June 29, 2010

Greater Portland restaurants rise to gluten-free demand

— Portland resident Rachel McDonnell is an expert on gluten-free dining in the local restaurant scene. When she was in college, the 23-year-old was diagnosed with celiac disease, an inherited condition that causes the body to damage the small intestine after gluten is ingested.

click image to enlarge

click image to enlarge

John Patriquin /Staff Photographer; Thursday, Nov.5,2009. Casco Bay Mussels, Grilled Club Cut Sirloin, Braised Short Ribs. All dishes are gluten free and served at the Foreside Tavern & Sidebar in Falmouth, Me.

Additional Photos Below


THE FOLLOWING is a sampling of locally owned restaurants offering gluten-free items on their regular menus in the Greater Portland area:

Foreside Tavern & Sidebar, 270 Route 1, Falmouth, 781-4255
The Good Egg Cafe, 78 Middle St., Portland, 772-0531
Grace, 15 Chestnut St., Portland, 828-4422
Great Impasta, 42 Maine St., Brunswick, 729-5858
Green Elephant Vegetarian Bistro, 608 Congress St., Portland, 347-3111
Julie's Ristorante, 369 Main St., Ogunquit, 641-2522
Local 188, 685 Congress St., Portland, 761-7909
Mister Bagel More Than Bagels Cafe, 204 Route 1, Falmouth, 781-7817
North Star Music Cafe, 225 Congress St., Portland, 699-2994
O'Naturals, 240 Route 1, Falmouth, 781-8889
Pat's Pizza, 791 Route 1, Yarmouth, 846-3701; 209 Route 1, Scarborough, 883-8441; and 844 Roosevelt Trail, Windham, 892-1700
PepperClub, 78 Middle St., Portland, 772-0531
Pom's Thai Taste & Noodle House, 571
Congress St., Portland, 772-7999
Pom's Thai, 209 Western Ave., South
Portland, 347-3000
Portland House of Pizza, 1359 Washington Ave., Portland, 797-9030
Portland Pie Co., 51 York St., Portland, 772-1231; 869 Main St., Westbrook, 591-6248; and 400 Expedition Drive, Scarborough, 510-6999
Ricetta's Brick Oven Pizzeria; 29 Western Ave., South Portland, 775-7400; and 240 Route 1, Falmouth, 781-3100
SeaGrass Bistro, 30 Forest Falls Drive, Yarmouth, 846-3885
Shay's Grill & Pub, 18 Monument Square, Portland, 772-2626
She Doesn't Like Guthrie's, 115 Middle St., Lewiston, 376-3344
Silly's, 40 Washington Ave., Portland, 772-0360
Thai Taste, 435 Cottage Road, South Portland, 767-3599

Gelato Fiasco, 74 Maine St., Brunswick, 607-4002
Good Eats Boutique, 463 Stevens Ave., Portland, 773-1000
PeRx-U-Up Specialty Coffee & Cafe, 84 Marginal Way, Portland, 899-0844
Wildflours Gluten-Free Market & Bakery, 1 Mason St., Brunswick, 725-7973

''It was really stressful,'' McDonnell said of learning she had the autoimmune disease, which, according to the University of Maryland, affects one in 133 Americans.

Celiac disease can lead to a range of problems, including anemia, vitamin deficiencies, stunted growth in children and higher death rates when compared to the general population.

The only way to prevent these health issues is to avoid grains that contain gluten, such as wheat and rye, or any of the foods in which gluten can hide, such as soy sauce, ketchup, beer, bouillon, sour cream and pasta sauce.

Of course, this makes the prospect of dining out a potential mine field.

''When I first came back to Portland, I started cold calling restaurants asking if they'd be able to put something together for me,'' said McDonnell.

The response varied considerably between eateries, with some offering a number of options and others asking, ''What's gluten-free?''

''Now people are really, really good about it,'' McDonnell said. ''Even compared to two years ago.''

The last time I wrote about gluten-free dining in Greater Portland was in 2007. At the time, a few chains (such as Outback Steakhouse and Uno Chicago Grill) and a handful of locally owned restaurants offered gluten-free items on the regular menu.

Today, the list has expanded greatly.

Alisa Coffin, owner of the Great Impasta in Brunswick, is one of many restaurateurs who have upped the number of gluten-free items on the menu during the past two years. Now the restaurant offers a special gluten-free menu for both lunch and dinner.

Coffin is continually looking to expand her offerings, and to that end, she attends ''meetings for gluten-intolerance to find out what people want.'' This mirrors similar efforts she's undertaken to offer vegan menu items and to get the restaurant certified as an Environmental Leader.

The market for gluten-free meals isn't limited to people with celiac disease. A much bigger group of people experience gluten intolerance, which, unlike celiac disease, does not involve an abnormal immune response.

In addition, a growing group of parents, spurred by such books as Jenny McCarthy's ''Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism,'' are feeding their kids a gluten-free, dairy-free diet and seeing improvements in behavioral and autism-spectrum conditions.

All of this adds up to a growing demand for gluten-free meals.

Richard Grotton, who heads the Maine Restaurant Association, says in the last year, a number of high-quality, gluten-free products such as pizza dough have hit the market, and local restaurants are rapidly embracing them.

Grotton added that the increasing availability of gluten-free meals is buoyed by the changing tastes of diners.

''The consumer is more accepting of new things and more willing to try new things,'' Grotton said. ''Chefs have a much wider capacity to experiment now than they've ever had.''

Even with the growing popularity of gluten-free restaurant fare, McDonnell stressed that it's still a good idea to ask questions when dining out.

''You have to ask, 'Do you have different pans? Do you use different utensils?''' he said. ''Someone could cook a piece of plain chicken for you, but what's been on the grill before? A grilled cheese sandwich? I always ask.''


Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:



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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

John Patriquin /Staff Photographer; Thursday, Nov.5,2009. Casco Bay Mussels, Grilled Club Cut Sirloin, Braised Short Ribs. All dishes are gluten free and served at the Foreside Tavern & Sidebar in Falmouth, Me.


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