BY SARA BURNSIDE-MENUCK
Until a few years ago, the phrase “gluten-free” typically applied a few sad- and stunted-looking loaves of bread and the odd flourless cookie—and even then, they were hard to find. But thanks to a host of new research and a few bestselling diet books, gluten-free cuisine has exploded onto the culinary scene. Restaurants, cafés and bakeries are increasingly expanding their menus to include celiac-friendly choices, or opting to go gluten-free altogether. Read on for a diverse selection of some of the best gluten-free eating Toronto has to offer.
This small-but-mighty bakery in the Junction began as a modest two-person enterprise, offering up tasty treats at farmers’ markets around the city. Now, owners Ashley Wittig and Kevin MacAllister provide gluten-free (and vegan) goodies available in-store and by special order. Among the made-daily items are super-sweet-n-gooey frosted cinnamon buns, several varieties of cupcakes (including red velvet and French toast), pies, brownies, and much more. Bunner’s popular Supersonic Gypsy cookie, a high-texture treat packed with dark chocolate and cranberries, is also sold at a number of other cafés across the city. On the savoury side, don’t miss the pastry pockets with three appetizing filling options: chickpea curry, pizza, and pot pie.
For gluten-free eaters who’ve given up on Asian fare (what with its tendency to be doused in soy sauce), take heart and try Riz. The Leaside-area restaurant boasts an extensive pan-Asian menu of gluten-free dishes, available à la carte or “all you can taste” at both lunch and dinner. Get started with a couple of crispy spring rolls before digging into a generous serving of Thai curry over coconut rice or Singapore noodles. If seafood’s your thing, check out Riz’s lobster deal, a three-course affair featuring an entree of drunken garlic lobster.
There’s not a wheat sheaf in sight at this Kensington Market staple. The owner himself is gluten-intolerant, so diners can rest assured that cross-contamination is never an issue here. The Cornerstone has a relaxed, home-grown vibe with a family-friendly menu featuring classic sandwiches (try the mushroom melt!) and substantial fare like fish and chips. More adventurous eaters can cut their teeth on dishes like the red and green salad, a bed of market-fresh veggies topped with crispy pulled pork and provolone, or the grilled bell pepper stuffed with eggplant, cashews and tofu in a Moroccan sauce. Delicious dishes are whipped up for weekend brunch, too: try the poached egg breakfast served on black pumpernickel bread with brie, bacon and house-made hollandaise.
Up the street from Cornerstone you’ll find Hibiscus, a demure little café that’s perfect for a late lunch or early dinner. The service is good and honest; the all-veg-no-gluten menu is honestly good. Chef-owner Joseph Tam has perfected the recipe for gluten-free buckwheat crepes in a variety of sweet and savoury flavours. Rich and filling homemade soups change daily and come with a side of raw vegan crackers. The real star of the show, however, is the salad combo. Forget the lettuce: this bowl of green goodness features a mix of six to nine delightfully varied salads, from marinated tofu to tangy mixed beans to colourful quinoa. End your visit on a sweet note with a scoop of dairy-free ice cream or a gluten-free vegan cookie. Note that the café is currently undergoing renovations, but is slated to reopen in December.
KUPFERT & KIM
Kupfert & Kim might be relatively new in town, but beginner’s luck has yet to run out as far as their “meatless and wheatless” fast-service menu is concerned. Conveniently located in First Canadian Place, K&K has quickly become a Financial District lunchtime favourite; arrive early to beat the rush, as meals are often sold out by 1:30 p.m. Or stop by for breakfast to try the sweet quinoa bowl—topped with banana, cinnamon and cashew cream—or the chia pudding. The most popular lunch item, the ambitious Oaxaca Box, is a bed of brown rice and spiced black beans beneath kale, tortilla chips, guacamole, and cashew cream among others (are you feeling hungry yet?). Fun fact: K&K is also well stocked with the gypsy cookie from our old friend Bunner’s.
Here’s a dish that’s gluten-free without even trying: the arepa is a traditional Venezuelan sandwich consisting of a saucy filling between a grilled flatbread made from cornmeal. As its name makes clear, Queen West’s Arepa Café is all in when it comes to this tasty South American specialty: owner Eduardo Lee offers 12 variations on the theme, including chicken, chorizo, avocado, beans, and octopus. While the emphasis is on the arepas, diners can also opt for other favourite Venezuelan dishes, though not all are gluten-free. Wash everything down with freshly squeezed guava juice, or a glass of the café’s authentic sugarcane lemonade.
“Free” is a watchword at Cruda Café: the St. Lawrence Market food stall serves up items that are gluten-free, sugar-free, meat-, dairy-, egg-free. Most of all, everything is made heat-free, too: the raw vegan ethos seeks to preserve your food’s integrity by ensuring no nutrients are lost due to cooking. The food’s temperature may be low, but the amount of fresh flavour is high indeed in entrees like the raw gnocchi bowl: minute cashew dumplings tossed on a bed of zucchini “noodles” and smothered in a creamy vegan carbonara sauce. Quench your thirst with raw coconut water that’s drilled in front of you and poured to order.
Tiptoe out of the strictly vegan field and into The Beet, a trendy produce-stand-meet-café where everything is environmentally friendly and fresh. The café leans heavily toward vegan and vegetarian inclinations, but meat enthusiasts can indulge in a juicy lamb or bison burger—served either on a kamut bun or gluten-free bread—and have the option to top any of the inventive salads with chicken or steak. Among the notable vegan menu picks? The island curry, a spicy chickpea, carrot and kale stew served over quinoa (non-celiac diners can opt for a wheat roti wrap). Dinner gets sophisticated with an impressive list of local, mostly organic wines, craft beers and cocktails. Bonus: you can also pick up your week’s provisions of organic produce, coffee, bread and other locally sourced goods in the café’s retail storefront.
Grab your Mardi Gras beads and feathered masks for a trip to this Mirvish Village staple. Though not explicitly touted as a gluten-free joint, the vibrant N’Awlins–style restaurant does boast a number of safe choices, including Bourbon Street Chicken or Toulouse Street Steak, served up with classic southern sides like collard greens and bourbon-glazed yams. The chefs haven’t forgotten dessert, either, offering up a variety of treats including house-made ice cream and a sweet potato praline brownie. A fun final note: the restaurant boasts two resident psychics who happily read patrons’ fortunes on a nightly basis.
This landmark drinking establishment is known for its great selection of beers, bourbons and whiskies. While those grain-based alcohols are not always favoured by celiac sufferers, the Monarch does show consideration by offering gluten-free versions of everything on its menu of comfort fare, including house-made pork sausages and the “archduke” grilled cheese sandwich. Nor are the booze offerings entirely closed off to gluten-intolerant patrons: the bar has celiac-safe Thornbury cider on tap.
BONUS! EVEN MORE EATERIES WITH GLUTEN-FREE OPTIONS:
Magic Oven, 6 Wellesley St. W., 416-868-6836 (plus five other locations); magicoven.com
• Chain of healthy-choice pizzerias; gluten-free rice flour crust available on all pies.
Please note: While all of the above establishments do indeed offer dishes made with gluten-free ingredients, Where Toronto cannot guarantee that those dishes have been prepared in a 100-percent gluten-free environment. Please use your discretion, and inquire at the individual restaurants should you have specific concerns.