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ChicagoVeg» Chicagoland Vegetarian-Vegan-RawFood Community Message Board › The Great Taste Café

The Great Taste Café

Group Organizer
Oak Brook, IL
Post #: 78
... "We were all sad when Chicago's vegan, gluten-free restaurant The Balanced Kitchen (the first such restaurant in the country) closed down earlier this year but encouraged by their promise that they would reopen in a better location. (They were far from the beaten path and difficult to see from the street in their old location on McCormick.) Well, holding true to their promise, they have recently reopened, this time as The Great Taste Café, still with a commitment to an entirely vegan, gluten-free menu and emphasis on locally grown, seasonal and organic foods.

The Great Taste Café is downtown - happily, not far from Navy Pier, which is a big ol' food dessert for most vegans - on the second floor of the Holmes Place Fitness Center, 355 E. Grand Avenue, which is open to the general public (in other words, club membership is not necessary for dining at the café). It's a beautiful, sumptuous but not stuffy setting for such lovely food, which has more of a casual, quick-bite focus than The Balanced Kitchen. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m., weekends from 9:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. ChefsMelissa Sanders and Betty Alper answered my questions and are eager to share their fresh, flavorful and beautifully prepared food with the Chicago community.

Q: What is your culinary background? What is Melissa’s background?

A: Betty went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York for the Baking and Pastry program. She focused mostly on bread baking until discovering her gluten intolerance. Melissa attended the Culinary Arts program at Le Cordon Bleu Chicago. She has worked at restaurants and catering companies and as a personal chef in Chicago.

Q: Why gluten-free and vegan? What influenced this direction?

A: We are vegan because it is one of the most environmental choices one can make; to us it is simply the right thing to do. We feel that all humans could benefit from eliminating gluten from their diet. A disturbingly wide array of problems have been linked to undiagnosed Celiac Disease, including weight problems, severe rashes, anemia, infertility, ADHD, clinical depression, loss of teeth, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even cognitive decline leading to dementia. Gluten-free diets are even used as treatment for autism and other spectrum disorders. Betty and Josh’s discovery of their gluten-intolerance obviously influenced their choice to open a gluten-free restaurant. Since the smallest amount of gluten can contaminate an entire kitchen, we are proud to have the only dedicated gluten-free vegan restaurant kitchen in the country.

Q: When people hear the words “gluten-free” and “vegan” they often think that the food will be lacking in great taste. Do you have obstacles you have to overcome in terms of preconceptions?

A: We've found that the average non-vegan assumes our food will be bland, uncreative, and will leave you still hungry. They see vegan food as a pile of vegetable and bean mulch, or a boring salad. Then there are the vegans, who are used to getting over-seasoned, over-processed meat substitutes and a ubiquitous pile of rice. As far as gluten-free goes, most people do not have an incorrect preconception -- they actually have no concept at all. Although public education about Celiac Disease is spreading, most people have no clue what gluten is, where it comes from, and why it might be bad for you. We feel that as long as you use fresh, organic ingredients, your food will taste better and you will feel healthier.

Q: How is the concept of the new restaurant different from The Balanced Kitchen?

A: Whereas The Balanced Kitchen focused more on seated meals, Great Taste Café is a quick-casual concept, focusing on breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch, and fast, tasty take-out. We are also expanding our wholesale business by selling the Bot Bakery line of baked goods at locations around Chicago (such as the Green Grocer).

Q: How would you describe The Great Taste Cafe’s food philosophy?

A: Local, Organic, Fresh, Sustainable, and made from scratch with care. Our goal is to serve food that everyone can eat. Living with a diet restriction can be very challenging; we want to offer a menu full of great choices to people who are usually uncomfortable ordering off of menus.

Q: What is one gluten-free item you haven’t been able to recreate yet to your liking? What recent baking creation are you proudest of? Anything new on the horizon we can look forward to tasting?

A: We have not yet developed a gluten-free bread recipe that we are happy with. Other than that, we’ve been very satisfied with all of our food. A recent creation that excited us was orange beet cheesecake, made with our fresh cashew cheese. One upcoming product line we are very excited about is our organic nut milks, nut flours and gourmet nut cheeses.

Q: What do you think is next in gluten-free cooking? What is next for your business?

A: The gluten-free world seems to be growing every day. More and more people are learning about its negative effects. As for our business, we are excited about our new location and looking forward to all the fun events on our calendar, like the upcoming Monday Night Raw tasting menu.

Q: Is there a recipe you can share with our readers?

Austrian Baked Custard Pancake
1/2 Cup Brown Rice Flour
1/4 Cup Tapioca Starch
1/4 Cup Amaranth Flour
2 Tb Agave Nectar
1 Cup Soymilk
1 Cup Coconut Milk
3 Tb Ground Flax
2 Tb Earth Balance Butter

Combine the flours and tapioca starch together in a bowl. Add agave and blend with a whisk. Combine soymilk, coconut milk and flax in a separate bowl. Slowly mix the liquid into the dry ingredients. Allow mixture to rest while you put the earth balance in a 9” pie pan. Place in the oven until melted. Remove from the oven and pour the batter over the earth balance. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Serve with maple syrup and fruit, or your favorite toppings. We serve ours with fresh fruit and spiced agave nectar.

For more information: call the Great Taste Café at 312-527-1211 "...
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