March 13, 2012

Excellent Gluten-Free Bread at Great Harvest in Boulder

By Evan Sandsmark -  

You wouldn’t necessarily expect a place called Great Harvest Bread Co. to have much by way of gluten-free offerings. Great Harvest is, indeed, a bread company, and so the majority of their products are not gluten-free, but we recently learned that they make gluten-free bread, so we stopped by on a recent Monday afternoon to give it a try. If there is one place that can make quality gluten-free bread, it has to be a bakery.

The fact that we stopped by Great Harvest on a Monday is no accident, as the bakery, which is also a deli that serves superb sandwiches (more on this below), only makes GF loaves on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So, if you want fresh, warm gluten-free bread, you have to come in on one of these three days, although you can sometimes get sandwiches made with gluten-free bread on the other days of the week if Great Harvest has any left over. If you call in, you can also reserve a gluten-free loaf to picked up on a day other than Monday, Wednesday, or Friday (or Sunday, when the entire store is closed). There is “excellent gluten-free bread at Great Harvest in Boulder,” as the title of this article promises, but this is only assured three days of the week.

The other necessary caveat to add is that Great Harvest, as you might expect, is not a gluten-free operation by any stretch of the imagination. They make bread all day in the store, and almost all of this bread contains gluten. (It also means that the bakery smells of fresh bread all the time, but that’s neither here nor there.) We always try to point out the risk of cross-contamination when writing these reviews, but this warning demands special attention in the present context. Cross-contamination is not so much a possibility as a likely occurrence at a bakery that specializes in making bread. It’s not that Great Harvest is reckless in the way they make gluten-free bread or anything, but there is only so much they can do to ensure purity. Where you fall in the spectrum of gluten sensitivity should dictate if you want to try Great Harvest. If you can’t tolerate even trace amounts of gluten, Great Harvest, alas, is not the place for you.

That said, all the members of the staff that we spoke with were surprisingly knowledgeable about gluten-free eating, and they were very forthright about the possibility of limited amounts of gluten slipping into their GF offerings. This risk is not the same for everything you might try at the store, however. For example, Great Harvest gives out free slices of bread to people waiting in line to order. The gluten-free bread is available to sample, but since this bread is kept right next to loaves of regular bread, the risk of cross-contamination is high (and in any case you wouldn’t want to use the stick of butter left out for the samples because customers use the same spreading knife). If you merely buy a sealed loaf of gluten-free bread and go on your way, the risk of consuming gluten is reduced. So, the bottom line is this: the staff is knowledgeable and honest, so if you have any questions or concerns, they should be able to assist you and provide you with any information you might need. In our judgement, a person with a non-severe gluten intolerance could safely eat here, but we of course can’t guarantee this and, as always, we urge everyone to exercise caution when eating at a place that is not exclusively gluten-free.

When we visited Great Harvest, which is located on the northeast corner of Arapahoe and Folsom, it was the middle of the day, so we decided to try a sandwich from the deli. The setup of the bakery is a little confusing depending on which entrance you use. If you come in the main entrance that faces east, you’ll be confronted by two cashiers and probably a line of customers. If you want to buy a loaf of bread, this is the place to do it, but if you want a sandwich, you have to head toward the back of the place, where you fill out a card with your sandwich order. If you come in the entrance on the north side of the building, you’ll essentially be entering the deli area and shouldn’t have much trouble figuring out what to do.

When you’re filling out an order card, you can either pick a “house special” listed on the back, or create your own sandwich by filling out the form on the front. There are only three house specials, including such classics as the turkey club and BLT. None of these automatically come with gluten-free bread, however, so you would need to specify that you require GF bread in place of regular bread if you order a special. Filling out the form to create your own sandwich is quite simple. You write in your bread choice (you’ll want the Gluten Gone for obvious reasons), select one meat or other topping (turkey, ham, roast beef, tuna salad, chicken salad, rotisserie chicken, humus, or PB&J), and pick one type of cheese (cheddar, provolone, or Swiss). You can add as many vegetables as you want, choosing from lettuce, cucumber, sprouts, onion, shredded carrots, and tomato, and the same policy applies to the seasonings, which consist of mayo, Dijon mustard, olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, yellow mustard, and herb cream cheese spread. You can order either a half or whole sandwich.

On our visit, we ordered a full sandwich with tuna salad, Dijon mustard, Swiss cheese, and all the vegetables besides shredded carrots. The sandwich is made with two pieces of regular-sized bread (it’s not a hoagie or other large roll), so you should probably get a full sandwich if you are looking for a meal of average size. We dropped our form in a box, waited for our sandwich to be put together, and then paid up front. At the cashier, we were offered a piece of free bread, as everyone is. For the reasons already stated, we were a little hesitant to try a slice of the gluten-free bread up front, but we were eager to try it on its own (as opposed to only on our sandwich), so we went ahead and took a slice, passing on the communal butter.

The bread was, in a word, amazing. It can be challenging to find delicious, fresh gluten-free bread, but now we definitely have a place to go for this treat. The slice we were given was still warm, almost steaming. It was soft and springy with a crunchy crust, with the overall texture reminding us a bit of banana bread. In other words, it was dense, making a thick slice a fairly substantial snack on its own. We suspect it would go really well with soup – maybe Great Harvest can work out an arrangement with San Francisco Soup Kitchen, where we recently had some excellent gluten-free soup.

The sandwich we ordered was also delicious, in part because of the just-described bread it came on. We have a tendency to incorporate turkey into our order whenever we go to a sandwich shop (this is perhaps related to our tendency to get huevos rancheros when we eat at breakfast places around Boulder), so it was nice to mix it up with Great Harvest’s excellent tuna salad. Layered on top of the tuna were thin slices of cucumbers, onion, and tomato, which were buried below a mix of sprouts and lettuce. On top of all of the fresh vegetables was a slice of Swiss cheese and a careful allotment of Dijon mustard that added just the right amount of spice to the sandwich. The sandwich was also put together carefully, with well proportioned ingredients – this may seem insignificant, but if you think so just wait till you are served some disastrously arranged sandwich by a rushing employee and you’ll grow to share our appreciation for well-ordered food. It takes a sloppy sandwich to appreciate a tidy one.

Since Great Harvest appears to operate mainly as a bakery, there aren’t a ton of places to sit and eat. There are some counter spots scattered around the windows, but it seems like most people get their order to go, largely because the majority of people only stopped in to pick up a loaf of bread (or so it seemed to us). If the store isn’t completely packed, though, you should be able to find a seat at one of the counters. We were able to, for example, and so was the kind lady a seat down who was chatting with us about all things gluten-free.

As long as you’re aware of the possibility of cross-contamination, and provided that small amounts of gluten won’t wreak havoc on your digestive system (if you happen to inadvertently ingest gluten at all), Great Harvest is an excellent place to go for a gluten-free sandwich or loaf of bread. We tried and thoroughly enjoyed both, and we’re confident you will too.

If you would like to stop by, you can find Great Harvest here:

2525 Araphoe Ave.
Boulder, CO

And for more information about the bakery, check our their website:

Great Harvest Bread Co.

As always, if you would like us to review a particular restaurant with gluten-free options, send an email to info@glutenfreeinboulder.com. We’ll try our best to check it out!

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