For several years I had heard or read in the Express News about a place in Schertz that offered gluten-free dining, specializing in fried chicken and soul food. Since none of our Alamo Celiac members had mentioned this as a wonderful place to go, I assumed that it couldn't be as gluten-free as I was reading. Besides, from my house it is a long drive, so I never followed up. It didn't help that the person who wrote the article about the GF cooking at Loretta's Finest was not gluten-free himself.
Alamo Celiac member Tish Rodriguez told me about going to Loretta's Finest and asking lots of questions before ordering the fried chicken for herself and her daughter Clara. They loved it and had only good things to say. Still, my doubts lingered because no one could tell me why Loretta's Finest was serving gluten-free food. Since my daughter and her GF kids were in town, they were willing and motivated to make the drive to Schertz if it meant fried chicken. I will admit that having lived in San Antonio for 30 years I had never been to Schertz except to drive through on my way up I-35 to Austin.
We piled into my daughter's mini-van and hauled the whole crew to Loretta's Finest, and I can assure you, we were all very pleased with our meal.
Questions were asked and answered, and we ended up ordering fried chicken, with a salad plus two sides for about $9.00 each. Other items ordered that memorable evening were GF Mac and Cheese, fried okra, and fried catfish. The big surprise is that they also have wonderfully moist GF cakes. We all had sweet potato cake, but you might find zucchini, chocolate, banana, or carrot cake. Seasonally, you might see pumpkin or fig cake.
The baker also makes regular cakes, but that is done at a different time, using different utensils and pans. After investigating the possibilities of cross contact in the kitchen, I am confident that they are doing a good job of keeping the gluten cake preparation separate from the GF cake preparation.
Before I tell you more about what is available, I want to let you know up front about which items have gluten in them so you can avoid them. Presently the southern style corn bread has gluten, but they are developing a GF recipe. It won't be long before cornbread will join the GF side of the kitchen. Be sure to ask about the cornbread because you can't tell by looking. There is one topping in the shrimp section that has ale in the sauce, but the shrimp can be ordered without the sauce. They bring in regular bread and buns for the sandwiches and burgers. Sandwich prep is done away from the cooking area. The regular cakes have gluten. These are the only items with gluten that are served at Loretta's Finest.
Everything else on the menu is made without gluten. I found that hard to believe after looking over the menu, so I made an appointment to meet with chef/owner Gus Bard. I wanted to know why he was cooking gluten-free, and did he eat gluten-free himself.
Here is what I found out. Gus was in the restaurant business in Venice, California, and had a roommate who ate GF. Gus wanted to cook for the two of them, but his roommate would not eat many of the things Gus prepared. It turns out that the roommate was from a big family in Minnesota who all ate GF. This fellow was never tested for celiac disease, but he would only eat GF, and even after moving to LA he continued to do so. So Gus started watching what he would prepare for himself and considered it a challenge to provide foods that he would like. That was when Gus figured out how to fry chicken using brown rice flour, and he moved along from there.
At the same time, he started eating GF too, and he found that he felt a lot better and lost some weight. Gus had had a back injury, and eating gluten-free, he said he felt like he was healing himself. Gus was hooked. The more research he did, the more he decided to dedicate his cooking to being gluten free, along with being as organic and natural as possible.
Gus had intended to open his own place in the Los Angeles area, but about five years ago his uncle lured him to Texas, telling him how he could buy a building with three acres in Schertz. He came, he saw it, and he fell in love with the place. He bought the building and proceeded to renovate it, making it into a place where he could cook and serve just the kind of food he wanted to.
Now let me tell you more about what you will find on the dinner menu that is safe for us. After the delicious fried chicken, I was determined to find out about his gluten-free Ark-La-Tx Gumbo Feast which can be ordered by the cup, bowl, or Extreme Large Bowl. It really tastes like gumbo!
Having grown up east of the Houston area, I know what gumbo is supposed to taste like. I have tried to make a roux using brown rice flour but only made a gooey, grey, mushy mess. Gus explained to me how he simply puts the brown rice flour in a stainless steel pan and pushes it around until it is the right color. Sounds easy, but I have never been able to do this with any GF flour. I am extremely grateful that Gus can do it. Then he adds shrimp, chicken, spicy turkey sausage, and veggies to make a gumbo that is the real deal.
Besides gumbo and fried chicken, shrimp, catfish, okra, and soul fries, you can order many items that are sautéed or prepared other ways. The choices range from tilapia, angus beef, and ground turkey, to salmon and tofu. They are served with green salad and two sides, and you can have various toppings and sauces. You pick and choose from three sections of the menu to combine the items you want.
There is also a selection of salads, appetizers, and vegan options. They serve shrimp so many different ways that shrimp has its own section on the menu.
The lunch menu offers "As easy as 1-2-3…" with ice tea for $8.00 1. You select your protein, 2. You select your topping, and 3, You select your bed or sides. This could be chicken, sirloin tips, tilapia or catfish, etc. Add your topping which could be any number of sauces or onions, mushrooms, etc., and then move on to a bed of rice or pasta with one side OR two sides. And it is all GF!
Gus plans to add a catering business to his busy schedule. The name is Sweet Yams, and it will be up and running in time for Thanksgiving. Most everything will be gluten-free.
Loretta's Finest no longer serves alcohol, so you are invited to bring your own beer or wine. They serve tea, fresh lemonade, coffee, and sodas. Every other Friday there is live jazz on the patio.
Loretta was Gus's mom. She and his grandmother taught him a lot about cooking. Loretta passed away in 1999 at the age of 54. His sister died of Hodgkin's lymphoma at age 34. He dedicates Loretta's Finest cooking to his family.
Now that our car knows how to get to Schertz, you will find us there more often. Hope to see you there soon.
Loretta’s Finest - Simply Organic Southern Kitchen
Executive Chef/Owner – Gus Bard
General Manager – Shannon Kossaeth
858 FM 78, Schertz, Texas
Phone: (210) 945-8700
No website yet, but they can be found on Facebook at Lorett'a Finest.
Closed Sunday and Monday
Lunch Tues-Fri 11am to 2pm
Dinner Tues-Thurs 4pm to 8pm; Fri-Sat 4pm to 9pm
Fri nights with live music they are open until 10pm
This review was written by Anne Barfield in September, 2010.