Chattanooga's first-ever gluten-free eatery recently opened in Warehouse Row's food court, providing a quick-meal haven for those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. Former local lawyer Karen Wilson learned of her own gluten ailment in 2006 and shortly after began a gluten-free catering business for fellow sufferers. This mission culminated with the opening of Crave Café & Bakery in January.
1110 Market St., Suite FC-4
Chattanooga, TN 37402
7 a.m.-3 p.m.
11 a.m.-3 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you'll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it's the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it's worth it.
This "glue" protein in wheat, rye and barley has been under fire in recent years, with an increase in the understanding and diagnosis of gluten-based disorders. This has led to the rise of gluten-free diets and the recent boom of gluten-free products on the market.
In a Nooga.com interview prior to opening, Wilson said she wanted the quality of the Crave Café & Bakery to appeal to all and didn't want the term "gluten-free" to scare people away. I fearlessly strode into the Warehouse Row food court to see if the food was, indeed, holding to that vision.
I didn't have to wait long for my food, and I appreciated the friendly guy at the counter cracking jokes (fish chowder with piranha?). They also have a stamp to validate a ticket for two-hour parking in the Warehouse Row garage.
A lunch combo was offered for $8.50 that included a half-sandwich, a bottled beverage, and a side salad or one of their rotating soup specials. I tried the roasted turkey sandwich with a cup of New England fish chowder.
The true test for the sandwich was the multigrain bread (white bread was also available). The richly flavored slices had a moist, cake-like consistency with an abundance of air pockets and enough springy firmness to handle housing a sandwich. This was good bread that even those not on gluten-free diets could enjoy.
The thick-cut, roasted turkey slices were accompanied by fresh tomato and lettuce with a cranberry relish coating the bread. This relish provided a lightly tart sweetness to the quality components of this satisfying sandwich.
The fish chowder had plentiful chunks of tilapia, bacon and diced potatoes in its creamy, New England-style base, but the overall flavor was a bit weak. A firm bread roll was also included for crumbling, which provided a nice texture as it soaked up the cream base. This chowder was OK, but nothing special.
Spinach and tomato quiche ($3.50) was one of their weekly specials. Its pie shell was light and flaky, and if I weren't already aware that gluten was absent, I would never have known.
The coagulated egg proteins of the baked custard trapped the cheese, spinach and diced tomatoes in its firm and bouncy gelatinous mesh (in gluten-free baked dough goods, extra egg proteins are often used as a substitute to help the structure stick together). Like the chowder, I felt the quiche needed a bit more seasoning, but it was enjoyable overall.
I also sampled the edamame salad ($3). These green, immature soybeans were combined with diced onions, green peppers and corn, then thickly coated in an Italian dressing (salad dressings are one of the sneaky foodstuffs that often contain gluten). This dressing had a strong, tangy flavor, nicely complementing the firm beans and fresh, crunchy veggies.
As I perused the baked sweets, a particular cinnamon roll caught my eye. How about bacon for dessert? You bet. This cinnamon roll ($2.50) was slathered in maple syrup and a thick, powerfully sweet icing.
If I had gotten one straight out of the oven, this roll would've been heaven, but it was still just outside the pearly gates. The pastry dough radiated cinnamon and sugar as it spiraled around its chunky bacon vortex, and I didn't miss the gluten at all.
I'm giving Crave Café and Bakery a shaky 3 stars for their lunch service (they also offer breakfast until 10 a.m.). Some dishes needed a bit more seasoning, but the main culprits—the chowder and quiche—were rotating specials.
The gluten-free baked goods I sampled were fantastic, and this café, bakery and catering service is not only a godsend for those with gluten intolerance, but also for anyone looking for a good, fairly priced meal.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga's food scene. You can find him at romanflis.com or on Facebook and Twitter, or you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.