Gluten-free gems in the Amherst area

By Kate Evans

Following and maintaining a gluten-free lifestyle is tough. Whether opting not to indulge in wheat-filled products due to Celiac Disease, wheat-sensitivity, weight loss method or simply refusing gluten as matter of choice, finding and enjoying foods lacking gluten can be difficult.

Luckily, in the heart of Pioneer Valley lie several hidden dietary gems that won’t cause multiple trips to the bathroom or a bulging midsection. To make getting lunch a little less like finding a needle in a haystack, visit any of the following hotspots for tasty and g-free fare.

Loose Goose Café at 1 East Pleasant St. in Amherst offers a slew of specialty sandwiches and paninis, all of which can be made on gluten-free sliced bread. The popular “Fitzgerald” packs roasted chicken breast, tomatoes, green leaves, garlic and herb goat cheese and chipotle aioli into one mouthwatering and massive sandwich – leaving the gluten behind by asking staff for gluten-free bread. Loose Goose also offers six salads to choose from on their café menu. Request a side of toasted gluten-free bread in lieu of croutons to still enjoy a few carbohydrates.

Esselon Café on 99 Russell St. in Hadley (on Rt. 9 on the way to Northampton) caters to those following gluten-free and vegan diets, placing the letters “g” and “v” next to menu items that can be prepared either gluten-free or vegan. The laid back café’s gluten-free baked goods section greets customers as they enter and consists of espresso truffles, double chocolate chip cookies and lemon and chocolate cupcakes. The Breakfast Burrito is normally served in a tortilla, but bread products are removed when dishes are prepared g-free, a server said. This tortilla-less cornucopia of goodness combines scrambled eggs, guacamole, cheddar cheese, spinach, pico de gallo and sour cream all served with a grilled potato cake and side salad topped with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette. On the g-free bistro lunch and dinner menu are salmon, falafel, black bean burgers and more. A small side of fries, or Pomme Frites, is available sans gluten for under $4.

Don’t be fooled by Mango Mango’s name and reputation – the smoothie makers also serve a wide variety of tasty and unique gluten-free soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees by avoiding traditional flours and substituting gluten-containing products for g-free alternatives. All the soups are gluten-free, which include creative concoctions such as Coconut Carrot and Sweet Potato Chili. A gluten-free garlic and onion bread appetizer is served on French bread rolls and topped with mozzarella cheese, which is an immense treat for those accustomed to eating no bread at restaurants. All the grilled and classic sandwiches are served on the same French bread, and range from roasted chicken with guacamole and apple to barbecue pulled pork.

Fresh Side Eatery and Teas dedicates an entire page on their extensive menu to gluten-free dishes. Located on 39 S. Pleasant St., the Asian fusion cuisine offers g-free appetizers, soups and salads, but also pasta and rice dishes. The Thai Basil Pasta consists of stir-fried cellophane noodles with fresh Thai basil, ginger, bell pepper, onion, chili pepper and spinach, with an additional choice of chicken, beef, mussel or shrimp. An out-of-the-ordinary combination, the KimChee Omelet Fried Rice mixes rice stir-fried with a Korean spicy cabbage, onion, carrot, water chestnut and snow peas all wrapped in an egg omelet, with the option of adding chicken or beef. If ordering from the takeout menu, select items marked as “GF,” which are either g-free or can be made into it.

Topping the charts of fantastic allergen-free fare as the most gluten-free friendly is Hillside Pizza on 173 Russell St. in Hadley, offering the elusive gluten-free pizza. Hillside Pizza uses 12-inch Against the Grain crust for their pizza and offers a variety of vegetable and savory meat toppings. This pizza joint also makes gluten-free sandwiches using Canyon Bakehouse 7-grain bread, all under $8 with an option to toast. Gluten-free desserts are also available on occasion in various flavors. Hillside Pizza’s only setback is that they operate solely on Thursday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. and Sunday from 12-8 p.m.

Not all restaurants with gluten-free options have such extensive menus, but still provide a couple tasty flourless dishes. Rao’s Coffee serves big gluten-less blueberry muffins, and all coffee drinks can be prepared g-free if requested without powder. Panda East’s “Light and Healthy” steamed options are gluten-free, consisting of veggie, chicken and seafood dishes. Gluten-free soy sauce is available upon request. The Lone Wolf regularly bakes fresh g-free pastries such as bittersweet chocolate espresso torte, chocolate mousse, crème brulee and macaroons.

To be on the safe side, always inform wait staff of dietary restrictions and ask for gluten-free options. Luckily, the g-free way of life is catching on and restaurants have begun making accommodations for customers in need. Avoid the stress of selecting a restaurant with these options and enjoy sampling some of the most delicious g-free dishes around.

Kate Evans can be reached at [email protected]