was the red pozole, Mexico's classic pork and hominy soup infused with rich red chile, served with a side of crunchy aromatic garnishes.  I never knew what pozole was until we moved to California, but fell in love with it at our school cafe this year.  The broth at Frontera Grill was super flavorful, and had a generous amount of pork and hominy.  I would go back to Frontera Grill again just for this dish, it was so good.

The manager at Frontera Grill told me that they did not have a dedicated fryer, but when I mentioned wanting fried sweet plantains, she said they would find a way to make them for me.  We skipped the sour cream they are topped with and asked for the cheese on the side.  The plantains looked a little charred when they arrived, but they tasted great, and disappeared quickly with all four of us sharing them.

After brunch, we walked over to Eataly Chicago, which my husband and I describe as Italian heaven.  We visited Eataly for the first time when we were in New York City two years ago.

I was surprised to see a display of beautiful gluten free desserts.  The employee I spoke to told me that she has a friend with celiac who eats them without issue, and that Eataly takes precautions to avoid cross contamination.  Out of the eight desserts I had to choose from, on the first day we visited Eataly, I tried the semifreddo, which is a sponge cake with cassis and vanilla chantilly cream mousse and fresh berries.  It was so incredibly delicious, I wish I had ordered it on day two.

Eataly's classic tiramisu with mascarpone layered with coffee-soaked rice flour lady fingers and dusted with cocoa powder was really good, but I kept wishing I had ordered the semifreddo again.

Eataly has an impressive selection of gluten free candy, cookies, pasta, and baking mixes, but I only purchased my favorite Italian chocolates to take home with me.  If you enjoy the gluten free pasta at Carrabba's Italian Grill, Eataly sells the Garofalo gluten free casarecce they use.  My dry pasta of choice is Le Veneziane, but Garofalo is very good too.

For dinner, we ended up stopping at two fast casual restaurants.  My gluten-eating bao-obsessed daughters ate at Wow Bao, which is in the same building as our hotel, and my husband and I ate at Brightwok Kitchen, which is 100% gluten free.  Everything is also vegan except the chicken, steak, eggs, and magic cake.  The menu is also peanut free, but they do warn that some of their ingredients may have been processed in a facility that contains peanuts.

You get to choose a sauce, a base, a protein, and four veggies, then your bowl is sent down the line to be cooked.

For an extra charge, you can make your bowl fancy by adding a crispy egg, local mushrooms, or caramelized pineapple.  Brightwok Kitchen also has sides of sweet & sour pickles, sinful banana chips, fresh spring rolls, and magic cake.

I choose a bowl with brown rice, steak, Adams St. teriyaki sauce, broccoli, edamame, onions and peppers, and added caramelized pineapple.  The portion was large, everything was super fresh, and I loved the flavor of the sauce.

My husband chose rice noodles, steak and Thai basil sauce, and added a crispy egg to his bowl.  Even though my daughters had already had dinner, they sampled several bites of his bowl, which they all loved.

For dessert, I ordered the magic cake, which is made with homemade cashew butter and chocolate chips.  The portion was small, but it was the perfect size after a large meal.  The magic cake was nice and moist, and not overly sweet.

We loved our meals at Brightwok Kitchen and would definitely return again, but the highlight of our entire trip to Chicago was Hamilton.  We hoped to see Hamilton in San Francisco over Spring Break, but we were only able to get resale tickets, and the prices seemed outrageous.  We came so close to buying tickets to Hamilton in Chicago before our trip several times, but hesitated, because again, the resale prices were high.

After brunch at Frontera Grill, we walked to Willis Tower to see the views from the Skydeck, but the line was an hour and a half long just to get in the building.  As we walked back to our hotel to see if our new room was ready, we walked by the theater that Hamilton is playing in, and decided to stop at their box office to see if any tickets were available.  My husband thought I was crazy, but when we walked in at around 3:30, there was a short line, and the people in front of us were buying tickets for that night's performance for $180.00, a much better price than anything we had seen online.  By the time we got to the front of the line, they only had two tickets left, but they told us if we waited, more tickets might become available at 5:00.  We purchased the two tickets they had left, and my husband stayed at the front of the line while the girls and I walked back to the hotel.  Shortly after 5:00, I got a call from my husband that he had bought two more seats.  Our tickets were eight rows from the stage in the center of the orchestra section.  We lucked into incredible seats at a great price for the best musical I have ever seen.  My girls were not exactly happy that we were going to Hamilton, but they loved it, and we have been listening to the music non-stop since the performance.  The cast in Chicago was impressive, and we hope to see the show again soon in Los Angeles over Christmas Break, or in New York City.

After eating our Do-Rite Donuts on day two, we walked down to see Lake Michigan.  I did not expect to see a beach with people swimming in a city like Chicago.

I had made reservations to have brunch at The Little Beet Table, a 100% gluten free restaurant with locations in Chicago and New York City.  We had eaten at their fast casual restaurant near Times Square called The Little Beet several times on our trip to New York City and loved it, so we were excited to try The Little Beet Table.

The Little Beet Table is a farm to table restaurant that serves local and seasonal ingredients whenever possible.

From their drink menu, I ordered the switchel with fresh ginger, maple syrup, and rice vinegar.  It was interesting, but a little too vinegary for me, so my husband ended up finishing it.

My daughter Emma ordered the mint and pea cavatelli with sugar snap peas, English peas, and sheep's milk feta.  The pasta had a nice texture, and I enjoyed it, even though I am not a fan of mint.

Mitch chose the Lobster Benedict with red pepper hollandaise, poached eggs, and a toasted English muffin.  I did not try his dish, but he said it was very good.

Katie picked the grass-fed double burger with sweet potatoes.  She ordered it plain, but did not enjoy the bun or the ketchup they brought her, which she said tasted strange.  She liked her burger patties, but thought the sweet potatoes were not seasoned well, and one of them was not cooked enough.

I chose the smashed sweet potato toast with sunny-side farm eggs, lemon ricotta, and arugula.

I asked for the ricotta on the side, and ate some of it with the market berry bowl I ordered without the coconut cream or mint

I really enjoyed my smashed sweet potato toast topped with the eggs.  I recently fell in love with avocado toast, and hope to make this variation at home soon, though I will probably use Japanese sweet potatoes.

We will definitely be dining at The Little Beet or The Little Beet Table again the next time we are in New York City, Chicago, or Washington, D.C.

After brunch, we took a Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruise with Chicago's First Lady Cruises, which I highly recommend.

For the last two days of our trip, my husband was speaking at a conference in Wheaton, a suburb of Chicago, so we rented a car, and drove there after our cruise.  We needed another day or two in the city to see the sites recommended to us, and I did not have a chance to eat at some restaurants that were on my list, like Mon Ami Gabi, one of our favorites from our recent trip to Las Vegas.  I had also hoped to visit Wheat's End Cafe and FireFin Poke Shop, which are 100% gluten free, and Takito Kitchen and Roti Mediterranean Grill.

On our drive out to Wheaton, we decided we needed to eat dinner before heading to our hotel.  I was excited to find a Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant in Naperville on the Find Me Gluten Free app, because Cooper's Hawk was one of our favorite non-Disney restaurants in Orlando.  The gluten free menu at Cooper's Hawk is one of the most extensive I have ever seen at a restaurant, and they even have gluten free bread, which I passed on, because of the big brunch we had earlier in the day.   I love that Cooper's Hawk includes a drink menu as part of their gluten free menu, and that they allow you to taste wines before you order them.   I did order a Peartini, but thought it had a very fake taste that reminded me of cough medicine, so I passed it on to to my husband, who was not a fan of it either.

Mitch ordered the short rib risotto with carnaroli rice, mushroom, sweet onion, white wine, shaved Parmesan, and white truffle oil from the gluten free menu so we could share our meals.  This entree is very good, but I have a favorite dish at Cooper's Hawk that I like to keep all for myself, though I did share at least one bite with everyone.

I love the Dana's Parmesan-crusted chicken with tomato basil relish, lemon butter, mashed potatoes, and garlic green beans.  There was not one thing on this plate that was not delicious.

For dessert, I ordered the S'more Budino with caramel custard, Valrhona chocolate mousse, and toasted marshmallow.  It was good, though I probably would have preferred it without the caramel custard layer.  The portion was huge, and I was able to share half of it with my husband.

White chocolate and dark chocolate covered strawberries are another gluten free dessert option.  I was tempted by the wine & chocolates on the gluten free menu, but I tasted one of the dessert wines and did not enjoy it it, so I passed on this dish.

After dinner, we visited Wheaton College, my husband's alma mater.  He hopes our daughters will follow in his footsteps, which is why the whole family came on this trip to Chicago.  As rising 7th graders, our twins felt a little odd taking a college tour the next day with juniors and seniors, but they walked away from the experience saying they want to go to Wheaton, so mission accomplished for now.

For breakfast on our first full day in Wheaton, I ate fruit and Siggi's yogurt that I had picked up at a local grocery store, and Enjoy Life Foods Mountain Mambo Seed & Fruit Mix that I had brought from home.  For lunch, Mary and her family from the The Celiac Pack took us to Glen Prarie in Glen Ellyn, which labels gluten free options on their regular menu.  Our meal started off with gluten free rolls with herb butter.  The rolls, which I am pretty sure were Udi's, were heated well, and tasted great with the herb butter.

I rarely pass up the chance to get fried shrimp, so I ordered the firecracker shrimp with seasoned rice flour and firecracker sauce.  The firecracker sauce was slightly sweet and had some heat to it, and was great with the shrimp.

When a restaurant has a dedicated fryer, I also have a hard time passing up french fries.

My daughters shared a dish marked gluten free on the menu - the salmon with Parmesan polenta, blistered local cherry tomatoes, and balsamic glaze, which they said was good.

Mary's daughter Judy, who has celiac disease, ordered a hamburger on a gluten free bun with french fries.

After lunch, Mary and her kids took us to Sweet Ali's Gluten Free Bakery in Hinsdale.  I chose a chocolate cupcake with chocolate frosting, and Emma picked the red velvet, which she liked, because it had cream cheese frosting.  My chocolate cupcake was good, but I would have preferred it at room temperature instead of cold.  Katie chose a crisped rice treat, which she enjoyed.

After we had eaten our desserts, I spotted Sweet Ali's cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting.  I might have bought a package of cinnamon buns instead of the cupcake if I had seen them first.  Judy and Mary said they are very good, so if we ever make it back to Chicago, we will definitely be stopping at Sweet Ali's again.

Their decorated sugar cookies reminded me of the beautiful cookies made by Gluuteny Bakery in Pittsburgh.

We ordered double chocolate and fairy tales cookies to take with us.

The double chocolate cookies were good, but if I lived near Sweet Ali's, I would be stopping in frequently for their incredible fairy tales cookies.  The frosting was not too sweet, and there was just the right amount of it.

For dinner later that night, my daughters wanted to stop at Noodles & Company, which they have missed since we left Orlando.  I ordered my usual, Pad Thai with shrimp.

The day we left Chicago, I ate yogurt and fruit for breakfast again, and we stopped at American Wildburger, which was a short drive from the airport, and had great reviews on the Find Me Gluten Free app.

Katie and I shared an order of fresh cut french fries, which are made in a dedicated fryer.  French fry connoisseurs will love this place, because they soak their fries after cutting them, and I am pretty sure they told me they double fry them.  They reminded me of the famous O-Fries from The Original Hot Dog Shop in Pittsburgh.

I was so excited that American Wildburger had garlic Parmesan wings, but I should have asked for the sauce on the side.  The fact that it was a sauce should have clued me in that these were not the garlic Parm wings I am used to.  We did not like the sauce at all, but I am sure the wings would have been great with just salt and pepper.

The gentleman who took our order at American Wildburger, and Mary from The Celiac Pack both recommended we try Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta & Catering, which has a separate kitchen for making gluten free dishes, because several members of the owner's family have celiac disease.  The have fried mozzarella and homemade cannoli, two dishes I have dreamed of eating in a restaurant again, but they were closed for lunch the day we left, which is why we ended up at American Wildburger.

When we landed in San Francisco, we stopped at Napa Farms Market in Terminal 2 for some juices from Urban Remedy before we headed home.  Urban Remedy is 100% gluten free, and some of their snacks, like their almond brownie and spicy lemon almonds, are sold at Napa Farms Market.  I bought both to try before flying to Chicago.  The spicy lemon almonds were amazing, and I ordered a bunch of them online when we got home, but the brownie was just ok.

Overall, we had a great trip to Chicago, and I look forward to going back again sometime soon.  What are your favorite restaurants for gluten free dining in Chicago?


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