Eating gluten-free in Portland is like spinning a fortune wheel and coming up a winner every time. Options are plentiful and far-and-away better than any of the GF options here in Berlin. On one hand, it made it seriously depressing to return home and remember, oh yeah, I can't just stop by fill-in-the-blank restaurant or cafe and grab something safe to eat. On the other hand, it was a great realization that my dietary restriction doesn't mean I'm cursed to settle for 'just OK' with every baked good I try.
While I feel I barely scratched the surface of this food allergy paradise that is Portland, I felt compelled to share the places that were so good, I felt little reason to explore beyond them. Things I figured I'd never be able to enjoy again - biscuits and gravy, beer and desserts just as good as 'the real thing' - can be found here in spades. So if you're heading to Portland and need to be gluten-free, or just want some really great food that doesn't make your gut feel like a ton of bricks, take a look at a few of my favorite spots for dedicated gluten-free eating...
New Cascadia Traditional Bakery
This is one of those spots that based on the understated demeanor and its location in a rather industrial part of town, one might not expect the greatness that lies within. New Cascadia is a bakery in the true sense of the word: they excel in breads, bagels, pizzas, cookies and cakes. What I found most impressive about this place is not only that everything is totally delicious, but the texture is so right on. For everyone who has spat out a disappointing, grainy gluten-free cupcake, this place is for you. The pizza crusts are perfectly doughy and crispy, breads are appropriately fluffy in the middle (though do best when toasted, as do most GF breads) and the cupcakes somehow manage to avoid that can't-put-your-finger-on-it sense of wrongness that is experienced with most cakes masquerading as a gluten-filled treat but just not living up to their gluten-filled cousins. Texture is where New Cascadia shines.
Since I ate here on such a regular basis while I was in town, let me share the things that blew my mind: both the crispy, bubbly thin-crust and the plump cornmeal pizzas, those little cheesy biscuits, the chocolate-espresso-walnut cookie, the caramel-y nut bar, the pink champagne cupcake (January's special flavor). The vegan cupcake of the month - peanut butter and jelly - was also very good, but as a die-hard lover of buttercream, it didn't rate for me with the other option. The Sunday brunch was extraordinary. I ordered the Challah French toast (again, perfect bread texture) and my friend let me sneak a few bites of her biscuits and mushroom gravy, which knocked my socks off. I never thought I could enjoy biscuits that weren't pronounced in their wheat-based crumbliness or gravy that wasn't born from the large jar of bacon grease that stood constant watch over my grandmother's stove, let alone the fact that I don't even like mushrooms. So in short, this place rocks.
New Cascadia Traditional
1700 SE 6th Avenue
Open 7 days a week (brunch only on Sundays)
Also at the Portland Farmer's Market and several local groceries
Petunia's Pies and Pastries
Petunia's is one of those sweet spots you can't help but want to go in. Classic bakery decor, an ample menu and a long glass case glittering with sugary baked goods... It's really only after you are intrigued by the magic of the place that you realize everything is gluten free and vegan. It only says it as a subheading on one of the signs outside and I'm not sure I even noticed it anywhere else. And that is the point. The food here is the star and stands for itself. The fact that us allergy-addled/dietary-restricted folks can dive in without thinking is the added bonus that makes folks like me stare saucer-eyed at the dessert case, mouth agape, muttering incredulously: 'I can eat any of this?!'.
My favorites here? The Cowgirl cookie, the salted caramel cookie bar (I die...), the chili with sweet molasses cornbread, the spicy blue corn veggie tacos and of course, the salted caramel apple pecan pie. Between the menu and the whole vibe of the place, never once do you feel like you're missing out. That said, as an adamant butter supporter, I think a few of the things I tried really could have benefited, especially texture-wise, from cream or butter. I do understand that gluten and dairy allergies so often go hand-in-hand, and I'm not sure you could find a place in the world that can cater to those needs better than Petunia's. Two thumbs way up. (I wonder if they'd ship internationally for Valentine's Day...?)
Petunia's Pies and Pastries
610 SW 12th Avenue
Open 7 days a week
Also at other retailers
Ground Breaker Brewing Gastropub
After my first experience with 'gluten-free' beer (violently ill), I resigned to the idea that our relationship was over. Then my husband stumbled across a brewery in Portland that was 100% gluten free, as in, the beer was sourced from non-gluten grains. None of this 'distilled out' nonsense, it was gluten-free right from the start. This brewery was in fact one of the reasons I encouraged my parents' move to Portland: so I could come visit. Selfless, I know.
On our first visit, it was burger night. Not that I could complain, since burgers were yet another pre-celiac favorite now relegated to concocting at home with some sort of bread product that could pass as a bun in some alternate universe. While I do admit Ground Breaker's bread left me a little wanting, the rest was very tasty. Such solid, soul-warming pub food that we decided to come again for its next special menu night: Christmas Eve fried chicken and biscuits. Fried chicken was always a staple in my family, with our mid-western roots, so my standards are a bit high. This lived up to the challenge and frankly, if you didn't know it was gluten-free, you would never have guessed.
So the food is pretty good at Ground Breaker, but let's be honest, you come here for one thing: the beer. If you've ever tried gluten-free beer you probably know that it's mostly crap. They've taken something that's all gluten and then distilled the hell out of it until some rancid muck not even resembling the brew you once enjoyed pre-diagnosis: (enter overly exuberant announcer's voice here) so now even you can enjoy beer like the rest of them! Nein, danke. Ground Breaker starts with ingredients like roasted lentils, chestnuts and buckwheat to create beers that while unlike 'regular' beers you might be used to, are something unique and delicious all their own. My favorites included the Corsa Rose Gold Ale (a little like a rosé wine), the IPA No.5 and the seasonal candy cane ale (with the perfect peppermint flavor at the finish).
Beer, it feels great to friends again.
Ground Breaker Brewing
2030 SE 7th Street
Open Tuesday-Sunday (Tues & Wed evenings only)
Find the beer at other locations
Portland, you truly are a dream come true for those of us with food allergies...