Your guide to gluten-free options in Madison

Gluten-free friends, stop compromising and fill your bellies at these spots.
two miko poke bowls
Photo by Chris Hynes/Food Fight
Poke bowls from Miko Poke

In traveling the world and working in the restaurant business for more than 10 years, chef Meagan Lombaer of Surya Cafe has seen a thing or two. Quite a few of them include watching her fellow chefs rely on processed ingredients in order to make tasty meals — a challenge experience for the whole foods enthusiast.

“I just saw so much butter, so much fat and way too large of portions of meat … and I was just like, ‘You can’t be feeding your body this,’ ” Lombaer says. “So I love being able to provide something that I believe in and that I would eat myself.”

Lombaer’s days of bringing her own meals to work despite working in a kitchen are now over. Surya Cafe, which specializes in both gluten-free and plant-based cuisine, is a perfect workspace for the innovative cook.

Hippie Seed N’ Nut Sandwich from Surya Cafe

Hippie Seed N’ Nut Sandwich from Surya Cafe (Courtesy of Surya)

Surya makes its own proprietary gluten-free flour blends for buns, waffles and other baked goods, and it leans heavily on the nutrients in seeds, nuts and lentils. By doing these things in-house, Lombaer and the Surya staff control exactly what goes into their food.

“Something that doesn’t satisfy me about a lot of the gluten-free products out there today is that they use a lot of additives or hydrocolloids,” she says.

Even if folks don’t need to limit their gluten intake, a meal at Surya can still be a great experience. “We avoid a lot of things that cause people inflammation, whether they have registered that in their body or not,” she says. “A lot of things like dairy, gluten and meat cause inflammation and, over time, it causes health problems that we see facing older populations and even young people nowadays. So I love the fact that we have really delicious food that is also healthy.”

Editor’s Note: Surya Cafe is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 at both of its locations.

Sensitive to Sensitivities

apple pecan waffles

Courtesy of Madison Chocolate Co.

When I came to Madison in 2017 as a young person with celiac disease, I was ridiculously scared. Horror stories of moving to a new place with dietary restrictions filled my mind. I wasn’t confident I could navigate the culinary scene without a few hiccups. The dreaded incident in which a person with celiac unknowingly digs into a flour-filled or otherwise contaminated meal — referred to by many of us as getting ‘gluten-ed’ — is the last thing you want to deal with when going out with friends.  -Sam Jones

These five spots have become go-tos for gluten-free diners.

It’s not very often that those sensitive to gluten get to enjoy made-from-scratch (and actually delicious) sweets and baked goods. But Madison Chocolate Co. can please even the most sensitive tummies, as its entire facility is 100% gluten free. From apple pecan waffles (below) to decadent boxes of truffles and caramels, your sweet tooth will be singing a sugar-coated tune in no time. 729 Glenway St.

Believe it or not, sauces are the biggest culprits when it comes to hiding sneaky amounts of wheat and other glutinous grains. But when GF folks sift through the entirely gluten- and dairy-free menu at Miko Poke, a Hawaiian poke spot on Monroe Street, their worries will wash away. Fresh ahi tuna and salmon are among the protein options for your poke bowl, but the dressings take front and center. Miko’s volcano sauce — a mix of rice wine vinegar, serrano peppers, garlic, agave nectar and togarashi — is a great place to start, but we recommend giving all 10 a shot. 2701 Monroe St.

Send your taste buds to Thailand by digging into one of the many GF dishes at Monsoon Siam. Get started with a papaya salad laden with spicy lime dressing before moving onto the main event: soup. Monsoon’s tom yum and tom kha are both safe for folks avoiding gluten. Teaw moo, a sour and spicy pork and rice noodle soup, is also available. 2045 Atwood Ave.

“Splurging” is a word you likely won’t find in the Dictionary of Dietary Restrictions, but this diner’s cuisine changes that. Slide into a booth at Monty’s Blue Plate Diner with a cup of coffee and get ready for the hardest hash-related decision of your lifetime: Corned beef or sweet potato? Substitute toast or buns for Monty’s gluten-free bread, and get your eggs done just how you like them — fried, scrambled, poached or in an omelet. Whether Reubens or falafel wraps are more pleasing to your palate, check with your server to see what sandwiches and burgers you can smoosh between a gluten-free bun. Monty’s recommends mentioning your dietary restrictions to make sure everything is gluten free. 2089 Atwood Ave.

Behold, the behemoth of brunch foods can now be chowed down by gluten-eaters and avoiders alike at pancake powerhouse Short Stack Eatery. Get your stack of flapjacks filled with blueberries or chocolate chips, or keep it simple with the original buttermilk batter. Top your mound of buttery cakes with mascarpone, rhubarb jam and strawberries. The good news? Short Stack also has a batter that is vegan and gluten free, whipped up with a blend of almond and oat flours and bananas. 301 W. Johnson St.

Editor’s note: None of the kitchens can 100% guarantee no cross-contamination. Talk to your server or contact the restaurants directly to discuss any dietary accommodations.

A Good Brew

Trevor Easton wears a few hats: engineer, brewmaster and husband. So when his wife, Maureen, was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance a few years back, he took to the barrel and began creating brews to be enjoyed by everyone.

Let’s address the nanobrewery-sized elephant in the room: Gluten-free beer doesn’t always taste good. But because Alt Brew first set foot in the entrepreneurial world specifically to fill the demand for decent gluten-free beers and expand what is possible in gluten-free brewing, you can be sure that all of its beers are delicious.

The Alt Brew collection ranges from malty dark ales to an herbal blonde IPA. Its flagship beer, the Rustic Badger, is a farmhouse ale brewed with two types of hops and a yeast from Belgium. During wintertime, get a real bang for your brew with the Velvet Midnight imperial brown ale clocking in at 10% to 15% ABV.

Keep your eye out for seasonal specials and new releases, as the Alt Brew crew is constantly mixing up new recipes.

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