As to be expected in a city like Chicago with quite a lot of gluten-free options, I didn’t get a chance to visit every restaurant on my list. Torrential rain threw a bit of a wrench in my morning plans, so I wasn’t able to visit Tweet in Uptown for a gluten-free breakfast (definitely want to do that next time). Luckily the weather cleared up and I got a chance to do my ritual Chicago wandering.
As lunch approached I debated whether to stay more downtown to have time to sight see and maybe visit an old favorite for lunch (like Jason’s Deli) or venture north to try a new restaurant. I ended up deciding to visit a restaurant on my list, Cassava. It was in Lake View, but it seemed like a nice last meal in Chicago and a good one for lunch. Cassava is a root, maybe more commonly know as yuca (the Spanish word for it). Others might know it as the source of tapioca, which is just the starch extracted from the cassava plant.
I’m a big fan of baked and fried yuca, plus have experienced delicious pao de queijo and pan de bono, which are Brazilian and Colombian cheese breads respectively. They are are made out of yuca/cassava flour, so they are naturally gluten-free! Certainly I can have this in Miami, but Cassava has gluten-free empanadas, which is not so common in Miami. It seemed worthy of a stop.
I found their storefront in Lake View not too far from the Annoyance Theater and other favorite restaurants like Wilde’s. Cassava is a dedicated gluten-free facility, which is excellent, but there really is no compromising on deliciousness. Many of the products are naturally gluten-free when they are made authentically (even though the textures and taste may seem gluten-y).
They had a number of empanadas and rolls already made that could be heated up, but they also said that flavors not available could be whipped up easily. I went for a beef and cheese empanada, a bacon, egg, and cheese empanada, and different flavors of the cassava rolls (bacon, Jalapeno cheddar, and chocolate).
The empanadas and cassava rolls all have an interesting texture here. The way they make it creates a pretty unique shell. It has qualities of wheat flour shells in a sense, but it also has qualities that are a little harder to describe. It was crispy and somewhat flaky though. I’ve had a lot of pao de queijo and a few gluten-free empanadas before, but these were all a little bit more unique (though the cassava rolls were more similar to pao de queijo that I had). I tried to figure out even in the moment how to describe it. I think I’m falling a bit short, but that could also be because I’m maybe wrongly trying to compare it to bread/pastries. It’s similar, but different. I do think you’ll be in for an enjoyable experience trying tastes and textures you might not be as familiar with.
Taste wise I loved the bacon, egg, and cheese empanada. Cheese, egg, bacon, and yuca- an excellent combination of flavors! While the texture was more unique, I do think you get enough of a savory “pastry” vibe for it be a worthy gluten empanada (or breakfast pastry) alternative. Both empanadas were very hearty. What I really enjoyed about the cassava rolls were the different flavors, especially the chocolate. I’ve had Jalapeno cheddar pao de queijo before, but that’s the only flavor I’ve had besides the regular cheese. The bacon and Jalapeno cheddar were both solid. The chocolate was really special though. I never really thought of having the yuca bread with chocolate in it. Yuca is mostly savory, but can be slightly sweet. This lead to an enjoyable, but not too sweet or rich, chocolate cassava roll. What I really liked is that the chocolate inside was so melty and gooey. It was like taking a gigantic chocolate chip and melting it in your mouth. It also kind of soaked the inside of the cassava shell, which made for some delicious bites.
I always like when non-gluten-frees know of a gluten-free restaurant. As soon as I mentioned gluten-free empanadas, my cousin asked if it was Cassava and then gave it a big thumbs up. I also think that while I am more familar with pao de queijo in Miami, it’s not as common up north. Cassava is a delicious place to get some naturally gluten-free savory (and sweet) baked goods that can help with a “bread-y” craving. Plus you get to discover some delicious flavors and textures from another culture. A lot to enjoy here!
Cassava- 3338 N Clark St, Chicago, IL 60657