When you’re allergic to gluten, going out to eat can be a giant pain in the pancreas. While pizza, sandwiches and pasta are clearly off limits for those that can’t eat wheat, the foe of those with this allergy, complex sauces and even the least suspicious salad dressings often contain gluten.
I know what you are thinking: This “gluten problem” is a fad, a diet craze in disguise as an imagined abdominal crisis. No. For those with the daily challenge of navigating around gluten in a gluten-filled world, they wouldn’t wish the challenge on anyone. And what they wouldn’t give for a crusty piece of bread, fresh from the oven, a symbol of comfort and a full belly.
Bread. Oh, bread. How did I ever quit you?
The good news is that some cuisines are friendlier to the gluten free than others, and Southwestern food is one of them. Mondo’s Saloon is nailing a gluten free menu with its authentic, south-of-the-border style fare, that has a few Midwestern flairs.
The first thing that Mondo’s Saloon is doing right is their pricing. For the flour tortilla eaters (or gluten tolerant) among us, they have the B.Y.O.B (build your own burrito), a meal in itself, and only $8 a pop. For our GFFs (gluten free friends), everything on the menu is clearly labeled: Your eyes can skim past the items that you can’t eat, and you’ll find there are a ton of options available. In fact, most of the menu is gluten free. Corn tortillas abound and, because of the fresh preparation and spices used in Southwestern salsas, guacamoles and moles, you won’t end up eating a meal as lacking in flavor as Eucharist.
The staff at Saloon are knowledgeable. If you want something prepared gluten free, they know whether it can be done and done well. I once tried to order a wrap without the flour tortilla and the waiter steered me clear. I went ahead anyway, and she was right: I should have ordered the fish tacos (my favorite) or the tamales, which come in such a generous portion that you’ll need to skip chips and salsa, or split the meal with a friend.
Appetizers are your friend at Mondo’s Saloon. The gluten-free Saloon Wings appeal to the Midwestern palate but have a Southwestern twist: mango chipotle or ancho barbecue. Come during happy hour for half-price appetizers and cheap (as in $3 margaritas) drinks before 6 p.m. Eating off the “small plates” menu alone is a cheap meal, and, if you come with a group of friends, you can really get a good idea of the quality of the food as you sample your way across the appetizers. By the way, the nachos are average but gigantic, so come hungry.
The best item on the menu by far is the Steak Flautas. At $13, this braised flank steak is served with roasted sweet potato (how Midwestern!), caramelized onion, rajas (prepared blackened poblano peppers), charro beans, wilted kale and avocado.
With such complex dishes, you’ll think you’re eating in a fancy restaurant until you notice that Saloon is decorated like the inside of the fictional Chotchkie’s of Office Space fame, with a “myriad of antique artifacts” adorning every wall, shelf and surface, swallowing the effect of the gorgeous 200-year-old Brunswick bar. If the T.G.I. Fridays decor gets to you, just go outside, sit on their Ped Mall patio and dream of warmer days and bread.
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