When I forecast last November that 2013 would be the “Year of the Bun,” I had pretzel buns, ciabatta and such in mind. But increasingly this also is being the year of the gluten-free bun as more and more burger shops adapt to the approximately 1% of consumers who have Celiac disease. For many that means offering to wrap a burger in lettuce. Others go farther: Hopdoddy Burger Bar in Austin, Texas, bakes gluten-free buns on-premise with local supplier Bona Dea Baking Co.’s gluten-free flour.
Some have decided to do more than accommodate gluten-free diners, choosing to actively court them with separate menus. Custom-burger chain The Counter this week introduced a gluten-free menu at its 33 locations. The menu includes not only buns but also appetizers, beer, wine and shakes. Burger builds include a third-pound Cranberry & Avocado Turkey Burger with sharp Provolone, dried cranberries, avocado, carrot strings, organic greens, green onion and horseradish mayo on a gluten-free bun. A build-your-own burger section gathers gluten-free toppings.
Diners seeking gluten-free burgers sometimes ask for them to be served bunless in a bowl. Twisted Root Burger Co. in Dallas offers this but its menu labels this option “Sissy Food.” Rather than insult/tease guests, The Counter has three burger bowls created for those avoiding gluten, including a Spinach Avocado & Salsa Bison Bowl. Craft brewer Dogfish Head’s gluten-free Tweason’ale is offered as well.
Mike Costello, director of marketing for Culver City, Calif.-based The Counter, explains the special menu as “a direct extension of our core belief that everyone should be free to get what they want, how they want, without limitations.” Offering a build-your-own section “gives our gluten-free guests countless choices and allows them to construct what they want, rather than deconstruct what we offer,” he says.
Last month another California chain, Los Angeles-based Burger Lounge, added gluten-free buns (available for the grass-fed Elk Burger LTO it added today) and a menu of special burger builds plus gluten-free salads, shakes and floats. “We already have great vegetarian options, and the gluten-free menu allows us to take our commitment to serving our guests to the next level,” says Burger Lounge Co-founder and CEO Dean Loring.
Gluten-free burger menus are not just a West Coast phenomenon. York, Maine-based Wild Willy’s Burgers has such a menu available in its six locations in the Northeast. The gluten-free menu at Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar in Charlotte, N.C., includes appetizers, salads and a dessert as well as a build-your-own burger option with all gluten-free toppings and sauces. Falls Church, Va.-based Elevation Burger claims to be the “only national chain that serves gluten-free French fries cooked in heart-healthy olive oil.” Many burger chains provide gluten-free menu-item recommendations online but not all—and few quick-service chains—offer a gluten-free bun option yet.