People who know me would tell you that I’m passionate. Intense, even. Opinionated. And I will admit to being all those things. Sometimes too much so. I try to keep it tamped down, but… Some of it has probably come out in these pages. One of the things that I’m quite passionate about is food. And I believe that my disease has concentrated it. I love food…eating it, cooking it, talking and writing about it, creating it.
I also seem to be passing that on. My eldest son (eldest by 1 minute), got up from the table on the spur of the moment the other night and decided he was going to make a sauce. He began putting it together and it wasn’t bad. We perfected it the next day and plan on using it for some spicy chicken wings. He loves the heat. I’m glad to see him taking to cooking and hope he carries on the tradition. He’s even getting much better about trying different foods and realizing none of them are going to kill him. Of course he didn’t go as far as trying the mackerel eyeball that The Wife had me try the other night. I was proud of myself though, I was able to spit the crunchy nastiness into the trash without the rest of my dinner following it.
Anyway, back to the passion. I love food. Which is why I don’t eat a lot of the gluten-free stuff out there. There’s just no love in it. It’s like my niece’s husband said upon trying a gluten-free cupcake: “It tastes like somebody made these then sucked all the cupcake out of them”. Exactly.
So I have essentially eschewed bread since I was diagnosed. Other than using some Rudi’s to hold a burger together on occasion, I just don’t waste my time with it. It’s not good, it doesn’t add anything to my life, and, in the case of the burger, really only serves as a structural component (I’ve tried eating the burgers without bread, but there’s just something about getting that bite with all the fixings together that can’t be replaced. But I’ve also learned the joy of eating a cheeseburger patty with a little mayo and white rice. Yummy).
That brings us to the topic at hand. I attended the Gluten Free Expo last year in Dallas. I took a baking class (one of two men in attendance) and toured the booths with The Wife. They even had a buffet lunch. The fact that I was able to walk into a hotel ballroom and walk up to the buffet and begin eating, without hunting down servers and handing them my little card explaining my condition so they could take it to the chef and he could come out and I could explain it to him so he could tell me what I could and could not eat… Well, it was quite profound. And the whole time I was filling my plate, I was, in the back of my mind, thinking, “I can’t do this”. It was quite inspirational.
Among the booths were makers of beer, bread, pasta, cookies, and even more obscure marketers such as cleaning products and magazines. The big boys were all there, of course; Rudi’s, Udi’s, Kinnikinnick, Bob’s Red Mill, etc. Few of them really made an impression on me or The Wife. However, there was one…
Local Oven was there with a small oven and handing out samples of their hamburger buns. Their tag line was “there’s no gluten…and no one knows”. Now, first of all, that caught my attention, because that is what I’m all about. I’m not interested in foods that are “good for being gluten-free”, I’m interested in foods that are good. Second, the sample of the bun was good. It was a very small cube, and I’m quite skeptical, but it was good. I was in no way convinced, but they certainly had my attention.
Now, when we went there, we were already toying with the dream of a gluten-free restaurant. And when we found them we told ourselves at the time that it would be great if we were able to source a bread product that would satisfy the “regular” eaters. We were also pleasantly surprised to find they really were local, located in a suburb of Dallas. Of course, Dallas being what it is, their suburb was about a two-day drive from ours, but still, they weren’t on the west coast or something. Then they told us they were in the process of relocating to an area of town very near us. Hmmmmm.
We had kept them in mind all this time, and a few weeks ago, I looked them up to check their status and found a business article that they had rented space about a half hour from us. Then, a few days ago, we got an email from them. Apparently we had given them our contact information at the expo. They were open for business. A couple days later we were there.
We bought some hamburger buns, baguettes, bread crumbs, croutons, and tried some biscotti while we were there. Now, I never was a huge fan of biscotti, so that wasn’t really the best way for me to judge their products, but I must say, it was like I remembered it, which was a good sign.
But what I want to talk about is hamburger buns.
I’m a big man. And of big appetite. Think John Goodman, the cyclops in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, except with two eyes. And the gluten-free bread that I was used to, and especially the hamburger buns, wasn’t big enough to cover a White Castle burger. And I remember being hopeful about Subway announcing they had gluten-free buns. We stopped by to buy a bun (which we couldn’t do, of course – we had to buy a whole sandwich, even though I wasn’t going to eat it) and then went to Five Guys where we had them make me a burger without the bun and a large order of their killer fries. I couldn’t wait to get home and eat a real fast-food burger again. When I felt the bun in its little cellophane wrapper, I knew I was in trouble. Hockey puck. And when I took my first bite of the burger, the bun crumbled into a million pieces.
Last night, my son grilled some burgers for us (with his sauce!), and they were, by the way, excellent. I took out my bun from Local Oven and toasted it with some butter (my experience has been that you need to give gluten-free bread as much help as possible). I put some mayo on it and my cheeseburger patty. Nothing else. I wanted to test the bun. Could it hold up? Would it crumble under the pressure? Would it detract from the juicy burger, or enhance it? No help from any veggies, just a plain burger with mayo.
First, and most profound, was the feel of the bun in my hand. It was soft. I was able to hold this burger in my hand, squeeze the bun around it…and it felt like fresh bread. If you’re not gluten-intolerant, you cannot begin to realize how incredible this moment was. And I can’t explain it to you. I felt guilty…afraid…like I was indulging in the most sinful, self-destructive act imaginable. If this description seems over-the-top, stop eating bread for a couple of years, except for whatever frozen loaf you find at the health food store, and you’ll be able to relate.
Last night, I ate the first real cheeseburger I’ve had in two years. The bun was big enough to cover the burger. It was soft. It tasted like bread. And for the first time since I was diagnosed, I ate all the bread on my plate. It wasn’t there just as a structural component, it was a part of the sandwich. It was, in texture, taste, mouthfeel, and overall satisfaction…bread. It was good.
I have heard or read so many times about so many things in the last two years, statements like “just as good as…” or “can’t tell the difference in…” relating to some gluten-free food or another. And time and again these statements have proven so ridiculously absurd as to not even register anymore. So I won’t use these turns of phrase that are so worn and hyperbolic. I will only say that their tag line is absolutely true. If you were to serve a guest a hamburger on that bun, they would never guess it was gluten-free or in any way different from the bread they are used to. I cannot think of a higher compliment to bestow. Thank you, Local Oven.