For the Love of Ancient (and Gluten-Free) Grains 

Plus, Marrow closes shop, and LIBA Falafel looks to open its brick-and-mortar soon.

Where there's a market, there's a way — or so it seems when it comes to the rise of gourmet gluten-free food products in the East Bay. The past two years alone have seen the arrival of amazingly crisp-battered gluten-free fried chicken and gluten-free bagels that were so good I immediately declared them the best gluten-free bread I'd ever eaten.

Now, Bacano Bakery, whose breads and pastries are a fixture at a handful of local farmers' markets, is poised to open a gluten-free brick-and-mortar bakery and cafe in Emeryville, at 1298 65th Street. Once it opens, Bacano will be at least the third dedicated gluten-free retail bakery in the East Bay, joining Temescal stalwart Mariposa Baking Company and the Danville-based Miglet's.

Generally speaking, the gluten-free baking world can be split into two schools of thought — those who try to emulate traditional wheat-based products as closely as possible (often through use of xanthan gum or other artificial binders) and those who pride themselves on using only natural ingredients. Bacano embraces both approaches. Co-founder Elan LaLonde explained that the idea for the bakery came about when his business partner Laverne Matias, the creative force behind the venture, realized that what he loved more than anything was baking with ancient grains: sorghum, quinoa, millet, teff, and various rice flours. Of course, the retail bakery business is mostly built on the gluten-intensive backbone of wheat flour, and so Matias and LaLonde saw an opportunity — both to tap into a growing market and to encourage what they believe to be a more nutritious way of eating.

"The gluten-free thing for us is, 'Oh by the way,' as opposed to the centerpiece," said LaLonde, who doesn't have a gluten allergy himself, though he said he has mostly eliminated wheat gluten from his diet. The idea was to create baked treats that anyone would enjoy, with none of the stigma of "Mommy's weird bread or Tommy's icky cookies" that is often associated with gluten-free baked goods.

According to LaLonde, there are certain products in Bacano's repertoire that are meant to serve as stand-ins for traditional wheat-based baked goods. Their cinnamon bread, for instance, is designed to fool you, with a texture and a taste close enough to the "real" thing that most customers shouldn't be able to tell the difference. On the other hand, Bacano also sells a vegan seeded bread, made with no refined sugars or xanthan gum, that stands on its own merits. "We're not trying to make it like anything else," LaLonde said.

Now that they have a brick-and-mortar shop, Matias and LaLonde plan to expand their line of baked treats (which includes dinner rolls, cupcakes, and sugar-free fruit pies), set up a small grocery section (featuring bagged burger buns, packaged cookies, and so forth), and offer simple breakfast and lunch options for customers who'd like to stay for a sit-down meal. The oven-centric cafe menu will include things like pizzas, quiches, and potpies — all gluten-free, of course. The café will offer seating for about ten diners, not counting an outdoor patio that's in the works.

The Emeryville location is the former home of Cafe Aquarius, a popular bakery/cafe that closed in January after the owner of the building decided not to extend the restaurant's lease. Bacano is slated to softly open in mid- to late August.

R.I.P. Marrow

Sad news for fans of Marrow (325 19th St.), Jon Kosorek's tiny, meat-centric sandwich shop: Last week, Kosorek announced that his Uptown Oakland location has closed.

For the past several months, Kosorek had been searching, without success, for a larger location for Marrow — one that would allow it to operate as a sit-down restaurant with a full liquor license. Originally, the restaurant went on what was supposed to be a weeklong summer break, but, as Kosorek said in a post on Marrow's Facebook page, "This recent break has helped me put things in perspective."

In explaining his decision to close, Kosorek cited a desire to spend more time with family (he and his wife have a new baby daughter) and to focus his time and energy on selling Marrow's current location — a necessary step in order to have the funds for a new space. In the interim, he plans to work with a friend who has a catering business in Napa, where Kosorek lives.

Kosorek told What the Fork that the timing just hasn't worked out in terms of finding a larger spot for Marrow. At one point he found a desirable location but didn't have an investor; later on, he had an investor, but no location. Meanwhile, he found that the immediate neighborhood around the sandwich shop wasn't interested in the more refined and/or offal-heavy (and higher-priced) dishes that he'd served when Marrow first opened.

"I had to stray from the original concept. We dumbed down the menu to where it's basically a burger joint," Kosorek said. In the end, he felt it just wasn't sustainable to spend three hours in the car every day to run a burger joint that was only ever busy during the daily lunch rush.

As for the future, Kosorek said he's open to doing another project in Oakland, but noted that it would have to be for a full-service restaurant with significant financial backing.

The Falafel Beat

It looks like LIBA Falafel food truck's forthcoming brick-and-mortar restaurant in Uptown Oakland, at 380 17th Street, will open soon. Owner Gail Lillian said she doesn't yet have an official opening date, but said the shop is "getting close." Construction has been finished for a couple of weeks now, and Lillian is already using the kitchen to prep all of the food for her trucks. Falafel lovers, keep your eyes peeled.

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