Gluten-Free Dining

First, allow me to state that I am neither gluten-intolerant nor celiac.  I do, however, have several family members who have been gluten-intolerant/celiac for a number of years.  Family get-togethers often involve switching to a celiac-friendly diet for the duration of the visit.  Plus, since celiac, or as I like to call “gluten-intolerance set on high,” runs strongly in families, it’s better that I don’t eat much of the stuff and will often go for days without gluten.  I don’t even know how to work with gluten anymore, only the gluten-free stuff.  The good gluten-free stuff tastes waaay better than the regular stuff anyway.  For example, I prefer Tinkyada brown rice pasta over regular pasta.  It doesn’t get mushy.  Period.  In other words, I may not be gluten-intolerant, but I know how to live like a celiac.

So, what’s the dining scene for celiacs?  You’ve probably know by now that Bloomington has an extensive list of options.  Well, while gluten-free options are not as advertised as vegetarian options, Bloomington has a lot to offer.  My sister, a celiac, says that she has an easier time eating out here than in East Lansing, MI.  I’ll go through a small selection of places that aren’t national chains in increasing order of difficulty.

Very easy:

Darn Good Soup:

Outside of Darn Good Soup. Photo taken by Lori.

It’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s darn good, and all made from scratch.  If you cook much, you know that soup can easily be made without flour as long as it’s made from scratch.  Darn Good Soup changes its menu regularly, so it’s best to walk up to a worker and ask what’s gluten-free for the day.  The worker will point out anywhere between 5 to half the soups listed.  The hard part is picking a soup.

Bloomingfoods Market and Deli:

If your looking for a snack to pick up, Bloomingfoods is a good place to go.  All gluten-free items and snacks are labelled on the shelf.  The deli portion often keeps gluten-free cookies and muffins available, too.  Bloomingfoods must have dedicated cooking materials somewhere because I have not run into any cross-contamination issues with the cookies.

Gluten-Free shelf at Bloomingfoods. Photo taken by Lori



Mandalay restaurant. Photo taken by Lori

4th street is a street full of restaurants, many of them ethnic, not psuedo-ethnic.  As long as the place isn’t a buffet, gluten-free options abound.  Mandalay is a good example.  The restaurant specializes in Burmese cuisine and only uses fish sauce for the fish dishes, not soy sauce.  So, anything with fish and no wheat noodles is gluten-free.


Ami is located on 3rd street and, last I recall, kept gluten-free soy sauce available.  The workers may be a bit wary when hearing about the dietary restrictions, but they can do gluten-free.  If you’ve been to Japanese restaurants before, this is neither a surprise nor a reason for alarm.  Just remember to say, “no barley,” as well when ordering.

The Owlery:

Talking to vegetarians about gluten-intolerance is often a two-fold scenario.  On one hand, vegetarians are more likely to know what gluten is and are aware of how dietary restrictions work.  One the other hand, vegetarianism often replaces meat with more grains, especially wheat, the exact opposite of what living with gluten-intolerance requires.  So, vegetarian places understand, but may have trouble accommodating.  The Owlery, however, tries to accommodate both at the same time.  The vegetarian restaurant keeps a separate gluten-free menu and ships in breads from a gluten-free bakery in Florida.  I haven’t been able to test this place out on any celiacs yet, but it looks like a good possibility.

The Owlery is a newer restaurant in town. Look for the small building on the square. Photo taken by Lori

Le Petit Cafe pick-up window:

During the Farmer’s Market, Le Petit Cafe opens a pick-up window along a path to the Farmer’s Market.  The pick-up window offers small items for a couple dollars.  It’s a good place to pick up breakfast after going to the market.  Anyway, this past year the cafe began offering gluten-free quiche.  I haven’t come across any contamination issues here, just yummy quiche.

“Gluten-free,” but not recommended for celiac:

Chelsea’s bakery:

Chelsea’s specializes in making a variety of organic baked goods.  This bakery makes some good gluten-free items … next to some items with gluten.  So, while the bakery has options for those with gluten-intolerance, I would not recommend this place to celiacs who cannot have any cross-contamination whatsoever.

4th St buffets:

As stated before, 4th street has numerous ethnic restaurants, but some are buffets.  A situation begging for cross-contamination.  If you arrive at a buffet just as it opens and before anyone else arrives, you can collect your lunch before anyone else has a chance to mess up the buffet.  My sister and I did that with an Indian buffet on 4th St.  She can test for gluten at a distance (I have no idea how she does it) and collect the gluten-free curries before the naan gets spread around.  I would not recommend this for anyone new to the whole no-gluten thing or celiacs in general.