Top 10 Gluten-Free in Austin

The gluten-free craze is really taking off — for those of you like myself who are averse to the stuff, here are some recommendations for living gluten-free in Austin.

1. Wheatsville

– Be sure to check out their gluten-free baked goods on Wheat-Free Wednesdays. It’s summer, and the early morning hours are the most cool, weather-wise — do yourself a very delicious favor, and buy a gluten-free blueberry muffin one Wednesday morning before work. The salad is also great, and mostly gluten-free. The few options that are not gluten-free are carefully labeled with allergen warnings.

Udi’s brand of bread is, so far, my favorite. Gluten-free bread tends to be smaller, more expensive, and less tasty than wheat bread, but Udi’s makes a wonderful “whole wheat” gluten-free bread that is reasonably priced, and large enough for a substantial sandwich. Wheatsville carries several options of Udi’s bread flavors in their bread aisle, and Udi’s soft-baked chocolate chip cookies in their dessert aisle.

2. Wild Wood Bakehouse

– The strength in this place lies in their lunch menu. They have pastas and croissant sandwiches and paninis for order, and the place boasts a one hundred percent gluten free environment. Eat easy. The dessert bakery isn’t the greatest in the world (some of the things I’ve ordered have been a little dry) but they make freshly baked loaves of bread (vegan, to boot) every day that are available for sale and are to die for. The focaccia will change your life.

3. Sustainable Food Center Farmer’s Market

– There are several locations and times where the farmer’s market sets up around town, but I enjoy the Saturday morning market at Republic Square Park on 4th and Guadalupe. Plenty of fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, as well as food stands and samples.

4. Delish Bakery

– I have not been here yet, but this bakery comes very highly recommended from one of my fellow gluten-free-ers. Rumor has it that the cupcakes taste just like they’re made with actual wheat flour, only they’re completely safe to eat. Pretty high standards — try it out, and see if it measures up to the delish’ namesake.

5. Whole Foods

– Otherwise known as Whole Check, I am not a frequent visitor to this grocery store. I did pop in for some *broccoli rabe the other day, and discovered a whole section of gluten-free items including bagels, muffins, cheesecake, scones, cupcakes, and more. Before you get too excited, checking the prices will stop you from throwing one of everything in your cart. After much deliberation, I settled on bagels. Made my week.

6. Galaxy Cafe

– Great for casual dinner, Galaxy Cafe has an entire gluten-free menu on the opposite side of their regular menu. They are very considerate as well if you are especially sensitive to gluten contamination: They have a glove-changing policy when making dishes for people with celiac. The wraps are amazing, but maybe steer away from the mashed sweet potato (it was a bit too rich) and go for the sweet potato fries instead.

7. Trudy’s and Shady Grove

– These two rank in my top places to go during the summer months – mostly due to their cold drinks and outdoor seating. Both of these places have gluten-free menus upon request, and the chips and salsa are also gluten-free. I’m a fan of the soup and salad plate at Shady Grove: Roasted vegetable chili (with corn, not flour tortilla) with house salad and cilanto-lime dressing. Yummmm.

8. Zen

– You know those days when you have so much going on that all you want is to be able to grab a drive-through burger and fries? Zen is the next best thing for your fast food fix. They have a gluten-free column to their take-out menu. Try the seaweed salad.

9. Central Market

– Central Market carries Glutino, which is by far the most wheat-free wheat-like brand that I have tasted. Their products are very reasonably priced, and they give you a lot of food for your dollar. Go for the pretzels and the chocolate-covered wafers (which, if you miss Kit-Kats, are pretty much the same thing).

– Central Market also carries some pretty good **pasta options here. I personally prefer the corn-based pastas, as they seem to have more flavor than the rice, and the quinoa tastes just plain weird.

10. Mother’s Cafe

– The perfect Sunday breakfast or brunch place to eat. The menu has a “GF” icon next to all of their wheat-free options, and is located in the pleasant Hyde Park neighborhood. The entire restaurant is vegetarian, and the cooks will also tailor any menu item to be gluten-free (upon request).

*Broccoli rabe is typically a cold-weather vegetable, and doesn’t grow well in the South, so it’s pretty hard to find. Wheatsville carries it sometimes when it’s in season, and the farmer’s market may have it as well if you’re lucky. Whole Foods is usually the most reliable source. If you are unfamiliar with broccoli rabe, here’s a quick, simple way to try out this vegetable: Boil it and drain it, then add some Italian sausage, red wine, pine nuts, red pepper flakes, and garlic sauteed in a little olive oil. A little red onion if you want to go all out, but don’t get too crazy.

**If you’re new to gluten-free and haven’t dealt with wheat-free pasta yet, it can be very tricky to make. Cook it a minute too short, and it will be hard. Cook it a minute too long, and the noodles will start falling apart. Go for the eight to nine minute time range, and watch it very carefully. Stir more often than you would with regular noodles — the noodles tend to stick very easily to your pot while they boil. One to two tablespoons of olive oil in the water, along with a pinch of salt, should help with that problem.


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A Conversation with Amelia Steely

If the young are the future, then 25-year-old rising artist Amelia Steely is setting a hell of a tone for the future of the American modern art scene. Brooklyn-based Steely hails from Dallas and has worked with the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, a large-scale contemporary art exhibit founded by renowned artist Donald Judd. Steely agreed to speak with me about her work in New York and her work with the Chinati Foundation – and how, though Steely no longer lives in the state, she has found her Texan roots impossible to shake off. Steely works primarily in wood, metal, paper, and fabric.

Amelia Steely holding “Neverland”
Photo by Ivaylo Getov from

EM: Tell me about your work in Marfa – what led you to Marfa?

AS: It was a chance to get to know a part of Texas I’d always heard about. Growing up in Dallas, I knew the plains of North Texas, the woods of East Texas, Austin’s beautiful Hill Country, and subtropical Houston. I had never experienced the legendary Texas, like the kind Frederic Remington painted and the kind portrayed in Westerns. I wanted to know the Texas of cowboys and ranches and vast desert landscapes that the rest of the world has in their head. So aside from being an art destination, Marfa was firmly grounded in a part of Texas that I wanted to know. At first, I just wanted to visit Marfa, because I’d heard so much about it. Then I found out about Chinati’s internship program during my last semesters at Pratt, which happened to be 2008/2009. I thought this three month internship sounded like a great opportunity. Interns wear a lot of different hats at the Chinati Foundation, but the job I really loved was giving tours around the 340 acre complex. I really enjoy seeing a work of art over and over again, in different light, in different weather, in different moods. A piece of art takes on a completely different life once you’re as familiar with it as you are with your furniture at home. I also volunteered at Marfa Studio of Arts (MSA) and Studio in the Elementary School (SITES), assisting with after school art classes for a school district that has no funding for arts education. After my time at Chinati was up, I stayed an extra two weeks with SITES and taught bookmaking at all grade levels in their elementary school.

Marfa, Texas
Photo by Amelia Steely from

EM: Tell me about the art you completed while in Marfa.

AS: I came to Marfa with a trunk full of handmade paper and drawing supplies. I tore the paper down to postcard sized pieces and used that as my sketchbook. Rather than keeping them as a sketchbook, I then mailed them out free of charge to anyone that wanted them. I liked the freedom of the postcard format: Intimate scale, made quickly or over the course of a day. And I liked that they were subject to change by the process of mailing them: they got marked on and they could be bent or lost altogether.

Postcard, “Untitled XXI”
Amelia Steely

EM: You are a native Texan. Tell me about how you made the transition from Texas to New York, and at such a young age.

AS: I moved to Brooklyn for college when I was 18. I knew I wanted to be in New York – It’s expensive to live here, but art is everywhere, it’s cheap to see, and it’s easily accessible. Living in New York was really difficult at first, but once I got stuck on the city, I really got stuck and I’ve spent most of the last 7 years here.

EM: Do you plan to return to Texas?

AS: I will definitely return to Texas. Maybe I won’t live there. But the art scene, the landscape, and the culture are all things I need. I need to see a horizon line every once in awhile, and that is just not possible in New York.

Marfa, Texas
Photo by Amelia Steely from

EM: How has your art been influenced by your Texan roots?

AS: It’s hard to know how my art has been influenced by my Texas roots. I’m stubborn as all hell! Maybe I got that from being Texan. I don’t think I could be an artist unless I was really determined to do it.

EM: What is your opinion of the art scene in Texas?

AS: The art scene in Texas is varied. From huge art donors in Dallas, Ft. Worth, and Houston, to galleries in Austin, to installation/roadside attractions like Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo or Prada Marfa – there’s art almost everywhere. Northpark Mall in Dallas is full of world class art, like Jonathan Borofsky’s Hammering Men. Those sculptures are exciting to see when you’re three feet tall! And I’ve watched them move around the museum my whole life. By spending my teenage years at a mall, I got the same experience wealthy art collectors get: I got to live with the art, see it change as my perspective changed, and become really familiar with it. Who else get’s that in their mall?

EM: Do you think Texas is a noteworthy subject in art?

AS: Of course … It’s stunningly beautiful. It has diverse cultures, endless social issues, and so many amazing people and places. Two interstates cross in Marfa, leaving you four ways out. Each direction lends you a totally different landscape. Toward Ft Davis you have these amazing segmented rocky cliffs. Toward Alpine and Big Bend National park there are gorgeous plains edged with mountains. Past Valentine is Sierra Blanca, an actual stark white mountain in golden desert. And then toward Mexico there are rolling green hills that look like Southern California. Something about the way the wind blows on the Rio Grande makes a lush little oasis just north of the border. Those right green hills are like nothing else in that region. Not to mention that Marfa is on a plateau in a basin, so the outskirts of town have amazing and vast views. At Chinati I had a favorite place to go where I could literally see so far that I could watch separate weather patterns move across the landscape. I’m not a good swimmer, but the desert is what I would imagine it feels like to be in the middle of the ocean. You can see everything around you in all directions and walking doesn’t get you closer to anything in particular. But you can see shadows of clouds moving over you and weather patterns you wouldn’t notice if there were buildings around. All that to say, if you’re a landscape painter, you’ve got it made in Texas. If not, you can find the inspiration and the solitude you’re looking for.

Painting, “Untitled V”
Amelia Steely

EM: Tell me about your current projects.

AS: My artwork revolves around architectural themes. I break down design elements of a space and reconstruct them in my paintings, so what you get in the end is an abstract painting that has a real connection to a certain place and time. I’m also interested in conveying my relationship to a space – like the rhythm with which I walk through a familiar space. Or if it’s from a childhood memory, I try to draw that space from a shorter perspective. If a dark event happened there, I will convey that.

Painting, “Untitled IV”
Amelia Steely

EM: What is your (current) preferred medium?

AS: Today, I’m working on a watercolor. I have an experiment going in acrylic and resin recessed in a wooden panel. And I switch over to sketches while I wait for paint to dry. Looming over all that is an almost complete work in acrylic on paper that I’m stewing on.

EM: What social statements have you made in your art?

AS: I like to keep my social statements in my art a little ambiguous. Maybe the loudest I’ve gotten is making a series of layered drawings after film stills from violent movies. I’ll remove the action and just draw the surroundings. A big theme in my work is architecture as the silent purveyor and observer of daily life.

EM: What inspires you to begin a new piece?

AS: I get inspired by shapes, patterns I see in the city, ways that distant objects will line up with close ones. And I get a lot of inspiration from other artists. After seeing Yayoi Kusama’s show at the Whitney, I ran to the paint store and to get some reds so I could make paintings inspired by her early gouaches. And after seeing Alina Szapocznikow at MoMA, I got reinvigorated about self-portraits.

EM: What is your ideal working environment?

AS: My ideal working space would be large with a constant coffee supply. I have a hard time focusing on projects so I like to have several things going at once. I’ll often have a big project going and make quick unrelated sketches on the side, which requires either space or careful organizing. Right now I’ve got a 5 x 10 ft section of studio I share with a few other guys. They probably think I’m crazy! I’m always switching projects, leaving a painting for months at a time while I work on something else, then painting right over it.

EM: What have been your past working environments?

AS: I’ve had all sorts of studio set-ups in the past. At Pratt I had a locker. I would take over a whole studio at night and put things back by morning. My senior year I got a cubicle studio that I spent most of my time in. In Marfa, I appropriated an unfinished building by Donald Judd as my semi-outdoor studio. And I worked out of my tiny apartment for two years before finding the space I’m in now.

Steely’s Brooklyn studio space
Photo by Amelia Steely from

EM: What artists influence your work and your life as an artist?

AS: Anselm Kiefer really had an impact on me. He’s got two huge works at the Fort Worth Modern and they both floor me. He says so much without having to provide every last detail. It’s all there, and you don’t need to read someone’s dissertation to understand his work. You feel it when you see it. I also love Julie Mehretu’s layered paintings and Vija Celmins’ drawings and prints. As long as a work keeps me thinking, it will have an influence on me. If I think I understand it, I lose interest.

EM: What are your future plans/ambitions in your art?

AS: I’d like to scale it up. In the future, I want to be making installations and works scaled for public art.

EM: How would you classify your art?

AS: I don’t think it’s up to me to classify my art. I’d be digging my own grave.

Painting, “Untitled I”
Amelia Steely

Steely’s work is currently on display in Brooklyn at her alma mater, Pratt Institute, and on her website,

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Tango in Austin

You take your chair in a quiet Austin cafe, ordering your drink. The scene is set: An empty floor stage in front of your table, seats ready, instruments waiting. Five men dressed in black calmly make their way to their places on stage. A white-haired man takes up his accordion, and begins.

With the opening solo, you are transported to a cafe in Buenos Aires, surrounded by dancers in flowing crimson skirts and wild roses in their hair. A moment later, a violin enters your sound-scene and you find yourself in a New York nightclub, swaying to the hip improv of jazz. You want to jump to your feet and dance around, but you also want to remain cool sitting at your table, snapping your fingers to the driving beat. Such is the power and exquisite plight in the music of Astor Piazzolla, jazz-tango-classical composer.

If you’ve never heard of Astor Piazzolla, then you are one of perhaps the greater majority who remain unaware of this Argentinian Nuevo Tango composer. Enter Austin Piazzolla Quintet, at your service. Astor Piazzolla was a popular composer in the 1950s-60s-70s, known in the New York music scene for the incorporation in his classical music of jazz and Argentinian dance themes. Austin Piazzolla Quintet specializes, specifically, in performing Astor Piazzolla’s music as well as original compositions by Jonathan Geer, the pianist for the group. APQ focuses heavily on improvisation, which allows each man’s individual talent to shine before returning to the seamless interweaving of instrumental sounds for which the group is known. “You’ll see a lot of people who interpret [Piazzolla’s music] just as classical music, straight off the page, and it’s so soulless,” James Anderson, a classically trained violinist and founder of the group, says. “A lot of times the bass and the piano will be playing off the page and whoever has the melody is really flourishing around with it and being really free with it and it kind of goes back and forth. There’s this kind of ebb and flow to it.”

The group initially received much attention from Austin’s dance community, but are clear that they mean to remain faithful to Piazzolla’s primarily musical audience. “We played Esquina Tango [a dance organization in Austin] and people went crazy,” says Anderson. “Especially the dancers latched on to it and kept asking us to play… One thing we’ve come to realize is that dance groups are not necessarily something we don’t want to play, but that’s not what we want to be. We’re not a dance group that does dances. We want to be a concert group and if people want to dance to it that’s great.”

The Austin Piazzolla Quintet is a veritable musical match made in heaven – these men, who are more brotherhood than band, have come together in a lightning-strike rarity of circumstances. “I moved here, and it was kind of my idea to put the group together. It was something I had been wanting to do for awhile, being a fan of Piazzolla’s music. And I moved here, put an ad out on Craigslist – then Jon [Geer] answered the ad,” says Anderson. It snowballed from there. Geer laughs, “It’s kind of amazing. Honestly. I was just kind of looking around.” With Geer came the convenience of a resident composer and provider of rehearsal space and recording technology. After asking several musician friends for a recommendation of a good accordion player, Anderson stumbled on the name of Mike Maddux. Maddux joined the group soon after and was later followed by guitarist Chris McQueen and bassist Pat Harris, who each joined the group based on recommendations as well.

There is a transformative quality about Piazzolla’s music. The music the band plays has an antiquated feel; the listener almost wishes for the grainy quality of vinyl to accompany the musical flavors of APQ. Jonathan Geer brilliantly taps into Piazzolla’s psyche in his own compositions as he sculpts his own creations in a similar style. “He’s [Piazzolla] got a lot of little motifs that you kind of hear over and over again. I started trying to create something in that same style, just looking at the scores of his, see how he created certain sounds. I try to emulate that a little bit while still making it my own sound but in that genre.” Geer’s modesty is deceiving; so closely has Geer been able to access Piazzolla’s style that parts of his own compositions are, at times, indistinguishable from those of Piazzolla. The men remain casually cool in their music-making, which is perhaps why it is just so darn fun to listen to the Austin Piazzolla Quintet. “Something we’ve talked about from the beginning was that we didn’t want … to play classical music, we wanted to play tangos in the way that he [Piazzolla] wanted,” says Anderson. If these musicians are reverent of anything in Piazzolla’s music, it is to be irreverent and maintain the grittiness of Piazzolla’s Nuevo Tango. Geer points out, “Much of the music is not on the page itself – you cannot notate how to have that dirt in there.”

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