First of all, let's start this off right:
Now we can get right to the meat of the matter: I was back in Milwaukee last week and as I've mentioned before, I cannot get over how gluten free friendly it is! Now, I live in Los Angeles which is a very health conscious city, but I still really have to seek things out. Just the other day, I struck up a conversation with a woman behind me in line at Whole Foods whose basket was packed with gluten free treats. She was on vacation from Colorado and couldn't believe what a hard time she was having eating gluten free in L.A. I immediately pointed her in the direction of L.A. based Gluten Freeways blog, without who, I swear I would starve!
So what gives? I sent an email and was fortunate enough to hear back from Nancy Linneman who with Bev Lieven founded the Milwaukee Celiac-Sprue Crew in 1982, and here is what she said, "I think it is just that celiac is not easily diagnosed, and Milwaukee is a big city, so many people demanding gluten free food makes store owners and restaurants have to have it available".
Um, that's it? I don't know what I was expecting, maybe giant statistics of celiacs living in Milwaukee or a crazy spike in the rate of autism in the area - but it's pretty simple - you just need to let people know what you want. I've only lived 100% gluten free for about a year now, and already I find myself just shrugging my shoulders and happy to find one item on a menu I can eat - instead of putting forth the extra effort to talk to a manager, or sending an email to let them know how much I would like to see more gluten free options on their menu. Why am I suddenly so afraid to be a pain in the ass? That has never been an issue for me before - so why now?
I'm grateful that some of the larger more "corporate" restaurants are offering gluten free menus - it's given us a lot more options for dining out. But personally, I would rather support a local business. I was really inspired to see this take shape in Milwaukee; now it's glaringly apparent what an organized community not afraid to speak up can bring about.
So let's be honest, I was already sold on this place. And then there was the pizza. Oh dear God, it was so good! I wish I was more of a prolific food writer so I could give you a better sense of how tasty this pizza was, but I'm afraid I'm a little more caveman-like in my descriptions. It's either food good, or food bad with me. I will devise my own rating system - I give it five out of five cavemen - food good!
The next day, it was off to Stack'd, a groovy neighborhood burger bar. Stack'd sources everything locally, from grass feed beef, to Wisconsin artisinal cheeses, to Miller bakery gluten free buns... hold up! that's right - gluten free buns!!! Ok, so the bun fell apart a bit - but it was a bun on a burger! Frankly, this was best hamburger I have ever had. I was really taken aback at the difference in the quality of the meat since it was grass fed – a topic covered in the great movie Food Inc. - if you haven't seen it yet - do it!
Next stop was Saz's. They are famous for their ribs and their very own gluten free BBQ sauce - which I am now kicking myself for not buying a bottle to bring home. Another amazing gluten free dinner was had in Milwaukee. I was also pleasantly surprised by my server's knowledge of what was gluten free on the menu - I really felt like I was in good hands here and didn't have to worry. That alone is priceless. Plus, it was $5 Ketel One martini night... woohooooo! Five drunken cavemen!
And no trip home would be complete without a trip to my favorite - Eddie Martini's.
A gluten free friend on Twitter recommended I try Marchese's Olive Pit, but I wasn't able to go - next time! Also on my gluten free to do list is a visit to Tess, which is an almost entirely gluten free restaurant, and supposedly they bring gluten free bread to the table - in the words of my friend Micah, "shut up, I know!"
I also found this great article on eating gluten free in Milwaukee with a list of restaurants - click here.
It wasn't just the restaurants that were rocking my world, it was also the grocery stores. I could not believe how many gfree items were available at regular stores that I can't even get here at Whole Foods in Los Angeles. And then there was the glory that is the Gluten Free Trading Company. If you haven't heard, it is a store where EVERYTHING is gluten free - no label reading required! They also have an online store, be sure to check them out.
I gained more than a few pounds on this trip, I obtained a new awareness that simply asking for what you want and need can generate a significant amount of change, and that there is true power in numbers. I'm learning it's ok to be a bit of a pain in the ass, as long as you are a polite one. And I love that each time I go home, I discover more and more reasons to love Milwaukee!
Until next time... may the gluten free force be with you!