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What’s a gluten-free food lover to do?

By Hannah GriffinStaff Contributor

Being gluten-free can feel like a curse. There is the persistent feeling of being an inconvenience when eating out, or going to people’s places for dinner. Not to mention the shame of bringing vodka and Coke through the door of a kegger – on St. Patty’s Day no less. And let’s not forget the misery of having to tell the server at the Ardmore, “No toast, thanks,” when she asks whether I would like my Lumberjack Breakfast accompanied by two delicious buttery pieces of white or whole wheat bread.
Despite this recently bestowed curse, I refuse to compromise my culinary enjoyment by eating spelt all day. While consoling myself with still permissible favourites of sushi and ice cream, I began to investigate the best ways to stay content and well fed in Halifax. So whether you have a gluten or wheat allergy, are celiac or are just not down with flour, read on to learn about the best gluten-free chow in town.
First stop: Superstore. Some of the best bets here are from the Glutino and Enjoy Life lines, including apple-cinnamon and chocolate-flavoured granola bars. If you heat the chocolate ones up in the microwave, they taste just like a brownie. Glutino also makes a couple different kinds of bread, including flax bread, plain rice flour bread, and my personal favourite: cheese bread. Keep in mind that this bread tastes like a dry sponge until toasted, and then it takes on a chewy and much improved texture.
The Enjoy Life Cinnamon Crunch granola, filled with raisins, is definitely a good buy. Steer clear of the prepackaged pizza; I excitedly tried to nurse a hangover with one two weeks ago and the soggy consistency made it much, much worse.
Next stop: Pete’s Frootique (1515 Dresden Row). Pete’s offers a very good selection of gluten-free eats. At the very back of the store sits a small, shelved section bursting with delicious and easily digested goodies. These include sun dried tomato and oregano crackers, almond and cranberry-orange biscotti, three kinds of rice flour pasta, apple and cinnamon cereal, Red Mill pizza crust and glazed cashew granola.
The frozen section houses an array of breads, sesame and poppy-seed bagels, as well as microwaveable pad Thai and chicken Alfredo dinners. At the deli counter you can ask for fresh rice bread – a definite step up from the frozen Glutino loaves.
However delicious the options are at both these grocery stores, the reality is that most students can’t shell out close to $6 for a loaf of bread, or $5 for a small package of granola. So what’s the alternative for the cash-strapped gluten-free student? Baking!
The best place to find gluten-free recipes is on the Internet. Although there are lots of sites out there, the best one I have come across is Karina’s Kitchen (glutenfreegoddess.blogspot.com). This website is packed with hundreds of great recipes, including tips to make your own bread. The gluten-free baker will want to stock up on sorghum, millet and rice flours to make some of Karina’s tried and true breads. As well as recipes for the everyday staples and meal ideas, there are also those for deserts and an entire section featuring alternatives to gluten-packed holiday foods. One highlight is the maple-roasted acorn squash and cornbread stuffing, adorned with curried apple and cranberries.
When it comes to dining out, there are a surprisingly large array of restaurant options in Halifax that cater to the gluten-free, including Morris East, The Wooden Monkey, Heartwood Café and Jane’s on the Common.
Morris East (5212 Morris St.) offers eight delicious gourmet pizzas available on crispy gluten-free crust, topped with unique ingredients including caramelized onions, spicy banana peppers, blue cheese and pork loin. They also offer a handful of scrumptious salads. The grilled vegetable and goat cheese pizza on rice flour crust was so good that I would order it even if I could eat wheat. They also make an amazing flourless chocolate cake, rich and full of dark chocolate flavour.
The Wooden Monkey (1707 Grafton St.) also offers a large range of options – nachos to pizza. The gluten-free pizza crust isn’t quite as crispy as Morris East, but the rice bowl with brown rice, scallions, almonds, tofu and sesame oil is filling and the vegetables are fresh. For dessert, they carry Big Life’s chewy gluten-free brownies. Big plus: they serve gluten- free beer!
Heartwood Café (6250 Quinpool Rd.) has 13 gluten-free options among the 25 dishes on the menu. Unfortunately they don’t offer rice flour pizza crust, but they definitely make up for it with their Heartwood Bowls. You can choose either brown rice or rice vermicelli and then create your own bowl of steamed veggies, tofu and sprouts topped with spicy peanut, coconut, miso-tahini or tomato sauce.
For the brunch lover, Jane’s on the Common (2394 Robie St.) eliminates the toast problem by serving a jazzed up take on the traditional diner breakfast, accompanied by thick slices of sourdough toast. Eggs Benedict is served on a sweet-potato biscuit. They also offer a charbroiled beef burger on a gluten-free bun.
Despite good restaurant options, the problem arises of what to do at 2 a.m. when all your gluten tolerant friends are scarfing slices at Pizza Corner. Look no further than Rocky’s barbeque stand, located in the alcove just outside Willy’s, where Rocky serves up some of the best meat on a stick in town.
So as you can see, being gluten-free in Halifax isn’t always the curse it might seem. Sure, sometimes I still get a bit mournful when I think of some of my favourite wheat-filled foods (Kraft Dinner, that means you), but then I turn to daydreams of Morris East’s prosciutto, blue cheese and arugula pizza, and everything is all right again.

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