Restaurant Review: At Wit's End with Wheat? Gluten-Free Chicago Cafe, Wheat's End, Has It All

Wheat'sEnd Cafe, Chicago, IL

dedicated gluten-free facility

The highlight of highlights of my recent travel to Chicago, food-wise, was Wheat's End Cafe. Because I have celiac disease? No. Although the fact that I can't eat wheat may have something to do with my being aware of this little artisan cafe nestled in the Lake District of the Windy City.  You don't have to be at your wit's end with wheat to adore Wheat's End. Although if you are, you may not simply order every baked good off the menu, you may end up in joyful tears afterwards, hugging Amelia, Susan, and Meni -- chef, owner, and manager.

Superb is an understatement when it comes to the menu at Wheat's End, which is not only gluten and wheat-free, but also mostly vegan (allowing those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance to eat as happily as the wheat-free crowd). From belgian waffles drizzled with ginger-infused pure maple syrup, to chocolate chip pancakes, Wheat's End has breakfast and brunch covered. Where many restaurants come up short is in providing either sweet or savoury..Wheat's End has both covered: they not only offers the sweet, they serve up savoury eats that can't be beaten -- breakfast sandwiches on bagels and english muffins, splendid popovers doused in housemade gravy, and scrambles and omelettes neatly folded from fresh, organic produce and organic eggs.

During my recent visit, I sampled both the lunch menu, and the brunch offerings (and for brunch I stepped into a line a 10 other celiacs accompanied by non-celiac relations, all waiting to get at the morning feast).

My sister and I ordered both waffles and pancakes, a cinnamon roll, and a breakfast sandwich on the Wheat's End beauty-of-an-Everything-Seeded-Bagel. Oh yes. And a popover.

Vegan cream cheese came with the sandwich, but we slathered it on the cinnamon roll.

(It would be difficult to imagine improving on this gluten-free cinnamon roll. But if you could, adding  cream cheese  would -- we loved the tang added to the delicate frosting by the cheese. )

Wheat's End has perfected these recipes, gluten-removed. And the time the chef and staff have put into making a meal consistently over-the-top shows -- to both celiac and non-celiac alike. In fact, sans gluten, they seem to have improved on the entire operation.

A woman and her husband from the Dakotas, sitting beside us, both burst into laughter at one point during our brunch -- startling me and my sister. "What?" I couldn't help asking.

She was celiac, He wasn't.

He grinned at me, "This. Is NOT gluten-free. Really. It can't be."

His wife rolled her eyes. "Honey, if it weren't, we'd both know it by now."

That kind of response is routine for Wheat's End, says Meni, the cafe manager.  He has had spate of similar stories, the most dramatic of which occurred a few weeks earlier. The bloke, however, had flat refused to try "that gluten-free stuff", until he was pranked with a bun that they told him was "gluten-ful". He adored it -- only to find out it was just as gluten-free as the what his date was eating!

My sister wasn't surprised. And neither was I.

We happily ploughed through waffles, both keenly crisp on the outside, and moist inside; the NY-style crisp and chewy bagel; the pancakes, pliable and soft; and our popover and eggs. The cinnamon roll at the end crowned it all as we filled up the corners of our appetite.

We were definitely at the Wheat's End, but not at our wit's end. It has taken the Wheat's End team a good long run to develop the quality of food, service, and atmosphere that permeates the cafe -- from their beginnings with Michelin-star rated Senza to a no-store-front-bakery, to the current eatery --  and that time can be tasted in every bite Every second of it has clearly been worth its weight in pancakes.

All in all, Wheat's End is a wonder. The menu really isn't restricted or lacking an ingredient, as gluten-free implies. This isn't food-but. This is food-AND. Food above and beyond. Food for anyone who visits Chicago, looking for artisan-baked goods, classic high-end eats at reasonable prices -- anyone looking for the cream-of-the-crop in the WIndy City..

But if you have celiac disease, you know you've found a home at Wheat's End when Meni greets you at the counter.

You know you'll eat better than most diners eating gluten across the city. And you know you'll eat without any danger of ingesting something harmful to your health.

Superb? It might be an understatement. But for this review, I'm at my wit's end as to how else to praise this little Chicago cafe. Wheat's End doesn't prove gluten-free can be comparable to normal diets; it makes a case for gluten-free surpassing them. Don't ask me. Ask the 70% of patrons Meni tells me come in day in, day out, who have no medical need to eat gluten-free.

In Chicago? Driving cross country? Planning a trip, don't-know-where?
Chicago. And aim for Wheat's End

I also met fellow celiac and Michigan-blogger, Margaret, of MIglutenfreegal,for lunch.
A few more photos follow of our lovely afternoon chat over

an amazing meal.

Margaret Clegg: Has she got
a celiac story!
The meatloaf, rice, and wilted spinach -- DEMOLISHED.
Indeed, 'twas good.

Yes. Gluten-free.

I was not compensated or paid for my review. I did eat lunch on-the-house, at the invitation of Wheat's End Management, but paid fully for my brunch experience. My opinion is my own, and can't be bought  anyhow. 

Tumbling Free,



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