Gluten Free in Chicago: Urban Union


[Photographs: Huge Galdones]

At Urban Union in Little Italy, Chef Michael Shrader's seafood-focused cuisine naturally favors a gluten free diet, leaning heavily on beautifully composed plates of fresh fish and seasonal produce. The restaurant doesn't offer a separate gluten free menu because they simply don't need one.

In the starter section, four of the five dishes are gluten free, posing a delicious dilemma. Where to begin? First a marinated seafood salad ($14), a compelling combination of shrimp, Prince Edward mussels, clams, and calamari liberally drizzled in olive oil. Fresh herbs and salty olives only enhanced the potent sea flavor. Without the safety net of a fried coating and a dunk of red sauce, calamari risks turning into rubbery rings, just as mussels often flounder outside a buttery broth. Here the straightforward preparation elevated the plate, editing unnecessary ingredients. The calamari were expertly cooked, the mussels a chewy hidden gem inside a slippery shell.


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When the roasted Pacific halibut (market price) departed the open kitchen, the aroma literally wafted to the table. Mushroom lovers are in luck as Urban Union relies on its own forager to ensure top-notch shrooms. The root-to-table approach, paired with sustainably farmed fish, makes the entrée feel almost virtuous. Devouring it felt even better. The savory mushrooms and roasted garlic complemented the mild fish without overwhelming it.

While the gluten free fare left me scraping my plate after each course, I also repeatedly drained my glass. Chef Shrader wrote the restaurant's wine list before composing the menu, ensuring an integrated pairing program. Wine isn't a mere accessory to their dinner; it's an essential component of the dining experience. Just ask a server for guidance (they're more than happy to oblige), prepare to raise a few glasses and call ahead for a cab ride home with a pleasantly fuzzy head and a full belly.

Urban Union

1421 West Taylor Street Chicago, IL 60607 (map)