March 2, 2011

Garbanzo in Boulder Offers Healthy and Delicious Gluten-Free Mediterranean Food

By Evan Sandsmark -  

For health-conscious eaters with a gluten intolerance, you have yet another place to try: Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, which recently opened a restaurant in Boulder. With the exception of a few items that one wouldn’t expect to be gluten-free, all of Garbanzo’s dishes are made without gluten. We stopped in this afternoon to try a couple of the restaurant’s offerings and left very impressed.

Although it has never been entirely clear to us what constitutes the Twenty Ninth Street Mall – where does it begin and where does it end? – we’re fairly sure Garbanzo is a part of it. In any case, it’s in this area of Boulder, near Target and Macy’s.

The inside of Garbanzo is fairly spacious. The ceiling over the square dining area is high, which is always a nice way to avoid a cramped atmosphere. Matching the sign on the outside of the restaurant, the dominant colors inside are green and orange, with each coming in a few different shades.

The ordering setup is akin to places like Chipotle in that you place your order at a counter before finding a place to sit. Your food is prepared right in front of you, allowing you to dictate precisely what you want with your dish. Helpfully, there are small signs indicating if an item is gluten-free. Overall, this is very efficient arrangement, as we received our food quickly, despite the rather long line we greeted when we entered the restaurant. (By the way, nearly the entire restaurant was full while we were there, and there was always a steady stream of customers entering and exiting, so it appears that Garbanzo has already developed a good reputation for itself.)

Although almost every item on the menu is gluten-free, the gluten intolerant can only order two of the four main menu items, the “Plate” and the “Garbanzo Greens.” The other two items utilize pita bread or laffa, a middle-eastern flatbread, with the operative word in both cases being “bread.” But this really isn’t much of a handicap because avoiding standard bread (that is, bread made with wheat) is part of the gluten-free way, and you can add virtually everything else on the menu besides these two types of bread to your order, just as one can order almost all of the food on the menu of a burrito restaurant besides a flour tortilla.

We decided to go with the “Garbanzo Greens” – the salad option – and added chopped onions, tomatoes, and cucumbers to the base of romaine lettuce. We also added some chicken shwarma (steak shwarma is the other protein option), feta cheese, and a drizzling of Mediterranean garlic dressing. Our other option was the plate, but in truth this probably would have been fairly similar, except that this dish comes with hummus and a falafel. (It also comes with a pita we couldn’t eat, as does the salad.) However, the four different main food categories – the salad, the plate, and the two dishes with bread – begin to break down when you realize that you can basically order anything with anything. Although the plate comes with a falafel and hummus, you can add these two things, along with a number of other ingredients, to your salad, and the plate is also open for customization. (The menu, which is included at the end of this post, makes all of this clear.)

For a side, the gluten-free eater could get either potato chips or falafels, and given that we were at a Mediterranean restaurant, the choice seemed clear: falafels. (It didn’t hurt that a chipper employee offered us a free falafel, which we found quite good, before we had even ordered anything; evidently, this is part of the standard protocol, and we salute them for it.)

So, we ordered a chicken salad with a side of falafels, and overall it was a very good and satisfying meal. All the different components of the salad were well proportioned, and we’ve always thought this is one of the keys to a good salad. After we stirred everything together, seemingly every bite had a bit of everything, including crispy romaine lettuce and tender, flavorful chicken shwarma. (According to the menu, the chicken on the menu has “shwarma” affixed to it because it’s marinated and has original Mediterranean spices added to it. Good to know, but the important point is that it is really good chicken.) The garlic dressing added just the right amount of flavor; it was almost ranch-like, although it had a thinner consistency and it wasn’t nearly as rich.

The falafels, as we already indicated, were really tasty too. In essence, falafels are balls or patties of ground garbanzo beans which often incorporate ingredients like onion, parsley, and cilantro. They are generally fried in canola oil, as they appear to be at Garbanzo, which makes them crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. This cooking process makes them look a bit like crab cakes. Garbanzo’s falafels are particularly crispy on the outside, and parts of the exterior are so crunchy that it’s almost seed-like. We found them delicious, especially with a little sriracha sauce.

Given how fast, healthy, and tasty Garbanzo is, we wouldn’t be surprised if this small chain with a few Colorado locations balloons into a national franchise. As the rise of similar enterprises has shown, there appears to be a large demand for reasonably-priced food that can be made quickly and healthily. As far as we’re concerned, this is a good development. Give Garbanzo a try and let us know if you agree.

Garbanzo’s menu:

http://www.eatgarbanzo.com/menu_restaurant.php

Helpfully, Garbanzo has a list of ingredients and allergens available on their site as well. You can find that here (PDF):

http://www.eatgarbanzo.com/pdf/Ingredients_Allergens.pdf

The Boulder location of Garbanzo:

1905 29th Street
Boulder, CO 80301

Note: This is the thirteenth article in a new series presented by GlutenFreeInBoulder.com. On a (roughly) weekly basis, we will visit a restaurant, try a thing or two, and write about our experience. We will, of course, be sampling exclusively gluten-free food so we can report back to our readers about the items worth having. However, many of the places we visit merely offer gluten-free options, and hence are not necessarily 100% gluten-free facilities, so if proximal cross-contamination is an issue, call ahead. 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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