Every summer growing up my family would travel to Chicago to visit my grandparents and a lot of my mom’s family. Chicago always felt like a second home. More recently as an adult I’ve made similar trips back in the summer to see family and friends (summer because it’s too cold for me to visit from September-May now that I’m a Floridian). Miami and Portland are now my homes, but Chicago’s displacement to third hasn’t diminished my love for the city at all.
I had a lot on my hopeful agenda during my recent trip in July, including family and friends time. One thing at the top of my list was a visit to Da Luciano restaurant in River Grove (a western suburb of Chicago). My family had done a big family dinner there many years ago during the holidays, because it has tons of gluten-free options! Four of the seven children of the owner have celiac and so the family went about finding gluten-free alternatives to their favorite family foods. I remember the last visit I was in awe of being able to choose from things like gluten-free lasagna, ravioli, mannicoti, canneloni… At the time even gluten-free regular pasta wasn’t that common at Italian restaurants, but what you did find were more basic dishes like pasta Bolognese or fettuccine Alfredo with the gluten-free pasta substituted in. That first visit to Da Luciano was truly a memorable experience, not to mention a life-long dream, to have gluten-free lasagna at a restaurant (my mom makes a mean gluten-free lasagna).
On more recent visits to Chicago, Da Luciano had certainly been on my mind, but unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to get out to the suburbs. This trip I made plans ahead of time to get picked up by my aunt at the airport and head there for dinner with my other aunt, uncle, and cousins who lived nearby.
Usually I am pretty good at picking what I want quickly (even when my options are not limited by celiac), but trying to decide what to get at Da Luciano’s was very very hard given all the gluten-free options. Similarly to visits to gluten-free bakeries, I just wanted to get it all and save the leftovers… What stuck out to me for the appetizers was pizza bread, garlic bread, and fried mozzarella wedges. Other gluten-frees will probably love the gluten-free calamari, but that’s not my thing. I practiced some restraint and went for an order of garlic bread and also the fried mozzarella wedges after determining my family would eat some.
On the pasta end it helped that I kind of ignored anything that was just pasta with sauce on it, since I can get that at a lot of gluten-free restaurants now. I focused on the ravioli or the cannelloni. I also looked at the lasagna and the manicotti initially. I was pretty sure I had gotten the lasagna many years ago and while it was delicious, I wanted to try something new. The manicotti is also very similar to the cannelloni, but I wanted to try the canneloni’s white sauce. Originally checking out the menu before my visit I thought about eating the ravioli for dinner and then getting a to-go order of the canneloni for breakfast the next day. With a long list of gluten-free restaurants to check out on this trip, I decided to tone it down and just get the meat ravioli.
The appetizers came out first. My aunt, uncle, and cousins enjoyed some steamed calamari and some fried ravioli (yes you read that right. See pic below). On the gluten-free end- the garlic bread was awesome! So crispy and a really rich garlic and butter taste. I’m sure the garlic and butter flavor helped, but the bread itself was excellent. One thing I craved and wished for as a kid was even just a piece of the garlic bread loaves that came in the foil from the grocery store that you baked yourself at home. This appeared at a lot of family gatherings growing up, but of course I couldn’t have any… This garlic bread seemed to meet that long-time craving.
The fried mozzarella wedges were obviously special and a nice crispy and crunchy treat (that sort of gluten-y texture that makes you feel like you’re eating something you shouldn’t). Only slight downside was it felt a little undercooked. The cheese was somewhat melted inside, but wasn’t really sticking to the crisp outside shell at all. Still a great gluten-free treat that you really can’t find many other places (even around the country).
The ravioli came out next and I dug in. I’ve always craved ravioli for the really satisfying substance of pasta with meat stuffed inside (instead of just on top). The ravioli was very good and provided that kind of substance. The shell was maybe a little bit too al dente/dry for my taste, but covered in pasta sauce and with the meat inside, I really enjoyed it. I usually would always pick meat dishes over cheese, but I’d be curious to try the cheese ravioli next time and see if the moisture of the cheese helps a little bit with the pasta shell. The ravioli at Da Luciano’s is still very good and worth a gluten-free’s time to try, especially since it’s so hard to find it in restaurants!
For dessert I similarly had a dilemma of choosing what to get. My default was to get everything (cannoli, tiramisu, cream puffs, and a cupcake), but I again reminded myself about all the gluten-free food I’d be eating later that weekend. I went for an order of the cannoli and cream puff to go (and quickly ate them as soon as we got to my aunt’s). I don’t have experience with regular cannolis and cream puffs to compare, but these ones were rich and delicious desserts. Both had a mix of flaky pastry with rich cream filling. Hard to really pick a favorite, but I think I’d lean towards the cream puff just because it had a few more “doughy” parts with the flaky, while the cannoli was very crispy and flaky throughout.
Luckily my experience wasn’t over yet with Da Luciano’s. My aunt is trying to eat gluten-free these days and had gotten an order of their special of the night with gluten-free pasta. I can’t remember for sure if it was the special since it had mushrooms in it. This meant that I ignored the details of it as soon as my aunt ordered it (and if it was the special I blocked out what the waiter was saying as soon as the mushrooms were mentioned). That is I ignored it until my aunt told me I could have the leftovers the next day. The basic make up of the pasta was mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in a butter sauce of sorts. I was a bit hesitant with the mushrooms, but wanted to try their regular pasta. I heated it up and sort of dug around the mushrooms. Even leftover and even with a slight mushroom-y taste, it was delicious! I particularly liked the butter sauce and sun-dried tomatoes, but also the pasta itself was excellent. Soft and tender and holding up well. I stand by my view that in general you should go for things like gluten-free ravioli and lasagna when they are available over regular gluten-free pasta that you can get a lot of places. However the quality of the regular gluten-free pasta at Da Luciano’s has me re-thinking that for my next visit. Very delicious!
My entire family (both this trip and the previous trip) enjoy Da Luciano’s, so I would recommend it for anyone (plus the place was packed on a Thursday night). I do think that if you’re gluten-free it’s worth a special trip when you’re in Chicago-land. You might be a bit overwhelmed by all the choices, but the time making a decision is well worth the payoff of some excellent gluten-free Italian pasta. I was lucky to be able to work it out to go there with my family, but you better believe I’ve done the research to know how to get their on my own without a car. Da Luciano is about four blocks from the River Grove Station, which is serviced by both the North Central Service and Milwaukee District-West Line Metra lines from Union Station. Gluten-frees look at the pics below and prepare to drool (hold your computer back if you’re using a laptop)!
Da Luciano’s- 8343 W. Grand Ave., River Grove, Illinois 60171