Most of us don't think twice about trying a new restaurant, taking a night off from cooking with takeout or browsing the aisles of a grocery store. But for a small percentage of Americans, these simple and daily rituals can be excruciating. Celiac disease is a digestive disorder that affects, by some estimates, 1 in 133 children and adults by compromising the ability to process certain proteins found in gluten. An oasis for sufferers has emerged in Fairfield County in the form Cafe Cogolulu, a reopened and 100% gluten free cafe in Wilton offering families suffering from this inherited autoimmune disease some much-needed respite.
Regina Shula is owner and chef of the Cafe which reopened in May as completely free of grains such as wheat, rye an barley. Celiac sufferers should also take comfort in the collaborators Ms. Shula has brought on board. Dawn Gullusci is a nutrition counselor specializing in gluten free cooking and Mary Herrington is a gluten-free baker who has her hand in many of the baked confections at the cafe.
Cogolulu is open for breakfast with a selection of pastries, muffins and Norwalk's Oasis coffee and a considerably larger menu for lunch. Grilled paninis, salads and a stocked deli case of sweets will beckon during the afternoon hours, and an evening meal is available to-go with murmers of possible BYOB Sunday brunch and/or weekend dinner. Catering and custom orders are a large part of the business as I spied a few cakes being stored in a refrigerator in the back. And yes, they are all 100% gluten free.
I stopped by late one afternoon and picked up Il Lido, one of their most popular paninis, and watched as another, Il Cowboy, were being made. The Il Lido is a grilled rosemary chicken sandwich with spinach, sun dried tomato and Fontina cheese, grilled between two pieces of gluten free bread. I chatted with Regina as she carefully constructed the sandwich eyeing portions and proportions. "Your first bite should be as good as your last bite," she proclaimed.
For me, it was. It's no wonder the paninis are the most popular item. I don't think I wouldn't have noticed the bread and entire meal (served with tortilla chips) was gluten free had I not just walked across a threshold with the words writ large. The ingredients may be gluten free but the care that goes into the paninis and the rest of the kitchen at Cogolulu belies a chef who knows her way around a kitchen as Ms. Shula does.
The inspiration for this new direction came from several devoted clients who suffer from Celiac disease and what she saw as an increasing trend. Everything at the store is made from scratch to ensure this gluten-free menu, from the paninis to the baked goods, truly affording those who suffer what can be a frustrating and debilitating disease, a great deal of comfort in the form of what we all seek. That would be good food, perhaps a night off from cooking and comfort in the fact that what we are about to eat, will nourish and not harm us.
Cafe Cogulu is open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 5 pm and is located at 991 Danbury Road in Wilton, CT.