Wild Wood Art Cafe
Shelter from the gluten storm
Reviewed by Kate Thornberry, Fri., Aug. 11, 2006
Wild Wood Art Cafe
3663 Bee Caves Rd. Ste. 4-A, 327-9660
Monday-Friday, 7:30-6pm; Saturday, 9-6pm; summer hours: until 5pm; call for Sunday hourswww.wildwoodartcafe.com
Folks with food allergies and medical restrictions to their diets can have a hard time dining out. Most restaurants are not set up to serve the dairy, wheat, and gluten intolerant. Doctors estimate that as many as one in 300 Americans suffers from gluten intolerance (medically termed celiac disease), and it is a serious condition that can be fatal, not just a diet fad. It is not as easy to avoid wheat and gluten as you might think; even things that seem safe, such as a piece of broiled fish, are often dusted with flour, and most sauces are thickened with it.
The folks at Wild Wood Art Cafe must have realized that this is a pretty large (and underserved) niche market. This inexpensive cafe, located inside an art showroom bursting with Oaxacan painted animal sculptures, specializes in gluten-free baked goods and healthy entrées, and the line is frequently out the door. The staff is keenly aware of the exact ingredients of every dish, and the menu clearly spells out which choices are wheat-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
I selected the Greek Salad With Citrus Balsamic Vinaigrette ($6.55), and although it was simple, it was easily the best I have had in town, due to the excellence of the ingredients. Crisp, fresh romaine; kalamata olives; artichoke hearts; cucumbers; green peppers; plentiful feta cheese; and sweet grape tomatoes, and the dressing complemented every flavor. From the long list of sandwiches, I tried the popular Meredith Club Sandwich ($6.55). There is nothing quite like a sandwich made on fresh, homemade bread; the chewy, soft bread fuses the ingredients together in a way no ordinary bread can touch. As with the salad, the ingredients were top-notch: thick, properly cooked bacon; natural turkey; and ripe avocado.
Wild Wood's most popular homemade bread is gluten-free rice bread, and, I have to admit, I wasn't expecting much. Gluten, after all, is what normally gives bread its delectable mouthfeel. Well, I am a convert now. I don't know how they do it, but this rice bread is everything I didn't expect: light, soft, chewy, and satisfying. Wild Wood sells it by the loaf, as well as using it for sandwiches and garlic bread, which they serve with their gluten-free pasta dishes.
In addition to sandwiches and salads, the menu offers tamales, enchiladas, hummus, ravioli, and a full breakfast menu featuring gluten-free pancakes and French toast, as well as breakfast scrambles and other brunch items. There is a full espresso bar, as well as Italian sodas, juices, teas, and smoothies. Like most coffee bars, the cafe is a Wi-Fi hot spot.
Wild Wood's biggest drawing card is the gluten-free bakery; while I was eating, a never-ending stream of folks were coming in to stock up on the baked goods. I found the gluten-free cookies and other treats to be, visually, very appealing but overly sweet and lacking in texture. The only exception was the Ding Dongs, a homemade version of the popular Seventies snack. (The Ding Dongs are divine. On the other hand, Ding Dongs are supposed to be overly sweet and lacking in texture, so maybe they are just a perfect fit.) Yet, I do not doubt that these same treats are a godsend and possibly taste-bud ecstasy to those who would otherwise go without. Wild Wood also makes gluten-free cakes and pies to order for birthdays and other festivities, ensuring that no one need be left out of the celebration.