When I first heard about this restaurant, I literally started jumping up and down. If you’re celiac or highly sensitive to gluten, you can probably understand why. Eating out for people with celiac disease and extreme allergies/sensitivities means something completely different than for others. Lots of planning must be done in advance to decipher menu’s, speak to chefs/kitchen managers to understand how they protect against cross contamination (if at all), and strategize about how not to offend friends/hosts/guests/restaurant staff. Even for those who are just gluten intolerant, the chance to sit back, relax, and enjoy the meal from start to finish are few and far between. But not if you have a completely 100% dedicated gluten-free kitchen and restaurant! No more eating beforehand, no more bringing your own food! At Primal Food & Spirits in Durham, North Carolina, there isn’t a crumb of gluten ANYWHERE on the premises.
Primal was started by chef Tim Lyons, his wife Rachel, and his brother Mike. It opened its doors on July 10 and serves a completely gluten-free dinner menu which is also largely paleo/primal-friendly, as suggested by its name. Many of the items are dairy-free and egg-free as well, and they source their ingredients from local organic farmers and vendors. They can also adjust many of their recipes to accommodate other food allergies and intolerances, although the only guarantee they make (especially regarding cross contamination) is gluten-free. The menu will change every 3-4 months, so diners can keep going back and trying new dishes!
Many of the items on the menu are protein-based and naturally gluten-free (like their shrimp & grits or their 30-hr braised beef short rib), although one of the first things you can (and should!) order when you sit down is a basket of baguette with whipped herb butter that they source from a local certified gluten-free bakery called Imagine That Gluten-Free. Their menu also features a burger which can be served with a lettuce wrap or a burger bun from Imagine That, and their children’s menu (the “offspring menu”) features a mac & cheese made with rice-based noodles.
But where the real fun lies, at least for those of us who have had to say goodbye to all those wheat-based sweet treats, is in their dessert menu. Tim’s partner in the kitchen, chef Dan Wright, spent hours devising the perfect flour replacement for items like their lemon pound cake and berry tartlet, using ingredients like rice flour, corn starch and xantham gum. The chefs say that this was the toughest part of the menu to develop, understandably, but now that they have, they can apply their flour recipes to other delicious dishes. In fact, we know that they are working on introducing a brunch menu. Seriously. French toast, pancakes, crab cakes benedict….it’s almost too good to be true!
The idea to start a completely gluten-free restaurant came naturally to Tim. He had received many questions and requests to make dishes gluten-free at his first restaurant, a seafood restaurant also in Durham, and in his personal life, he and Rachel were increasingly encountering more and more gluten-free people amongst their friends and family. They watched their celiac friends bring their own food to dinner parties, and watched Rachel’s mom’s arthritis pain subside after going on a gluten-free diet. When they linked up with Tim’s cross-fitter paleo brother, the concept for Primal really took shape.
In the few weeks since the restaurant has been open, Primal has received an incredibly warm welcome and messages of gratitude from gluten-free diners and families. One woman drive 1 1/2 hours just to come have dinner at the restaurant. Parents don’t need to worry about watching their kids’ every moves to make sure they don’t accidentally ingest a trace of gluten. The menu is drool-worthy for everyone, gluten-free and non gluten-free eaters alike, so everyone can relax and enjoy their meal together. In many ways, Primal has revived the idea of RELAXING and having FUN while dining out for those with gluten issues, which is what we at The Tasteful Pantry are all about. Yes, we’ll be getting on a plane from LA to come visit very very soon!
Primal Food & Spirits. 202 West NC Hwy 54, Suite 107, Durham, North Carolina 27713. (919) 248-3000