No Gluten, No Problem

Nightingale and Sociable Cider Werks team up for a gluten-free spring dinner

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Nightingale Restaurant and Sociable Cider Werks teamed up to host a gluten-free spring dinner on April 27

Photos by Ellen Burkhardt

Gluten has surfaced as Public Enemy No. One in the nutrition world in recent years. From added allergy labels to full-out gluten-free restaurants, awareness of the pesky protein has grown immensely. That’s meant more (and better) dining options for celiac-disease sufferers as well as the gluten-free diet becoming rather trendy (looking at you, Paleo peeps).

While the beginnings of the gluten-free craze yielded lackluster, crumbly breads and a lot of meager attempts to throw together “replacement meals” on menus, today’s gluten-free options so closely resemble their gluten-laced predecessors it’s hard to tell the difference between the two. This heightened level of gluten-free mastery was at its best at the Nightingale and Sociable Cider Werks gluten-free spring dinner on Monday, April 27.

Nightingale, a small-plate cocktail lounge in Minneapolis’ Whittier neighborhood, is known for its locally sourced, high-quality ingredients and creativity. The kitchen’s vast skills were in full force for the dinner, which featured the following menu:

  • Spring vegetable mélange (various preparations), paired with habanero-and-cucumber-infused Freewheeler Apple Cider
  • Smoked chicken liver with strawberries, pistachios, endive, and aged balsamic paired with Hop-a-Wheelie Hopped Apple Cider
  • Morel ravioli en brood, with green garlic and smoke broth paired with Burnout Smoked Apple Cider
  • Pan-roasted halibut with marcona-almond puree, fava beans, asparagus, English peas, and mint paired with Freewheeler Dry Apple Cider
  • Goat-milk ricotta with rhubarb and local maple syrup paired with Spoke Wrench Stout Apple Cider
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Among the pairings offered by Sociable Cider Werks was this habanero-and-cucumber-infused Freewheeler Apple Cider

The kitchen’s preparation heightened the texture and combination of ingredients, but it was the cider pairings that complemented each small plate in such a way that made the flavors pop. Had the dinner not been advertised as gluten free, it would have been impossible to tell that that particular ingredient was absent. And that surprise is nothing new to the team at Sociable.

Sociable Cider Werks is the first cider taproom in Minnesota. Located in Northeast Minneapolis, Sociable has a loyal fan base due to its unique hard ciders and beautiful taproom. More than that, though, when it first opened on Black Friday of 2013, Sociable attracted the many drinkers who had been overlooked in the craft-beer boom: the gluten-free crowd.

Sociable’s taproom manager, Alex Sacco, says they still have a loyal gluten-free following, but the fan base for hard cider has grown far beyond drinkers choosing cider out of necessity.

“At first, it was one of the biggest draws for a lot of people,” Sacco says. “We still hear customers mention it once or twice a day, and we have gluten-free families who come in and thank us for giving them more options, but really, people just come now because they love the cider.”

Beer dinners have become increasingly popular as the craft-beer scene grows, and wine dinners have been a thing for a long time now, but cider dinners have yet to break into the mainstream of dining trends. Up the ante to a gluten-free cider dinner, and new territory is being forged. But after sipping and sampling the menu put together by Nightingale and Sociable, that new territory is delicious and fruitful.

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Jim Watkins, co-founder of Sociable Cider Werks, and Carrie McCabe-Johnston, co-owner of Nightingale, talked about each course before they were served

Before each cider and plate was presented, Jim Watkins, co-founder of Sociable, and Carrie McCabe-Johnston, co-owner of Nightingale, explained the pairings, preparation, and story behind each item. Because (good) gluten-free dining is still a relatively new option, and cider has yet to reach the popularity of craft beer in Minnesota, both Watkins and McCabe-Johnston spent quite a bit of time emphasizing the quality of their respective offerings. Watkins summed up his stance with one simple sentence: “Cider doesn’t have to be a four-letter word.”

After experiencing the nuances and scope of Sociable’s ciders, we agree.

Ellen Burkhardt About Ellen Burkhardt

Ellen Burkhardt is a freelance writer. When she's not writing, editing, or interviewing, chances are she's on the road seeking out good food, drink, and fodder for her next story.

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