Quality and attention to gluten-free detail- Maggiano’s Little Italy (Italian, Chicago/River-North)cross

Locations across the country, including in Tampa!

Saturday night of my trip in Chicago a good friend from college and I were going to meet up for dinner somewhere. She lives in Lakeview and I was in River North so we were trying to figure out the best restaurant and who would come to who (I have an odd obsessions with the “L” so I had no problem coming to her). I found a great list of gluten-free restaurants in Chicagoland from gluten free betsy and the best prospect in River North seemed to be Maggiano’s Little Italy so that was my suggestion. She recommended a great Mexican restaurant near her, but I had a late lunch of nachos so we decided on Maggiano’s.

While the name Maggiano’s sounded quite familiar I didn’t piece together it’s a national chain until after that visit. From my visit I would have taken it more as a family Italian restaurant. The location in River North (called Grand-Chicago) reminded me of an old-school steakhouse or Italian restaurant. They also are able to make most of their dishes gluten-free and they have a lot of different dishes to try. All of that made me very happy with our choice.

We started off with a bottle of Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Riesling and then spent a little time narrowing down all our options. The Taylor Street baked ziti with Italian sausage, sauce, and a lot of cheese was a likely option given my usual likes. It was also under their classic pasta group where you get one to eat tonight and one to-go for tomorrow (but let’s be honest it’d more likely be a late night snack for me). Being the glutton that I am that 2-for-1 was definitely enticing if the gluten-free pasta qualified under that.

I looked down at the specialty pastas and saw the rustic chicken and shrimp al forno.  The red pepper cream sauce sounded delicious and given my limited pasta experience as a gluten-free it was a sauce I never had before (pretty much only marina, bolognese, and alfredo before). I can be a little ambivalent on shrimp, but it’s grown on me from my no seafood days up until the age of 23ish. The waitress recommended the al forno over the baked ziti so I went for that!

The chicken and shrimp al forno was a really good sized dish and had a nice ratio of chicken and shrimp to pasta. The red pepper cream sauce didn’t have as much of a kick as I would have liked (I like things spicy and very flavorful, but this probably appeals more to the masses), but it definitely had more flavor than an alfredo sauce. The gluten-free pasta (penne) was well cooked and covered in the sauce you couldn’t tell it was gluten-free by taste and not even really by texture. I was a big fan of the dish especially and the gluten-free pasta in general. My friends also enjoyed their regular pasta and commented on the atmosphere.

Once I decided on the chicken and shrimp al forno I forgot to ask if the classic pastas would be 2-for-1 with the gluten-free pasta. A question for next time. My friend’s roommate got a regular pasta bolognese and they gave her a choice of the second pasta she wanted to bring home.

Maggiano’s was a great Italian experience for being gluten-free and I was excited to hear it was a national chain (despite at first being surprised). There’s one in Boca so I will probably have to visit when I am in Delray. Maggiano’s has a lot of different sauce and topping combinations to put on gluten-free pasta, plus it sounds like the chefs try to be really accommodating in making other entrees gluten-free. Whether in Chicago or near another location it’s worth checking out for gluten-frees (and for others it seems).

Maggiano’s Little Italy- 516 North Clark St Chicago, IL (and locations across the country)

http://www.maggianos.com/

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