People who eat gluten-free are accustomed to finding just a handful of options (if anything) on any given menu, so finding a restaurant completely devoid of gluten can be akin to discovering a culinary wonderland.
That’s exactly why Warrensville Heights-based Café Avalaun has taken off since it first opened in 2015—and why it continues to grow at a rapid pace as Cleveland’s only completely gluten-free restaurant. In November, chef-owner Brian Doyle announced that the restaurant would expand into dinner service on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays on the heels of a successful pop-up dinner series.
Chef Brian Doyle, owner of Café Avalaun“We used to do theme-based dinners every other Friday, such as Italian night, German night, or Southern night, and they ended up being proof of concept,” explains Doyle. “Our new dinner menu is basically a ‘greatest hits’ of popular dishes from those events.”
Enter crave-worthy offerings like gnocchi, Southern fried chicken, Neopolitan-style pizzas, and naturally, the signature “Avalaun Burger” (served atop a housemade gluten-free bun with caramelized onions, mustard aioli, and a gruyere-brie hybrid sauce). It’s an extension of the approach that Doyle first honed as the owner of Sowfood Catering and chef at the Beachland Ballroom, where he first started offering gluten-free cuisine to the public.
“When I was at the Beachland, I was really pushing and driving for gluten-free dishes, and I used that as a platform to experiment,” says Doyle. “That experimentation was what led to me listening to what people were looking for, as opposed to me coming up with something and driving it that way—things like waffles, breaded chicken, things that gluten-free folks just couldn’t get [elsewhere].”
Doyle’s own personal journey with gluten-free cooking first started when his oldest son, Logan, now 22, was diagnosed with autism at 3 years old. “My wife and I started him on a gluten- and dairy-free diet, as we had done some research that suggested it could help with his cognitive abilities and some anxiety he was dealing with,” Doyle says. “At the time, there wasn’t a lot of science to back it up, but we thought, ‘Let’s try it.’”
Italian braised beef with sweet potato gnocchi and kaleTwo decades later, Doyle is at the helm of Café Avalaun—named for his late mother—and a chef known for catering to the various special dietary needs of Cleveland diners. (Along with being gluten-free, the restaurant is also soy and peanut free.)
In light of the restaurant’s popularity, Doyle is planning to expand with more locations and concepts, starting on the West Side, as well as a facility that would serve not only his restaurants, but local health food stores and other restaurants as well.
“I’d like to start a very scratch-oriented bakery, almost like a commissary that would supply my locations and have the ability to take on wholesale clients,” says Doyle. “The idea would be to provide much higher-quality gluten-free alternatives for other businesses in the area.”
It's all part of Doyle's mission to create delicious cuisine that even the digestively challenged can enjoy. "There's a certain camaraderie around the gluten-free aspect," says Doyle. "It's fun to watch people experience it—they're amazed that they can eat whatever they want. It's very special."