Gluten-Free Dining Guide to Houston: From Brunch ’til Dawn

When it comes to food, the big oil city known for thick accents and even thicker traffic really might surprise you. Between the tangle of highways and the constantly rising skyscrapers is a magnificent cultural melting pot. Quite frankly, the only thing flat about Houston is its topography.

The city boasts a growing list of 8,000 restaurants from more than 35 countries and US regions. With that kind of diversity, there’s plenty for every tastebud…even those of Jess the Glutenfreetarian. Here’s my picks for a Gluten-Free day out.

Breakfast:

PONDICHERI

For a pleasant twist in your regular breakfast routine, this sleek Indian eatery found on Upper Kirby will definitely serve you right. From as early as 7:30, you can grab yourself a fresh pressed juice blend, a killer cup (or two) of bold roasted coffee, and a wide range of Indian breakfast items served up on round stainless steel trays.

With a wide range of Indian breakfast items… Pondicheri caters to vegetarians and the gluten-free crowd alike.

James Beard Award nominee and chef, Anita Jaisinghani, named her restaurant “Pondicheri” after the southern Indian town (now called Puducherry) that she visited as a child. She’s refined a wide range of flavors from across India and takes pride in using the best available ingredients all the way down to roasting and grinding the spices. The attention to detail is evident in the food and everything I tasted was terrifically enjoyable. Pondicheri caters to vegetarians and the gluten-free crowd alike. The only problem I had was narrowing down which of the mouthwatering options I wanted.

I started with the green dosa, a fermented lentil & rice crêpe filled with coconut chutney and fresh greens. It’s served with a little side bowl of sambhar, a lentil-based, spicy sauce that I lovingly ladled right on top of the dosa.

The beet uttapam was a standout and will be the first thing I’ll order when I return. This was a beet infused rice & lentil fermented savory pancake with coconut and ginger, topped with a fried egg and served with sautéed greens and chutney. The beets in the pancake made a deep red hue, and the spicy flavors were spot on. And that fried egg? Hold me. I’ve never encountered a better spot for a fried egg to rest.

The vanilla bean crêpe earns high marks as well if you’re craving something on the sweet side for breakfast. It’s made with a rice flour crêpe and your choice of filling: strawberry, banana, blueberry, pistachio, nutella, bournvita or honey. The nutella version was sinfully good, but I have a strong feeling that they’re all top-notch.

If you find yourself still needing a little extra sweetness, you’d be remiss to neglect the bakery case at the front counter. A tiny morning-time dessert never killed anyone, right? From the mouthwatering array of pastries, I’d suggest you go with the ‘Cafe Annie Brownie’ or the classic madeleine, both gluten-free. You can’t go wrong with the decadent chocolate brownie, but the madeleine was my favorite. It’s slightly sweet with a hint of coconut, rosemary and spicy perfection.

Pondicheri delivers a unique and quintessential gluten-free dining experience on all fronts. Yes, Chef Anita. Yes.

Gluten-free Picks: GREEN DOSA • BEET UTTAPAM • VANILLA BEAN CREPE • MADELEINE


Lunch:

COLTIVARE

Is it crazy to fall in love with a restaurant over a plate full of lettuce? Backyard lettuces delicately wrapped in lemon and olive oil, that is? Or would a love story about an expertly fired pizza be more acceptable?

Truthfully, I could gush over plenty of details about Coltivare, which is housed in a tiny, beautiful 1930’s building in the Heights that strikes a perfect rustic-yet-modern balance. Morgan Weber and Ryan Pera (of Revival Market) created a stunner, and truly a Houston highlight for me.

As the salad hints, their approach is simple, rustic and artfully pure with a focus on fresh, local ingredients. So local, in fact, much of the menu is sourced right from of their on-site urban garden. This is the most special, defining feature of the restaurant. Step right out of the dining room and you’ll find yourself on their outdoor dining patio facing 3,000 square feet filled with lovingly grown heirloom vegetables, herbs and fruit.

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Never have I tasted corn that I loved as much as this.

Coltivare is precisely where you’ll want to make your mom proud and clean your plate of vegetables. It certainly won’t be a chore. My favorite vegetable dish is a toss-up between the roasted corn and the pea salad. Never have I tasted corn that I loved as much as this. Chef Pera deliriously drenched the roasted corn on the cob with a basil aioli and topped it with finely grated parmesan. I still want to elope with that elote!

Just as exciting is the snap pea salad with field peas and garden pea pods with mint and arugula leaves in vinaigrette, finished with freshly-grated horseradish. I asked for the prosciutto to be served on the side for my meat-eating companions to enjoy. Even with my requested omission, the crisp textures and bright flavors in this dish made for one of those sensory experiences you wish could last and last.

Another vegetable dish that shouldn’t be missed is Coltivare’s tomato salad featuring their own backyard tomatoes with green gazpacho, cucumber feta and lemon. The plate was a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds with its brilliant rainbow of colors giving you permission to enjoy each unmanipulated ingredient.

Most patrons of Coltivare will come for the beatiful wood-fired pizza. I ordered the shrimp and smoked eggplant pizza piled high with fresh basil, and I’m cocked and ready to write Chef Pera a personal thank you note for the spectacular gluten-free crust. It reached the perfect balance of both chewy and crispy and had that nice char around the edges that everyone dreams of… or maybe that’s just me. This pizza was prepared without the typical cheese or sauce and, instead, used smoky eggplant in the form of a puree to serve as a base. Total perfection.

The wine list is deep, excellently curated and sensibly priced with many global selections and a focus on Italian varietals. I went the wine route and opted for a glass of rose, which didn’t disappoint. The cocktail program, headed up by Morgan Weber, however, has garnered much well-deserved attention as well.

From the gracious service to the casual, bright atmosphere, Coltivare is a Houston gem. It’s the perfect neighborhood restaurant. It’s just too bad that it’s not in mine.

Gluten-Free Picks: ROASTED CORN • SNAP PEA SALAD • TOMATO SALAD • SHRIMP & SMOKED EGGPLANT PIZZA (w/ gluten-free crust)


Dinner:

PROVISIONS

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A popular chef duo – one that’s cooking up quite a national buzz – is behind the double-feature restaurant titled The Pass & Provisions. That’s right: two chefs, two restaurants, one single kitchen. Dual concepts define the restaurants from one another and couldn’t be more diverse.

Down to earth, inventive and wholly impressive.

The Pass side of the building serves a high-end, gourmet tasting menu and presents the finest of service down to the formal tablecloths. To get up close and personal with that esteemed menu and the white tablecloth, you’ll need to plan your night out well in advance, as reservations book six weeks out.

On the other side of the building is Provisions. This casual, unassuming space is ideal for a lunch with family or an easy-going night out for a dinner date. Seasonal, gastropub-inspired menus are printed on butcher paper doubling as placemats.

The multitasking restaurants offer two very distinct experiences through which the chefs, Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan, are able to offer diners an elegant experience on one side and neighborhood bistro experience on the other.

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The Pass & Provisions is located in a repurposed brick building in the heart of the eclectic Montrose area, which happens to be a few blocks away from where Chef Siegel-Gardner was brought up.

For the most part, I err more on the side of the whole “no tablecloth” thing, so Provisions perfectly suits the bill, and my meal was just what it promised to be: down to earth, inventive and wholly impressive.

I had a seat at the communal table in the center of the room and immediately found the wine list. After hearing that P&P was honored as Wine Enthusiast’s “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants,” I knew I was in for something good. The wine program at Provisions offers 22 options by the glass, all of which were printed right on my placemat menu to entice multiple pours.

When ordering I started with the shishito peppers. Though this may be a common menu item these days, Provisions’ take brought it to a whole new level. This version topped the roasted peppers with cilantro, creamy cotija, crispy corn and yuzukosho for a killer winning combo. The corn was more akin to corn nuts, which I love and which were a nice accoutrement. This dish was generously portioned and perfect to share.

Great raw oysters will always collect my praise, and I’m afraid I just can’t pass them up. I ordered a dozen, served with fresh yuzu (an Asian citrus similar to a lemon) and polished them off sooner than you could say, “shucks.” They were fresh, briny and medium in size.

My entree of choice was the fluke crudo. This featured raw, sliced crudo dressed simply with olive oil and salt and served with hearts of palm, avocado puree, tomato and sesame. I was wowed by the smartly crafted flavors and textures in this dish and would absolutely order this delicacy again.

The discovery of a gluten-free-friendly dessert on the menu, was all I needed to lure me in to another course. Provisions offers a rotating flavor of soft serve on the menu. In my lucky case, that night featured the Thai tea soft serve topped with a chocolate magic shell, astroberries (freeze dried raspberries) and mixed nuts. This sweet ending was served in a tall parfait glass that seemed to shrink as it disappeared by the spoonful. The Thai tea flavor of the soft serve was spectacular especially, with the hint of anise mixed with the crisp chocolate shell.

Provisions excelled at striking that fine balance between quirky and dignified in both food and atmosphere. I loved the warm, friendly vibe and service and enjoyed the interesting, thoughtfully-designed touches throughout the dining experience – from the bill served in the sardine can, to Julia Child’s Muppet-like voice playing on repeat in the unisex bathroom. Provisions is a place that, to me, screams Houston.

Gluten-Free Picks: SHISHITO PEPPERS • RAW OYSTERS • FLUKE CRUDO • GLUTEN-FREE SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM

Writing: Jess Simpson
Photography: Chris Perez


Enjoy the rest of our walkable Houston city guide that lets you easily ditch your car and explore three neighborhoods by foot or bike.

Museum District / Montrose

• Where to Go

• Where to Drink & Stay

The Heights

• Where to Go

• Where to Eat

A Story of Houston Food

An essay by Chris Shepherd of Underbelly

 


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