May 13, 2011

Restaurant Review: Zest Bakery

Triple berry (right) and strawberry lemonade muffins. No gluten, no dairy... no way!
After much feedback to its dedicated customers, many of whom are managing food allergies, Zest's offerings are now free of almond milk, which was once a key ingredient in its sweets.  Zest's regular menu items are nut-free with the exception of the winter holidays when it offers pecan pie and specials of the day that might include finishing touches such as almond syrup.  Keeping nuts out of the baking process -- now that's something more to rejoice over!

Gluten-allergic friends, rejoice!

Zest Bakery is a gluten-free restaurant/cafe in San Carlos started by Charissa and Patrick Luke.  It was built and maintained without ever having any gluten products touch its equipment.  This is terrific for gluten-allergic and people with celiac disease as it eliminates the chance of cross-contamination.  The bakery also goes through great lengths to prevent cross-contamination of other allergens including milk and eggs.

The bakery's menu includes breads, muffins, cookies, sandwiches, and boil-at-home packs of ravioli.  In addition to its regular offerings, Zest is always creating new treats using local, seasonal fruits or holidays as inspiration.  In recent weeks orange-glazed donuts, Meyer lemon curd muffins, and chocolate amaretto cupcakes have graced their cooling racks.  Pizza and wedding cakes are on the horizon.  You can keep track of their daily specials and what they are testing out in the kitchen (chocolate-covered matzo with rosemary?) through their Facebook page.
Many of Zest's gluten-free goodies are also dairy-free and some are even vegan (dairy-free, egg-free).  The bakery is completely peanut-free and has never used nut flours.  Please note that some tree-nut products are used, including almonds milk in its muffins and most breads, so do ask questions regarding your specific allergies.  I exchanged a few emails with Patrick and he was happy to answer all of my questions. 

I recently tried some Zest muffins, cookies, bread, and ravioli.  I thought the cookies and ravioli were good.  The bread had a drier texture than normal gluten-full bread but was still tasty.  (Is the dryness typical?  As a non-gluten-allergic person, I don't have a lot of experience with gluten-free bread.)  I also tried three of their muffins: the dairy-free strawberry lemonade, triple berry, and apple spice muffins.  At $3 a muffin, I thought they were a good size and a very reasonable price considering this was a bakery-crafted specialty treat.  And the taste?  WOW.  They were terrific muffins -- super moist and rich with flavor.  It's always a great sign when you can't tell what you're missing!

Zest also sells products by the Anticupcake Company, a fledgling company that bakes their gluten-free cheesecakes on Zest's premises using their gluten-free graham cracker crumbs.  Probably super-obvious, but these cakes are *not* dairy-free.

If you are in the peninsula and gluten-free or even dairy-free, I encourage you to check out Zest.  If you are on Yelp and have a smartphone, "check in" at Zest and you'll receive a free cookie with your order!

Zest Bakery is located at 1224 Arroyo Avenue in San Carlos.  Their phone number is (650) 241-9378.