Restaurants boost gluten-free menus

April 13, 2010 5:43:28 AM PDT
Imagine what it would be like if you couldn't eat pasta, bread or even soy sauce. Those are the challenges facing the approximately three million people with celiac disease.

Having the disease means people cannot eat the proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. However, there are increasingly more options for people on gluten-free diets.

According to the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center, the affliction is twice as common as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and cystic fibrosis combined. Restaurants are adding more gluten-free items to their menus, and supermarkets are carrying more products without gluten on their shelves.

Luciano Libreri makes the dough for his homemade lasagna just about everyday. But this is no ordinary dough. Unlike nearly every Italian restaurant in Chicago, his version doesn't contain gluten, but rather, a mixture of other flours. Ever since he opened Da Luciano's in River Grove six years ago, he's offered a large selection of gluten-free items, primarily because several of his children are gluten-intolerant.

"Some of the mixtures are like tapioca flour, potato flour, corn flour - and just the mixture to what comes out the best for the actual product that we're making," said Ignazio Libreri of Da Luciano's.

From the flour that the chicken parmigiana must be dredged in before frying to the delicate lady fingers that are sandwiched between marscarpone and cream in their tiramisu, the family has successfully removed gluten from many of their menu items, designating a completely separate kitchen for them. Even bread - that sacrosanct Italian icon - is made without regular flour. When they can't do it themselves, they'll import gluten-free dried pasta as well.

"Now that we're getting used to it and actually trying different things on how to make it actually taste good now, we not only have it gluten-free but have it taste almost next to the regular food that we eat," said Libreri.

In Hyde Park, The Sit Down Cafe & Sushi Bar has also expanded its gluten-free options. Fittingly enough, the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center is right down the street.

"Celiac disease is roughly one percent of the U.S. population, but we know new research is showing that it may be as much as two percent. So, it's on the rise," said Carol Shilson, director of the University of Chicago's Celiac Disease Center. "That estimate goes to maybe three to five million American's have celiac disease."

The bread is from Rose's Bakery in Evanston, but the soup bases are made here, as is the pizza dough. Celiacs can also enjoy dipping their homemade sushi into tamari, as opposed to soy sauce. Shilson says a lot of people never realize they're gluten-intolerant, and that her center aims to educate them on the more than 300 different symptoms.

"Probably about 95 percent are not diagnosed, so that's why you don't hear about it that much - and also, because there's no drug for it," said Shilson.

The Sit Down Cafe & Sushi Bar
1312 E. 53rd St.

Da Luciano
8343 W. Grand Ave.

Other gluten-free-friendly places:

Rose's Wheat Free Bakery and Cafe
2901 Central St., Evanston

Golden Chef
600 S. Milwaukee Ave. Wheeling

Sweet Ali's Gluten Free Bakery
13 W. 1st St., Hinsdale

2652 N. Halsted St.

Convito Café
1515 Sheridan Rd., Wilmette

11255 W. 143rd St., Orland Park

P.F. Chang's China Bistro
Locations in Chicago:

530 N. Wabash Ave.

2361 Fountain Square Dr., Lombard

14135 LaGrange Rd., Orland Park

1819 Lake Cook Rd. Northbrook

5 Woodfield Mall Space D313

Chicagoland's Premier Gluten Free Cooking Expo

Saturday and Sunday, April 17-18

From quick and easy meal preparation to gluten-free (GF) bread baking, the culinary experts, authors, nutritionists and vendors participating in the third-annual Gluten Free Cooking Expo ( will "show and tell" attendees that satisfying their taste buds without gluten can be both easy and delicious. This year the event will feature a special children's activity area and a Vendor Fair, consisting of 60 GF companies, that is open to the general public.

The Gluten Free Cooking Expo, held April 17-18 at the Wyndam Hotel in Lisle, IL (3000 Warrensville Rd.), will be jam-packed with experts, information, cooking demonstrations and free samples to help educate anyone who wants to learn more about following a GF diet.

Advance registration is required for the Gluten Free Cooking Expo cooking sessions. Ticket prices are $315 for two days and $170 for one day. For additional event information and to register for the event visit or call 847-217-1317.

The Vendor Fair is open to the public and does not require advance registration. Tickets for the vendor fair are available at the door and are $15 for adults and children under 12 are free.

The University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center will host its Annual GF Benefit on Friday, May 14, at the Swissotel-Chicago. The center celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2010, and more than 30 chefs and restaurants will participate in the annual benefit. You can find more information on the center at