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Metro Detroit has a wide and wonderful selection of food opportunities — unless you have allergies and diet restrictions, in which case you might be out of luck.
I was diagnosed with a gluten intolerance in July of 2017. It was one of the worst and most confusing bits of news my whole life — gluten intolerance? I didn’t even believe in non-celiac gluten allergies! I didn’t want to stop eating cake. What about garlic bread? Oh no.
Eventually, I did accept that I had to stop eating gluten, and began the haunting process of completely restructuring my diet. When cooking at home things are OK. I make a lot of fish, rice, eggs and mushrooms. When eating out, though, my gluten allergy makes things difficult — especially since I stopped being able to stomach meat roughly four years ago.
In Detroit proper I once walked into a pho shop only to panic, when I realized that not only were there no vegetarian options, but the noodles probably weren’t gluten-free. My girlfriend informed me that rushing out in a hurry with the shoddy excuse of a “business meeting” drew more attention than just quietly apologizing and leaving, but I was too embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t eat any of the food.
However, I’ve had more luck with Thai restaurants, particularly Lue Thai Cafe in Dearborn which I don’t have to gamble on because they have gluten allergy considerations on the menu. Japanese and Korean places — such as Inyo in Ferndale, Wasabi in Detroit and Sammi in Troy — also had at least one or two dishes without gluten, meat or vegetables to which I’m not allergic. I’ve found that many sushi places, too, are willing to take out something that is tempura-fried, even if it gets some odd looks.
The Ferndale and Royal Oak general area remains one of the best places for me to find food, which can be difficult because many restaurants there aren’t price-friendly. When I can afford to eat in that area, though, I’ve visited Le Crepe, Inn Season Cafe, Ale Mary’s Beer Hall and GreenSpace Café. Though not always perfect, I can carve out a meal at each of these locations and leave without feeling discouraged.
Traditionally “homey” venues are generally difficult. I might be able to get a lemonade but I don’t drink caffeine, and very few bakeries, coffee houses and cafés have a single gluten-free product. But I was delighted when I walked into Common Grace Coffee in Dearborn and found that they have a few accessible options — cookies, macarons and soup.
A big problem with finding gluten-free food is that most of the time it has to say gluten-free on packaging, because people tend to put flour in everything. Imagine my horror when I first realized I couldn’t eat enchiladas anymore because they use flour to thicken the sauce. After I’d resigned myself to never eating Mexican food again unless I made it myself, Tijuana’s Authentic Mexican Kitchen was my saving grace. The staff actually took a class sponsored by the state to help train them in food safety.
A common problem I encounter is that often the gluten-free options are all meat-based. I’m always infuriated when I find that I can get grilled steak or chicken, but all the seafood options are breaded. Let’s not linger on the pasta issue, either. Pasta dishes are a vegetarian lifesaver, but many restaurants don’t carry a single gluten-free pasta option, even though it’s one of the easiest options to provide.
One particularly heinous Sunday saw me walking along Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, teary-eyed and distressed because I was hungry, too tired to cook and my usuals were all closed. The restaurants left open had nary a single gluten-free option. At last, my girlfriend pointed to a door next to us and suggested checking in there.
Famous Hamburger? I was skeptical. Even if they did have a gluten-free bun, the chances of a patty I could eat were slim. There are a few burger places I won’t name that insisted their vegetarian patties were gluten-free, only for me to find out that they were so, so wrong. However, I was glad she convinced me to go inside. The servers were pleasantly accommodating and their black bean burger was good enough that my girlfriend often orders one instead of a beef patty.
Coming back to Detroit itself, I’ve had on-again, off-again luck. There was one salad place that didn’t have a single vegetarian salad, which was pretty jarring. I like going to The Hudson Café when I fancy breakfast, but their gluten-free section consists of french toast and pancakes. I can get an omelet, but that’s about it. Better than some, but I’d love more creative options than primarily sweets. However, this still puts it in better standing than most coneys and breakfast places around the Metro area. Omelets are basically all I can eat. Oatmeal, granola and waffles are nearly always glutenized.
If I crave pizza, there are a lot of places in Metro Detroit where I can find a gluten-free crust, though quality ranges significantly as does care about cross-contamination. Buddy’s Pizza is a favourite of mine, but certain locations are better than others — Dearborn has never let me down, just FYI.
Overall, Metro Detroit is OK, but stands to improve. But just a few small changes can go a long way, and I promise: people who have gluten allergies will find your location and they will frequent it if you care enough about our business to reach out to us. Just food for thought!
Jem Zero is a disabled queer content creator. Ze is currently pursuing an accounting certificate to compliment zir career as a writer, photographer, and artist. Most days, ze can be found making fruitless attempts to preserve zir spinal integrity while bent over zir computer, pumping out everything from essays on equal media representation to science fiction & fantasy romance with hard-hitting political themes. Connect with zir at jemzero.com, at facebook.com/jemzero.art, or [email protected].