I finally went to Kaili’s yesterday.
For months, I’ve been reading about Kaili’s Kitchen. After all, it is the only completely gluten-free restaurant in the US. And it’s in Seattle! (Well, really, it’s Edmonds. And that’s not really Seattle, but let’s not split hairs for now.) Online, at the Delphi forums, and the Celiac.com forums, everyone raves about Kaili’s. In fact, it has disturbed and saddened me to see that many of the people posting who live in Seattle will ONLY eat at Kaili’s. Not that she doesn’t deserve our patronage, because she does. It’s a noble effort, to make an entire bakery and restaurant for gluten-free food. Brava! It’s more that I’m saddened that people would be afraid to eat out at all. I’m going to do something about this. But more about this later.
Let’s just say it came with fervent recommendations.
But not everyone loves Kaili’s. When I first mentioned it to my acupuncturist, because he was thrilled I had finally found an answer to the illness even he couldn’t figure out, he said, “You know, I went there with a friend of mine who has to eat gluten free. I’d go back, only because I want to support my friend. It’s a little like a mom and pop place, less like fine dining. It’s like.…a family-run IHOP.” Ew. Not my kind of place, really. And when I met with a nutritionist at Swedish Hospital, who knew more about celiac disease than anyone I have ever met, she said that she really appreciates the food at Kaili’s, but she doesn’t like the service. “It’s like they don’t need to serve you promptly, because they know they’re the only gluten-free restaurant.” Hm.
So it was with excitement and trepidation that I drove up to Edmonds yesterday. In so many ways, I’m like a little kid still. If I know that I’m going somewhere I’ve never been before, even if it’s just up 99 to Edmonds, I grow fluttery inside, thinking about it. The sun was shining on my fingers as I drove, and I had stopped at my favorite coffee shop on the upper part of Queen Anne for a iced soy chai latte, and I was on my way. Aurora is lovely as you drive along Greenlake, and see flashes of blue water glinting light as you pass the grey barricades. And then there’s the PCC. But after that, it’s hard to see the beauty. Run-down motels clearly intended for one-hour customers. Defunct businesses, the For Lease signs faded from the rain. Strip clubs called The Love Shack. Factory-like cemeteries. Casinos squeezed into a city block. It’s a bit degraded and sad. And then there’s the enormous Krispy Kreme store partway up, reminding what you can no longer have.
But no matter. Because once you cross the county line into Snohomish, you’ve hit Edmonds. And suddenly, everything is green and gleaming again. Turn left on 205th, happy to be off the stop and go traffic, and you’re nearly there. Let the car gently take the curve of the road, and then you’ll see the sign for Firdale Village. Turn into the strip mall, and there you are.
Kaili’s is in a strip mall? Granted, the little mall they call a village is surrounded by green trees and tasteful housing communities. But still, the gluten-free restaurant that everyone raved about online is actually a little building just across from a nail place and a movie theatre.
I walked in, expecting to see crowds of grateful customers, gobbling up gluten-free sandwiches. But the restaurant was empty. Plasticized red-checked tablecloths, mismatched chairs, plastic flowers. Everything a bit scattered, a bit dusty. But damned if it didn’t smell good in there. The front door opens onto the bakery. Walk another step and you’ve walked into the oven. Three metal shelves held a small assortment of gluten-free commercially made products. Good, but I’ve seen more elsewhere. The real center of the place is the bakery.
A middle-aged woman with two young children stood with her checkbook open. None of the employees noticed me, or at least paid me any attention, but she did. “Is this your first time at Kaili’s?” she asked me. When I said yes, a bit confused, she said, “Oh, I’m so happy for you.” Sweet. I love how much of a community this gluten-free group is. It’s like we’re all family, immediately. Another woman wandered in, equally confused as I was as to why the employees completely ignored us. (Perhaps my nutritionist was right.) She wanted bread, and rolls, and it wasn’t until she was paying that she learned it was all gluten free. Interesting–even “normal” people are buying this food.
I decided not to stay for dinner, since no one else was there. Instead, I wandered over to the freezers, where a bounty of misshapen and obviously handmade food awaited me: rosemary rolls; chicken pot pie; pepperoni panini. Bagels? They have gluten-free bagels? I had to buy those, even if they were the size of a dime. I grabbed cinnamon bread, and a small bag of even smaller scones, and made my way back to the warm bread smell wafting from the kitchen. Just as I was about to pay, the man working there pulled a fresh load of sourdough bread out of the ovens. I had to buy that too.
I talked to the woman there, finally, a sweet and obviously overworked young woman. Turns out that she’s Kaili’s daughter, and she says business has been slow lately. (Come on, people. If you’re raving online, go back.) I told her that I’m coming back for lunch, bringing friends. I want to interview Kaili for my book. (But that’s another story.)
Back in the car, I couldn’t drive until I had taken a bite of that warm bread. I tore off a hunk of the sourdough and sank it into my mouth. Ahhhhhhhh. Bread. That’s all my brain could think: bread, bread, bread. It tasted like dense, chewy bread. Real, homemade bread. And then I had to take picture of it, which you see here, with the hunk torn out.
It didn’t last long. I ate another chunk on the car ride home. And then I sliced it up and froze it when I returned home. Along with the bagels and scones and cinnamon bread. But not before I toasted a slice of that, and then delighted in the crunching sound in my ears as I ate. Gluten-free bread that actually crunches when you toast it. All is well with the world.
So everyone was right. It is a bit mom and pop, the service is indifferent, and it’s in a strip mall in Edmonds. But, it’s worth it. Gluten-free bread that fills my mouth with delight. Will wonders ever cease?