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Eating Out: Gluten Free Style

Raise your hand if you’re gluten-free and your general experience with gluten-free menus in restaurants has been a wrinkled, stained replication of the restaurant’s online menu, or worse yet, a nutritional guide that’s so confusing to follow, that you just give up and order the cheeseburger because that’s what you were craving anyway?

In my experience, this has been common for when I eat out. Granted, restaurants are getting better at offering gluten free items, or at the very least, recognizing the gluten in their ingredients, but it still feels like they want to hide the fact that you’re ordering gluten free. You get the “menu” slipped to you shamefully, like when the flight attendant gives you the seatbelt extension—not outright, but in an underhanded, “hope no one notices” kind of way.

Well, I’m happy to report that for the first time in my gluten-free existence, I’ve dined at a restaurant where gluten-free diners are treated in tandem with non-gluten-free diners, no special treatment, no shameful dirty photocopy of a substandard group of offerings. No, at Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in Naperville, IL, I received a leather-bound, multi-paged beautifully composed menu all for me. And if you were sitting across the room and looked over, no one would realize that I was being treated any differently than my husband sitting next to me, who is not only a carnivore at heart, but is lucky enough to be able to devour gluten with no consequence at all. And as a graphic designer who takes personal offense to poorly laid out menus anyway, this was a double reward for me.

The offerings at Cooper’s Hawk were abundant and delicious. From the initial wheat-free table bread to the Mexican Drunken Shrimp wrapped in bacon and served on a guacamole, to the Short Rib Risotto that put me in heaven not once, but twice, as I saved half of it for lunch the following day just to prolong the satiation. Even for dessert, I was thankfully not relegated to the ice cream backup. Nope, for me, they made a fudgy gluten-free brownie, topped with vanilla bean gelato—hey, ice cream may be the backup for me for dessert, but it doesn’t mean I don’t still love it!

And as a side note, I must mention their outstanding wine selection. They are primarily a winery after all. Now, I’m a bit of a wine snob, and have spent many hours tasting all over Napa, Sonoma, and Dry Creek valleys in California, so when it was suggested to me to try this winery in Illinois, I was skeptical. Not any more. Their Viognier is perhaps the best I’ve ever had, with its creamy apricot-ness and the slightest taste of vanilla; the Merlot is no slouch either, and held it’s own against the many reds I’ve had—steeped in blackberry, chocolate, and only a hint of oak; and the be-all-and-end-all topper to my evening’s event was their dessert port, aptly named “NightJar”. I could drink this stuff as a midnight snack any time—or a breakfast snack, or for liquid lunches—you get the idea. It tasted more like a dip in the jam jar to me, with a punch of raspberry and plum and a lingering nuance of spice.

All in all, I have to say that my evening at Cooper’s Hawk can safely sit as one of my top five dining experiences thus far. Now raise your hand if you want some more of that port?

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