October 10, 2011

You Can Get Gluten-Free Breakfast and Lunch at the Walnut Cafe in Boulder!

By Evan Sandsmark -  

The good thing about breakfast, from the gluten-free perspective, is that lots of breakfast foods, like eggs and potatoes, as well as meats like bacon, sausage, and ham, are naturally gluten-free. It is for this reason that the Walnut Cafe in Boulder, which offers breakfast until 3:30 PM every day, is a reliable place to find plenty of gluten-free options. What’s more, Walnut Cafe has a few substitutions available, like corn tortillas for flour tortillas and gluten-free french toast for its regular version, to make dishes gluten-free if they aren’t already. To be sure, not every dish on the menu is gluten-free – there aren’t gluten-free waffles or pancakes, for example – but Walnut Cafe still offers an admirable selection for GF eaters, and, for the record, vegetarians and vegans too. We were easily able to find a good meal on a recent visit to the cafe.

Walnut Cafe has two locations in Boulder and, as of recently, a location is Lafayette, too. We visited the one that is on the corner of Walnut and 30th, which is part of a small strip mall with a long red roof. The Walnut Cafe is situated prominently in the middle of the building. The other Boulder restaurant is located near the corner of Table Mesa and Broadway, and as a consequence it is known in full as the South Side Walnut Cafe.

Despite being positioned in a strip mall, the Walnut Cafe has a decent selection of large and small patio tables, probably around a dozen. As is our habit on nice days, we sat outside, blissfully shaded by a large umbrella. For a mid-Autumn day, the weather was very warm, so much so that the intermittent cool breeze served as a pleasant break from the warmth. It is a nice seating area, and this is the case even though my view consisted of nothing but a busy parking lot and a Midas. (In this respect, Ras Kassa’s awesome patio on the river, where we ate a couple of weeks ago, has a definite edge.) The interior has a long bar and about as many tables as the outside, so the restaurant can accommodate a fairly substantial number of people, which is good, as the cafe has a reputation for being busy (always a good sign as far as the quality of food is concerned).

As we scanned the menu, a very nice server pointed us in the direction of gluten-free options, explaining, as we did above, that a lot of the menu is gluten-free by default, and that a decent number of other dishes can be rendered so with the appropriate substitutions. This left us with some serious options: should we get one of the omelets, like the Artichoke Hearts and Swiss, or perhaps the breakfast burrito, or maybe just a standard breakfast with eggs, potatoes, and maybe another side? All good options, and all gluten-free. After some soul searching (Do I hear some snickering? Well consider this: our appetites are a major component of Plato’s – Plato’s! – tripartite theory of the soul.), we decided to order the Huevos Rancheros with eggs (the other option is tofu), black beans (as opposed to refried beans), and corn tortillas (in place of flour tortillas). We’ve always liked huevos rancheros – it resides at the edge of food categories, part breakfast and part lunch.

Before describing our food, it should be noted that the Walnut Cafe offers lunch too, but it seemed, based in part on the orders being placed around us and the fact there is a full coffee bar that offers drinks to go, that the restaurant is perhaps slightly more breakfast-oriented. We were there at about half past 1:00 PM and most people appeared to be ordering breakfast. Of course, this was just our impression, placed upon that feeblest of foundations, the inadequate sample size. In any case, there are a number of gluten-free sandwiches and burgers available, and most of the salads are either gluten-free or can be made gluten-free (by removing, say, croutons).

Back to the Huevos Rancheros. We should be clear up front that we have high standards for this particular dish, at Walnut Cafe or elsewhere. There is an excellent breakfast place in our hometown that has great huevos rancheros, so we’ve been raised to expect the best. Fortunately, Walnut Cafe didn’t disappoint, as the dish we ordered was excellent – it was exactly what we were looking for; it, in the rare shared language of eaters and archers, “hit the mark.”

Starting with the most superficial and working our way down from there, the appearance of the dish was very appetizing. A neat pile of fresh lettuce and chopped tomatoes sat on one side of the plate; the other side consisted of a mix of black beans, melted cheese, salsa, and black olives on top of two fried eggs, which were laid on top of two corn tortillas flat on the plate. In the middle of all this was a dollop of sour cream. With an arrangement like this, every ingredient must be eaten together, which is just as well because this is the best way to experience all the different flavors and textures.

The lettuce and tomatoes, when rationed properly, added a lightness to each bite of the richer ingredients, like the sour cream, black beans, and eggs. A nice spice, thanks to the salsa, pervaded every bite, so we were glad we didn’t add a bunch of hot sauce, which we now do by force of habit as much as by willful desire. The gluten-free substitution, the corn tortillas, also went very well with the dish. In fact, given that corn tortillas tend to be denser than flour tortillas and therefore less susceptible to becoming soggy, the gluten-free version of the dish might be the better option anyway. It was an excellent meal overall – full of flavor and very satisfying. If you go to Walnut Cafe, we are at the very least certain that you’ll be able to find one good dish, and we can’t imagine that the rest of the menu is much different.

To check out all of the Walnut Cafe’s offerings, you can find the full menu here:

http://walnutcafe.com/southside/menus.html

Walnut Cafes can be found at the following locations:

3073 Walnut Street
Boulder, CO 80301
(Where we ate.)

673 s. Broadway
Boulder, CO 80305

2770 Arapahoe Rd., Suite 116
(in Atlas Valley)
Lafayette, CO 80026

Note: 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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