Recently the fellas at Palermo's in Orland found the sister blog to this site, and let us know that they recently developed a gluten free menu. Naturally I was filled with questions. Do they use a pre-made crust? How do they handle cross-contamination? Basically I wanted to know if they were really aware of the purpose of gluten free foods and not just jumping on the gluten free food craze to make a buck.
The response was very reassuring, proving they were serious about gluten free food. The General Manager, Adam Cisek, told me:
We make gluten free crust using rice and tapioca flours. We do not buy anything premade, just as the rest of Palermo's products, it is made in house from scratch.He sounded like he knows his stuff...and I was dying to try it.
Cross contamination is something that comes second nature to well run food service operations since it is part of sanitation protocol. There is a challenge for us in the case of gluten free products. Flour is in the air during our peak hours hours of operation in the pizzeria kitchen. So for example, we prepare our gluten free pizza dough first thing in the morning and store it in a sealed container away from the pizza line.
Our gluten free products never get prepared in the pizza kitchen but rather
in the sauté kitchen where our chef, Anthony, myself or Ryan (Assistant General Manager) oversee the preparation. It is a much more controlled environment in terms of gluten. We prepare the menu item, in this case pizza, away from other prep functions. We place the pizza in one of the pans designated only for gluten free baking and use a designated pizza oven for gluten free orders. All of our gluten free menu items are treated with equal care. They will be prepared from scratch and cooked in a controlled environment.
We have a highly qualified staff. Our kitchen staff all have culinary
education. We cook from scratch, so we know what is in our food. We want to do
this for people. This is reason we get up every morning. We love to see people
enjoy food. It brings joy to someone's day on so many levels. And really, what
better opportunity for fulfillment than this.
Last Thursday I invited Babs (my gluten free mama) to join me out in Orland Park to meet Adam and dig into some gluten free Italian food. When we first arrived, we admired the decor of the cozy little restaurant. The entire interior was draped with white twinkle lights, creating a warm glow, perfect for enjoying a relaxing meal of pasta and wine. We were seated in a corner booth and presented with the gluten free menu I so looked forward to. Both of us were overwhelmed with the large selection of appetizers, entrees, and pasta dishes.
We started off with one of the appetizers. After going back and forth on a few options, we settled on the Goat Cheese Polenta with Spicy Marinara.
I loves me some polenta, especially when it's homemade and not in a chunk vacuum sealed in plastic. (Although that works in a pinch). My mom was even more excited about this dish, because her grandma used to make polenta often when she was growing up. My mom could never quite duplicate her grandmother's recipe and hasn't attempted to in years, but when she tasted these polenta cakes, it took her right back to her childhood.
A cheese pizza was brought out next. Oozing with the sweet tomato sauce I loved so much before I went gluten free, I was thoroughly impressed. The crust was exactly how I remember crust to be - the outer edges crunchy, the rest thicker and able to hold its toppings. No crumbly, mushy crust here. I ate the leftovers the next day and after warming in the microwave, the edges of the crust were still crunchy! (I think the pizza was even better the next day, to be honest.)
Pasta, pasta, and more pasta followed! Penne with Asparagus, Artichoke and Sun Dried Tomato; Penne with Basil Pesto and Grilled Portobello Mushroom Caps; Spaghetti with Marinara. All amazing. You would have never guessed the pasta was gluten free. Adam told us he did extensive research and talked with restaurant owners in some of the top New York restaurants for their recommendations on gluten free pasta.
I hiiiiiiighly recommend Palermo's in Orland. I've also been coming across a lot of other restaurants featuring gluten free pizza, and their pies have inspired me to create a series of gluten free pizza posts. Keep your eyes peeled for those. In the meantime, head out to Orland and indulge!