Gluten Free Adventures, Close to Home

By Rachel Sircy

I’ve mentioned before that if you’re a celiac and you’d like to get away for a weekend that there are cities close by that offer a haven for the gluten intolerant. Food meccas like Charleston have all sorts of restaurants that will cater to any and all of the latest trends. Since gluten free eating is still an important trend, trendy restaurants will strive to meet your needs. My favorite gluten free destination that is close to Columbia, however, is Asheville, NC. I’ve probably mentioned my love of Asheville before – maybe I’ve mentioned it a lot – but I’ll go ahead and mention it again, since I was there this past weekend.

There are, as everyone reading this probably already knows, plenty of things to do in Asheville. I keep thinking that one day we’ll go see the Biltmore or Carl Sandburg’s farm or go horseback riding. So far, though, my husband and I have never felt a need to go outside of the city center for fun. Actually, one of the biggest reasons that I like going to Asheville is that it’s one of those quintessential Appalachian towns that’s a little bit hippie and a little bit hillbilly. Athens, Ohio, where I grew up, is quite a bit like Asheville – a little bit country and a little rock and roll. So, taking a trip to this funky mountain town helps to alleviate my homesickness whenever it springs up. Also, there’s a musician on almost every corner playing pretty good music and walking around Asheville’s downtown area has the effect of making me feel that my life suddenly has a soundtrack.

Besides the effects that Asheville has on my homesickness for the Appalachian foothills and hippies, my husband and I go there for two primary reasons: first, to eat and second, to hang out in bookstores. Hanging out in bookstores is pretty much what it sounds like. We enjoy just walking around and reading the spines and back covers of books and usually we buy at least one book. We then sit in the corners of the bookstores and read. It may not sound like a lot of fun to the rest of the world, but to us it’s worth the 2.5-hour drive just to do that. Columbia, if you’re listening, we need a great independent bookstore!

Much as I’d love to go on about the bookstores, I need to talk about the first reason that I go to Asheville – to eat. Asheville is one of the cities that comes up again and again in articles and discussions of gluten free travel destinations. Every single restaurant that I’ve been to there is aware of plight of the gluten-sensitive and is more than willing to accommodate them. I know for certain that I’ve mentioned a restaurant called Posana (pictured below) in previous posts.

Pic 1

This restaurant is not only notable for sourcing most, if not all, of it’s ingredients locally, but EVERYTHING on their menu is gluten free. I don’t even know if the majority of their customers are aware of that, because the restaurant is almost always full. I mean, you can certainly get reservations and you may be able to wait for a table, but this is a pretty popular place. I point that out because usually if you say that something is gluten-free, nobody except the gluten sensitive will touch it with a 10-foot pole. I know that all you gluten-free bakers out there know what I’m talking about. But, Posana is 100% gluten free and the food is so good that people fill the place up night after night. This was my dinner there Friday night:

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Yeah, it was as good as it looks. Who doesn’t love chicken with the skin on over top of cheese grits? You’d have to be crazy to pass that up. And these little potatoes were tossed with truffle oil and cheese and served with aioli:

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Yeah, I’d never tasted aioli and I’m not sure what is in it other than mayonnaise, but it was awesome. The best part of any meal, of course, is the dessert. And this was my cheesecake:

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It had a shortbread cookie crust and the little dollops on the side were tiny meringue cookies floating on some kind of red wine and honey jam. It was the best cheesecake I’ve had in a long time. Really, though, the best part of eating at this restaurant is knowing that the entire menu is open to me. There are a lot of restaurants these days that have gluten free menus, but if you’re gluten sensitive or a celiac, you always have to explain your situation to your server and have them watch out for cross contamination. Then, you get to pick from the limited number of items that can be made in a way that won’t make you sick and pray that no one accidentally touches your salad with the wrong tongs.

Posana is a bit fancier and more expensive than my husband and I usually eat. We’re pretty laid-back people and not entirely comfortable in any restaurant with an atmosphere more elegant than Outback. If I can’t wear my Bob Ross t-shirt in an eatery without looking out of place, then you know I’m uncomfortable. But the elegant atmosphere and the price at Posana (which is expensive for us because we’re English majors trying to make a living, which is to say, we’re broke) are worth braving every now and again because you can’t really put a price on peace of mind. There is no cross contamination in Posana’s kitchen because everything in that kitchen is gluten free. There is also no set of things that you have to choose from on the menu, no explaining to your server that you mean it this time about the croutons on your salad – because you can eat everything on the menu, croutons included. So, I highly recommend that you give this place a try if you get a chance. It’s amazing feeling to be able to eat what everyone else is eating and not be a bit worried about it.

Other places that we frequent in Asheville are the Over Easy Café and French Broad Chocolates. Of course, everyone frequents these places (and for good reason), so be prepared to wait a while. The Over Easy Café only serves breakfast, but it’s probably the best breakfast ever. They get locally grown fruits, vegetables and eggs and bacon. Also, I have yet to hear back from them about where they get the gluten free bread that they serve, but it’s the best gf bread I’ve ever had. And best of all, the waitress complimented me on my Bob Ross t-shirt.

French Broad Chocolates serves, yep, you guessed it – chocolates. They prepare chocolate in about every way I can conceive of. And the service is always good even when the place is crowded. Once, my husband and I were sitting eating our chocolates and reading the books that we got that day in one of the bookstores when a waiter interrupted us to give us 6 complimentary truffles. Apparently, the staff noticed that we were the only people in the place who weren’t on our phones and they wanted to say “thank you.” We’ve been loyal customers ever since. My husband loves their Quintessential Chocolate Cake (sadly, not gluten free) whilst I really enjoy both the concept and the actual experience of ordering and then consuming small cups of melted chocolate called Liquid Truffles. I don’t think that it gets better than that. Except for maybe this:

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That was a flourless chocolate torte. Are you jealous? You should be, because that’s a little piece of heaven right there. I’ve asked the people at French Broad to let me live there. They haven’t gotten back to me yet, but we’ll see…

So, the next time that you feel like getting out of town and you want to make sure you’ll have something to eat when you get there, just remember that you have a celiac-friendly destination just a short car-ride away!