In the search for Gluten Free Dining, you occasionally find gluten free Utopias in the most unexpected places. Thinking about gluten free dining always reminds me of two of the first restaurants I really dared to eat out in as a college student- Old Wives’ Tales in Portland Oregon, and the now dearly departed Creative Vegetarian Cafe in Boulder, Colorado. Although these two latter restaurants were not entirely gluten free, they were very ingredient conscious and offered many safe, delicious options that I was incredibly grateful for. They also were vegetarian or flexitarian (Old Wives’ Tales) which was ideal for me, when many gluten free restaurants or menu items overcompensate by the lack of gluten with hunks of meat or chicken that just doesn’t do it for me. But we’ve come a long way since my college days, baby. Now, I don’t have to fantasize about somewhere where I can eat EVERY SINGLE thing on the menu- there are actually specialty cafes and restaurants that offer 100% gluten free menus with both savory and sweet items. Finding Deby’s gluten free cafe in Denver, Colorado thrilled me. (And she now has branches in Erie and Wyoming!) Finding not one but two gluten free cafes in Seattle, Davinchi Cafe and Bakery and Sunny Valley Wheat Free also thrilled me. And of course I was ecstatic about The Farmer’s Kitchen Cafe in Davis, California. But imagine my surprise when I found that there was a restaurant with many, many gluten free options that wasn’t even marketed as a gluten free restaurant.. I first heard about this unique, Berkeley native raw foods vegan restaurant called Cafe Gratitude through a CeliacBayArea message board on Yahoo, and was thrilled to find that only a few items contained any gluten in the form of soy sauce. I immediately dragged a skeptical DH over to Berkeley and we enjoyed Chickpea Soccas at the nearby Socca Oven (which has since gone out of business, but which provided much inspiration to us gluten free folks to make our own delicious soccas) and then had a delightful vegan dessert at Cafe Gratitude. DH had their “key lime pie”- um, i mean “I AM AWAKENING key lime pie – Creamy key lime custard with coconut meringue in a macadamia crust,” and I ordered that always off limits Italian tease, tiramisu, also known on the menu as “I AM ADORING live tiramisu – Raw cacao and almond tiramisu cake with sweet cashew cream and raw chocolate espresso filling.” It was good, oh yes, it was good. I don’t like lime pie, but if I had, i’m sure I would have adored DH’s dessert. And I definitely adore cashew cream and raw chocolate espresso filling. Mmmmm… Who needs those nasty gluten cookies, anyway? We also had an “I AM LOVED latte with steamed almond milk” which was cold pressed- it was an experience, but I am very particular about my coffee and think nothing beats a hot steamer wand and “Real” espresso. Some time back, there was a slight disturbance in the gluten free community when some members went to Cafe Gratitude, were mistakenly informed some dishes were gluten free, and experienced a “glutening”- I.e. got a bit sick after eating there. Concerned members contacted the owners of Cafe Gratitude. Here’s the coolest part- the owners actually decided to make the whole menu completely gluten free so nothing like that would ever happen again. Given the muted presence of gluten in their menu anyway, it mostly involved switching soy sauce brands- and suddenly, a good largely gluten free restaurant became a FABULOUS ENTIRELY GLUTEN FREE dining establishment. So take that, all you evil corporate restaurants that refuse to serve me and my GF friends gluten free anything- I don’t need you after all, because locally owned establishments are willing to go to a little effort on our behalf. pfffft. One small step for the gluten free, one giant leap for mankind- oops, am I making too big a deal of this? I don’t care, I was thrilled. But despite all the happy dancing going on over here at my home in Mountain View, I’m ashamed to say we didn’t manage to make it all the way over to Berkeley to partake in the Gluten free delights UNTIL this weekend, when I decided to go on a three part, gluten free delights QUEST- facilitated by the fact that I successfully (fingers crossed) finished the bulk of my coursework in my third year of my PhD program. Stop one was Cafe Gratitude.
If you haven’t been to this establishment, let me warn you- it is quite unique. To give you a hint of the flavor of the place, here is their introduction on their web page: “Welcome to Cafe Gratitude serving all organic, vegan and mostly live foods! Come play the Abounding River Game and experience an unfamiliar view of BEING ABUNDANCE!” All of the menu items have affirming names like I AM PRESENT, I AM HONORING, I AM INSIGHTFUL, I AM POWERFUL, and yes, even I AM PASSIONATE. When you order them, you must use their special names. No “flax seed crackers with guacamole” for me- it’s a “I AM GENEROUS,” if you please. Your waitor or waitress (I’m sure there’s some lovely name for them but I don’t know what it would be- facilitator? affirmer? who knows…) will repeat it back and tell you YES, you are indeed “Generous.” Now, the cynical side of me really wants to say something about the prices at Cafe Gratitude and the generosity of the patrons eating there, but that seems rather like kicking a puppy or small, soggy kitten. Many of the unenlightened visitors to Cafe Gratitude, myself included, have a little bit of trouble with this aspect of Cafe Gratitude- flower children we are not, for the most part, and so it feels forced and unnatural to affirm our fabulousness to our server. Ah, what a cynical and bitter age this is… If you would like to explore your inner flower child, there is a Cafe gratitude game, “the ABOUNDING RIVER GAME [that] is an explorational board game that introduces people to an unfamiliar view of BEING ABUNDANCE. It encompasses both training people in a day to day practice as well as discovering a Spiritual foundation that opens up to a whole new way of looking at money and resources.” The cheerful tables actually have the board game on them, in some (all?) cases, and baskets of cards so that you can play the game if you are so inclined. So, it is a very Berkeley-esque restaurant, unique and vehemently affirmative- and it may not be your cup of tea if you’re interested in a more traditional dining experience and don’t particularly want to have a serving of self reflection with your meal. Personally, I think it’s kind of cool that it dares to be different, and I have to admit it is a nice antidote to the many generic strip mall, chain restaurants in this area.
But- how about the food? As you know, I’m actually quite intrigued by Raw, Vegan food. I haven’t seriously considered it as a lifestyle choice because it is both time consuming and has its own limitations as I think any strict dietary system does, but I think that raw and vegan chefs have a lot in common with gluten free chefs as we all must confront our ideas about ingredients and how food “should” be constructed. I also think that those who are gluten free and dairy intolerant or egg intolerant can get a lot of interesting ideas from vegan and raw cooking methods and ingredients, and I have been inspired by many vegan cookbooks, although I’ve barely begun experimenting with raw foods. (And yes, I realize I BAKED my only experiment, thus negating it as an authentic Raw foods experiment, haha.) On this visit, on the recommendation of our waitperson, I ordered “I AM GENEROUS guacamole -Authentic guacamole and spicy tomato salsa with live flax chips” ($7) and his personal favorite “*I AM PASSIONATE marinara pizza -
Rich sun dried tomato marinara sauce, olive tapenade and fresh basil.” ($10) The chips and guacamole came first. The guacamole was indeed very, very good- creamy and flavorful without having any dominant, cloying flavors. The flax crackers were crunchy and light and I liked them well enough but am not a huge fan of flax crackers in general. Also, there weren’t enough for the guacamole so we ended up eating some spoonfuls of just guacamole. We could have ordered more crackers, but by the time the option came up, it was a bit late and we didn’t want to spend any more.
The pizza scared me a little when it came out, because it was piled high with fresh veggie matter like sprouts and carrots, and because I wondered if the crust could really be gluten free. It was described as a ” live pizza… made with a buckwheat and sunflower seed sourdough flatbread crust topped with one of our hearty sauces, sliced tomatoes, cashew ricotta, micro greens and sprinkled with brazil nut parmesan. Served with a side salad.” But, I took it on faith and took a big bite- and was transported. If you want a traditional chewy, yeasty crust, this gluten free pizza is not for you. BUT, if like me you don’t mind being flexible about what exactly constitutes a real “pizza”- then this crunchy, thick cracker like crust is delightful on its own merits. It’s satisfyingly substantial and pleasant, but it’s the layering of sauces that makes this dish sublime. I could taste the basil, what tasted like sundried tomato elements, and olives- as well as some creamy, i assume nut based sauce that harmonized all the other flavors. The “brazil nut parmesan” was a soft, feathery addition that somehow completed the whole experience. There were two “slices” of pizza with a small salad between them- with a very nice dressing. The flavors in the pizza were perfect for my palate, and it made me very, very happy. I would give the dish a 9.5, in fact- and would definitely order it again. Here’s the trick though. This dish that thrilled me to pieces did not so much thrill DH, who gave it a 4. He likes his pizzas to be more like pizzas than crunchy flatbreads, and he’s never been a fan of basil pesto or sundried tomato sauces. It just isn’t his thing. The guacamole was much more to his taste, though, so all was not lost. When it comes down to it though, I think this restaurant is probably most satisfying for someone with a vegan or at least vegetarian palate. Something to keep in mind if you are bringing friends or family along on your gluten free adventure.
Because we had such a wonderful experience with their desserts last time, we couldn’t resist ordering “I AM RAPTURE- a live layered cake of the day.” It was a layered “german” cake with a chewy, coconut and walnut center, topped with fresh, organic cacao nubs and an almond, and looked absolutely gorgeous. The photo above was taken after we ate half of it, so it was a very generous slice. While I liked some aspects of it, I think that my personal preference is for the light and airy nut creams that they have in their cream pies and tiramisu rather than the heavier, grittier “ganache” like ingredients. Coconut strands and walnuts are also not my favorite things, which may be why this cake didn’t entirely win me over, so I probably wouldn’t order it again. However, if you like a heavier type dessert and love coconut in your sweets, you would probably enjoy this. I did like the espresso like cacao nubs on top, and was in no way discouraged from trying another dessert here.
I think the trick of Cafe Gratitude may be finding the dishes which really appeal to your palate- but the amazing thing about this place, especially for those of us who are both gluten free and prefer to be vegetarian, is that there are so many options to try. The restaurant is occasionally criticized for being so, um, “righteous”, having food that due to being mostly raw is hard to digest, having slow service, and being expensive. But, I have yet to find a gluten free cafe or restaurant that has either fast service or low prices, and I don’t personally mind having a leisurely meal with my DH and waiting for something really special. Although waiters are often busy, I do appreciate the fact that they give you your own water pitcher so you can refill your glasses as you like. I wonder if there is some intentional symbolism there… hmmm… And personally, after eating my pizza, I felt really great and energized, with no unpleasant stomach reactions whatsoever. I also think the fact that the owners made the conscious choice to accommodate gluten free customers is something really special, and says something about them as a business. I would encourage everyone to give them a try- and consult with the waiters, who, like ours, may be able to steer you towards a menu item that really thrills your tastebuds. After this experience- I would say my meal DID make me feel Passionate- about their gluten free Pizza, and the possibilities of gluten free, raw dining as well.