Healthy and still delicious: the goodies of Gluuteny

by Audra Joseph

If asked to describe the best cookie you’ve ever eaten, could you? Before answering yes, chew on it for a bit. For the majority of the U.S. population, it’s not as silly of a question, nor is it as easy to answer, as you may think.

Perhaps at first you considered the double chocolate chunk brownie from the coffee shop down the street. Then, out of nowhere, the dreamed-up taste of cinnamon upon your tongue called to mind Mom’s crunchy oatmeal raisin bars, fresh out of the oven. This thought was only to be followed by the image of sweet vanilla crème between two decadent chocolate wafers. I mean, who doesn’t love America’s favorite cookie?

America's favorite cookie? Photo by Audra Joseph

America’s favorite cookie?
Photo by Audra Joseph

Now imagine yourself among a minority who struggle to identify the best cookie they’ve ever eaten, because many have never eaten any cookie to begin with. Let alone a slice of pizza, or even a warm cinnamon roll.

Here to address that minority, Gluuteny serves as Pittsburgh’s first and only gluten-free, casein-free bakery, offering an abundance of products suitable for customers of every dietary background. Gluuteny has been ahead of the game since 2007, when it opened with the goal to serve individuals with gluten allergies and dairy sensitivities.

News of Celiac Disease, an autoimmune digestive disorder that impairs the body’s ability to absorb gluten, has emerged in the media over the past couple of years. For those clinically diagnosed, ingesting foods that contain gluten – the dominant protein found in wheat, barley, and rye – can result in intestinal and digestive failure. Needless to say, this makes trips to any bakery far and few between.

Gluuteny, however, does not pose that problem. Aaron Gilmore, an employee of the bakery for a year, is proud to have landed a job that doesn’t always feel like work. Between whipping up soy-free raspberry glazed donuts and sandwiching soft-baked gobs with vegan cream cheese filling, Gilmore will sneak out from the petite kitchen in the back to catch a newcomer as they bite into a donut for the very first time.

Sharing his enjoyment in having the opportunity to make both kids and their parents happy, Gilmore says, “You see a 6- or 7-year old kid come in and they’ve never had a birthday cake before because of their allergies. That’s probably the most exciting thing – seeing the kids that are excited about it.”

He estimates that roughly 75% of Gluuteny customers follow a gluten-free, dairy-free, and/or vegan diet.

Back in the kitchen, bakers pick up on “Oohs” and “Aahs” of amazed customers. Behind a crystal display case concealing mounds of mouthwatering goodies, Gilmore follows huge eyes as they dart back and forth between a fresh pumpkin tart and the toasted almond cupcake to its right.

Photo by Audra Joseph

Photo by Audra Joseph

Gluuteny credits taste and quality as their keys to success. Store Manager Emily Robinson has been a devotee of the gluten-free lifestyle for quite awhile. She confidently asserts that Gluuteny products are superior to all others she’s tried in the past.

“Our sweets don’t taste ricey or gritty like a lot of gluten-free stuff does. It’s all got really good texture and holds together well,” she says. The flavor and texture of Gluuteny goods, she and Gilmore say, come from the flour and bread mixes used in all their recipes, and in 2013, Gluuteny made it to the final round of WPXI’s “Best Chocolate Chip Cookie in Pittsburgh Contest.” Neither gluten-free, nor dairy-free, were parts of the criteria.

With a Sharpie, Gilmore and his apprentice label swollen paper bags, which will soon line the store’s lemondrop walls, with the names of high-volume retailers and specialty shops like Whole Foods, Giant Eagle Market District, and Simply Yogurt. A peek inside reveals a dozen warm cherry tarts, a bundle of individually wrapped snickerdoodles, a box of decorated sugar and cranberry walnut cookies, and every Gluuteny enthusiast’s favorite item: a loaf of home-style cinnamon swirl coffee cake with sweet icing drizzle.

Then again, there’s no replacement for an actual trip to the quaint little shop to hand-pick your desert of choice.

“If you come in today and buy a cupcake it was baked that morning. We do everything by hand and in relatively small qualities, we really have a good reign on the quality and the freshness,” Gilmore says.

Residents and partnering businesses agree that Gluuteny is a fitting addition to the patchwork of diverse and welcoming stores lining Squirrel Hill’s most recognizable avenue. Regulars and walk-ins are encouraged to take their time as they contemplate the extensive array of options, all of which are scribbled on two narrow chalkboards in the rear.

Along with quality and freshness, variety is also a top priority. With aspirations to please every palate, Gluuteny plans to revamp current items as well as expand their existing options.

Robinson takes pride in managing such a unique, yet necessary accessory, to Pittsburgh. “[We] have a product that tastes great and is safe for people who need to pay extra attention,” she says.