Margaret’s Cantina: Organic, Local Fare Since 1993

Where: Margaret’s Cantina, 1129 Weaver Dairy Rd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514 (Located in the Timberlyne Shopping Center.)

GF Menu: Yes! “GF” is clearly marked on the menus.

What I ate: Sopa Seca Picosa (Spicy Mexican Lasagna) from the Dinner Menu + House Sangria

How to order it: Refer to the menu markings of “GF” for Gluten-Free when making your selection. Additionally, let the server know you are dining Gluten-Free.

The menus also indicate “V” for Vegetarian and “VV” for Vegan. As Margaret explains on the About Us page of the restaurant website: “Because my dishes are made in-house from wholesome ingredients, you can make pleasurable and healthy choices, no matter your preferences.” With food that is cooked-to-order, you CAN have it all!

What it looks like:

MargaretsCantina

Think you can’t have lasagna in a restaurant because you dine Gluten-Free? Think again! This spicy Mexican “lasagna” may be my new go-to comfort food. In this dish, corn tortilla chips are layered with cheese, your choice of chicken or black beans, and spicy salsa. The whole dish is then baked, and finally topped with additional salsa, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. The result is packed with texture and flavor. The chips and black beans still maintain their freshness and integrity despite being smothered in melted cheese and salsa.

MargaretsCantina2

Here’s the close-up. This was a very generous helping. I took some of it home and enjoyed it right from the fridge the next day. You gotta love a dish that is fantastic both hot and cold! It’ll be good to revisit year-round. 

Green Note: Margaret is committed to using local, seasonal, and organic produce, whenever possible, and she has been doing so for twenty years. She explains on the website, where she lists some of her local suppliers:

Long before locavore entered the lexicon, I was buying organic produce from farmers like the legendary Bill Dow of Chatham County. Today I still work with Bill and other growers, among them Rose & Mark Lyon, Jan Mann & Tom Jackson, Bill & Joanna Lelekacs and Lisa & David Pope. I’ve been a member of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association for years and I also purchase produce from Eastern Carolina Organics, a farmers’ co-op. “The Egg Man,” Gerald Hall of Pleasant Garden, NC, brings me fresh brown eggs from his free-range chickens.

 I use organic brown rice and black beans and locally milled organic flour. North Carolina is represented year round on my “South meets Southwest” menu in the form of sweet potatoes, grits and greens. Seasonal produce includes asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, apples, tomatoes, tomatillos, chiles, salad greens and shiitake mushrooms… the list goes on!

And speaking of the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, this weekend is the 19th Annual Piedmont Farm Tour! Saturday, April 26th and Sunday, April 27th, 2014 from 2-6pm both days, rain or shine. You can visit more than 30 local and organic farms in the Triangle area, meet the farmers, and tour the farms. Support your local food systems. Oh, yeah, and take some charming photographs of baby goats.

Margaret's Cantina on Urbanspoon

Simply Crepes: “Mais Oui!”

Crepes originated in northern France and are traditionally made with wheat flour; however, I’m delighted to report that a new restaurant in Raleigh, NC offers buckwheat crepes!

Buckwheat, also called a pseudocereal, is not related to wheat. It is not a grain and does not belong to the grass family, but still produces fruits that can be used to make bread flour.

Where: Simply Crepes, Lafeyette Village, 8470 Honeycutt Rd, Suite 110, Raleigh, NC 27615

GF Menu: Yes! Their menu states,All entrées and desserts can be made with a Gluten and Lactose Free buckwheat crêpe for [an additional] $1.00.”

What I ate: Turkey and Smoked Gouda Cheese Buckwheat Crepe + Chocolate Peanut Butter Creme Buckwheat Crepe

How to order it: Select a crepe from the menu, which currently features about 16 different entrees. Double-check with your server whether or not the contents of that particular crepe are in fact Gluten-Free. Place your order, stating that you want your dish to be prepared in the GF buckwheat crepe.

When we visited, our server asked us, “Are you ordering Gluten-Free based on a dietary preference, or do you have an allergy?” Surprised at this question, we asked why they needed to know. She informed us that the kitchen requires this information in order to take extra precautions when preparing dishes for those with food allergies.

What it looks like:

A warm and savory mountain of thinly sliced turkey, bacon, smoked Gouda cheese, fresh greens, tomatoes, and maple mustard vinaigrette, swaddled in a fresh-off-the-skillet buckwheat crepe.

Why stop at one crepe when you can have two? The crepes are so light and fluffy, I didn’t feel guilty about ordering dessert. I opted for the Chocolate Peanut Butter Creme Crepe. Fresh peanut butter cream, chocolate fudge, bananas, and vanilla ice cream were gift-wrapped in a delicate buckwheat crepe topped with double chocolate sauce and whipped cream.

Green Note: Buckwheat is healthy for your body and the earth. While researching its properties, I found a page titled “The Basics of Buckwheat”, which explains how buckwheat is also a smart agricultural choice for farmers:

Buckwheat has a variety of healthful properties. It’s an excellent plant source of easily digestive protein and contains all eight essential amino acids, so it’s close to being a “complete” protein. Buckwheat is also high in fiber (a big bonus for celiacs), B vitamins and, according to a USDA study, keeps glucose levels in check better than other carbohydrates — which is good news for celiacs who also have diabetes. It’s also said to lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol.

Buckwheat is hardy, which makes it resistant to damage and therefore relatively inexpensive and easy to grow. Tom Bilek, a Minnesota buckwheat grower, says “buckwheat will grow on anything.” According to the National Buckwheat Institute, Buckwheat is one of the few commercially grown crops that does not use chemicals.

To the Owners and Staff of Simply Crepes, I’d like to say, “Merci Beaucoup!”

Simply Crepes on Urbanspoon

The Wild Cow: Vegan, Vegetarian, & Gluten-Free

Where: The Wild Cow Vegetarian Restaurant, 1896 Eastland Avenue, Nashville, TN 37206

GF Menu: YES! It is now incorporated into their regular menu. Click HERE to view. Here are some important notes from The Wild Cow GF Menu:

  • Items marked “GF” are naturally gluten free and appropriate for those who choose to avoid gluten. However, if you have a gluten allergy, please let us know and we’ll take special precautions to avoid cross-contamination.

What I ate: Green Chili Root Salad, Veggie & Quinoa Bowl, Pinto Bean Nachos, Sweet Potato Tacos, Vegan and GF Local Strawberry Cheesecake

How to order it: The Wild Cow staff advise, “When placing your order, please let us know if you have a gluten allergy.”

What it looks like:

The green chile root salad was a zesty, crunchy treat comprised of leaf lettuce tossed with a house-made green chile Caesar dressing, jicama, beets, & pumpkin seeds.

The Veggie & Quinoa Bowl included grilled vegetables (cabbage, onion, broccoli & carrots) over a bed of organic quinoa, drizzled with green goddess dressing. For a little extra, you can add tofu, tempeh (Wild Cow uses soy tempeh, which is GF, rather than multi-grain), and/or avocado.

The Wild Cow’s nachos were comprised of fresh and seasoned pinto beans, added to organic corn tortilla chips, with brown rice, vegan queso, homemade vegan sour cream, tomato, onions, and homemade salsa.

The Sweet Potato Tacos were a refreshingly novel take on a classic dish. The twist was that their corn tortillas were filled with grilled ginger sweet potatoes, pineapple slaw, and homemade tomatillo salsa, and served with fresh seasoned pinto beans and brown rice. 

I dare you to take a bite of this GF Vegan Strawberry Cheesecake and not sigh. First, because of the overwhelmingly scrumptious taste and texture. Then, because it was both vegan and Gluten-Free. I don’t know how Wild Cow’s pastry chef created this dessert, but it was pure culinary magic.

Also, I’m delighted to report that Wild Cow has begun offering Vegan Gluten-Free treats from Vegan Vee Gluten-Free Bakery for sale in the restaurant and also at the counter. Offerings change daily, but I can personally vouch for the cupcakes, cake, cookies, and brownies – yes, I’ve tried them all, and they are out-of-this-world delicious!

Green Note: The following is taken from The Wild Cow “About” Page:

We opened the Wild Cow to provide delicious, cruelty-free, healthy food to the people of Middle Tennessee…Nearly all of our food is purchased in its whole form, meaning we make almost all of our own sauces, dressings, soup stocks, etc. This means that we can name every ingredient in the food we serve!

The Wild Cow on Urbanspoon

Published in: on October 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm  Comments (3)  

Pueblo Viejo: Grilled Cheese, Mexican-Style

Where: Pueblo Viejo Mexican Family Restaurant, 107 James J. Freeland Memorial Dr., Historic Hillsborough, NC 27278. This restaurant is set in an historic home at The Shops at Daniel Boone, just off Exit 164.

GF Menu: No.

What I ate: Synchronizada (old-fashioned grilled tortilla sandwich)

How to order it: Can you determine whether a tortilla is made from corn? This is not a fail-safe method, but I think this note from Wikipedia’s entry on the two types of Mexican Tortilla (corn versus wheat) is helpful:

The two versions of the Mexican tortilla have different textures owing to the grains from which they originate: the maize version is somewhat thicker and heartier in texture, while the wheat version is less easily broken, due to its elevated gluten content, and therefore often larger in circumference.

Always double-check with your server to make sure your tortilla is made only of corn (and not wheat, or a blend of wheat and corn).

What it looks like:

Warm corn chips and fresh salsa (with chunky tomato, onion, and cilantro) with a side of fresh guacamole.

This may be my new favorite “grilled cheese sandwich”! Built like a quesadilla, the “Synchronizada” was a hot-off-the-skillet corn tortilla sandwich, filled with melted cheese, grilled chicken, fresh avocado slices, tomatoes, onions, and jalapeno peppers.

Green Note: Pueblo Viejo offers an outdoor garden and patio area with a sound stage for local performances and space for dancing under the stars.

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Salsa FRESH: Fresh Salsa Daily

Where: Salsa FRESH Original Mexican Grill, Harvest Plaza, 9650-155 Strickland Road, Raleigh, NC. Salsa FRESH has 3 locations – 2 in Raleigh and 1 in Morrisville and is open seven days a week.

GF Menu: No.

What I ate: Chicken Tamales.

How to order it: The “Salsa Fresh Promise” states, “your salsa will never come from a can, jar or frozen bag” and “your rice and beans will always be prepared FRESH daily from scratch.” This is good news for Gluten-Free diners since many of the sneakiest glutenous culprits are ingredients that are hidden within processed foods.

When ordering rice, ask your server whether the rice has been prepared in a broth that contains gluten. On the day I visited, I was assured that the broth was gluten-free.

When ordering items made with corn, be sure to ask whether the corn meal mix contains any gluten. Traditional Mexican cuisine uses only corn meal in tamale dough, but more recent versions may contain some wheat flour. At Salsa FRESH, the menu states that the tamales are made from “an original recipe passed down through the generations.” When I asked about the gluten content, the manager informed me that both the tamales and the hand-cut corn chips are made fresh and only with corn.

What it looks like:

This festive color wheel of food radiated health and happiness, and it tasted terrific. Two hot chicken tamales wrapped in corn husks were complemented by fresh salsa, rice, black beans, and a dollop of delightfully thick sour cream.

I’m including an image of this educational card at Salsa FRESH because I appreciate its message. It reminds us that eating fresh fruits and vegetables lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and helps protect against cancer.


Green Note: Here is “The Salsa FRESH Promise”, as written on the Take-Out menu and the Salsa FRESH home page:

  • Your salsa will never come from a can, jar or frozen bag.
  • Your salsa will always be made from FRESH produce delivered and prepared daily.
  • Your guacamole will never come from a can or a frozen “pulp product.”
  • Your guacamole will always be prepared FRESH daily with real avocados.
  • Your rice and beans will never be processed in a factory, frozen in a bag and then boiled.
  • Your rice and beans will always be prepared FRESH daily from scratch with no lard.
  • You will never be served anything that came from a can.

Muchas Gracias!

Salsa Fresh Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Published in: on April 2, 2011 at 1:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

Chipotle Mexican Grill: All That & a Bag o’ Chips

Where: Chipotle Mexican Grill, Raleigh, NC

GF Menu: No, but they feature a helpful “Special Diet Information” page on their website that addresses common allergens. Click HERE to view the allergen chart.

What I ate: Burrito in a Bowl + Chips & Guacamole

How to order it: Order a Burrito in a Bowl. The server will then ask you what toppings you’d like.

Chipotle’s website says: “Most people wanting to avoid gluten can eat anything we serve except for our large and small flour tortillas, and possibly our red tomatillo salsa (there is a small amount of distilled vinegar in it which some gluten-oriented websites still say might be problematic, although most don’t). Everything else is fine to eat for most people wanting to avoid gluten, including our crispy corn tacos and our corn chips.”

What it looks like:

Pictured above is a bowl stacked high with cilantro-lime rice, black beans, beef barbacoa, tomato salsa, corn salsa, lettuce, and cheese, with a bag o’ chips and a side of guacamole. Packed full of protein and fresh veggies, this is a satisfying meal.

As their website menu says, “It’s a burrito, in a bowl & filled with dreams.” You can have all the fun goodies from a burrito, without worrying whether the tortilla is gluten-free!

Green Note: Chipotle keeps the big picture in mind when considering even the small details. As you can see in the photo above, the plate is made of biodegradable materials.

Their website addresses their decision to focus on organic, family-owned farms, and local ingredients. Here’s an announcement from their website:

“In 2010, Chipotle plans to serve at least 50% of at least one produce item from local farms when it is seasonally available (more than 50% and more than one item any time we can).”

If you’d like to learn more about Chipotle’s environmentally-friendly business model, check out these links:

Chipotle: Food with Integrity

and

Chipotle: Sustainable Design

Dos Taquitos Mexican Restaurant: Pork Tacos

This is the original mother restaurant to the relatively newer Centro in downtown Raleigh. (See Centro post from 06.10.2010.) I enjoyed Centro so much, I wanted to go back to the source.

Where: Dos Taquitos Mexican Restaurant, (Dos Taquitos North) 5629 Creedmoor Rd (Plaza Place), Raleigh, NC 27612

GF Menu: No.

What I ate: Chips + Salsa + Guacamole Dip and Tacos Al Pastor with a Side Salad from the Lunch Menu.

How to order it: Ask the server whether the chips and tortillas are made with corn. Some dishes at Dos Taquitos call for flour tortillas, so be sure to specify that you are Gluten-Free, and would like only the corn tortillas on your dish.

Also ask whether the pork is seasoned with a spice mix that includes gluten.

What it looks like:

These unique tacos were wrapped in corn tortillas, filled with pork seasoned with dried chilis and pineapple, and then topped with large chunks of fresh pineapple. With the side salad gently tucked into a corn chip bowl next to the tacos, this was a satisfying lunch option. I highly recommend the cilantro dressing on the salad.

The servers bring corn chips and salsa to your table while you wait for your food. I ordered the guacamole to go with the chips. I went back and forth between the fresh salsa and the guacamole trying to figure out which I liked best. Impossible – I’ll always order both.

Green Note: At Dos Taquitos, you can dine outside on the covered patio area, surrounded by live plants and whimsical crafts from Mexico. I love what the owner writes on the website about the look of the restaurant: “It is an organized mess. Arts and crafts flying in the air, dancing at this wonderful Mexican rhythm…to the untrained eye, it will look like a bunker after an explosion, but everything is in its place.”

These lunch items were served in plastic baskets with removable liners, rather than on dishes. The baskets can be re-used and the only dish-washing required is for the cutlery and the cups.

Dos Taquitos on Urbanspoon

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Centro: Fish Tacos

Where: Centro (formerly Dos Taquitos Centro), 106 S. Wilmington Street, Raleigh, NC 27601

GF Menu: No.

What I ate: Entomatadas + Tacos de Pescado

How to order it: While Centro does not offer a GF Menu, many of their menu items are naturally Gluten-Free. As the server explained, traditionally-prepared Mexican cuisine is made from corn, beans, and rice. Wheat was introduced into Mexican dishes more recently.

If a restaurant serves traditional corn tortillas, these should be made with just corn meal and perhaps a little lime juice. To be certain, ask whether the corn tortillas contain any wheat flour. The server assured me that the tortillas in both the Entomatadas and the fish tacos were made only with corn.

Can you determine whether a tortilla is made from only corn? This is not a fail-safe method, but I think this note from Wikipedia’s entry on the two types of Mexican Tortilla (corn versus wheat) is helpful:

The two versions of the Mexican tortilla have different textures owing to the grains from which they originate: the maize version is somewhat thicker and heartier in texture, while the wheat version is less easily broken, due to its elevated gluten content, and therefore often larger in circumference.

When ordering a fish dish, it is a good idea to ask whether their fish is breaded with wheat flour or seasoning which may contain gluten.

When beans are listed as a side, ask whether the dish contains any wheat as thickener and/or preservative. Some canned beans, refried or whole, contain wheat flour. The black beans at Centro were wheat-free.

Finally, when rice is listed as a side, it is a good idea to ask whether the rice was cooked in a broth that contains wheat. At Centro, they made their own chicken broth, and this was wheat-free.

What it looks like:

The best description of the Entomatada appetizer (pictured above) comes directly from their menu: “Feel like you are at Grandma’s. Home-made corn tortillas dipped in a sweet tomato sauce; drizzled with hot chile de arbol sauce, topped with diced queso fresco, pickled red onions and cracked black peppercorns.”

Again, the menu says it best: “Two soft corn tortillas, filled with grilled catch of the day, pineapple pico de gallo and avocado. Served with rice, beans and our delicious spicy coleslaw. The Best in town!!

As you can see in the photo, the corn tortillas were doubled up in order to help keep all those lovely ingredients under wraps. The salsa was made with cuts of fresh pineapple, and was a cilantro-lover’s delight. The beans and rice were flavorful and worthy of their own praise.

Green Note: The following message is posted on their menu:

Centro serves both unique and traditional mexican cuisine. We use fresh organic and local ingredients whenever possible to provide healthy and flavorful dishes, as well as to support local farmers. We are located in a newly renovated historic building, originally constructed in 1910.

Dos Taquitos Centro on Urbanspoon

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 1:04 pm  Comments (3)  

bu*ku: Merci!

June 2013 Update: bu*ku now has a Gluten-Free Menu! Click HERE to view it on their website. Even more reason for thanks!

Where: bu*ku | Global Street Food, Raleigh, NC

GF Menu: No. Check that – YES. (See update above.)

What I ate: Cochinita pibil and Chilean Sea Bass

How to order it: Let the server know that you are allergic to gluten and ask for recommendations. Our server explained that the expert, and well-traveled, Chef William D’Auvray can prepare many of the items from the menu as Gluten-Free versions (with the exception of the breads, of course).

What it looks like:

Appetizer: Cochinita pibil, tender, pulled, soft corn tortilla, pickled red onion, habanera salsa. Set on a lightly-grilled corn tortilla, this pibil (slow-roasted, marinated pork) melts in your mouth. The red onions and salsa do not overpower; they gently embrace and elevate the cochinita. These were so light, I could’ve easily eaten five. May I please have them for breakfast, too?

The Main: Plantain crusted Chilean sea bass, caramelized noodle squash, green mango salad, warm passion-fruit-citrus vinaigrette. The mango salad is not pictured here, but I assure you it’s gorgeous and is a perfect side to this succulent sea bass. The crisp plantains work extremely well as a crust topping. Genius! When there was no trace of fish or squash left on my plate, I pined for a piece of GF bread to serve as a vehicle for the rest of the sauce. It’s not every day you get to taste passion fruit.

Dessert: A single scoop of homemade pineapple sorbet. I can’t show you this. It evaporated.

Green Note: bu*ku is locally-owned and operated.

From their website: “The prices on our menu represent a decision to make our food accessible to as many people as possible without compromising our Chef’s long-standing commitment to serve high quality produce, hormone-free farm-raised beef and sustainable market seafood.”

I appreciate bu*ku’s view of the world and I look forward to bringing my passport & palate there again soon!
Buku on Urbanspoon

Fiesta Mexicana: Festival of Color

Where: Fiesta Mexicana, Wakefield Commons Plaza location, Raleigh, NC. There are also locations in Cary, Clayton, Garner, and Holly Springs.

GF Menu: No.

What I ate: Lunch Camarones Yucatan

How to order it: Thankfully, many Mexican dishes are made with corn. (See Mez post.) The vegetables and shrimp are lightly stir-fried in a vegetable oil. I confirmed with the server that there is no wheat/gluten in the dish or in the corn tortilla chips.

When a very sensitive GF diner orders a rice dish, it is a good idea to ask whether the broth used to boil the rice has any wheat in it. Surprisingly, some chicken and beef broths contain small amounts of wheat flour. Most organic broths do not.

What it looks like:

A festival of color. These are the goodies from a culinary pinata made just for adults. Marinated shrimp grilled with red and green peppers, onions, squash, and zucchini. Served with rice, guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. Not sure how they do it, but the shrimp and the veggies are al dente and taste of summer. The complementary chips are always warm and light.

Green Note: Fiesta Mexicana serves their chips in reusable baskets with paper liners. The plates, glasses, and cutlery are all washable, so there is very little waste.

Fiesta Mexicana on Urbanspoon

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