Finding Italian food is easy. Finding gluten-free Italian is more challenging. Finding an Italian restaurant that serves delicious choices, with a complete and separate menu dedicated strictly to gluten-free, which then provides a dining experience with attention to detail, well … it’s love, or “è amore,” as Italians might say.
“Where can a restaurant capable of delivering on such a tall order be found?” you’re probably asking. Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano is my answer. My visit to Biaggi’s provided such a unique and positive gluten-free dining experience, I am making sure to share it with others in our gf community.
I had my initial visit to Biaggi’s while recently on a trip to Chicago. I’d done some research ahead of time and discovered that Biaggi’s can accommodate gluten-free dietary restrictions. So I made reservations, let them know two of the three guests have gluten and dairy intolerances, and set my hopes on a satisfying outcome.
When we arrived for our reservation, we were greeted and, before I was able to remind her, the hostess said, “We have one regular and two gluten-free menus for this evening, correct?” I replied affirmatively, with a surprised look. All right … my hopes for promising dining results were headed in the right direction.
Once seated at our table, I experienced my first è amore moment. You know the moment when the server brings the water and says, “I’ll be right back with some warm bread for the table,” and a little piece of you quietly sinks? You expect not to be able to have any, but it still hits you each time you hear those words. At Biaggi’s, I didn’t experience that “Ugh” moment. Instead, what I heard was, “I’ll be right back with two baskets of warm bread. One will be gluten (and dairy) free,” our waitress stated as she looked my direction with a smile. Yes, “È amore,” I thought to myself.
When I opened my menu, another wonderful surprise appeared. Biaggi’s gluten-free menu isn’t just a typed-up piece of paper showing a few altered menu items with a “let’s see how we can make this work” approach, that has been slipped into a regular menu sleeve. The gluten-free menu, professionally printed and presented in the same format and folder style as the standard menu, offers three appetizers, numerous kicked-up salads (no lettuce, tomato, and carrot shavings here), pasta with ten sauce choices, an extensive entree list featuring an haute-cuisine flair, and yes, even five “safe” pizzas, including Chicken Piccante Pizza with spicy grilled chicken, smoked bacon, leeks, goat and Biaggi’s Italian cheese blend. Yes, “it’s love” when you can go to a nice restaurant and eat, act, and feel just like one of the crowd.
Biaggi’s continued to deliver “è amore” moments throughout the meal. I chose the Seared Salmon Salad … with another side of bread, of course! My other gluten-free dining guest thoroughly enjoyed the Mediterranean Pizza (minus the cheese) … also with another side of bread! We were raving so intensely about our meals that our companion, able to eat anything on the standard menu, had to taste what the fuss was all about. He agreed … Biaggi’s knows gluten-free. At the end of our meal, our waitress asked if we’d saved room for dessert. Well, this is an appropriate practice, but she brought out a gluten and dairy free raspberry sorbet to beat the band. It was so smooth and “creamy” that we asked her twice if it was really gluten and dairy free. She was sure it was, but was kind enough to endure ribbing from the kitchen staff when she inquired once again. We had a delicious, safe, and rewarding dining experience, and my original hopes had not been dashed.
After returning home, I wanted to learn more about Biaggi’s. I am excited to say, I had a personal interview with Corporate Chef Peter Schonman. During our conversation, it became immediately apparent why Biaggi’s is so successful, and that Chef Peter “gets” gluten-free. Biaggi’s entire approach conveys this fact. The gluten-free embracing attitude starts at the top. When I asked him how the awareness and growth of the gluten-free community needs have impacted Biaggi’s business approach, Chef Peter stated, “We started receiving requests for gluten-free items about five to six years ago, at the rate of approximately one per month per location. Currently we serve between twelve and fifteen gluten-free guests at each location every day. I believe the number will only increase in the future.” Chef Peter shared with me that he is continually attending seminars, food panels, and training sessions to grow his understanding and awareness, then brings it to the staff. Each restaurant has separate stations in the kitchen solely dedicated to gluten-free prep and cooking. All of the gluten-free cookware items are colored coded so they are easily identifiable, reducing the risk of cross-contamination. Chef Peter is proud, but definitely not pompous, about Biaggi’s accomplishments. “Eighty-five percent of our menu items are created in-house, with the remaining fifteen percent purchased,” Chef Peter explains. “We have twenty-one restaurant locations across 12 states at this time, all of which offer gluten-free dining” he continues, “and we are on target to maintain positive growth projections and new openings at a steady pace.”
Chef Peter has plans for expanding Biaggi’s gluten-free menu, but the culinary delights are not to be unveiled as of yet. When I asked him what he really likes on the current menu, he stated he is proud and pleased to offer each item.
And I believe Chef Peter has every right to be proud. He should be proud of his delicious and creative gluten-free dishes, their presentation to his guests in an inviting, extensive, and complete menu, which are then served with great understanding and enthusiasm by his trained staff.
If you have the good fortune of living close to a Biaggi's, or a travel opportunity arises, be sure to afford yourself the pleasure of dining at this great restaurant. I’ve frequented many times since my first “è amore” moment, and continually look forward to my next.