Jewel's Bakery & Café Delights the Gluten-Free and Friends

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I'm so excited that I'm doing the gluten-free happy dance.

Jewel's Bakery & Café, where everything is gluten-free -- and I mean everything -- has opened at 4041 East Thomas Road, so very, very close to my house.

I've been waiting, and not very patiently. A couple of times, I actually stopped and pressed my nose against the window, peering in to try to assess how close it was to opening.

Well, it opened just before Christmas and it was almost as if Santa knew I needed a little something extra under the tree.

See also: New Gluten-Free Treats at Green and La Grande Orange

So, you might not be surprised when I was one of the first through the door on the morning it opened. I bought cupcakes and muffins, beautiful tasty things that I shared with my officemates, who deemed them excellent.

I went back to try something for breakfast, and owners Julie Moreno and her daughter, Justine Hankerson, brought me "The Lola," a carnival of flavors, with its pancake or waffle base drizzled with housemade salted caramel and topped with chocolate chips, peanuts, peanut butter cheesecake mousse and bacon dipped in chocolate ganache.

I also tasted two of the doughnuts, one with maple frosting and bacon bits and the other with peanut butter and jelly. Both were amazing.

Jewel's has a whole bakery case filled with beautiful and delicious pastries: doughnuts and scones, different flavors every day, cinnamon raisin sweet rolls, sticky buns, cupcakes, cupcakes, and more cupcakes.

But it also serves main courses for breakfast and lunch.

There are biscuits and gravy, with sausage or bacon, or sandwich-style with eggs, bacon and cheddar cheese. Jewel's has pancakes or waffles: apple cinnamon topped with housemade caramel and plain with blueberry compote and fresh whipped cream.

And quiche.

And appetizers like meats, cheeses, nuts and olives with toasted baguette, or hummus with olives, feta, grape tomatoes, and herb flatbread.

And salads. And sandwiches, BBQ, grilled cheese, Greek chicken salad, BLT, and roasted veggie. And flatbreads with five different amazing sets of toppings.

And you can have any of it. Any of it.

Jewel's started when Julie's daughter, Sophia, began having stomachaches, then got so sick that she was in the hospital with doctors suggesting they remove her appendix. More tests showed that the pain did not come from her appendix, but that she had swollen lymph nodes around her intestines. She also had a rash on her elbows and knees, a symptom of celiac disease. Gluten was the culprit. Sophia was allergic. And she also was having problems with milk, eggs, soy and peanuts. She eliminated all the allergens, let her gut calm down, and was able to reintroduce several of the suspected items. But not, of course, wheat. Gluten intolerance is permanent, and the only treatment is to eliminate gluten entirely from the diet.

Julie had always been a baker, even making her own five-tier wedding cake for 350 guests. She tried buying gluten-free products for Sophia, but they were expensive and she'd end up throwing them out because they tasted terrible. She tried baking herself, with a gluten-free flour she purchased, but the bread turned out like a rock.

Determined to feed her daughter, she created her own flour blend. It was so good that she started making gluten-free breads, rolls, pies, pastries, and cupcakes, and selling them online and at farmers markets. It was a huge success.

For Moreno, there was no question about opening a sticks and bricks place -- Jewel's Bakery & Café.

She'd remodeled her home kitchen to include a new stovetop with lots of burners, a double oven and installed three refrigerators and two freezers, using the entire dining room for storage.

"There were four full-time bakers working out of my house," Julie said. "The house was upside down. I had to quit or go to the next level, and there was no quitting."

So Julie and Justine, self-professed foodies, put their heads together.

They scoured the Valley for a location, settling on the spot on the corner of Thomas Road and 40th Street, put together a great staff, and decorated in an eclectic urban Southwest style. Friends helped paint, and they bought vintage chairs at sales.

They came up with a well-rounded menu of sweet and savory offerings. It includes fried items, which often are a problem at restaurants where other, breaded, items are fried in the same oil.

They love to experiment.

They created a pizza out of their flatbread, with pulled pork and chipotle aioli, a "baked potato" pizza with homemade ranch dressing and bacon, and house chips with buffalo sauce and blue cheese.

"We want a place that appeals to everyone, not just those looking for gluten-free," Justine said. "We don't want it to feel weird. We want people to bring their friends and no one know that everything is made without wheat. We just want them to eat and think it's great.

"We want to change people's perceptions."

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