Some time ago, my wife and I stayed a great little B & B that boasted a gourmet vegetarian menu. I don’t honestly know if, at that time, I had ever eaten a completely vegetarian meal – at least not on purpose. We really liked the ambiance and location of the inn we were staying at, but as for the vegetarian food, I figured we would give one of the breakfasts a courtesy try and then duck into town and get some real food.
Short story shorter — we ended up eating every breakfast at the inn. The food was some of the best I’ve ever eaten, meat or not – I still think about some of it and can’t wait for a return trip to get some more.
I had heard some good things about 2GOOD2B Bakery & CafÃ© in Encinitas, owned by partners Rodney LoveJones and Diana Benedek, but had been a little hesitant about trying it out because of its reputation for producing gluten free food. After my little vegetarian experience, which, frankly, changed my outlook on food forever, it wasn’t the gluten free thing that put me off.
As with any “thing” that has a bit of a concentrated following from food & drink to surfing & skateboarding, it can be a little intimidating walking into a place of business where everyone but you seemingly speaks the same language and has the “inside” knowledge about the subject matter at hand. Since, to this point, my knowledge of all that is gluten free would have filled about a 10 second conversation, 6 seconds of which would have been speculation, walking into 2GOOD2B and ordering from a “GLUTEN FREE” menu seemed, in my mind, about the equivalent of being dropped on the riverbank of the Amazon, making friends with the local natives using hand signals and roasting worms over a fire for dinner.
What do J-Lo, Puffy and I have in common? Well, for starters, we all know ^this guy^, Chef Rodney LoveJones, New York urban socialite turned Fashion industry advertising/publishing exec turned celebrity chef and caterer to the stars turned cupcake baker turned cutting edge, gluten free culinary trailblazer. Come to think of it, that might be the only thing we have in common, unless being over 5’ tall counts…
Chef Rodney is the executive chef of 2GOOD2B Bakery and cafe in Encinitas and the deft hand and mind behind the food of 2GOOD2B. Throughout his life’s journeys, which have been chronicled in detail in many other publications, the one constant that seemed always to guide Chef, similar to the slight, persistent, magnetic pull on a compass needle, was the rich cooking heritage he inherited from his Grandparents. He recalls growing up in the kitchen and playing around with food his entire childhood. When the stress of his Big Apple high profile careers started to weigh on him, he would often turn to food for comfort and ended up taking cooking classes and eventually graduating from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
And, then… If a person is looking to make a major change in his life, moving from the bustling center of world commerce on the east coast to the laid back vibe of a surfing village on the west coast would pretty much be it. Chef Rodney took that plunge in 2012 and ended up using his considerable talents cooking cupcakes for $8 an hour. But, you know that old saying, “The Cream always rises to the Top”? It was only a short period before it became apparent that Chef Rodney was no ordinary cupcake baker. After an interview with Diana ended up with the revelation of his fairly substantial culinary background in New York, he took over the kitchen and began to revamp the menu at 2GOOD2B, which is now pretty much “The” choice when it comes to gluten, corn and soy free offerings in San Diego County.
2GOOD2B is set up for the busy, active consumer who enjoys great food in a fast, casual atmosphere. The pleasantly decorated location is whirring 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner and busy preparing the next day’s offerings around the clock. Food options are served deli style and are always freshly prepared and cooked. From making their own flour (from a rice flour melange) to concocting their own spices and baking powders (commercial versions use corn products to prevent clumping), the entire facility is dedicated to the production of gluten, corn and soy free food. The significance of this was initially lost on me until Chef Rodney clarified the possibility of cross contamination. In other words, many places that claim to produce gluten free food, while trying to get it right, are hampered by the fact that the prep stations, utensils and facilities are all contaminated by the non-gluten free food that they also prepare. Duh.
In any case, when I walked into the place, I thought I was going to eat some gluten free food, take some pictures, get a little background on Chef Rodney and write a pretty straightforward article. Check to all of the above, but I also got an education, which, and this seems to happening a lot lately, once again will alter my perception of food for a long time to come.
We all have our pre-conceptions and mis-conceptions about a lot of things in life. I certainly had mine regarding gluten free diets and those who subscribe to them. Gluten free cuisine and the considerable conversation surrounding it has been pretty much the biggest news and controversy in the food world the last couple of years. The seeming antipathy of some of the general public for those who seem to be jumping on this latest “fad” wagon has also grown exponentially in conjunction with the fad for what, on the surface, seems to be good reason. The medical facts of the gluten free diet are pretty simple — it is the only accepted treatment recommended for those who have Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease which attacks the small intestine. The amount of the population believed to have this disease (unconfirmed, since it is often not diagnosed) is about 1%. One out of a hundred. Why then, does it seem that so many people are going gluten free when they don’t have the specific health problem that needs to be addressed?
But, such is the level of skill and understanding of Chef Rodney that he was able to simply explain the movement and its rapidly growing popularity in terms that I could understand and which also placed my psyche on the path to acceptance if not membership. In his words, the choice of eating gluten free for many of their customers is exactly that — a choice. People choose the cuisine at 2GOOD2B for many reasons — among them weight loss, a desire to avoid chemicals and additives that are commonly found in wheat, the indigestible properties of corn and even just because it seems like a good idea. Simply, if you can find a way to consider the majority of those taking up the gluten free lifestyle food the same way as those who choose vegetarian, vegan, dairy free (or in my case, meat plus) for any variety of reasons from moral and environmental to health related, the choice is a bit easier to understand.
And now…on to the food – one of the very cool things that I learned about gluten free food on this visit is that, under the hands of a skilled chef, it is, from a menu standpoint, regular food. The burden is squarely on the chef to ensure that the wheat products containing gluten are not in the food that is served, far from an impossible task, yet requiring creativity, knowledge and skill to achieve without sacrificing flavor and texture.
About a month ago at a pretty big event I was covering, one of the front of the house staff was reading off a list of a particular diner’s dietary restrictions while the executive chef was busy expediting about 80-something plates that needed to be served at the same time. When the term “gluten free” was mentioned, the chef, with nary a pause in cadence or inflection shot back, “Since this is a meat dish, you don’t need to tell me that.” That point is one that Chef Rodney made as well. A big part of his job (and the staff at 2GOOD2B) is to educate their customers. Often, the concept and the entire point of this mode of eating is misunderstood by even its proponents and subscribers.
This dish, for instance, with Tri-tip and quiche is pretty much a complete meal. The tri-tip was perfectly cooked and had a light seasoning on the crust. What I really appreciated is that, knowing that his food is catering to a particular demographic with particular tastes, as Chef Rodney sat down with us he brought salt and pepper shakers. This is not to say that his food lacks flavor or seasoning in any sense – other than the tri-tip, I felt no need to use the additional seasoning. In fact, the tri-tip had plenty of flavor as well, but I always like a bit more seasoning love than average on my red meat. However, it was refreshing to find that Chef had such a complete understanding of the diverse tastes of his customers to understand that his food is not “one size fits all”, but rather a well-rounded, thoughtfully prepared menu that meets the needs, requirements and flavor profiles loved by his patrons, but which might need to be slightly altered to fit their rendition of perfection. And the quiche — wait…
Let me start a new paragraph for this…the Quiche. It was a protein quiche containing pork, beef and roasted turkey. It also contained Mascarpone cheese. The entire experience was a silky, smooth, savory, herbaceous, filling and light at the same time, smorgasbord of all that is right with the world. This thing — through the dinner I kept going back to it. It was as though, in the place of gluten, I needed this to make me whole. Real men do eat quiche…and then they go back for seconds, thirds and poke their wives with their forks so that they can duck under the forearm for fourths…
For those who think going gluten free is good for weight loss…good luck with that. It can be, but it is not necessarily the base nature of the diet. This duo of potatoes, Sweet Potato with coconut meat and coconut milk and Kale and Potato Gratin with sharp cheddar and Asiago cheeses is not going to do your waistline any favors. It will, however warm your soul, your heart and maybe even your cockles. This is comfort food, down home southern style, at its best.
On the healthier end of the spectrum was this Chef’s Choice wild rice dish with root vegetables and Brussel sprouts. This dish was packed with flavor, savory and fresh with a light hint of non-sugary sweetness normally associated with the freshest of vegetables. It had the body to stand alone while pushing the boundaries of neutrality, allowing it to also accompany the heartier dishes of the evening.
Dat Pot Pie, Doe… when I posted a quick pic of this on a food group site the night we ate, one of the members of the group who had eaten it before commented, “That damn chicken pot pie. Dreams and kittens and pillows and stuff.” Yeah. Nailed it.
The crust on this is a Pate Sucree (pronounced Pot Sucray), or a French, sweet, short crust pastry. It is flaky — a wonder since traditional flour is left out in favor of the house rice flour. It is also mildly sweet, light, crispy in all the right places and melt in your mouth tender in all the others. By Chef Rodney’s account, this crust spent many months in his experimental kitchen, being subjected to exploratory techniques of kneading and different methods of adding the acids and beating the butter into the dough to achieve not ordinary parity with normal crusts, but Supremacy. My pet name for it is FrankenCrust.
Once you delve inside this wonder, and I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t eat anything but the crust, the filling is rich with flavor from the vegetables and chicken with a surprisingly thick consistency which is perfect, neither glommy or pasty, especially when considering the lack of any traditional binding agents.
I’m not sure if I mentioned it, but Chef is renowned internationally for his baking prowess. This dessert dish was pretty much him showing off. With a decadent slap of rich chocolate Ganache on the plate to accompany the fresh strawberries, Triple Espresso brownie, Lemon bar and Basil Chocolate brownie, I seriously started wondering about the whole gluten free thing. Simply put, this was beautifully executed food, ingredients completely aside. Flavor, texture, appearance — all were above par for the fast, casual setting they were served in and, for the regulars here, a great way to experience gourmet level preparations while staying true to their culinary decisions.
How did Chef Rodney know to go here? Did he research me the way I researched him before we met? Did he know my Island Girl was going to freak out, break down in tears and sob on his shoulder when he brought out this Coconut and Passion Fruit cupcake? That’s playing dirty, Chef…
Oh, I thought we were done. I don’t even know what this was other than some magical cross between a chocolate unicorn and a walnut cake fairy. By this time, I had turned off the recorder and quit taking notes. I was elbow deep in everything that had come straight off the line and onto our table and enjoying every speck of it. The only reason every plate wasn’t completely wiped clean of every last crumb was the sheer volume of food we had.
And as for the gluten free thing — what gluten free thing? This was great food in a cool setting with people and families sitting all around us. No one was wearing hazmat suits or gas masks – they were simply holding normal conversations and oohing and aahing about the food just like a “normal” restaurant. Wait, is there a chance I had played up the whole dietary restriction thing in my head into some non-existent monster of imaginary proportions…?
Nah…But it might be a good idea if you head down there and see for yourself. Cheers, my friends!
204 N. El Camino Real, Ste. H
Encinitas, CA 92024