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Goin' Gluten-Free

Misty finds unexpected joy in restricted eating at a Lebanese spot on the North Side.
Tuesday Apr 17, 2007.     By Misty Tosh
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

photo: Misty Tosh
I think I've been reading a little too much about food allergies lately. I say this because I've become convinced that I'm full-blown allergic to gluten. Why? It's real simple: If I eat wheat, my tummy hurts (read: expands three feet around, and I just wanna die). As a result, I've been exploring all these gluten-free websites, digging through gluten-free recipes and loading up on gluten-free food.

And, I guess it's working. By pretty much cutting out any wheat and white flour, I've been able to get a little friggin' control over my eating habits and establish a better relationship with my belly. I'm skipping the bread, taking a pass on the ketchup, denying myself the granola and oats and professing, "Hello, I don't eat gluten" every time my bread-lovin' pal Lisa tries to shove a tasty twirl of noodles in my face.

This new style of eating has led me even further off the beaten path when it comes to finding eating-out digs and ordering new dishes. For instance, this past weekend I ate at Al Khayameih, a jam-packed Lebanese restaurant in Albany Park. It's the exact sort of place I love stumbling upon: remote, bustling and boasting a name I can't pronounce.

Sure, even in my pre-gluten-free days, I'd hightail it to Al Khayameih, but no way would I have ordered salmon. Fish in city restaurants totally freaks me out because I just don't know how fresh it is. I mean, we're so damn land-locked (Lake Michigan doesn't count), God knows where these little creatures are sourced.

But because I've ditched all meat and rid myself of glutens, I went with the fish here…and the eggplant and the hummus and the tahini-dressed salad. And lo and behold, my wheat-free choices resulted in nothing short of a glorious feast.

When Lisa and I plopped down in this super-cute dining room, a waitress came over quick-as-a-whip with a basket of bread, which I avoided like the plague. Instead, I smeared the gratis cotton-candy-pink pickled vegetables and vinegar-soaked olives through my hummus platter. I strategically built little towers of tomato, onion and salt-sprinkled feta cheese to satiate my ravenous tummy. I didn't even inch near a single wedge of pita bread and still I felt stuffed.

photo: Misty Tosh

When our heaping plates of eggplant and salmon kebabs arrived, Lisa and I dove in, she with her pita as a faux fork and I with my fingers, per usual. The barely-seasoned charred salmon tasted like pure, clean ocean and the ruby red eggplant arrived soupy with tomatoes and soft enough to spoon. It tasted delicious piled atop my fluffy pile of rice. Not three bites later, I could barely move, so you can imagine if I'd wolfed bread along with my meal.

I still have a bit of an issue with massively overeating (see above), so I walked out of there holding my tummy. Not that that stopped Lis and I from making a last-minute pit-stop at Baskin Robbins for its new peanut butter cup sundae. Sitting in a dark parking lot, we devoured the somewhat disgusting and chalky ice cream before we squealed out of there, promising to never eat at BR again. Great, another food on the forever-to-be-avoided list.

The Final Rave: Though I don't eat meat, the plates piled high with chicken, beef and lamb looked so beautiful. I made do with sitting very close to our meat-eating neighbors. Talk about an uncomfortable situation for all parties.

Keep It Going:

Read It: Gluten-free Girl
She's gluten-free, she's found the love of her life, and she's a great writer. Blast her.

Shop It: Whole Foods
The natural/health food mecca has plenty of gluten-free items in its bakery, including a straight-up insane loaf of bread that I manage to butter up and slam down with a good half-dozen eggs every other day. I gotta get control of that portion problem.

Buy It: Living Without
This nifty little magazine has loads of wheat-free recipes. Brilliant.

Get Crazy With It: Gluten-free Beer
That's right! If you are givin' up the gluten, you're givin' up the brew…until now. Here's a handy recipe to get you started with your own GF home brew.

Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.

 

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