As the long Labor Day weekend arrives, our thoughts turn to the end of yet another summer, the rhythmic and dependable change of seasons
marked by such natural signs as the end of peach season, and such human signs as the beginning of a new school year. The end of peach season and the beginning of the new school year each bring with them a certain melancholy, for nothing tastes quite as magically and sweetly as a perfectly ripened peach plucked at the height of the season, and nothing feels as quite as delicious as summer days void of the burdens that school schedules and responsibilities add to family life. Labor Day, the official end of summer, gives us the opportunity for a last gasp at holiday as another lazy summer slips into the past. Unlike most holidays, Labor Day lacks association with traditional foods, and with temperatures still in the triple digits, a nice way to celebrate Labor Day is to stay out of the kitchen. For gluten-free people spending their holiday in Austin (either as a visitor for the long weekend, or enjoying a “stay-cation”), I recommend two restaurants: Jack Allen’s Kitchen and Milano’s Cafe.
Jack Allen’s Kitchen uses locally sourced ingredients to provide a wide variety of Southwestern-influenced dishes. The restaurant offers a gluten-free menu that has noticeably fewer items than the regular menu, but the offerings are plentiful enough to satisfy even the most finicky of gluten-free diners. Gluten-free drinks from the bar on on the menu, as well. The wait staff are familiar with the needs of people who must eat gluten-free and are very helpful in answering questions one may have; in fact, service at Jack Allen’s Kitchen, in general, is impeccable.
When Phillip and I ate at Jack Allen’s Kitchen (Oak Hill location) a few weeks ago, we did something we hardly ever do. We enjoyed an appetizer and entrees (not unusual for us), but we also enjoyed dessert! To begin with, every meal at JAK begins with a complementary scoop of the restaurant’s famous pimento cheese. At first Phillip and I received on plate of pimento cheese and crackers. Upon learning that I have to eat gluten-free, our waiter brought me a plate of pimento cheese of my own, accompanied by gluten-free corn tortillas.
Despite having eaten the delicious pimento cheese, we ordered an appetizer: guacamole with pumpkin seeds and Mexican cheese. Our waiter served our guacamole with g f corn tortillas. This guacamole is perhaps the best I have ever eaten – and splitting my time between San Antonio and Austin, I eat GALLONS of guacamole, so I know guacamole! The guacamole was creamy and flavorful; the cheese added just the right amount of saltiness, and the pumpkin seeds added a pleasing crunchy texture.
For my entree I ordered the green pork tacos. The pork was tender, with a slight kick. I found it a little messy to eat on the accompanying g f corn tortillas, so I ate it with a fork. I enjoyed the flavor of this dish. I don’t remember now what Phillip ordered, but his was not gluten-free most likely no one reading this post would be able to eat it, anyway!
For dessert – oh, the dessert! WHAT a dessert! Usually very full from our entrees, we hardly ever order dessert when we eat out. This evening, however, we noticed flourless cake on the gluten-free menu. As usual, the cake was chocolate. CHOCOLATE!!! Chocolate flourless cake, served with Mexican vanilla whipped cream and raspberry sauce. A chocolate gluten-free dessert such as this on the menu? Well, I had to take one for team gluten-free and try it out. I couldn’t manage the cake on my own, so Phillip agreed to split it with me. What a guy. Always ready to make a sacrifice for me! What can I say? How shall I describe this little piece of Heaven on earth? It was rich, creamy, chocolate-ty . . . . if you visit Jack Allen’s Kitchen and can order only ONE item from the gluten-free menu for some reason, order the flourless cake.
The next best thing about Jack Allen’s Kitchen (after the flourless cake) is that one can get all this delicious, safely gluten-free food in a relaxed environment, all for a reasonable price. One can eat enjoy an appetizer, entree, and dessert and still have a dollar or two left in her wallet!
Another reasonably priced, gluten-free friendly / safe restaurant one might consider for a Labor Day weekend meal is Milano Cafe, a small Italian restaurant in Southwest Austin. Milano offers gluten-free pasta, as well as naturally gluten-free dishes such as polenta. All of Milano sauces, except for the Alfredo sauce, are gluten-free. We ate at Milano Cafe following a wine class we took at House Wine (more on the wine class below) on a recent Saturday evening. The restaurant had plenty of tables available, so we were seated immediately. The service was friendly and helpful, but slow. Aside from the rather lengthy wait we had before we received our food, we enjoyed our meal at this establishment. I ordered (inherently) gluten-free polenta topped with marinara sauce, feta cheese, and fresh basil. The flavors of the polenta, sauce, and cheese blended together deliciously.
The wine class we took at House Wine, before eating at Milano Cafe was fabulously fun. The class is limited in size, and held in the intimacy of the a back room furnished with comfortable couches and chairs. Five wines are served and discussed at these wine classes; the night Phillip and I attended the class the theme was five wines that are under valued because of the myths attached to them. I really wish I had managed to hold onto the list of wines we sampled that evening, and I really wish I could remember exactly what we learned about them. Full disclosure: I am not a frequent partaker of alcohol. I avoid it for no other reasons than that most alcohols do not appeal to my sweet tooth, and even a little alcohol makes me feel woozy and boozy – sensations that I do not enjoy. I did, however, manage to down the first two glasses of wine during the class, and half the glass of the third wine. I poured the second half of that third wine, as well as the entirety of the last two glasses of wine into Phillip’s glass (who is quite adept at handling alcohol and agreed to “take one for the team” so to speak). Nevertheless, the first two and a half glasses of wine were enough to muddle my memory. I remember stories the sommelier-teacher told about the wines, but not the names of the wines we drank! Despite my vague memory of the evening, I do remember enjoying the class well enough to register Phillip and myself for another class sometime.
Next time, however, I will know to ask for a cheese and nut plate (that accompanies the wine) to be served with crackers and bread on a separate plate for Phillip, and I will take my own gluten-free crackers and bread. I was so busy the week leading up to the class that I neglected to call and ask how the cheese plate is served. The class was already starting when a server placed a cheese – nut – bread plate in front of Phillip and me. It was not the time for me to send the plate back and ask for one in which the gluten-containing items were served separately to Phillip. I was neglectful and therefore unable to enjoy the various cheeses and nuts that evening. One other note about the wine classes at House Wine: each person who takes the class receives a cute little wine class in a cute little bag to take home after the class.