Restaurant: Da Luciano – Pasta, Pizza& Catering, River Grove, Illinois
This…was an important dining choice to make when I was coming to Chicago, Illinois. I mean…for real. This was a big…heap…deal.
Because I was in town for the Chicago Marathon. I needed a safe meal…one that would guarantee that I would have no stomach issues…and…being that I was running on Sunday morning…this needed to include gluten-free pizza. It HAD to be gluten-free pizza. That is my stipulation when it comes to the night before a big run. If it’s a half marathon or marathon…it has to be gluten-free, vegetarian pizza. It just works for me. Some down pasta…not this girl. This girl indulges in a few epic slices of (hopefully) amazing pizza. Gluten-free pizza isn’t tasteless cardboard, you know. When done right…it is a culinary work of art.
And I’ve eaten good and bad gluten-free pizzas…as they are well documented in this blog.
But there was something special about Da Luciano, which is one of the reasons, despite meaning a car ride outside of downtown Chicago, that I felt I needed to eat there the night before the Chicago Marathon.
What was so special about this place?
They understand Celiac Disease. They totally get me. They totally know how to handle and prepare my food so that I won’t get sick from eating there. And how do I know this? Well, as stated on their Web site, the owners, Luciano and Rosalia, were first introduced to the gluten-free world when four of of their seven children were diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Being an Italian family, bread and pasta were daily staples in their diets. Rosalia set out on a mission to find quality gluten-free bread and pasta for her children, but found that her options were limited. So, she began to experiment with her own recipes, succeeding in making gluten-free bread, pasta, pizza, and desserts that satisfied all of her children. When Da Luciano Pizza, Pasta & Catering opened the following year, they decided to offer their customers a gluten-free menu featuring Rosalia’s amazing recipes. The response from the gluten-free community was huge.
So…as you can see…this place won me over right from the start. And, upon arriving at the restaurant, we were immediately asked if anyone needed a gluten-free menu. I didn’t have to request one. I didn’t have to ask if one even existed. The hostess just flat-out asked. And so, when we were seated, I was given their rather extensive (no one sheet of paper here…but a true menu, my friends!) gluten-free menu to peruse.
So many of the dishes sounded awesome. And part of me wanted to do the gluten-free bruschetta for an appetizer…but we had all decided that dessert was happening…so the appetizer went to the wayside…this time. The gluten-free menu at Da Luciano is about as big as the regular menu. So many of the dishes are offered as a gluten-free option. From the dishes with meat (as I’m a vegetarian, I didn’t look at the extensive seafood, chicken, and veal offerings), but there were many amazing sounding pasta dishes. BUT…I never change up the night before a race…and it was one of their individual gluten-free pizzas for me.
When our waitress returned to the table to take our orders…we were all settled on what we wanted. Heather is not big on carbs, so she went with one of the chicken entrees. Her choice – Chicken Scaloppine ($14.95), which was thinly sliced chicken served in what looked like a tomato and mushroom sauce. Cathy opted for the Rigatoni Porcini ($11.95), which was rigatoni pasta cooked with porcini mushrooms in a light cream sauce. Jenn went with the Gnocchi al Pesto ($11.95), which was delicious looking gnocchi served in a creamy (probably) basil pesto sauce. It looked fantastic.
But for me…I went with the Gluten-Free Pizza ($8.50) topped off with mushrooms, onion, and roasted red pepper ($0.75 each). I couldn’t wait to get a taste of this pizza. And…I wanted to make sure that Heather got a bite as well, because she suffered through the disaster of Pizza Ranch in Minnesota with me…and I wanted her to know good gluten-free pizza was out there. If we had been in Louisville…I’d take her to Annie May’s Sweet Café and split one of those amazing pizzas with her…but when in Chicago…you find a place that works.
We had a little wait, but soon our food was arriving at the table. And it all looked and smelled amazing! I photographed every dish…especially my pizza. And it was time to dig in.
WINNING!! Granted, I still like my local bakery’s crust better…but this definitely is one of the best crusts I’ve had on a gluten-free pizza. Cooked to golden perfection, so it was crispy, without being burnt or overdone. And it still had that nice doughy texture with it as well. The sauce was amazing. The cheese…was more than I would have liked…but…it starts off as a cheese pizza. The other toppings get added. The star of the toppings, however, were the roasted red peppers. OMG…YES! Packed with flavor. Mild…but with that right amount of kick to keep the palate interested. The onions didn’t overpower anything. And the mushrooms were done to perfection. Nothing watery. Nothing disappointing. And, as I cut off pieces for my friends to try, the rest of it was mine. All mine. And yes…I devoured it all. Every slice. I might have licked the plate clean. It was delicious…and I needed to top off the tanks for the marathon the next morning. This was the key.
And, as I mentioned earlier…dessert was going to happen. I had 6 options to choose from on the gluten-free dessert menu. And while they all sounded fantastic, I was down to three choices…the cream puffs, the tiramisu, and the cannoli. It took a lot of pondering, internal debate, and deliberation with myself to pick between them. I rarely have so many options for a dessert…so choosing one was not easy. The cream puffs almost won, but I wasn’t sure how big they were and it came with two on the plate. The tiramisu was SO tempting. I haven’t had tiramisu in a long, long time. I wanted it. But…ultimately…I settled on the Gluten-Free Cannoli ($4.95). Both Jenn and Cathy opted for the regular Cannoli ($3.95) and Heather went with the regular Tiramisu ($3.95).
I was so excited when our desserts emerged from the kitchen and at our table. My cannoli definitely looked different from Cathy & Jenn’s…but it was the color and thickness of the shell. That was the only difference. Heather’s tiramisu looked absolutely amazing. Next time…(and there will be a next time!)…I’ll get the gluten-free tiramisu. It looked fluffy and amazing.
So…how was the gluten-free cannoli? SO SO SO good. SO GOOD!! MMMMMMMM….GOOD! OMG…GOOOOOOOOOD! The cannoli cream was amazing. Sweet, but not overly sweet. Creamy. Amazing. Delicious. It had bits of chocolate chips and fruit. There was a candied orange peel on each end. And the shell…sugary-sweet goodness. The crunch that it had with each bite was satisfying. And it all just blended together. It worked. And I devoured my dessert happily.
With that…I went and purchased a few bags of their gluten-free pasta, available at the register, and we paid our bill. As we were leaving, I overheard the restaurant manager explaining to a customer that the way the manage no cross-contamination is that all the gluten-free dishes are prepared in the kitchen upstairs at the restaurant…and the regular menu items are all done in the kitchen downstairs. Brilliant. And so safe for Celiacs. I loved learning that about Da Luciano’s. It’s nice to know I had nothing to worry about when eating there…which is good because the last thing you want before running 26.2 miles is tummy troubles.
We had to head back downtown…after dropping Heather off at a train station to head back to her hotel. We had plans for when she would arrive at The Hilton Chicago to meet up with us before the the marathon the following morning. We were all satisfied and happy with the meal we ate at Da Luciano. I will be back the next time I find myself in Chicago…which I hope is soon.
Speaking of which…the gluten-free pizza worked its magic as always…I had a fantastic marathon. Thank you, Da Luciano…for giving me my pre-race carbs in my favorite form. I can’t wait to come back and try more of your amazing menu.
So, if you find yourself in the Chicago area, make a point to head to River Grove and eat at the fantastic Da Luciano – Pasta, Pizza & Catering. It’s worth the short drive because the food is simply that amazing.