When one of the young dancers from the next-door studio wandered into Café 8 in Mesa, and announced that she couldn't eat gluten, Tracey Chaker gave her one of the gluten-free cupcakes out of the display case.
"The next day, she came back, tugged on my chef's jacket, and said, 'I never thought I could have another cupcake, and that was the best cupcake I ever had,'" Chaker said. "She said, 'Can you make me something else?' So I made chocolate-chip cookies."
Café 8, a tiny, family-owned gem with a handful of tables, wasn't envisioned as a gluten-free Mecca. But it is now.
"I just kept getting a lot of people coming in, asking for gluten-free things, so we listened to our customers," Chaker said.
I stumbled into Café 8 when a friend and I were shopping in Mesa and wanted to grab lunch.
The first thing I saw was the bakery case with a big "Gluten-free" sign on it. It was filled with chocolate cupcakes decorated with candy corn and gluten-free "autumn" cheesecake, pumpkin with a cinnamon apple topping. Life's short; always order dessert first.
But I had to take my desserts home because, while I was there, I had gluten-free French toast, which I hadn't had at a restaurant since I was diagnosed with Celiac disease. I also had some bites from my friend's pork sandwich on gluten-free bread and tasted the gluten-free quiche with broccoli, red peppers, and Portobello mushrooms.
It was a gluten-free smorgasbord.
Chaker and her husband, Alex, also own Gilbert-based Grizzly Foods, offering homemade granola, flavored balsamic vinegars, and Sticky Monkey Bun pastries in farmers markets throughout the Valley.
When Tracey's aunt became severely ill from celiac disease, Tracey bought her some gluten-free cookies at one of the farmers markets.
"On the way home, I tasted one, and I couldn't roll my window down fast enough to spit it out," she said. "It tasted like cardboard."
She vowed to become an expert gluten-free baker.
Which is why the crust of Cafe 8's quiche was crisp and flaky, and the cupcakes had the consistency of "real" cake, and the cheesecake was out of this world.
She makes all her own pastry crusts with butter, sour cream and her own gluten-free flour mix.
The only disappointment was that they were sold out of her gluten-free key lime pie.
Even though it's way outside of my home turf, I'll be back for that.
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