Restaurant Review: Sweetpea bakery

Beware! Since we published this review we’ve received a lot of feedback about the place, most of it negative. Also, we’ve had a few people say that they’re sure they “got glutened” by eating the baked goods there. We’ve found that when we ask their staff questions, we get different answers depending on who we ask and what day of the week it is, which makes us worry. We’re going to investigate further and will report back what we find, but in the meantime I think the best advice is to be careful and maybe ask lots and lots of questions before you get something there. End Later Note.

Later Note – January 2010 - We’ve corresponded with the owner of Sweetpea. They have done a lot of research on baking gluten-free goods and maintain that their gluten-free options really are gluten-free. At the same time, they stress that they are a bakery that uses wheat in a shared area with their gluten-free products. They say that they are very careful about avoiding cross-contamination, but as an end result, folks who are very sensitive to gluten should probably stay away. we haven’t been by to check them out again, but will post about it when we do. – End later Note

It’s a little premature to call this a “restaurant review” because they’re not on our restaurant list, and they’re more of a bakery, AND we’ve only ever had their muffins, BUT they’re in Portland AND they’ve got gluten-free stuff and thus we’re covering it. Regular readers may remember that we posted about Sweetpea Bakery having a gluten-free brunch on this past Father’s Day.

Sweetpea Baking Vegan Spot

Sweetpea is down on SE Stark on the corner of 12th Street. It’s in a little vegan ghetto right next to Herbivore and Food Fight!. Did we mention it’s a vegan bakery? I don’t know about anybody else, but I love vegan bakeries and here’s why: Vegan bakeries have attitude. Since they’re a vegan bakery, they feel like everything they make has to be awesome so that people don’t think vegan food is terrible. And thus most vegan baked goods are way better than anything you’re going to get at a regular bakery.

Gluten-Free Cupcakes at Sweetpea

This is certainly not as fetching as the case at Pix Patisserie, but the goods are pleasing to the eye. When we went, they had one kind of gluten-free muffin, gluten-free brownies, one kind of gluten-free cookie, and these here cupcakes. In the interest of full disclosure, we didn’t ask them what steps they take to prevent cross-contamination. (It’s a new goal of mine to always ask that and report it here.) We did, however, ask about the gluten-free muffins. The muffins are different flavors depending on the day. This particular day, the muffins were coconut.

Gluten-free muffins at Sweetpea

These muffins were awesome! They were fluffy, moist, and delicious. In fact, they were almost like the perfect love child of a cupcake and a muffin. We plan on going back to Sweetpea on one of their gluten-free brunches and giving a full report.

We want to know: OK so we really want to know, how do you gluten-free people feel about buying baked goods from a bakery that uses wheat? I have to say I feel a little nervous. Have you been to the Sweetpea for their gluten-free brunch? We want to hear from you. Let us know in the comments.

Times we have visited: 1 (so your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: kind of expensive.

Flours for a Gluten-Free Diet

Different Gluten Free Flours

When you can’t use wheat flour for cooking, one of the obvious problems that comes up is what to use instead. Most beginners to being gluten-free find themselves launched into an orbit with spinning satellites of all these expensive flours that can be hard to track down. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to use. Here is a short alphabetical list of some gluten-free flours and basic information about them. Once you have all these you’re ready to make some bread. Check here to see choices for the best gluten-free bread machine.

Very few of these flours can be used alone to make anything edible. People who do a lot of gluten-free baking will often create flour mixes, which they will mix up in some quantity and then have handy for use any time.

Amaranth Flour – Has a light but pleasing nutty like or malt flavor. Ground from a plant seed. High in protein and nutritious. Added in small quantities to flour mixes for baking.

Arrowroot – Like the name would imply this is made from a root. If you are allergic to corn, this makes a great substitute. You can substitute measure for measure. Arrowroot is basically tasteless and keeps well.

Buckwheat - Despite it’s name, this is not wheat. It is actually a relative of rhubarb. A dark flour with a strong distinctive flavor. The seeds of the plant are ground to make this flour. Good in flour mixes for “whole grain” baked goods.

Cornstarch – This is starch that has been refined from corn. It is bland and should be used with other flours to create flour mixes. It stores well.

Garbanzo Bean Flour – Garbanzo beans are also known as chick peas. This flour is made from ground beans. The flour is high in protein and has a strong flavor. It should be stored in the refrigerator.

Garfava flour – This is made from garbanzo beans and fava beans. It stores well and has a strong flavor. Makes a good substitute for rice flour. It is also high in protein. Good for bread, cakes, and cookies.

Millet flour – Millet comes from the grass family and is one of the earliest cultivated grains. It is nutritious and a good source of protein. It has a wonderful flavor and is a little sweet. Good in flour mixes. Popular for breads.

Potato flour – Made from dehydrated potatoes. Mostly used for thickening sauces, gravies, and soups. When added to flour mixes, it adds a moist crumb. Very useful for baked goods, but usually only used in small amounts. Can impart elasticity to dough. Has strong potato flavor and keeps well.

Potato starch – Made from dehydrated potatoes. Mostly used for thickening sauces, gravies, and soups. When added to flour mixes, it adds a moist crumb. Very useful for baked goods. Can impart elasticity to dough. Not as flavorful as potato flour.

Quinoa Flour Related to spinach and beets. Made from ground plant seeds. The flour is high in protein and has a mellow flavor. Add to flour mixes.

Rice Flour, Brown – Brown rice flour is more flavorful than white rice flour. Slightly nutty flavors. It is used in flour mixes with other flours and is popular from putting in breads. Refrigerate.

Rice Flour, White – This flour is made from white rice. It can be used alone, but most people add it to other flours. It adds a sponginess to baked goods. Best for recipes that need a light texture. It is bland, not very nutritious, and stores well.

Sorghum Flour – This flour is high in protein and B vitamins and is sweet and flavorful. It is almost always used in mixes. It is good for making breads and other baked goods. It stores well on a shelf.

Soy Flour – High in protein and has a nutty flavor. Good used in mixes. Does not store well. Combines well with rice flours. Is good for making cookies.

Tapioca Flour – Same as tapioca starch. This is ground cassava root. It makes gluten-free baked goods more chewy. Low in nutrients. It stores well, is bland, and should be used mixed with other flours.

Teff Flour – Teff is the smallest grain in the world. Teff flour is high in protein, calcium, zinc, iron, and fiber. It is used in flour mixes to make breads and cookies.

Xanthan Gum – Xanthan gum is made from a kind of bacteria, Xanrhomonas Campestris. It is used for thickening and is sticky in a way that makes it handy for gluten-free baking. It is used very sparingly in flour mixes.

Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Flours

Well that’s some of the basics. Obviously there are lots of other kinds of flour. When you are eating gluten-free, these flours can be very useful.

Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Flours on Amazon

Restaurant Review: Oasis Cafe Pizza

We are really excited because we found a great place to have pizza that’s not all the way down in Sellwood (sorry, Picazzo’s)

The Oasis Cafe is on SE Hawthorne in Portland Oregon, just down the block from Powell’s, and across the street from the Bagdad theater. I love and hate this slice of Hawthorne. Love because of Powell’s and because there’s good people-watching and bustle and it’s groovy. Hate because it reminds me of the Haight in San Francisco.

gluten-free-diet-dscn3242

Two things become very clear after you’ve spent a couple of minutes in the Oasis Cafe. One: You are in a pizza joint. Two: They are doing brisk business. There are people going in and out. Most people are getting slices and leaving. Like most pizza joints, the place isn’t insanely clean but you’d have to be pretty uptight to be offended by their level of cleanliness. The music is abrasive. There might be a screaming kid in the booth next to yours. There are pinball machines, and you can sit at a bar that faces the windows and watch people go by (and stuff your face.)

They serve beer, salads, sandwiches, and pizza. They also have some cakes, which we saw a bunch of people order so they must be OK. Did I mention that the people watching was good?

Now two bad things: We were told the pizza was going to take 25 minutes and it took 35. And the gluten-free pizza is available in 12″ size only and it’s $4.50 more than the regular pizzas.

One not bad but not real good either thing: The caesar salad is only OK.

Some other good news: A phone call to the Oasis revealed that they do their best to avoid getting wheat flour on the gluten-free crusts. They get the crusts packaged and take steps to keep from contaminating them. (This contrasts with a phone call we made to a different place we won’t name where the person who answered the phone said “If you’re really allergic to wheat you shouldn’t eat here because there is flour on everything.”)

gluten-free-portland-dscn3245

The awesome news: The pizza we got was awesome. We got the Oasis, which is mozzarella, feta cheese, garlic, tomato sauce, mushrooms, tomatoes, and spinach. The sauce was flavorful. The garlic was chunky. The crust was thin and crunchy. The Oasis uses the Nugrain Foods pizza dough which a lot of other pizza places in Portland Oregon have adopted. We are happy to report that the Oasis pizza crust was great. We both actually feel that the crust at Picazzo’s would be better if they cooked it more, but the crust at Oasis was just right.

If we were just rating the pizza we had, we would give the Oasis a 5 out of 5. But when you add on the various annoyances, the too-long wait, and the expense, we had to dock them a point.

We want to know: Have you been to the Oasis? Do you have a favorite gluten-free-friendly pizza place in Portland? Have you had a similar experience? Let us know!

Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Add $4.50

Oasis Cafe
www.oasispizza.com
3701 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, Oregon 97214 / 503.231.0901

Restaurant Review: Dessert at Papa Haydn

This last Friday we went to see the movie Coraline and decided that we wanted to get some dessert somewhere after the movie. So we got out our fancy celiac-friendly restaurant list and called around until we found a place that was still open. We ended up going to Papa Haydn on NW 23rd.

At 10:00 PM this Friday night, Papa Haydn was busy enough that there was a 20 minute wait for a table, which is pretty amazing for sleepy Portland Oregon. I could be wrong, but it looks to me like their dinner menu is actually shorter than their dessert menu. On the dessert menu they have a lot of things that I can eat. I’m going to let their descriptions paint the picture. These are all gluten-free:

Boccone Dolce – Swiss meringues drizzled with semi-sweet chocolate, layered with fresh fruit and chantilly cream.
Raspberry Gateau – Fallen chocolate souffle topped by whole berries and red current glaze. Bordered with bittersweet chocolate ganache.
Chocolate Cube – Chocolate cube filled with chocolate mousse.

Are you getting the idea yet? Maybe some pictures will help.

hummina hummina

hummina hummina

Oooo Baby!

Oooo Baby!

First the bad things: First, one of the hostesses (or maybe she was a waitress filling in for the hostess) was too cool to be friendly, which we found off-putting. Second, the coffee was awful. The Americano we ordered to replace the coffee was not as bad, but still disappointing. By awful I mean the coffee tasted like it had been brewed and then left on a burner for several hours. This, for a dessert place, is a major sin.

Now the good things:
Our waitress was very friendly and helpful. When asked about the gluten-free options, she was able to tell us what was available by checking a list they keep. There are enough options that most people will actually be stumped about what to order. I got the Chocolate Cube.

The Chocolate Cube

The Chocolate Cube

I could be wrong, but I think they keep these things chilled and then heat them up to room temperature when they serve them. It came with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some nice chocolate and caramel drizzle. It was really amazing.

Sienna got some kind of hazelnut caramel crunch thing that wasn’t celiac-safe and that she ended up being kind of disappointed with. Partly because their caramel sauce had a butterscotch sort of flavor.

We were sufficiently impressed with Papa Haydn’s that we’ll definitely be visiting again. Have you been to Papa Haydn’s? Let us know what your experience was like! Also, we really want to know about your favorite gluten-free friendly dessert places in Portland Oregon. Leave a comment and let us know.

Times we have visited: 1 (So your experience may vary.)
Overall rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same price, but expensive. Expect to pay $8 for a dessert.

Papa Haydn
701 NW 23rd Ave., Portland, Oregon 97210 / 503.228.7317
5829 SE Milwaukie Ave., Portland, Oregon 97202 / 503.232.9440
www.papahaydn.com

Restaurant Review: Iorio Italian

Iorio is an upscale Southern Italian Restaurant on the 900 block of SE Hawthorne. In addition to winning the Portland CitySearch Best Italian Restaurant award for 2008, they are “committed to providing sustainable local and organic” food and will accommodate any dietary restrictions. For gluten-free folks and people with celiac disease, they have a number of nice options, and can modify some of the items on their menu to suit. In the case of the pastas and gnocchi, they ask that you call one day ahead.

Lots of atmosphere at Iorio

Lots of atmosphere at Iorio

We were a little nervous when we arrived at the restaurant, because it was basically empty. However, by the time we got our entrees the restaurant had begun to fill up. The restaurant is upscale and a larger than usual number of people were dressed up (for Portland, that is.) Our waiter was knowledgeable and also asked the chef some questions for us.

Horay! Calamari!

Horay! Calamari!

One thing that we got excited about immediately is that their award-winning calamari can be prepared gluten-free, so we ordered that, and it was delicious! Calamari was one of the things that I had recently figured I wouldn’t be eating again any time soon, so it was a nice treat.

We also got the Caesar Salad, which they serve with whole leaves. This turned out to be disappointing. It needed pepper, lemon juice, anchovies, and croutons. The calamari was so good we found ourselves surprised at the Caesar Salad.

Next came the gluten-free gnocchi and fresine pasta. The fresine is made with fresh pasta and a red sauce and can be ordered with either meatballs or sausage. The gnocchi is served with pesto. The best item from either dish was the meatballs. They were outstanding. Next, I would say the fresh pasta was good. It was a little inconsistent somehow, but ended up being way better than the standard rice noodles you can get at the store. The tomato sauce, however, was disappointing. It was sweet and sort of flavorless. Even worse were the gnocchi. They were so salty that we couldn’t taste the pesto. It was like eating the dead sea salty. I can only imagine that it was that bad by some fluke.

Iorio Fresine

Last, they had a gluten-free chocolate flourless cake with a scoop of vanilla gelato and raspberry sauce. The presentation was delightful and the cake was warm like it had been cooked especially for us. It was really amazing. Like really really mindblowingly amazing.

Wow wow wow

Wow wow wow

All of which left us scratching our heads that a restaurant could be so good and yet so bad at the same time. On the plus side, they have gluten-free versions of some exciting dishes. Here’s how we scored everything:

Calamari – 5 out of 5
Gnocchi – 1 out of 5
Meatballs – 5 out of 5
Gluten-free pasta – 3 out of 5
Red Sauce – 2 out of 5
Caesar Salad – 1 out of 5
Chocolate cake – 5 out of 5

Later note: It seems like the service there is spotty, so we’ve downgraded their rating.

Times we have visited: 4 (So we feel pretty good about this rating.)
Overall rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Price compared to “regular”: Same price. Most dishes are around $18.

Iorio
912 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, Oregon 97214